Monday, August 13, 2012

Making Diet Changes a Cultural Change

Since my early teens when my sister and cousin Boo found ourselves beckoned from our yard to Uncle Milo's kitchen where he had a large kettle of boiling water, corn on the cob has been the center of some summer gluttony. On that evening that family lore was made, the three of us consumed sixty-five ears of corn rolled in butter and salted. Back then, to eat a dozen ears in a sitting was common; summers of recent history I find myself content with four.

This summer is different. Persistent high cholesterol and the threat of medication to get it under control made me turn to a vegan diet which has actually been rather easy to do. No more cheese, eggs, butter, milk, and meat. It's August now, the time of the year that corn typically matured where I grew up in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts and my internal culinary clock is chiming the alarm that it's time for corn on the cob. Butter is out, and so is the mayonnaise and crumbled cheese version of Mexican street corn that I discovered in my time south of the border. I have found that some of the vegan products I had in the refrigerator make a rather satisfying imitation of the Mexican version. I apply some Vegannaise (a veritable vegan mayonnaise) to the corn and then a little Miso Mayo which helps to intensify the flavor and then I shake on some red cayenne pepper. I have also grated some rice or almond pepper jack cheese but found it's contribution to be marginal. Some fresh squeezed lime would also enhance the experience; I just haven't had it on hand when I've had the corn.

The food we eat is a significant part of who we are; it can be almost as difficult to change as the language we speak. How could a trucker one morning wake up at a truck stop and not have the sausage and eggs with hash browns and toast. When does he opt for the yogurt and granola? It would be as difficult as mustering the motivation to learn Tagalog. Changes are difficult to make, especially when they involve something we have been doing all our lives. Our foods are connections to our families, our culture, and our memories. In many cases though, those foods eventually become stab us in the back, or more accurately, laden our waistlines, clog our arteries, or cause diabetes. People don't often make changes until it's life or death. We need to make changes to our eating routines, to the foods that our children are going to make warm fuzzy connections to and eat whenever they have the chance.

When I was a kid we ate so rarely at a restaurant that I can recall the few occasions that we did. Today, kids might have a meal from a fast food place once a day. What a challenge it will be when it's life or death and they need to make a break from those foods. Can the adults of today make changes in the foods they prepare for their children? Will kids one day crave a tofu scramble or a bowl of lentils with carrots and spinach because it reminds them of home?

The foods of our cultures largely grew out of making do with what was available where our ancestors lived. For most of us living in the United States that is not the case any more. We can eat whatever we want just about whenever we want unless it's a juicy red ripe tomato. And although there are many justifications for eating locally produced foods, the reality is much of the US does not have locally produced foods for more than a few months of the year. Saving the lives of our children when they're middle aged adults begins now while they are children. So buy that bag of lentils, the hummus, the mangoes and spinach. Get used to the almond milk. Your children are not calves, but they might grow up to be cows if the foods they become accustomed to and crave fatten them up over their lifetime.

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