Two days after my Conscious Bite Out dinner, I get the opportunity to give back. A great source throws me in the mix to participate in the “Get Out of the Kitchen” launch event for the Pride Outside Campaign. They are set out to raise over a million dollars to build new playgrounds in Bal Harbour schools. The new St. Regis was the host of the event and I was among 16 other top chefs in Miami and Fort Lauderdale volunteering their time and food for a great cause. Jose Mendin chef of my favorite spots in Miami, the Pubbelly Group, Timon Ballo of another one of my go-to places Sugarcane, Giorgio Grapicavoli, Chopped winner and chef/owner of Eating House, Jeremy Ford from 3030 Ocean, who I know now, is practicing being self sustainable and growing his own produce in a greenhouse at his home in Fort Lauderdale, and many other local reputable top chefs dished out our best to this well dressed crowd.
Each of us had our own station set in the ballroom with a table of 12 in front of us. We chose the menu and the décor for the table based on our restaurant. I obviously do not have a restaurant but Sacred Space Miami provided a beautiful set up to go along with the only plant based menu of the night.
We were allowed three courses without dessert. I start with an amuse bouche (single bite)
Kale Napoleon with Raw chocolate, Mamey and Pistachios. (Oh, this is a fancy event so I will use some fancy words. Once again, bridging the gap between tree hugging and the mainstream chef.)
Appetizer was Coconut Corn Cake-black bean puree, scallion-jalapeno salsa and turmeric paint.
Entrée was the best and here I did something a chef should never do. Rule of thumb: never do a dish for the first time when you are in front of a live audience. I tend to want to take this risk often and has yet to totally blow up in my face. Maybe a little splatter, but not totally. I do a pasta duo: Purple pappardelle with porcini cream and maitake mushrooms and a Whole Grain Risotto with Kale pesto and marinated red beets. It was the pappardelle that I had practiced just hours before and decided to put it on the menu. It paid off. The lighting in the room illuminated a florescent purple and my guests were left asking what it could possibly be if it wasn’t pasta.
I had some great help from my friend Misha, a fellow chef here in Miami and overall the night was a great success. My non-vegan guests were continually surprised at what was going on in their mouth after every bite. The questions poured in and gave me all the room to pass on the benefits of eating this way, even in such an upscale environment.
Putting this plant based lifestyle at the foundation of my philosophy as a chef is a risky one and coming from my meat and potato-Bostonian heritage, it is more like frowned upon. Well, I have always been a bit of a risk taker and not afraid to stand behind something that does not get the majority rule. Sadly, in this case, it is more of a skewed perception and lack of education than a valid reason to not see the benefits of a plant based culinary foundation. In my opinion, this will be the future of all cuisine if we are to sustain this planet and increase the declining health of our population.
After the event, Executive Chef of the St. Regis, Tom Parlo, put out a spread in a few of their meeting rooms and invited us chefs back for a bite and a cold one. I got to meet some great chefs; some that I knew, some that I have wanted to meet. I spoke to some of them about getting together in the future as I plan a “closed doors dinner” at my new place in Wynwood. The minute I moved into this up and coming artsy neighborhood and saw the potential of the huge space I live in, I thought underground dinner club!! Showcase a local artist, maybe a guest chef once in a while, food you cannot find anywhere else. It’s just what we need here in Wynwood.
Stay tuned for more info on this small invite only dinner that I want to hold at least once a month.
Having one of the most amazing, stressful, labor intensive, exciting weeks of my life this past week, I quiet myself, regroup and get even more clarity about the message of a plant based lifestyle I am so eager to share.
First though, I get the opportunity to fulfill one of my dreams as a “progressive modern” chef. I am asked to be the feature chef of Conscious Bite Out, a monthly dinner held at Sacred Space whose philosophy encompasses all of my beliefs: stay local, educate guests to make better food choices, encourage healthier options in restaurants and most of all, they bring awareness to our future generation by donating to Edible Garden Schoolyard Projects.
This dream of feeding guests, in a formal dining experience, the absolute maximum nutrient dense flavor profiles that nature has to offer is something I have not been able to explore up until this point. I honestly put the idea on the back burner and told myself that it is going to wait until I launch my own concept here in Miami.
Well, wouldn’t you know, one of the founders of Conscious Bite Out, happened to be at a tasting that I did and gave me the honor of leading this last event of the season before the Sacred Space undergoes renovations for the summer.
I didn’t tip toe around my ultimate motivation to nourish my guests and chose “superfoods” as my theme. I took things like fresh local bee pollen, goji berries, coconut, raw chocolate and an abundance of nutrient dense-local-organic fruits, vegetables and grains that most people do not even know exist and made them the star of the show.
This casual/upscale event started with an hour of passed hors d’ouevres; coconut and mamey with cilantro, Jamaican jerk roasted boniato with nutty local honey, small spoons of quinoa with sweet potato and maple toasted pecans, bok choy and pineapple skewers with tahini and toasted cashews.
Jordan, a good friend of mine, came to the event representing Whole Foods South Beach, who also donated most of the dry goods. He was juicing shots of ginger, cucumber, mint, etc, and coating the rim in honey and the most buttery bee pollen you will ever taste, also donated by a local bee keeper.
The 65 total guests then were seated in a separate room minimally decorated with white candles and just golden light illuminating from the floor. I started with a bee pollen salad. Just when you thought it was only good in smoothies or on top of yogurt. This amazing, complete protein was put into a dressing with sesame and lemon and then coated onto the mango turmeric paint on the plate. red and golden beets, swiss chard and pickled mango were also there to accent the flavor.
Next course: White corn and zucchini cake with pistachios and a superberry “crema” Organic corn being in season here now influenced this concoction. For the “crema” I started with cashews and mamey as a base and rehydrated gojis and mulberries.
Entrée: Lentil arancini, tomato broth, jalapeno “butter” and roasted rainbow carrots The broth was reminiscent of where my heart lies, in the North End of Boston, and the lentils were like a rich stew of mushrooms, vegetables and herbs.
Dessert: I decided to do a “semifreddo” duo: Chocolate hazelnut with salty hempseeds and strawberry guava. Jaboticaba is also at peak season here now so I made a caramel with this deep purple exotic tasting fruit to drizzle around the plate.
I came out to talk to the diners and express how blessed I felt to be feeding them in this way and also some Q+A about the meal they just experienced. I hit them with so many flavors, textures and most likely added on a year or two to their life along with a boost in their libido for that night to say the least. The look in their faces and overwhelming gratitude that they expressed fueled my motivation all the more to continue this journey.
After an event like this, the “Progressive Modern Chef” in me is left with this question, “What has happened to a guest’s perception when they dine out and what is my role as a chef that is feeding them?”
Most people lose sight of our most predominant survival instinct and why they are eating and more about what kind of emotions they will feel when experiencing their favorite flavor or texture or even the thrill of who the name is behind the restaurant and, in Miami, the celeb they are sitting next to. This I could shout from the rooftops and at the same time would be frowned upon by my fellow chefs making a killing off of their patrons lost instinct to nourish their bodies.
Hey, don’t get me wrong, no one respects the history of food and the many cuisines as a chef does and I will forever refer to those that came before me for the technique, execution and passion that they demonstrate. But, the bottom line is that chefs are feeders. That’s what we do. We feed people in many ways. Casual “grab and go” ways, “fancy” ways, in ways that people will never forget as it is what molds many, many traditional celebrations. No matter what caliber you are at or what recognition you have gotten, if you are a chef, you feed people. Period.
When a therapist provides services to a patient, the results of their work will show after some time, No? If they are misdiagnosing them and keeping them on medication to keep the money rolling in and the patient inevitably is taken for a ride, what kind of therapist are they? Although the person can surely make the decision to not listen to the therapist and walk away if they know what’s best for them, is it still ok to take advantage of their distorted perception and falling to manipulation?
Same goes for a chef. If I go to eat at your restaurant on a regular basis, eat your food and then end up overweight, diabetic and full of dietary disease, who is to blame? What if I just go sometimes and just get a little sick each time whether I know it or not?
I know, I may be a little harsh here, especially on these chefs running French bistros and diners and what not that may not have two micro-nutrients to rub together, but I am making a point based on my own awakening. I was not taught this, necessarily led this way in any one conversation, it is a strong intuition that pushes me to bring this awareness to chefs and anyone that dines out.
This country has a serious “eating” problem. You can blame the media and advertising that manipulates kids while they watch their Sunday morning cartoons all you want, but as a chef, what can we do to contribute to slimming down this obesity epidemic and educating not only our guests but our peers on what foods will benefit them most and which ones may be killing them slowly? Let’s put our cost sheets down for a second and put some morality behind what is on the shelves in our store rooms and walk-ins.
I have a lot of love for the restaurant business and even more love for those that not only dine and keep me employed but look up to us chefs like we are God sends, admiring our talent and constantly patting us on the back. I say, it’s time to give back and maybe in an anonymous way. A sincerely good deed is left unsaid. If we pay attention to what we are serving, the guests are more inclined to be aware. Awareness like this on a global level will reshape the entire food industry and more importantly our ever increasing “eating” problem.
For some of us, the anticipation of what is to come in 2012 is like waiting for test results at a clinic after spring break. It is one of many dates set prior in history predicting a plague or the “return of Christ during The Rapture” or a catastrophic disaster that will wipe out our existence. It is actually around 224 times throughout history that this “end date” has been forecast by one group or another.
Columbus had the first European association of the Maya with eschatology [study of the end of times], predicting that his discovery of new lands would bring about an Apocalypse in 1524 with the second Great Flood. Then of course, it’s one of the translations of Mayan writings that an Armageddon would overtake human kind and annihilate our present universe that’s most talked about these days. It is 12-21-2012 that is the final day of a 5,125 year cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar. According to NASA solar flares will touch down on Earth as some say we may also collide with some object as a black hole or passing asteroid. Although astronomical alignments and numerological formulae cosign this theory, mainstream science is not acknowledging it.
What the hell does Plant Based Body or my passion for nutrient density have to do with the ideas around 2012? Well, it is the New Age theory that is ringing true to me in my new found journey as a chef of showing people how to facilitate bringing nutrient dense foods into their life. It says this end date in 2012 is really a new beginning; “Suspicion toward mainstream Western culture, the idea of spiritual evolution, and the possibility of leading the world into the New Age by individual example or by a group’s joined consciousness.”
Hmm… Could this idea of a spiritual evolution start with a plant based diet” Well, let’s see…
• Impacts the environment –in a positive way, believe that? According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads.
• Prevents and reverses disease- all of the top diseases taking lives everyday are directly related to diet and exercise, studies have been done to prove that plant based diets reverse diseases such as cancer The China Study
• Slims the worlds growing obesity epidemic- this crisis is crippling our nation’s workforce and shortening our kid’s lifespan. We are developing new diseases at a rapid rate because of the man made substances like refined sugar and hydrogenated oil that we put into our bodies. (my synopsis of The Weight of the Nation.)
I realize that the way the world eats may not have a decreasing effect on some more serious worldly issues like human trafficking or wars in the Middle East. The foods we choose to eat only affect us right? What would happen if the majority of society refused to purchase any products with toxins that would harm them and their kids? What if they started putting their money into buying only foods that benefited them the most? Is this shift in our thinking part of this “joined consciousness”?
The cereal aisle in grocery stores would be gone! Now an abundance of whole grains, legumes, oats, dried fruit and nuts in a bulk section in 50 lb tubs instead of 1 gallon containers. Bushels of leafy greens would now be lining those middle aisles instead of the processed crap that makes up 70% of our selection now. The cookies and snacks made from hydrogenated oil, refined sugar and MSG wouldn’t be missed but just made more naturally without harmful toxins. Locally sourcing products and produce will support farmers and small businesses enriching our communities.
These big bully advertising and marketing companies would not have a target and would ultimately either fold or adjust to the demand of the health conscious consumers. No longer could they manipulate society, primarily children through television ads during the cartoons they watch, into eating and eventually needing processed foods that will ultimately kill them. No longer could they slip unlabeled genetically modified frankenfoods into our supermarkets.
Now, the only action we have actually made is the conscious decision to eat the foods that will benefit us the most. This should be our natural human instinct. We did not have to submit to communism or give up our first born, not even do anything but keep an open mind to the foods that can essentially save our lives, our kids lives and our planet.
In my point of view, making this decision simply means, “I have decided I want to live a full life and not just be another statistic that dies from diet related disease.” If that is not the shift in our thinking we need in 2012, I don’t know what is.
There has always been a west coast/east coast beef whether it’s among rappers or rival sports teams. “Our loud, closed-minded edgy New England rapport is better than your hemp growing, generic tree hugger lifestyle!” Growing up, I was always flaunting how proud I was of my heritage and my Bostonian Scotch/Irish roots, and with that naïve pride, by default, was not receptive to any other culture.
Personally, I think placing stereotypes on anyone is just a cop out for shortsighted people. It is only from breaking free of the mindset I was brought up around that I have been able to grow and ultimately welcome life on life’s terms as it unfolds in its many forms.
Last week I went out to the west coast for the first time. I took on one of the biggest physical challenges of my life while there, Tough Mudder So Cal, a 10 mile military style obstacle course in Snow Valley Peak Ski Resort, Running Springs, CA. It was a friend of a friend that organized a team of 10 coming from as far as Australia., rightfully named East Coast Fury. Together we climbed up and down double diamond peaks, plunged into icy waters and ran and crawled through 10,000 volts of electric shock to the head and body for 5 straight hours while screaming “ECF! EAST COAST!”
I trained long and hard for this event running and doing Crossfit but my real reason for going out there was to scope out the food scene in and around Los Angeles that I have heard so much about. I stayed in downtown for just 3 short days but traveled through the burrows of L.A. to Santa Monica and Venice Beach.
My first thought when I got to West Hollywood was, “damn this city is spread out and pretty dirty,” compared to my well kept little neighborhood on South Beach where I can bike everywhere I need to go. I guess I wanted to see an abundance of beautiful California produce lining the sidewalks while some free spirited, hallucinating hippies danced around chanting Greenpeace.
Luckily I was not swarmed with the smell of pot smoke, patchouli and dirty dread locks like I had expected but what I did find were concepts I have been envisioning, creating and sharing with clients and all of those around me. Healthy fast food everywhere! Freshii, Tender Greens, Greens Up and Real Food Daily are just a few chain restaurants I got to experience that are spread throughout L.A. County putting raw, organic, fresh nutrient dense foods conveniently at your fingertips.
Jinky’s in Santa Monica, known for its breakfast and many chilis (6 different daily options) and also Caffe Primo in downtown had the whole grains, raw options and superfoods as, not just an afterthought, but a substantial part of their menus. Jinky’s served up a massive bowl of Kelp noodles, sprouts, greens, raw veggies and seared tuna for $14. I can hardly find kelp noodles, which are low calorie and packed with 70 minerals and 21 amino acids, at a one of the few raw vegan concepts in South Florida, never mind at just a regular cafe known for chili.
Primo’s also had a brown rice bowl full of raw veggies with your option of tofu, chicken or fish for $10-$12. Big portions of whole grains and vegetables, endless healthy options no matter where you go all well within reasonable prices sets L.A. aside from anywhere I have been here on the east coast.
My last night there, a friend brought us to Chateau Marmont, a historical landmark hotel with a small French restaurant next to, Bar Marmont. My friend was entertaining a few Columbian models he had met at the hotel so I figured I would take one for the team and eat some unhealthy calorie dense French food for one night. Well even here, at a see and be scene destination, I find kale, raw, in a salad along with lentils and brussel sprouts to remind me that I am still in California. Nutrient density at all levels of cuisine, not that hard is it.
This experience has motivated me even further to develop nutrient dense dishes, educate those around me on simplifying healthy cooking and conceptualize my “progressive modern” approach to the food scene here on the east coast. Without a doubt I thought about, still thinking about, moving to L.A. to surround myself with this progressive lifestyle but feel like the east coast can benefit from my “progressive modern” concept much more than the west coast.
I say, “Get Humble East Coast!” The way we are eating sucks and we need to open up to what California is doing. I am confident that it will only be a matter of time before areas on the east coast, especially South Florida, will have more convenient healthy options eliminating the need to grab the fast food crap so readily available that is detrimental to our health.
Who doesn’t like that first cup of coffee in the morning? Even the act of stopping to get it before work everyday is just part of the routine for many. The smell, the conversations that take place around coffee, it is more than a drink but a pleasurable icon in socializing enjoyed worldwide.
Discovered in Ethiopa by a goat herder around 850 AD, coffee, aka the “American lubricant,” is the second most valuable commodity in the world next to oil and also one of the fastest acting drugs known to man absorbing into every cell in the body and brain within minutes. Since as far back as a 14 year old freshmen in high school I have been dependent on this liquid stimulant to function daily. 50% of Americans drink 3-4 cups a day (330 million total cups a day) and then you add in caffeinated tea and soft drinks and its 80% of the adult nation also depends on this caffeine fix everyday.
God willing, to this day I have overcome many devitalizing vices in my life. From cigarettes in 2009 after 14 years, alcohol and its accompaniments a couple years before that and of course indulged in healthy eating habits to replace the drug-like toxins found in the crap food I was eating for so long. Although there are studies showing coffee to have higher antioxidant properties than any other food or drink, the idea of needing it was starting to weigh on me as a crutch.
So for the past 28 days until today I have refrained from the fuel I drank straight up and all caffeine for the first time in my life. I was fortunate enough to have a friend on the same path at this time to lend me his vegan approach to combating what was to soon come mentally and physically. Some plant trace minerals, DHA, B complex and some purified water to help curb the initial withdrawals and attempt to keep my caffeine-dependent sluggish mind alert. I knew the feeling of letting go of other habitually damaging yet accepted foods like refined sugar and white flour. Luckily the symptoms were brief in my gradual shift of eliminating those things. But, letting go of caffeine was the unthinkable for me for a long time. I needed direction and am always open to organic solutions.
I did not ever plan on giving up coffee completely. I was looking to get some clarity on how “addicted” I was to caffeine and without it assess ten general physical skills, adopted from Crossfit; cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. All of these skills could be questionable without a stimulant at some point during the day right? Would I fall on my face while running or crumble and break my back trying to do power snatches without that false sense of energy I was used to from caffeine?
What is my conclusion at the end of 28 days?(FYI: I did get laid of from my job of 3 ½ years on the 8th day of no caffeine so my sleep schedule and effect of not working 50 hours a week may have contributed to my results.)
First of all, one of the things I started saying around day 5 was how delusional I was all this time about how I “needed” coffee to wake up, go to work, go to the gym, have the energy to step up my conditioning and exercise routine to train for Tough Mudder, etc. I continued to eat the superfoods I had regularly been eating like bee pollen, chia seeds, spirulina, raw plant proteins, raw chocolate, goji berries, nuts and seeds to maintain that energy I thought I might be lacking.
The free time I suddenly had off of my feet 5 days a week when losing my job, left way too much time for my heart rate to slow and to feel unmotivated during the day. I was now letting myself get 7-9 hours of sleep a night, which was more like 5-6 in the past, in hopes of enough sleep replacing the morning jump start. This wasn’t always in my favor. Whether I went to the gym or not, my mind would not fully wake up until later in the day. Unless I was doing something physical, my heedless mind would drift and I would find myself taking a nap instead of giving in to the temptation. Out of frustration I would lay down in hopes of it just passing only to wake up an hour later but feeling better. For me, without the coffee, a good 8-9 hours sleep is a must at this point in the game.
I not only maintained my 4-5 day a week Crossfit regimen and running 15+ total miles a week but I actually increased it just to prove a point to myself; nine days straight of Crossfit at one point including yoga, Crossfit/5Krun/Crossfit within 24 hour period on a couple separate occasions. Not even in the beginning of no caffeine did I feel any less energized than before to do my workouts. My strict eating habits of mostly whole grains, eggs, fruits and vegetables with little animal protein stayed the same this whole time as well. I am sure I did not get any worse, nor did I improve in any of the physical skill areas I mentioned based only on the elimination of caffeine.
From here on out, I now know I don’t need caffeine as I thought and will never drink it on a daily basis again. No longer do I have to feel lost in my own brain without ingesting a certain liquid everyday. Like today, when I used it to get my day started after having a restless (but enjoyable) night, it will be playing second string to my Good Morning America smoothie.
Good Morning America
- 1 Banana
- ½ cup Blueberries (fresh or frozen)
- 2 cups Almond Milk (any milk you want I guess)
- 1 T Ground Flaxseed
- 1T Bee Pollen
- 1T Maca Powder
- 1T Peanut Butter(all natural, no hydrogenated oil! Don’t cheat!)
- 1/8th Raw chocolate bar (raw cacao, not hersheys)
- Couple of ice cubes
- Blend it all together until smooth and get the engine running in that big noggin of yours without caffeine.
I talk a lot about nutrient density evolving to be next to flavor, texture, appearance, portion size etc. while creating dishes and more importantly when choosing our own meals at home and in restaurants. This idea shouldn’t be such an eye opener to chefs and consumers considering the reason we eat is to nourish our body, isn’t it?
Never mind all the myths surrounding the year of 2012, we are facing the fact that our high maintenance lifestyles will soon burn up all of our natural resources and quite possibly only the self sustainable will survive. Maybe not in my time, maybe two generations from now, but it is not far-fetched looking down the road we are headed. Without getting too in depth, as I like to keep this blog light, is that what it will take for people to start recognizing that the food you put into your body will either benefit you, prevent and even reverse disease or will harm you and rapidly do just the opposite?
Let’s take a trip back to the primal days when there were no 5 star prix fixe menus and million dollar Coca Cola ads sugar-washing the brains of children. The intellect was not nearly as advanced and the mechanical resources obviously minimal. No grab and go crap or even the machinery needed to make vats of MSG or refined sugar to poison the population with. Even if there were, like many animals, our human ancestors would have listened to their body’s needs and intuition and not ingested the toxic substances. They probably wouldn’t have been fooled by shiny labels or convenient packaging. If only we could maintain that mindfulness and eat for optimum survival, our population would be a much, much healthier one.
Sadly, it is our cultural influences through the media and advertising that lets us think eating fast food and Cocoa Puffs is acceptable. On top of that is our hectic lifestyle that tells us that we don’t have time to cook at home or to stop and grab something nutritious to our health. “There is just no time!!”
While working with individuals and families on how to simplify cooking nutrient dense meals at home, I am always on the lookout for a convenience food that is organic and nutrient dense. There are a few decent grab and go bars that are natural and just what they should be without any man made extras, but, then there is one that has 52 superfoods in it! Yeah, 52…
They’re called Good Greens bars, based out of Shaker Heights, OH, and not your typical dry flavorless health bar. With super greens like spirulina, chlorella, wheatgrass, barley grass folded in next to spinach, Nova Scotia dulse, beet juice, alfalfa sprout, and hemp powder to name a few, you would think these bars tasted bad, real bad. Not the case. From the level of sweet, clean and chocolatey flavor I figured they must be juiced up with sugar to mask the Z-52 formula. Nope, these bars are low glycemic and suitable for diabetics. More-so, the carbs here are “Good Carbs,” stabilizing blood sugar levels and insulin production as well as curbing hunger.
Not only is one bar a full serving of your fruit and vegetables for the day but it’s the DHA and Omega 3s that improve cognition, the acai berry, green and white tea extracts that increase energy and the chia seed, ginger root, aloe vera, milk thistle and ground flax powder that are going to detoxify your cells while you are on the go.
The only problem with these bars, for me, is that they are not stacked up in place of Snickers bars and Skittles in the candy aisle of every grocery store with shiny packaging and cartoon characters to market them the way these junk food giants do. I love the idea that the superfoods are snuck into these delicious bars. Oh and they will most likely sell for around $2 a piece. Not bad for the amount of nutrients you get for just 200 calories each.
There is also Good Greens powder that can be used in smoothies and juices and contains all of the same benefits as the bars. Go to http://try.goodgreens.com/ to get a free sample and also a 50% discount on your first purchase.
I can go on and on about my ideas on the evolution of nutrient dense ingredients to develop, what I feel should be where flavor profiles are headed these days. I didn’t plan on making my blog just about my awesome food, mouth watering pics and recipes. Although I have been getting requests for recipes, diet plans etc., I have held back from the food because I first wanted to give readers a look at what is driving my passion as a chef and bring their attention to a few important topics.
There are many issues in the world that I cannot single-handedly do much about, but as a chef, there are a few that I can put my efforts towards. Like eliminating and suggesting those I work with to be done with ingesting toxins. The majority of chefs are still buying and using them and the people being poisoned by them as a result of being misled by advertising and marketing. By “toxins” I mean refined sugar, white flour, iodized salt, hydrogenated oil, and MSG in its many disguises. To me these are the worst food products. They are the leading causes behind our deadliest health problems. This is not breaking news and you don’t have to wait to be told by a doctor to eliminate them and start eating the right foods.
I could contribute to slimming down that obesity epidemic I’m always writing about even by just using my creative talent with flavors. Making whole foods (not messed with by processing or refining) and lean proteins combined with nutrient dense superfoods taste good is something that an average person who has been taking the easy way out to get flavor won’t be able to do for long. Most will cringe at the idea of adding whole grains and the fiber that’s in the fruit and not just the sugary juice to their diet.
Leading by example as a chef that is not using my career as an excuse to let my health go, is bringing my “progressive modern” lifestyle of a chef into the kitchen. My latest venture is consulting with people one on one in their homes on how to simplify cooking for themselves and their families and soon to hold group demonstrations on “Eating to Live.” It will only be a matter of time before I am opening my own concept and spreading the knowledge of who benefits when we cook and live this way.
Before I can even start to introduce the food that will bring maximum benefit to your health along with great flavors, colors, textures and so on, I have to ask you, “Where has your mouth been?” Has your tongue been slathered with white flour, sugary drinks and sauces, MSG and other addicting flavor enhancers found in all grab and go food for most of your life? If so, let’s wean off of that crap and give your tongue a good scrapping to start fresh. Your mouth plays a small role in digestion and unfortunately most people rely on what goes on here, flavor, texture etc., to determine their diet. Becoming aware of what your body’s real needs are is part of enjoying nutrient dense foods.
For someone who is already eating a diet that is eliminating, refined sugar mostly, but all of the aforementioned will enjoy food that is, not lacking, but not based on rich flavors through fat, salt and other magical man-made fairy dust.
So it’s been long enough, here is one simple recipe that I have created using my favorite one pot mixing grains and starches technique. Full of protein, essential vitamins and minerals, amino acids and antioxidants. Add animal protein if you want but one serving of this dish will give you at least 15 grams of protein. The misconception of needing to eat meat to get protein is another blog. I am by no means a vegan, still consider myself a full on omnivore. When it comes to getting the most nutrient dense calories though, I do eat a ton of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Red Quinoa – sweet potato-figs-toasted pecans
2 cups red quinoa
1 1/2 cups sweet potato (not peeled, small dice, about ¼ in cubes)
1 cup dried figs (stem removed, cut in half)
1/2 cup chopped pecans (toasted is optional)
1 bunch baby arugula
31/2 cups vegetable stock (or just water with a little sea salt)
1/2 T maple syrup
Sea salt to taste
Rinse quinoa in a medium sized saucepan with vegetable stock over medium heat. Bring to a slow simmer. 4 minutes in add sweet potatoes and cover for the next 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take cover off, liquid should be almost gone. Add figs and take off of heat. Let stand for a few minutes and stir in maple syrup and pecans. You can serve it over the arugula or fold the arugula in.
This is a fine example of a nutrient dense side dish. Feel free to swap out the pecans for walnuts or whatever you like. The figs can be a different fruit like cherries also. Arugula can be spinach or watercress. Bringing sweet components into your savory dishes will fulfill the sugar craving we all have. Have fun with it.
Every religion, whether Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Islamic or even non-religious humanists have a form of a Grace prayer. I was brought up in a non-practicing Catholic household. A picture of Jesus on the wall and a crucifix here and there, church on some holidays; is a pretty common theme where I’m from. Saying Grace before dinner is something I never did or even had been present at the table during until my late twenties. Although, being told to be grateful for the food I ate or scorned for how ungrateful I may have acted at times was common language.
The acts of saying a prayer before a meal, in most religions, is to offer thanks for the food you have been given. This brief moment that is taken in silence before a meal is a tool that is also used in Dr. Epel’s study relating stress with eating habits.
The biological effects of stress cause us to unmindfully choose the sugary, salty fatty foods. One key way to relieving this stress is, of course, exercise (I say, get some Crossfit in your life). But what caught my attention about her approach are the meditation practices throughout the day and especially before meals. Epel emphasizes using these brief moments of mindfulness and awareness to become in tune with the body’s needs and eating based on caloric need NOT emotional need. This means taking a minute to observe the food you are going to eat with all of your senses; its sight, smell, origin and more importantly, what its nutritional content is going to do for your body.
Can the meaning and purpose of saying Grace evolve to also include this awareness? I feel it is such a widely known ritual so many are comfortable with and could easily be the relative starting point for this very beneficial tool.
Is having a constant consciousness a life skill that could benefit many people struggling with bad eating habits, especially those in the restaurant industry that are constantly picking at whatever is around? I remember the first time I decided to do a fruit and vegetable fast. I had hit a plateau in my force feeding habits in hopes of gaining weight and decided to give my body a break and try to get my appetite and taste buds back. Talk about being mindful. I was literally pulling my hands from my mouth as they were instinctually trying to feed me bits of chicken salad and tortilla chips. I never had to be mindful of what I was eating on that level. That fast and a few more soon after brought the discipline I needed to break any long standing eating habits I had formed and become aware of my body’s needs.
I picture the traditional thought process while saying Grace to be about gratitude, maybe some humility and love for those around you, and that is great. It is also something that is dwindling with time as is the amount of people attending church and synagogue. In fact, studies show that a big percentage of people are lying about attending services.
My opinion is that if taking that moment before meals and throughout the day was meant to bring awareness to what you are consuming and your body’s needs and not synonymous with a religious saying or action, it would be more widely accepted and utilized to prevent bad eating habits. Maybe there is no words said and it is that silent few minutes of just listening and feeling your body’s needs and acknowledging your cravings for different nutrients. Give it a shot. Try a fruit and vegetable fast if you have never and gain that discipline we all need. “Those who think they have no time for healthy eating will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” – Edward Stanley (1826-1893) from The Conduct of Life
Just a reminder: The Weight of the Nation streams online for free on HBO.com.
The second of this four part documentary, Choices, first reminds us that Americans have built a cheap food model as a result of being mislead through television and advertising. It is the profitable foods that are in our face the most that become our go to options as we constantly look for the more convenient way to eat.
At the National Institute of Health they are trying to look at what drives obesity through metabolic clinical research in hopes of developing better therapies to treat and prevent it. They can see the brains response to more pleasurable foods but the biological systems involved in obesity are complex and have posed a challenge to science. The sensible conclusion of most studies: Small changes in lifestyle will reduce weight. To me that means more discipline in making healthier choices driven by the desire to want to live.
The documentary reiterates much of what has been said for years about diet, exercise, and diabetes and obesity prevention. When it comes to fad diets, author of The 100 Year Diet Susan Yager, tells us these diets are meant to be temporary, if they solve the problem they will be out of business. The legitimate dieticians, doctors and researchers all have the same suggestions about this shift in lifestyle in order to lose weight. The first suggestion to prevent obesity is: Stop drinking sugary drinks! Soda, red bull, orange juice, any sugary juice extracted from its fiber needs to be eliminated. Dr. Robert Lustig Professor of Pediatrics at UCSF says, “The sugar in the fruit is nature’s way of getting you to eat your fiber.” I agree. There is a reason that nature does not produce little sacks of pure fructose. We are not meant to ingest sugar without fiber present.
It is not breaking news that to lose weight, caloric intake must be a few hundred less a day than what your body needs to function. Those calories do not need to be all carbs/no fat/no protein, all lean protein/some fat/no carbs, or whatever the next 2012 Diet of the Mayans before the Apocalypse might suggest. Obviously nutrient dense calories would be ideal here and resisting trans fat and toxic calories are common sense. Toning down all three macronutrients; protein, carbs and fat is suggested. They talk about not going extreme with a caloric intake that is too low, starving yourself, because it will slow your metabolism and therefore burn no fat.
Scientists in this study do not agree with the Biggest Loser’s approach to intense physical activity being the primary solution to lose weight. Although exercise is just as important as diet, portion control and gradual weight loss is much more effective for the long run. What exercise does do on top of burn calories is reduce stress and raise levels of opioids, the chemicals in the brain that allow us to feel pleasure. Sugar, white flour and fatty foods also raise this level and eliminating these without adding exercise is part of the struggle while transitioning to a healthier lifestyle.
As far as diabetes prevention as talked about in this film, Dr. Epel of USCF conducted a study with two identical twins in their 50s to see if a lifestyle intervention could decrease diabetes. In 95% of cases, if one twin has diabetes, the other one also gets it. The patients in this study were the Daly twins. The one who was a little less active and a little more overweight got the warning of pre-diabetes from his doctor in his early 40s. He continued his lifestyle while the healthier one increased exercise and a healthier diet to prevent his chances even more. Ten years later the unhealthy twin has full on type 2 diabetes while the healthier twin does not. Doctors are suggesting that with weight loss, exercise and proper diet that he can reverse this health problem that could take his limbs if not his life someday.
The stress epidemic is in direct relation with the obesity epidemic. Part of one study is to teach the patients about bringing awareness to their food and listening to and feeling the body’s cravings for foods. Being able to see when we are eating out of stress is key in maintaining a healthy weight. Stress literally causes your body to go into fat storing mode and look for these fatty, sugary foods. When the brain is stressed it sends a message to the adrenal glands to release adrenalin and cortisol. Cortisol floods the body creating enzymes in the fat cells that turn them into fat storing machines. This rush floods the brain and like the drive for a drug pushes you to look for these fatty unhealthy foods.
To sum up, no matter what you are genetically predisposed to or what your current state of health is, through a few small changes in your lifestyle you can achieve a healthy weight and prevent and reverse disease such as diabetes high blood pressure. This is a topic that I am very passionate about have began working with clients through Plant Based Body on a one on one basis. Going into their homes setting up their kitchens teaching them how to simplify cooking these healthy foods at home is how I am beginning to make this my life.
Two days ago I was laid off from the hotel I was at after 3 ½ years. I am now looking forward to pursuing my passion full time and helping those around me find the love that I have found for nutrient dense food. I have the ability to bring my 17 years of culinary experience to show them how to utilize what nature has given us and make this lifestyle that much more simple.