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4 Nutrition & Food Must-Dos for the New Year

I’ve never been particularly enthused with New Year’s resolutions, particularly ones that relate to nutrition and food. Too often, they involve unsustainable habits and substantial lifestyle changes that are somehow supposed to take place overnight. Never mind the completely arbitrary notion that January 1 is the best day to begin new ventures.

That said, I do enjoy setting goals — and encourage others to do so. The ideas below are not intended to be started fanatically on January 1. They are, however, actions I encourage everyone to take on (some of you may already do these things; if so, keep it up).

1) Cook more homemade meals.

One of the best shifts we can all make? Cook from scratch more often. Currently, approximately half of all meals are eaten outside the home (in 1978, that was the case for only 16 percent of meals). Not surprisingly, meals outside the home usually mean larger portions, less healthful ingredients, and fewer vegetables.

Integrating cooking into a daily routine requires that food taste good, be easy to make, and a short list of ingredients — especially for individuals intimidated by the “heart of the home”. For these purposes, I recommend health food-oriented cookbooks geared towards college students, as well as titles that are part of the “… For Dummies” or “Idiot’s Guide To…” series. These books don’t expect the reader to have ample skills, time, or discretionary income.

The goal isn’t to achieve gourmet “chefdom” in the next year, but rather to use the kitchen for more than making microwave popcorn.

2) Get informed about one issue you don’t know much about.

Our most inspired and long-term actions are spurred by knowledge and motivation. The “Recommended Reads” on the right-hand side of this page are all books I highly recommend because they excellently present important issues relating to food, nutrition, and public health.

If you aren’t familiar with animal welfare issues in factory farming, pick up Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Want to learn more about food industry deception? Add Michele Simon’s Appetite for Profit to your reading list. Mark Bittman’s Food Matters excellently makes connections between our food supply, human health, and environmental impact. For those of you with children living with cognitive disorders, Judy Converse’s Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free brilliantly makes the case that nutrition often times is the best medicine.

Not only will these books truly open your eyes and be catalysts for change; they’ll also turn you into an advocate.

3) Meet a local farmer.

Too often, health-related New Year’s resolutions are individualistic. Why not instead start the new year is by making connections in your local community?

If you don’t shop at a local farmers’ market regularly, make it a goal to do some of your shopping there once a week. Alternatively — or additionally — get in touch with a farmer (or two three) in your area.  Look up farms near you; see what times they are open to the public, stop by for a visit. Talk to the farmers. Ask questions. Establish a connection.

As Wendell Berry recently wrote, we are at a time where our connection to the land — and the people working on it — is almost non-existent: “When food, in the minds of eaters, is no longer associated with farming and with the land, then the eaters are suffering a kind of cultural amnesia that is misleading and dangerous.”

4) Avoid GMOs.

Rather than go on extreme eating plans that turn things like whole fruit or whole grains into “bad foods”, turn your critical eye towards ingredients that truly deserve scorn. Unless labeled organic, avoid foods that contain corn, soy, cottonseed, and canola byproducts (oil, starch, flour, etc).  This shopper’s guide is helpful as it provides lists of popular brands that contain GMOs (and which are safe).

This article by the Union of Concerned Scientists summarizes some of the environmental and human health concerns that accompany GMOs. One nice bonus to avoiding GMO ingredients is a simultaneous eschewing of highly-processed, minimally nutritious foods.

The journey towards eating in a healthier and more sustainable fashion is a never-ending one. Even if you achieve all these goals in the next 12 months, they will merely scratch the surface of the many issues that affect what, how, and why we eat. There is no better resolution than to get informed, engaged, and involved.

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11 Comments

  1. Deborah M. said on December 8th, 2011

    I am unable to link to the shopper’s guide to GMO’s.

  2. Kathryn said on December 8th, 2011

    Great post Andy! Resolutions we call all keep! Will be reposting (giving you credit of course) to my followers :-)

  3. Andy Bellatti said on December 8th, 2011

    Deborah,

    Thank you for the heads up; I fixed the link.

  4. Andy Bellatti said on December 8th, 2011

    Thank you for the kind words and for sharing the post, Kathryn.

  5. Bettina at The Lunch Tray said on December 8th, 2011

    Andy: A cookbook I recently reviewed on my kids-and-food site, The Lunch Tray, turned out to be, in my opinion, an excellent primer for the novice adult cook. It’s called the DK Children’s Cookbook and features grown-up dishes than an adult would likely want to make for him/herself (roast chicken, sushi, vegetable tart, etc.) but because it’s for kids, it has step by step photos and has an excellent glossary of cooking terms. My review and a link to the book is here: http://www.thelunchtray.com/book-review-monday-the-dk-childrens-cookbook/ (BTW, I’m not affiliated with the publisher or author or anything like that – I just want to get more adults and families cooking! :-) )

  6. julie said on December 11th, 2011

    Last year’s resolution (a strong word, more like pointed dedication) was to cook at home more. I went from rarely cooking to cooking all but 2-3 meals/week. I find that I don’t have to worry about making it super-healthy, I used to do that, and I couldn’t force myself to eat it. I have access to such beautiful, reasonably priced, often exotic (to me, not to the mainly Chinese community who shops my farmers market) ingredients, and I just decided to try not to waste them. So partly economic, partly ecological, partly health, I use my buttloads of veggies. Occasionally some celery or half a cuke goes bad, but I eat my 7+ fruits/veggies almost daily. Somewhere mid-year I decided to get serious about my workouts – not just go, but do more than go through the motions. This year will likely be about keeping my apt clean.

  7. Jen said on February 17th, 2012

    Hi Andy,

    I recently started reading your blog after getting linked here via Lifehacker (10 Food Myths That Just Won’t Die). I find your blog incredibly informative, and have tried out a couple of your recipes – love the harvest chili!

    I don’t mean this as a criticism at all, more as a point of my ignorance – what is so bad about GMOs? My limited understanding is that it makes food cheaper to grow and more affordable to the population, and while it may mean a slight reduction in nutrients compared to organic food, on balance it’s a worthy venture.

    I’ve clicked through to the Union of Concerned Scientists website that you linked to, and from skimming it, couldn’t find a lot of facts that say GMOs are bad.

    On environmental impact, “the good news is that there have been no serious environmental impacts—certainly no catastrophes—associated with the use of engineered crops in the United States.”

    On human health impact, “No major human health problems have emerged in connection with genetically modified food crops, which have been consumed by significant numbers of U.S. consumers.”

    The article does qualify the statements with that it’s too early to tell if GMOs really have no major impact on environment and health, but there is no facts to support that GMOs are bad, as far as I can understand from a skim of the article.

  8. Andy Bellatti said on February 17th, 2012

    Jen,

    Thank you — and welcome.

    While there have been no “catastrophes” (certainly a strong word) with GMO crops, there have been plenty of problems — and legitimate concerns. Some links I recommend you read:

    http://grist.org/food-safety/2011-05-16-what-we-know-and-dont-know-about-the-safety-of-eating-gmos/
    http://motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2011/08/monsanto-gm-super-insects
    http://motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2011/07/monsanto-superweeds-roundup

    Part of the problem is that research has, by and large, not been independent. As with artificial sweeteners, there is a lot of money (and political power) at stake.

    Additionally, we know nothing about long-term effects re: human consumption. That is not to say they are 100% bad, but I also find it premature to say they are 100% safe.

    As for the argument that GMOs will solve hunger: it’s extremely reductionist. There is plenty of food in the world at the moment; the problem is that it not being fairly distributed. Solving world hunger is not about making rice rich in vitamin A to send to the third world; it is about empowering populations with the tools, resources, and knowledge to also be able to use their land for crops.

    Also, keep in mind that most GMO crops in the United States are used to make byproducts (oils, sweeteners, fillers etc.) that go into fast food and highly processed foods.

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