Food for thought

How good should food make us feel?

Eating is a complex subject. What food we are supposed to eat is a topic of conversation at all ages.

As a kid, you eat foods to make you healthy and strong and as you get older you have to balance guilty pleasures like desserts with protein, fats and fibre.

Then, there are allergies and dietary restrictions and politicized foods and endangered foods… it’s enough to give one indigestion.

I wonder, in an age where food supplements are all the rage and we talk of trendy ingredients like they are gemstones, maybe we have placed too much importance on what food can do for us.

I love to enjoy good food, and I cherish times when food is shared among friends and loved ones. I take pride in being healthy and I like the feeling of eating nourishing meals.

But I do realize that like most passions, the love of food can be a slippery slope. Not to infer too much into this, but where is the sweet spot?

“People who love to eat are always the best people.” – Julia Child

We are taught from an early age that sweets are sinful. You’re not supposed to have too much of them, they will ruin your teeth and make you fat.

But then why are they used as a reward, as in “Eat all your veggies and you’ll get to have dessert." or “be a good kid while Mom does the shopping and we’ll stop for ice cream on the way home."

The concept of a guilty pleasure is thus ingrained in our culture. As we get older, we taste something (usually) rich or sweet after we’ve endured some hardship, and we feel good about surviving the ordeal but bad about indulging.

I think we can turn this ideal on its head: instead of making excuses for indulging, why don’t we embrace our indulgences as the rewards due for accomplishments?

I’ve written about this logic before – kids can be taught to eat veggies because they taste good, not because dessert always comes after they wash them down. Then dessert can be enjoyed for its own merits, too. If we set this example as adults, it makes more sense to our children.

“Let food be thy medicine” – Hippocrates

The same applies when we make extra efforts to be healthy. Vitamins can be an important supplement to a healthy way of life, but by definition, they are a supplement — “something that completes or enhances something else when added to it”.

You’ll notice the word “replace” is not in the definition. Neither is “offset.” 

Taking handfuls of supplements is not meant to counteract our indulging. It’s one thing to have a salad the day after you’ve had a five-course meal, but it’s foolish to believe that extra herbal supplements or diet pills will pave the way to a healthy future.

Remember what was said about the road to hell? Part of the paving mix for those good intentions is excess supplements.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien

The history of all cultures shows traditions around food and celebrations, but most modern societies hold a body image ideal that is not realistic for many.

This pressure to achieve a “perfect body,” especially for young people, can be overwhelming. Eating disorders and an unhealthy approach to food is a serious matter, one we need to address.

There is also the economic reality of the cost of food; many people go hungry because they cannot afford proper nutrition.

They may also be uneducated in what constitutes proper nutrition. Even people who are educated about food tend to fall into the trap of believing that it’s generally faster and cheaper to get fast food than to make a meal at home.

“Food is not just fuel. Food is about family, food is about community, food is about identity. And we nourish all those things when we eat well.” – Michael Pollan

Did you know that a 2010 study by researchers at the University of Toronto showed that people exposed to fast food and its symbols on a regular basis (even just pictures of food or logos) were more likely to become impatient in their lives?

This led to them not only being more likely to look for any time-saving measures (not just the drive-thru) but also to make them less likely to save, and even get ahead in life. It made them prefer instant gratification in all aspects of their life, regardless of the context.

By now you might wondering, “what’s worse, drowning my sorrows in junk food and feeling guilty or obsessing about being healthy and becoming hung up on nutrition?”

I haven’t found a study that claimed there is a worse alternative, but do you see what I mean about this business of overthinking our eating habits? Eating food should make us feel good.

But let’s be realistic, Popeye didn’t really get superpowers from spinach, and one cheeseburger or tub of ice cream will not make you sick.

A positive attitude does go a long way, and sustaining that positive attitude is really what it’s all about, right? Sustainability is something we talk about often in relation to food.

Moderation is a big part of sustainability.

A wonderful illustration of that philosophy, along with a dose of how to be polite at the table, comes from one of my favourite foodies.

 I’ll close with his commentary:

"Pooh always liked a little something at eleven o'clock in the morning, and he was very glad to see Rabbit getting out the plates and mugs; and when Rabbit said, 'Honey or condensed milk with your bread?' he was so excited that he said, 'Both,' and then, so as not to seem greedy, he added, 'But don't bother about the bread, please.'" – A.A. Milne


Memories of Bambi

Did you ever see classic Disney animated movies like Fantasia or Bambi?

They were my favourites growing up, but my childhood memories of them are dreamlike — fragments of scenes and songs. They inject themselves into my every-day life in a subliminal fashion.

To this day, a song about April showers jingles in my head if I walk on a wet day. And I have always loved mushrooms. The taste of mushrooms is like nothing else.

Video link of Fantasia mushrooms: https://youtu.be/ZJYN1d3f2dc

Spring is full of new beginnings, new adventures. This can mean all kinds of experiences, and  tasting new things is one kind I love to include.

As a child, I imagined mushrooms were the secret ingredient to a fairy tale life. They are the quintessential poster child for the taste sensation of “umami”, that mysterious savoury flavour found in some foods.

Their texture is velvety, and they absorb sauce flavours extremely well. They even look cool, with their feathery gills and umbrella caps. Fairies love them too, so that sealed the deal for me as a kid.

As a grown up I have sampled many foods, but my experiences with eating continue to be adventure. This year, my new food experience is my tower garden, which allows me to grow veggies year round. I have 28 hydroponic pods in my tower with LED lighting.

It took only four weeks of operation to get results. Tonight, we ate a salad with lettuce from our garden, and I can’t put into words how good that made me feel, and how delicious those leaves were.

My exotic new adventure this spring is not about exploring food from far away, as those Fantasia mushrooms appeared to be. Rather it is about enjoying food that is grown close to home — or at home, even.

It’s also about food that is not wasted.

I cut off just the greens that I needed for our salad; there was nothing left to rot in the fridge crisper.

Food waste occurs at every level of the food industry, from farms all the way to our table. Statistics show that up to 40 per cent of food grown in North America is wasted. If we are to change that, we need to change our conversation around food. We need to think differently. 

Just because cucumbers are on special - buy three for almost the same price as one - doesn’t mean it’s a good deal for us. Can we use three cucumbers before they spoil?

What if we checked on what we already had in the fridge and planned a meal around that instead of shopping first and forgetting what was in the back of the crisper?

Not everyone is going to forage in the fields to reconnect with their food. Perhaps if we did think of the connections we have to everything in the field when we walk with the dog or play with the kids, we will be more conscious of how wasting food affects us all.

We need to respect the cucumbers and the mushrooms the same way we need to respect the trees and the animals.

Maybe it’s worth taking a walk in the rain to remind ourselves of the whole world and how it all fits together.

Video link of April showers: https://youtu.be/xksfShPraTQ

Are holidays for everyone?

I read an article recently from NPR that discussed the appropriation of holidays by other cultures, and it got me thinking. 

As a gourmande, I am keenly interested in food specialties and traditions, and I love to taste them whenever I get the chance.

Fairs, markets, food stores with items from other countries and cultures – these are all irresistible to me in the same way some people love shopping malls. Does that mean I am turning their time-honoured traditions into a foodie trend?

Most of us enjoy foods that are traditional in our family at various holidays throughout the year. Some of them come from our heritage, but many have been swallowed up by the masses as a general tradition – especially in North America, where there is such a broad blend of many immigrant cultures.

We all celebrate most holidays, and some have become more about the celebration than the significance. The example in the article mentioned St. Patrick’s Day.

This was a day meant to promote understanding and kindness for the new Irish immigrants, and yet it is now more about green beer and parties in bars. That promotes the very stereotype that communities were trying to dispel when they invented the holiday.

Have you ever enjoyed Chinese food during their New Year? Or perhaps you attended a Diwali festival?

Maybe you have been to a Gentile Passover feast? That is apparently one of the latest food adventure trends. I wouldn’t want to force my way in to someone else’s celebration, but I am intrigued by new tastes and stories.

Since holiday meals represent a celebration of life and love or even survival, is it bad if we share that sentiment even if we aren’t celebrating the specific history of our own family?

I am truly torn with this debate. I understand the value of guarding one’s own heritage. I also believe that one of the best ways to understand another person and their heritage, their world, is to share a meal with them.

Learn what makes them happy, what is important to them, how they feel about their place in the world. Around the dinner table we can listen to the stories and enjoy hospitality, and hopefully reserve judgement until at least dessert.

The symbolism of a friendly atmosphere during a meal goes all the way back to Biblical times and is true in Christian and Jewish tradition.

Have you heard the expression of “breaking bread”?

Nowadays, that expression can represent anything shared, not just a meal. At its origin, it was about sharing the spirit of life itself. Sharing bread with others was a sign of respect for them, and value for their lives.

I wonder if we go back to this symbolic meaning, perhaps we can better achieve a common ground for understanding.

I don’t want to take over Hanukkah customs when I make latkes, and I don’t mean to disrespect Irish immigrants when I make soda bread.

I don’t go to church, but I can still value the significance of the story behind hot cross buns. These sweet buns, like many traditional delicacies, are meant to represent a bit of decadence – in this case due to the end of Lent.

Plain buns were made through Lent, and on Good Friday sweet buns were made with a cross on top representing the crucifixion of Jesus and spices symbolizing those used to embalm his body for burial.

One story says they were first invented by a monk in the 12th century who gave the buns to the poor on Good Friday.

The hot cross bun is a good example of sharing traditions, if an exaggerated one.

They are sold throughout much of the year now; in the U.K. during the 1500s-1600s, the government decreed a law that sweet buns not be sold except at burials, Christmas and Easter.

Stories abound on the legendary powers of these little breads: buns bought on Good Friday will not spoil; buns taken on a sea voyage will prevent shipwreck; a piece of a bun given to someone who is ill can help them recover; buns hung in the kitchen rafters will prevent against fires and ensure perfect bread in the coming year. 

Just like I don’t think a single meal shared is going to solve the problems of the world, I rather doubt a hot cross bun hung in my kitchen will prevent me from messing up on my bread baking. However, it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it? I will be baking some on Friday. (Recipe link: https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/bread-recipes/hot-cross-buns/ )

My theory is that yes, all holidays are for everyone. We just shouldn’t be greedy. There is no need to take anything over, let’s just have a little bite. Gluttony is a sin, just like any other form of excess.

Sit back and reflect on what you have tasted, and heard. Digest it all. Then toast to everyone’s good health, and be grateful.

I wish each and every one of you a Happy Easter, however you celebrate it.


Let's hear it for comfort food

As I write this, my hubby is making one of his cherished grilled cheese sandwiches, using an old iron to ensure the bread gets good and crispy

Don't worry, it is the cast iron variety, not the electric kind.)

It’s pouring rain, and dreary days deserve the comfort of melted cheese.

After my column last week about burgers, I wondered what other comfort foods were popular, and, of course, grilled cheese is on the list.

I am not sure if the actual sandwich offers Martin comfort, or if it is the ritual of using the iron he really loves.

We all have our favourite things, and often they are entrenched in very specific conditions to keep them intact as favourites. New favourites often include such details, and that is what makes them endearing.

You know, like the fact that Oreo cookies have to be eaten with a glass of milk, and you have to pull them apart — maybe you don’t, but I certainly do.

It is comforting to know what is going to happen, how the food is going to taste; and the anticipation of that moment is what really makes you feel better.

What is your favourite comfort food?

For me, the favourites are usually from my childhood, like a mug of hot chocolate and a scrambled egg sandwich on fresh French bread.

The butter on the bread melts from the hot eggs, and with just a bit of ketchup it is sublime (my hubby likes mustard, which apparently is a Quebecois thing).

The hot chocolate must be made with cocoa and honey too; it gives a much richer taste than bottled syrups.

Dreary days and lonely or stressful times can often make us think of comfort foods.

  • Something to chase away those winter blues, even as the temperatures warm up.
  • Something that makes us all warm and fuzzy inside, helping us forget about a bad day or a lost love
  • Something you can have even if there are no friends or family around, that gives you the same feeling as when they are all around.

One thing I discovered while researching the top comfort foods is that they change by region. Shrimp and grits was not in the top 10 in Canada, but then perogies weren’t on the American list.

And did you know that Nutella beats out peanut butter if you look at internationally ranked comfort foods

Here in Canada, we have specific favourites from different parts of the country, and if you have history with one of those favourites, then you are likely a fiercely loyal fan.

Butter tarts either do or don’t have raisins. French fries have vinegar — or ketchup — or cheese curds and gravy.

Favourite pies can be fruit (a la mode, or maybe apple pie with cheddar cheese?), or flapper pie, or savoury tourtiere. After all, we are an expansive country.

If you have a hankering, I did find a comprehensive list, and it includes recipes. Maybe you’ll even step outside your comfort zone and try a new possible favourite.

Anything that drives away that dreariness and adds some light in your day is worth tasting.

(Here's a link for Canadian comfort foods: http://www.foodnetwork.ca/shows/great-canadian-cookbook/photos/great-canadian-comfort-food-recipes/#!West-Coast-Fish-Chowder )

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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