24 October 2010

Comfort Cooking

What is it about food that is so comforting to us? Is it the familiarity, the necessity, or the enjoyment that it brings? But, I wonder is it so much the food that we find comforting—or is it the cooking?

When I travel, I find that I am not homesick so much for my neighborhood, house, room, or even my bed my (okay, true, I often do miss my closet…) but rather I find myself homesick for kitchen! While I enjoy eating out, trying new foods, and having a meal without planning the menu, I really miss cooking; from waking up in the morning and reading a cookbook, going grocery shopping, spending an afternoon cooking, and, yes, sitting down and eating. Call me crazy, but I find meals to be much less satisfying if I take out all the work.

I know I’m not the only one who finds food to be such a draw, especially when away from the regular routine. I remember, back in day, I was on a college tour and in one of the sessions, and the speaker asked the crowd of parents and potential student: “What is the channel most watched by college students?” I was a bit surprised by the answer: Food Network, until I got to college and sure enough cooking shows were the most played on my TV. Living in a dorm, and not walking though the kitchen every day as I did at my parent’s house, I found I had to get the culinary fix from somewhere—and it sure wasn’t the dining hall.

Enjoying a great meal is always wonderful, but I have to wonder if that Protestant work-ethic America was built on has prevailed, and we still find the work of cooking to be comforting, even more than the end result. When boxed-mixes for baked goods first hit the stores, it was a “just-add-water” deal; however, these didn’t sell so well. So they changed to have more of a “cooking component” with the mixing of egg, oil, and water or milk. It turned out that people wanted to feel like they were doing a little more work. Convenience and speed is key for the American cook, however, people still want to spend at least a little quality kitchen time.

So, perhaps the comfort we find is in the food (as a special on fried food comes on Food Network…) but perhaps we really find the comfort in the process. Despite the complaints that sometimes slip out, I think that we like the comfort of routine that food brings to our day-to-day.

15 October 2010

Lunch Hour

We always hear that breakfast is the most important meal of the day: you start your day right, get that metabolism going, have energy to stay active physically and mentally…and on and on. You know the drill. When I wake up in the morning, half of the reason to get out of bed is to get breakfast. (If I know there is nothing good in the kitchen waiting for me, well, I might as well just sleep a bit longer…) Anyway, I may be an anomaly as I find it shocking that anyone will skip this meal—and forgetting about it? I just don’t even believe you.

But, I am starting to think that it may not be the most important meal of the day. What I mean to say is, aren’t all meals important? With so much emphasis on breakfast, I think we are overlooking the importance of another meal: Lunch…And actually taking that mid-day break to enjoy it.

Here’s an example of my day at the moment: Get up, breakfast, run, (throw a shower in there—don’t worry!) get to work at 8:30am…work…leave work hopefully by 6:30… wait a minute… Lunch? Oh ate that at my desk…in front of the computer…while working. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

Failing to pause work to take lunch, or even worse skipping the meal all together will hinder productivity on the job. While I pride myself in multitasking, it is important to remember that it is not always the best option. I have found that eating lunch at my desk, I really don’t get as much work done as I think I do. I mean, I am pausing every few moments to take a bit. I am working more slowly with less focus, I give myself leeway to check my email a few more times… in general, I would say the hour is not spent productively working, nor am I spending the time to focus on my lunch, enjoy myself, and give my brain a break!

I realize that it is so much easier said than done. At the office here, everyone takes a lunch, so you feel that you are able to take that break without making an excuse. On the other hand, when hardly anyone in the office takes a real break for lunch, if you do, well you feel like a slacker and like you need an excuse to leave the desk. It’s one of those work dilemmas that we all face… and those of us that has a boss who takes lunch, or a boss that’s not around can count ourselves lucky!

As I write this, I am in Latin America for a few weeks. And you know what? My schedule here is: Get up, run, (yes, again, that shower!), breakfast, at the office at 8:30, work, around 12:30 break for the hour lunch eat, sit, relax, chat with colleagues, work, leave work at 5:00, and then… whatever!

People here couldn’t understand when I said that in the States, most time we eat at our desks, rushing through lunch, plus working long hours into the evening. Taking the hour for lunch, by either leaving the office and eating out, or even bringing lunch and getting up from my desk to go eat with others in a different location, is so much better! I take a break, socialize, am able to relax for a little bit and when I return to work after the hour, I focus better, and get the same work done with more attention! A win-win, if you ask me.

06 October 2010

To be or not to be...a carnivore? Jonathan Safran Foer on Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer, in his latest book, Eating Animals, asks not whether it is right or wrong to eat animals, but rather, is it right or wrong to raise animals the way we do? Author of two best-selling novels, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Foer switched gears in his latest book. As a vegetarian, he tackles his own values, as well as his families values, throughout his investigation of the meat industry in the United States today. On September 25, he spoke about his new book at the National Book Festival on Washington, D.C.’s Mall, where Foer asked his readers the question: what is the value of meat? And is it worth it?

The book is about changing the view of food. Foer begins his exploration very close to home, in his own family: his grandmother. He explains that after barely surviving World War II, for her, food was a necessity, sustenance and a source of life. This idea of food is common in past generations, but has been engulfed with today’s opinion that food is enjoyment; it is something we want and not need.

Today, we have a focus on efficiency in our system: we want better food, more of it, at our convenience, and we want it now—oh, and cheap. Many of us know the terrible conditions of the meat industry. It is not only a matter of animal rights, Foer furthers the severity of the matter, stating that it is our most important relation to both environment and the animal world. The meat industry impacts our planet, environment, personal health as we are essentially creating “science experiments of ourselves”.

Foer expressed his desire to help people understand and care about these matters with choices to better reflect their values. It is not necessarily about becoming a vegetarian, but still, “we need to eat less of this stuff.” By making the choice to eating meat for only 20 meals rather than 21 meals per week is the same benefit to the planet as taking 5 million cars off the road in terms of lowering greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

While our own personal choices can make a difference in our lives and on the planet, it is clear that living in the U.S., we already have a plethora of choices everyday when it comes to our food. Foer asks us, are our choices the solution? With our government is in charge of food safety, is it time to turn to it to solve the problem? The United States Department of Agriculture both works to protect consumer safety while also endorsing the farming industry. As far as Foer is concerned, there is little reason not to change laws. The lack of backlash from the meat industry responding to the statements made in his book surprised Foer. There was not an argument to defend factory farming.

As the public gains access to more information regarding the system, a greater movement to change it is developing, 96% of Americans believe there should be laws to protect animals. More college students identify themselves as vegetarians than ever before, 18% claiming to maintain a meatless diet. The concern does not stop at meat; one of the fastest growing food industries is the cage-free and free-range label that is applied to all animal products.

Last week in the Nation’s Captial, Foer spoke with passion about changing the meat industry in our country. He did not preach his vegetarianism, though he did not hide the fact that he was proud of his life choice. He did not condemn the meat eaters in the crowd, he simply suggested that eating less is a better decision on multiple levels. At the end of his talk, his bottom line was not to remove the meat industry from the country, but rather to change the current industry and remove the practices of factory farming.