Sunday, November 30, 2008

RAMAK SIADATAN: Your Relationship With Food

1. How would you describe your diet? How do you feel about it? Do you think you need to change it in any way, and if so, how and why? If you feel you need to change it, but haven't yet, what is standing in your way of making the change?

My diet is an interesting blend of "old world" and "new world." The Persian culture I have grown up in is centered around social gatherings, food, and, of course, tea. :) So from the old world I still eat regular amounts of rice, kabob (beef, chicken, lamb, etc), various meat/herb stews, feta cheese, pita bread, nuts, fruit and tea. From the new world, here in California, I eat regular amounts of everything else! That includes eating out at Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, sushi, pizza, burgers, fast food, etc. It also includes cooking a great deal at home... again, chicken, ground beef, steak, turkey, sandwiches, fruits and veggies, cheddar cheese, juices, clear sodas, beer, wine, you name it.

I have a steady dose of protein, carbs, vegetables, fruit, dairy. I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner (though I used to skip breakfast for years out of laziness or lack of time). My portions are average for American diets, probably large for European or certain Asian diets. For the most part, I am happy with my diet. I would like to cut back on some of the processed foods, but as others have mentioned time and convenience play a huge role there. We usually don't eat out for dinner more than once, maybe twice a week, so we are cooking at home a lot...this is usually going to be healthier.

So from a health standpoint, I feel pretty good about my diet. In terms of impact on the environment, while we are not completely organic, we do avoid certain fish that aren't being raised/caught "properly" and make other small decisions like that. In general, I think I wouldn't change much about my diet at this point.

2. How do you (and/or your family) eat? (At home/ out/ take-out/ around a table/ standing at the counter/ together/ at different times/ on the go/ et cetera?) How do you feel about this? Again, do you feel the need for change?

Well, I already touched on this one a little. Breakfast - always home made/store bought. Lunch - always home made for my wife, and usually home made for me (though I occasionally give in once or twice every couple of weeks for a fast food item). Dinner - home made usually 5 or 6 nights a week. I make my wife's breakfast and lunch, and she usually eats those at work. I eat both of those meals seated at the kitchen island at home, since I normally work from home. We are trying to get up early enough to have breakfast together, and so far that's working about once a week. :) We eat dinner either at the dinner table, or on the couch with tv trays so that we can watch television. Since she has about a 45 minute commute, we usually end up with 4 or 5 hours together at night. The first hour is spent working out, so that means tv time and dinner will often go together to make the most of our time.

We would like to be more leisurely and relaxed when we eat, but all things considered I think we do a pretty good job.

3. Where do you shop for your food? How do your food-shopping habits reflect your values?

Large chain grocery store - Safeway. That's where most of it comes from. We are substitute shoppers, meaning we'll take the alternative at a discount in lieu of a favored brand. However, our juice is 100% juice, our bread is 100% whole wheat, our fish is wild, etc. As long as it fits within those and other parameters, we don't care about brand name. We also shop for bulk / pantry items at Costco, a North American wholesale wharehouse store that sells in bulk at deep discounts.

Where we shop definitely reflects who we are. We try to shop within a budget, being flexible about brand names while maintaining certain standards as it relates to the quality of the food we consume. Mostly we are making sure the food we eat is healthy for our own bodies while trying to avoid food that is blatantly and inexcusably damaging to the animals or fields or people involved in the preparation of the food. So, we try to temper sensitivity to the outside world with concern for our own health while being mindful of our budget. That's probably us in a nutshell! (But I don't eat nutshells.)

4. What does your country/ state/ region do to influence how and what people eat? Does this need to change, in your opinion?

California is crazy. Sometimes that's good. Sometimes that's bad. I like to think that for every 100 stupid ideas we have in California, we have two or three incredible ones that might change the world. Take that for what it is, but it is where I live.

It is important to note for this question that my wife graduated with an animal science degree, and has spent several years studying, researching and doing field work in areas related to the raising of different animals for food consumption. Also, her family has spent generations in California's agricultural heartland, and while her family hasn't had a farm for decades, they are all very much interested in the livelihood of California's ag industry.

That being said, the animals raised for food are not in nearly the dire straights that you hear on tv, read in print, or see popping up as Propositions on the voter ballots. When it comes to cows, for example, you have to remember that these are expensive animals and the livelihood of their owners' financial situations. Many of the people accused of mistreating animals wouldn't dream of actually doing so as it would directly impact their own economic situations. Now, there are obviously other cases of poorly treated animals, unhealthy living conditions, etc and these need to be dealt with aggressively.

As for the crops being raised in California, you would be surprised at the various regulations involved in maintaining healthy and environmentally protective crops. Again, we work hard in this state to do things the right way, and the jittery few that raise unnecessary concerns ultimately just cost taxpayers money in fighting a war that has already been won. Obviously, there is still work to do, but the focus sometimes isn't on the right things.

I think the answer for our state, and other states, continues to be in the research universities around the world. They are the ones constantly working to help us raise better crops and healthier animals in more environmentally friendly and nutritionally advantageous ways. We really should be asking ourselves what we can do to continue to fund such work.

5. What one thing can you do to:a) wean yourself off an oil-based diet and onto sun-based foods?b) improve your eating habits and thus your health?c) encourage others to do the same?

a) I like oil. I really do. Try having a Persian stew without oil. Totally dry, doesn't taste very good. And food should be enjoyed. We have been given many gifts as human beings, and the ability to taste and appreciate food is one of them. So I say, give oil a chance! LOL (this in no way is meant to disparage the sun, without whom I wouldn't be so tan)

b) Improving my eating habits.... consistency. That's the one word. Go to the store regularly, plan out your meals weekly, look for the right combination of taste and health. But do it every day, every time. That's how you change your eating habits to be what you want. Then again, that's also how you improve your exercise routine, your work regiment, just about anything in your life.

c) Educating Just keep sharing and chatting. Adults are usually set in their ways. The best you can do is raise awareness and over time, many will make adjustments while others will never get there. The best you can do is just keeping talking about it.

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