Numbers, knowledge, and a little bit of power

One way of looking at food and cooking is as a numbers game. Especially if you’re calorie-conscious or on a weight-loss regimen, numbers play a critical role in how you maintain or achieve a healthy weight. But even for everyone else, while keeping track of your intake of fat, calories, etc. may not be essential on a daily basis, I would argue that a firm knowledge of what you’re eating, numerically speaking, is important to understanding, assessing, and appreciating food. I’m currently in an introductory class on nutrition and sensory analysis, where we cover the nature of taste, how to perform a sensory analysis, the biochemical structures and bodily functions of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, and how to incorporate more wholesome, nutrient-dense ingredients and low-fat or no-fat methods of cooking and flavoring agents to produce food that provides your body with enough energy, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals, while still tasting good. This last point is critical to acknowledge because, all food trends notwithstanding, we’re told that consumers consider taste to be the #1 factor with regard to food choice. 9 times out of 10, real food consumed with balance, moderation, and variety in mind will bestow you with everything your body needs.

The thing is, we all know that eating isn’t just about obtaining 20-35% of your calories from fats or 28g of fiber. So while knowing these barometers is helpful for eating well, and getting the numbers right might mean good health, health is not the only reason we eat food.* In America, there’s an emphasis on health because our nation lacks it and needs to restore it. Hence all the talk on eating stuff that’s “good for you.” Well, food may mean numbers to your body, but is that what it really means to you? I seriously doubt it.

A couple dishes that exemplify the sorts of dishes we’ve cooked thus far:

wild mushroom and goat cheese tortellini, poached shrimp, tomato sauce with basil

seared scallop, smoked tomato sauce, whole grains salad, spinach

*See the WebMD article, “Michael Pollan’s 7 Rules for Eating,” for a brief discussion of what Pollan calls the ideology of “nutritionism” and the myths it propogates.

Food choices

[Update: FYI]

I’ve finally worked my way through The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a “must read” for anyone seriously serious about food.  While well-written, insightful, and informative, I often found myself struggling to get through some chapters, as evidenced by my taking almost two months to complete the book.  At the end, I simply resorted to skimming the parts that weighed down my eyelids, which in all likelihood, singlehandedly accounted for the anticlimactic sense of accomplishment of turning the final page.  Upon reflection, the big points Pollan makes seem to me worth digesting: respecting the beautifully interwoven nature of the food chain and recognizing that food choice is dictated by multitudinous factors both within and without our control.

Since graduating from college, I have thought often about the food-related choices I make: what I eat, how often and with whom, where and why, and so on.  As a consumer, I’m the first to admit that words like “organic”, “free-range”, and “local” strike a positive chord in me: I inherently associate them with plus value.  What’s fuzzy for me, and for most I imagine, is exactly how much more valuable organic eggs are than regular ones.  Is an organic egg worth three times more money than a nonorganic one (because that’s how much more it would cost to go organic with my egg consumption here in Hong Kong)?.  Do I, in refusing to buy organic eggs, set an economic value on my health?  Should I feel guilty about this?  How would I even be sure that my health benefits from the organic-ness of the eggs I eat?  The questions seem endless, and I don’t have good answers. What I do know is that my desire to eat healthfully and enjoyably is moderated by the fact that I live on a budget, one both economically and pscyhologically imposed.  So I while may pause at them, I won’t buy the organic eggs at three times the price of regular ones — that goes against my sense of reason, and I value my ability to think rationally.  On the other hand, show me a good tea time buffet deal at a fancypants hotel, and I’m there — talk about reason. Proof forthcoming 🙂