June 26, 2011

Transformation (Or, André Gets the Last Laugh)

Category: Life — Cranky @

Recently I gave up aspartame. It’s not because I think it causes cancer. It’s one of the most thoroughly tested products in history, and there’s no evidence that it’s harmful in any way. I’ve just really started to think about what I put into my body. Now instead of Diet Coke I keep a pitcher of water lightly flavored with the fresh juice of one lemon handy.

This outlook is new. My whole life has been stuffed with terrible eating habits. Whether it was pure junk food or junk food masquerading as real food (I’m looking at you, KFC), I ate bad food. There were months where my fridge was empty because I was eating out or bringing home fast food. If there was food in my fridge it was a small selection that was quick to prepare and not particularly great for me.

Even when I was in the best shape of my life, I got there eating poorly. To achieve my best weight I basically spend an entire year hungry. A nutritionist would have fainted at seeing how little I was eating. It worked, but it wasn’t healthy, physically or mentally.

Early this year I realized I was growing weary of this cycle of destructive eating, and I resolved to find a way to step out of this pattern. It couldn’t be a diet – a diet is a temporary patch. It had to be a fundamental change in how I approach food.

So I decided to learn how to cook.

In the city of Edmonton we’re lucky to have one of the great culinary schools in North America, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. Last month a team of six students won 10 medals at the Hong Kong International Culinary Classic. Even better, they offer a set of continuing education courses, the “Kitchen Skills” program. It was 60 hours of instruction across 15 evenings, covering basic knife skills, soups, stocks, sauces, as well as meat, vegetable, and seafood preparation. They’re primer courses, and while these courses are not very deep, they opened my eyes to what cooking is all about.

Over the past five months my meals have transformed. I haven’t brought fast food home in quite a while, and each night I look forward to making dinner. Tonight it was baked salmon in sesame oil, and steamed broccoli and asparagus with a honey mustard vinaigrette. I packed my lunch for tomorrow, too. I’m having spinach leaves chiffonade with shredded carrot, Swiss cheese cubes, radishes, cucumber, sweet bell pepper chunks, and shredded chicken breast with a classic vinaigrette.

Slowly I’ve gravitated towards what is often called the “Mediterranian diet”. Red meat once a week, poultry once or twice, fish often, plenty of fruits and vegetables, some eggs, cheese and yogurt on occasion, and unrefined grains. The principle fat used in cooking is olive oil. I’ve also dusted off my elliptical trainer.

This change in food is only part of a larger change in my world view. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I buy. On June 20 a report was released by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, and it confirmed what I’ve been realizing for a long time – the oceans are in terrible shape. When it comes to commercial fishing, shrimp trawlers are an absolute nightmare. They destroy vast ecosystems, leaving behind a devastated sea floor, not to mention the fact that each pound of shrimp also kills between 4 and 10 pounds of “by-catch” – other marine life that is simply dumped back into the sea, dead or dying.

My conscience finally got the better of me, so I found a local seafood distributor that specializes in “sustainable seafood”. If I want shrimp, it’s going to have to be B.C. spot prawns, which are sustainably caught in traps with little or no by-catch, and no trawling. They’re also three times the price of other brands. All the seafood I buy is checked against the SeaChoice sustainability list.

Closer to home, the local farmer’s market is my grocery store of choice. This Saturday I bought asparagus, carrots, strawberries, baby potatoes, and onions. In another month the selection will improve as other vegetables come into season. I’m pleased to buy local produce. The idea of buying a tomato from South America is sitting less well with me these days.

The other good thing about the farmer’s market is that lots of pretty girls go there – the “granola chicks”, as a poker buddy called them.

All of these things, from my changing diet to my attempts to reduce the cost of my life on the planet, come from a desire for balance. I’m a happy guy, enjoying his life, but parts of that life have been chaotic forever, and smoothing out those perturbations feels good. I sleep a little easier, I have less regret, and I’m starting to lose weight again.

In a heated debate on Christmas Eve back in 2005 I once goaded André, a steadfast environmentalist and my cousin’s husband, into being so worked up that he called everyone at the table – and me specifically – ignorant.

It took me 7 years, but I’m man enough to say, “André, I agree with you. I’ve come around.”

Cranky V2.0

1 Comment »

  1. Wow!

    Comment by Shannon — July 3, 2011 @

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