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our tropical real food journey, part 1

11 July 2012
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over the last few months, dan and i have been researching & experimenting with different ingredients in order to eat healthy meals and embrace local foods. as i’ve been reading an increasing amount of “real food” blogs, i appreciate that most people refer to the process their family goes through as a “real food journey” because it really does take time, effort, and discovery. today i’d like to share the first part of our real food journey, island-style.

we live here!

our previous definitions of “real food”

our family backgrounds and childhood experiences inevitably affect the way we each think and feel about food. i grew up in a small town in central illinois where we had one grocery store and a handful of restaurants. both my parents worked full time, so although my mom liked to cook, our family schedule was such that dinner was often an afterthought, especially during high school. we worked hard to eat meals together as a family, but that often meant sacrificing the “home-cooked” part. overall, i think i grew up with a healthy attitude about food, and i appreciate the effort my parents made to ensure that i had plenty to eat, but i have since realized that plentiful food is not the same as good food. my previous definition of “real food” was “anything i eat that’s more than cereal or cookies for dinner, no matter where it comes from or how it’s prepared.”

my husband grew up in a dairy town in the mountains of peru, where he was *forced* to eat natural peanut butter, fresh cheese, and raw milk. i say “forced” because he longed for the times when they would be back in southern california or michigan where he could again enjoy the delights of “real” american food. his mom’s homemade pizza, as famous as it is in Cajamarca, just can’t compare to Little Caesars, and finely ground peanuts and salt just isn’t “real” peanut butter – Skippy is. even now in southeast asia, we refer to attempts at western food as “NQR” – not quite right. to dan, “real food” has meant “the authentic american version of a food rather than a homemade subsitute i settle for overseas.”

the journey begins…

moving overseas three years ago (as a single 21-year old) impacted my understanding of food preparation in a big way. i literally did not know that it was possible to make pancakes without pancake mix or spaghetti sauce without a can of tomato sauce. seeing how my friends here learned to adapt their favorite recipes to utilize available ingredients showed me that there’s more than one way to skin a cat (aka make pancakes). this was a good start to a more complete understanding of food preparation. then, at the beginning of 2012, i read “more with less,” a mennonite cookbook from the 1970s, and it helped me think broadly about nutrition and using real, whole foods available where i live and making things from scratch.

then, a few months ago, i read “real food: what to eat and why” by nina planck. a pretty well-known book about the basics of healthy eating a la weston price, this book really challenged my thinking about food. growing up eating a “standard american diet” and learning the typical american philosophy of nutrition, i had really vague notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol, a general understanding that saturated fats are bad for you, and an i-know-i-shouldn’t-but-want-to-anyway attitude about sweets. after reading this book, i felt inspired and empowered to make better decisions and to feed my family REAL food!

…and then there were obstacles

but alas, there were setbacks. first, the USDA is not exactly available to come certify that my food is organic, and the nearest dairy farm is probably a thousand miles away. i felt discouraged that although the nutritional information and recommendations in Real Food were applicable to my family, the practical tips for how to get started were not. it was hard not to feel sorry for myself – i do face some disadvantages when it comes to preparing real, healthy meals for my family. for example, finding a local dairy farm that sells raw milk isn’t as simple as searching for it on the internet. rather, i have to ask my neighbors and drive around town to find someone selling water buffalo milk for $13.00 per gallon, and even then who knows if it’s safe? buying lard from pastured pigs simply isn’t an option when you’re living in a place where pork is considered unclean. the main issue we face is lack of documented information for where to purchase real, raw ingredients.

mmm mud… is this my source of raw milk?

dealing with these kinds of disadvantages certainly made reading planck’s book more of a challenge, but if i’m honest, it also made it more interesting because as much as i want to whine about the disadvantages of rural island life, i also have a lot of advantages! for example, living 6 hours from a decent supermarket means we don’t have the appeal of familiar convenience foods to lure us in. healthy foods like fresh seafood and delicious coconut abound. we also have the blessing of budget being a non-issue, since we live in a developing nation but receive a modest developed-nation salary. most exciting of all, we are surrounded by dozens (if not hundreds) of local traditional foods and methods of cooking if only we will take the time and effort to discover them!

this very talented & brave young man climbs the coconut trees to get the delicious young coconut for us!

i appreciate my husband’s good attitude about coming on this real food adventure with me. after all, he doesn’t get particularly excited about things like raw milk and homemade peanut butter – he’s already endured a childhood full of those things and didn’t like them then either. but he has been both supportive and proactive, expressing his thanks that i desire to feed our family well, and taking part in kitchen experiments. he tries new recipes enthusiastically and is willing to listen to the logic behind my food choices. needless to say, he’s a keeper!

tomorrow i’ll share our long-term goals/dreams for real food in our family, where we are now, and the baby steps we plan to take to move in the right direction. this blog is linked to “real food wednesday” at kelly the kitchen kop – check it out here.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. jenny messier permalink
    12 July 2012 11:59

    this entry makes me smile. i can still remember struggling to provide (let alone prepare) dinner during your high school years. (maybe someone should have taken charge & limited some activities :)) i was excited when we all sat down together for dinner even if it was with a subway sandwich for 15 minutes. now things are not quite as hectic & it provides some time to think about what we are eating. i am in the process of reading planck’s book & have to admit that i struggle with some of its contents. some parts make “perfect sense” & some go against everything that the american heart association teaches about eating saturated fats (the old cardiac nurse in me wonders who is right). i also find myself questioning our overseeing agencies & the criteria that is currently used to determine that our food is “safe” when there are so many unhealthy additives in our food & because we are such an overweight nation. but you will be happy to know that i am in the exploring mode (on the baby step journey). i am trying to make more things from scratch & am eliminating some ingredients that aren’t good for us. i bought a (read: one) chicken breast from the farmers market for $12.50 last weekend, trying to select healthier meat but don’t kid yourself, i cringed (may almost gasped) at the price. i have signed up for a 6 wk class at the local community college to learn about some of the local farms & buying greener & more local foods. we shall see how that rolls. will let you know if i learn something you might be able to apply. (i don’t think we have any water buffalo or coconuts close by though so might be hard to swap recipes).

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  1. our tropical real food journey, part 2 « one is silver
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