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Ahimsa

Practicing Non-Harming Toward Yourself and the World

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Health

The Case for Cooking

There’s a really insightful post at Change.org’s Sustainable Food blog about the “new era in American food.” The author, Katherine Gustafson, writes about how fast food chains such as McDonald’s are using new ideas to get their customers to stay longer at their stores, and how this shows a fundamental change in our eating habits. It’s a great article and I urge you to read it.

There’s one particular line that influenced me to write my own thoughts about this topic:

This food is by and large what the American population likes to eat, and we have come to accept the speed as normal.

It’s been years since I’ve eaten at a burger joint, but I can speak for my family and friends that they don’t see places like Burger King and McDonald’s as just something convenient – it’s a legitimate choice for their next meal.  This shows that my family and friends, and I assume a majority of Americans, honestly do not care about how their food is processed, how much they enjoy it, or how it tastes. It all comes down to how cheap and fast it is.

I take a lot of joy in cooking. It’s without a doubt my favorite hobby, and it is a sure way to relieve stress. On the rare occasions where I eat out or order delivery, I end up feeling that I’m missing out by not cooking myself. I have a lot of respect for home-cooked meals not only because are they undoubtedly more nutritious, but because they also taste better. A big part of my love of eating comes from concern for how my meal was cooked and whether quality ingredients were used, something restaurants rarely care about. When you eat out, whether it’s fast food or  a sit-down place, your meal is a product of speed, cost, and efficiency. Taste can be compromised to some degree.

(A simple note – there are certainly restaurants that really do care about the quality of their ingredients and finished meals. I’m writing primarily about popular chain restaurants.)

The majority of people I know hate cooking. To them, it is a chore. So they stock their pantries and freezers with cheap frozen meals and ridiculously processed foods. I feel like such people are missing out, and that they are also passing on an opportunity to easily create for themselves a healthier lifestyle.

I used to live on frozen Amy’s meals and canned veggies. It was by no means an exciting culinary life – and even though I knew that at the time, I figured there was no way I could cook. There were plenty of excuses – I don’t know how, it takes too long, I’m too busy, by the time I get off work I’m too tired, etc., etc.. But then I fundamentally changed the way I ate, and in the process changed my life. Simply by cooking all my meals myself, I shed sixty pounds in less than a year, and I feel amazing. I also discovered I had a love for cooking that will probably last the rest of my life, as well as appreciation and respect for every bite I take.

The misconception that cooking takes too long or that it’s too hard is keeping so many people back. There are plenty of people who hold down full lives and jobs and still find time to cook healthy, home-made meals for themselves and their families.

So here’s a challenge: tonight for dinner, why not skip the dodgy, plastic-wrapped frozen veg patty and whip up a delicious meal yourself? Do you need inspiration? Here’s 10 ideas for healthy, speedy, and delicious meals.

  1. Pizza – whether you use a home-made or good quality whole-wheat pre-made crust, you can any toppings you wish. A few of my favorite ingredients are fresh tomatoes and herbs, olives, mushrooms and broccoli.
  2. Smokey Miso Tofu
  3. Taco salad – just through together tortilla chips, beans, taco seasoning, tomatoes, lettuce, and salsa.
  4. Polenta and Tofu Skillet. This is one of my favorites.
  5. Oven-roasted vegetables. Make a tin-foil packet of healthy veggies, a bit of extra-virgin olive oil, and roast in the oven until fragrant. I promise you’ll love it.
  6. Soup! There are thousands of variations and you can use anything you happen to have in the kitchen.
  7. A huge salad. Ideas for ingredients include a variety of greens, seeds and nuts, avocado, raisins, oranges, any vegetable you can think of, and a simple lemon-olive oil-balsamic dressing.
  8. Stir-fry. This is my signature I’m-too-tired-to-cook meal. I use whatever I have, add my favorite spices, a little soy sauce, and serve over rice.
  9. A super-easy and yummy tempeh salad that you can stuff into whole-wheat pitas or serve over a bowl of greens.
  10. And finally, if you absolutely refuse to cook when you get of work, for example, why not cook up a few extra meals on your day off and then freeze them. Then, when you’re too tired to cook, just heat them up! It’s as simple as that!

Baltimore Schools: Meatless Mondays

Schools in Baltimore are about to have more compassionate Mondays. Baltimore City schools are joining the Meatless Monday program, the first school system in the country to do so on a regular basis. Every Monday the school system will serve it’s 80,000 students a vegetarian meal (sadly the program isn’t vegan-food inclusive, though introducing vegetarian food is a start in the right direction).

It is important for all school systems to incorporate vegetarian and vegan options in their cafeterias on a regular basis, not just one day per week. While I think it’s great that Baltimore is trying out the Meatless Monday program, I think back to my own school days and remember how hard it was to be a vegetarian at my high school.

I stopped eating meat in the tenth grade. Not vegan yet – I still ate plenty of dairy. I went to a decent-sized high school, and the cafeteria was always super crowded – to the point where standing in line meant you only got 10 out of 30 minutes to actually eat. The meals were horrendous. Before I became a vegetarian, my typical school lunches would consist of a half-cooked chicken sandwich, a slice of greasy pizza, or a huge-ass chocolate chip cookie. By not eating meat, I was reduced to the cookie, or french fries, or canned vegetables left on a heating plate. We didn’t have a salad bar, no vegetarian option (such as a veggie burger) was ever offered, and the school officials couldn’t care less what we ate.

Needless to say, being a student at my high school meant not eating healthy during the day. I’ve gotten a little off-topic I guess, but I just feel it’s really important to feed our nation’s children a nutritious, healthy meal at least once a day. And adding more vegetarian and vegan options to the menu is a great place to start.

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