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.