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Eat to Live or Live to Eat – ? Spring cleaning for your diet and the planet

By Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Maybe we fall somewhere in between on this one. But when it comes to moving towards sustainability and our health, eating to live may be the Yin to the Yang. To me, this simply means considering one thing with every bite – why am I eating this and what am I supporting when I do? Yes, food can and should be about celebration and enjoyment, but if the short answer doesn’t involve nourishment and a certain consciousness, you may be making your food choices more difficult and less healthy than you realize.

The biggest and most welcome change I made in my diet years ago (even more than becoming vegetarian) was to get over the idea of eating imaginary foods. You know what I mean – the things that may have started as a food, but have been processed into something entirely different – and empty nutritionally. The obvious? Soft drinks, processed salt and sugar, white flour and processed fats. Those are the absolutes – as in, we absolutely don’t receive nutrition from these foods and they in fact are harmful to your health.

Then there’s the borderline foods which aren’t much better – things like boxed cereals, cheese crackers, pita chips, soy cheese, or “sports bars”. Also beware of relying on the term “organic” as a shopping guideline. Sure, you can find “organic” versions of cookies, waffles, even jelly beans, but organic junk food is still junk food and not any kind of answer to sustainability issues. The big truth is that relying on processed and out of season foods means junking the environment, our health, family farms and more.

It was a huge relief to me to finally pare down what could be confusing choices to one category – real food. Even coffee, tea, wine, beer, chocolate, sea salt, maple syrup and other natural sweeteners all fall into this group! I’m definitely not suffering from lack of enjoyable eating experiences – in fact, I’m discovering new foods every day, like the jerusulem artichokes I tried at the Farmer’s Market this past weekend. And no, I really don’t miss bagels, pasta or soy bologna.

Keep in mind that many small farms cannot afford to become officially certified as organic but are aligned and committed to growing practices that are not exploiting our health, the animals or the environment. Local is usually a more sustainable, socially conscious, and healthy choice than buying organic products shipped across continents. Once you start thinking about the real things, it’s easy, fun and delicious. Each season, you can look forward to what is naturally available in your area. Delicious and wholesome whole grains can replace flour products. You may feel satiated for the first time in your life, while participating wholeheartedly in the joy of eating without conflict.

(After writing this, I found this topic covered beautifully by Mark Bittman, author of Food Matter: A Guide to Conscious Eating”, in the NYTimes this morning. Enjoy!)

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