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Perhaps this should have been my first post on cook.can.read. In the past eight or so years, I have transformed my culinary perspective and am now a passionate (and opinionated) supporter of local vendors, farmers and producers. I am not 100% organic or locavore, but I work diligently to stay away from processed food and protein from sources I consider unsafe (more on that later) while giving our hard-earned dollars to growers who sell at farmers’ markets and local stores. We make our meals from scratch and do some research before choosing restaurants when we go out. Yes, I make mistakes and don’t think I will ever be perfect, but I try my best to be educated, conscientious and consistent.

This all began when I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Many of you have heard the story of me crying in the grocery store because I didn’t know which kind of eggs I should be buying. I took the message of Pollan’s book to heart so quickly and literally that I know I overreacted in some of my choices, early on. That was years ago (which reminds me that I would like to reread Omnivore soon!), and I have mellowed some and stopped crying over eggs, but I have also made some significant dietary changes. Some people label them as drastic changes, but I don’t at all; to me, they were natural, common sense decisions for the good of my family. I try really hard not to preach, though I often can’t help sharing information that I learn about both good and bad foods, but I am proud of how well we eat on a restricted budget. We are healthy kids with a clear conscience about our food choices.

Now, you may be wondering what I am rambling on about. I could write for days about making smart choices when it comes to food, but instead will try to summarize my opinions:

  • With a few exceptions, we don’t buy processed food. Yes, we have cereal in the cupboard, but it’s the boring, grain-y kind. I don’t buy condensed soup but I do buy organic stock.  I haven’t bought a frozen dinner in longer than I can remember. The processed foods I do buy are things like peanut butter, yogurt… actually, not kidding, I am having trouble coming up with things to list! Funny.
  • I don’t buy protein (meat, eggs, dairy, fish) unless I know where it came from. I went years without eating beef and then realized one day that the chicken and tuna I was okay with was coming to my table from places or in ways I couldn’t even bear thinking about. Why was I supporting that? And so our diet underwent another adjustment. Here’s our basic rule of thumb: if a farmer is proud enough to attach the name of his/her farm to a steak or gallon of milk, the animals depended upon to produce that item were most likely treated well. Not only are the animals raised and treated well, they are tastier and healthier for human consumption. Beyond that, I could hop in the car right now and drive to Fresh Breeze to see the cows who produce the milk we drink, or to Skagit Valley Ranch to visit the chickens from which we get eggs. We are proud to keep our money in the community.

I am actually off-track from the message I intended to post, which shows you how passionate I am about eating well– I could write for days. Let me instead get back to what I planned to talk about, which is a lovely cookbook I have been reading over the past few weeks which has been more inspiring than I expected it to be. The Bi-Rite Market is a mecca in San Francisco for people excited about good-quality, thoughtfully-produced goods; their shoppers’ companion is called Eat Good Food: A Grocer’s Guide to Shopping, Cooking & Creating Community Through Food. It is such a cool book! I checked it out from my library expecting mostly recipes with some brief statements on the importance of farmers’s markets, artisan cheesemakers and grass-fed beef for healthy living and healthy communities, but it is so much more. I sold this book short before I opened it; I have been enjoying reading it so much that I want to show it to everyone!

In addition to sharing some good-looking recipes (grilled peaches, pear skillet cake, seared tuna, etc.), they go through each area of the grocery store and give simple, informative notes about how to make good food choices in every department: you learn which individual tomato to buy based on look and feel, the seasonality of different types of produce (and why you should know and care), the benefit of supporting small-batch olive oil producers, etc. I learned that canola oil should be avoided if you’re concerned about GMOs and how to choose “clean” charcuterie. It’s a fascinating book and a great guide to have if you are like me, concerned about making responsible and healthful purchases.

In the months to come, I will take some time to open up discussions about different  issues related to choosing which foods to purchase and cook. Instead of a broad sweep, like this post, I hope to look at specific ingredients and find out from you which new foods to incorporate into my meal planning efforts. I would also like to talk more about confusing or concerning issues: GMOs, feedlot-raised beef, BPA or whatever you may have questions about.  I don’t have all the answers– so many of these issues I am learning about right alongside you, and have many questions of my own!– but I hope that generating discussion will help us all to find some answers. I also hope to highlight books like Eat Good Food, which guide good decision-making, and bring attention to growers and producers doing great things for their communities. What would you like to talk about?  Which food decisions are you proud of and want to share? Which foods or food groups are you nervous about buying or unclear how to prepare? These are important topics and I just know I am not the only one with things to say! I really look forward to your input and contributions to the discussion.