I’ve had food on the brain quite a lot lately—I usually do, in the sense of what to make for dinner, what’s in the pantry, etc., but I’ve begun to make a real effort to be as mindful as possible about the implications of what I eat. This increasing awareness really began back when I lived in Georgia, when I had a flourishing vegetable garden and kept chickens, which enabled me at times to cook rather elaborate meals entirely from the fruits of my tiny little property (I never could bring myself to kill and eat the chickens themselves, but their eggs were out of this world). But then other concerns preoccupied me for a few years, and I started eating industrial, processed foods again.

Since I moved to New York, though, I’ve started really thinking about my food again. Nearly every neighborhood features a decent greenmarket for at least part of the year, numerous farms from 150 miles around offer CSA subscriptions to city dwellers, and food co-ops feature artisanal and organic foods at decent prices. I’ve taken advantage of many of these alternatives to large-scale industrial and processed foods for a number of reasons: health, environment, local/regional business support, and so on.

But my track record was still less than perfect. For the sake of convenience or cost, I would sometimes stop by a regular supermarket on the way home from work and pick up a Perdue chicken breast, a quart of milk, or some Lean Cuisine frozen dinners and shut my eyes and mind against the knowledge of the synthetic faux-foods in my frozen dinner and the unpardonable cruelty and waste of large-scale meat and dairy production.

I am lucky that my living situation for the past two years has made it much easier and cheaper to phase such lapses out of my routine—I live within an easy walk or bike ride of two nice greenmarkets, and there is an excellent organic food co-op just two blocks from my house. And now that I have recently finished reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and have begun reading In Defense of Food, I am more determined than ever to be a mindful consumer of whole, organic, seasonal, and (as much as possible) local/regional foods. Neither of these books really are saying much that I haven’t heard in bits and pieces elsewhere, but they finished the job of really opening my eyes as wide as possible to the numerous implications and effects of one’s food choices.

I have reconciled myself to the increased cost of better food, because really—do I want to skimp on what I put in my body, my most important investment? Pollan pointed out a fascinating and slightly frightening statistic: in the 1950s, about 1/3 of Americans’ household income was dedicated to food; today, that proportion is about 1/8. The “lower cost” of food is due to the highly industrialized and mechanized nature of food production, not to mention the false economy of subsidized agriculture. So we’re actually still paying a lot for our food; it’s just that the expenditure comes in the form of taxes rather than on our grocery bill. And we’re getting inferior food and environmental ruin in return. So I’ve decided to do my small part to break away from an increasingly unhealthy and unsustainable system.

As I was making these grand pronouncements to Will recently he asked, only half-jokingly, whether that meant we’d be going on a “hippie diet.” In a sense, yes—less meat (though not vegetarian); as few processed/preserved foods as possible; lots of grains and greens. But I love a fancy, pretty meal as much as the next person, so I’ve had a great deal of fun figuring out how to feel good about what I cook and eat without, paradoxically, sucking all the joy out of the process. Tonight’s dinner was a happy example of my new-ish approach to household cuisine. It was roasted pork tenderloin (pastured, hormone- and antibiotic-free, vegetarian, from a small farm in Pennsylvania) with seasonal veggies: organic rutabaga-and-carrot mash with organic butter and heavy cream, and organic kale sautéed in the pork drippings. It was quick (the whole thing took a little less than an hour), healthy, pretty, and delicious:

Meat as "condiment," just like Thomas Jefferson told us!

Meat as "condiment," just like Thomas Jefferson told us!

And this is the new model of eating in my house. Are any of my readers doing something similar?

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