Self-Care Starts in the Kitchen

I have a bunch of super smart high achievers in my life who don't feed themselves very well. They have the fork-to-mouth mechanics down, but when it comes to planning, prepping, preparing or cooking food it is either a) not high on their priority lists or b) something they have a hard time executing. 

This is, immodestly, something I am really good at. So, for my friends who are good at other things, a philosophy and a plan: 

Philosophy

1. Self-care is not selfish. 

2. Food is medicine. What and when we eat has a direct impact on our overall health, well-being, mood, energy level, and productivity. 

3. The time we take to prepare and eat good food is not wasted. It comes back to us later in the form of more energy and clearer focus. We spend less time distracted by our bodies (bloating, constipation, inflammation, headaches, mood swings, irritability, fatigue and co.) and more time in our bodies, using them to do whatever it is we do. 

4. Convenience is a myth. Preservatives, stabilizers, factory farming, pesticides, and airplane food are all convenient. This doesn't mean they're good. Lies are convenient. Also not good. Processed food and lies will all catch up with us, either at the end of the day in the form of a sugar crash, or later in life with more drama: think heart disease, Diabetes, depression, or a big ol' fight with someone we love (that would be the lie coming back around). 

It might be convenient—and even cheaper—to skip breakfast, take Beano, and eat what's available instead of what's elevating, but, ultimately, this convenience has a price. This price may seem to just be the body's to bear, but what happens to our physical forms is inextricably connected to our thoughts and emotions—our essential us-ness. And vice versa. If you've ever broken out because of stress or felt nauseated after receiving horrible news, that's the body processing your anxiety and taking on your grief. 

In Becoming Wise, Krista Tippett makes the point of the mind-body-soul connection very elegantly. Mind and spirit, she argues, "are as physical as they are mental."   

"...how we inhabit our senses tests the mettle of our souls.... I'm factoring in a love of our bodies...a frankness about them, a fidelity to them. We can trust the wisdom our bodies offer, again and again, and in the most ordinary circumstances. Convenience is an illusion, merely shifting the burden of process and consequences. Labor is real. But so is pleasure real and enduring."

If your work and obligations, be they intellectual, emotional, physical, creative, or care-taking pursuits, are what's keeping you from really nourishing yourself,  then know that taking care of yourself does not mean draining the well you draw from to pursue them. It is the same well. 

And if you are gassy and bloated, by all means use Beano or whatever to give yourself some relief, but also ask why you are bloated in the first place. The question will demand to be answered eventually, so you might as well investigate on your own terms.

Plan

1. Stock your larder. Here are some essentials: 

  • A good cooking fat. I love coconut. Also olive. Butter is delicious. As is ghee. Just make sure it's high quality and not processed. This might not seem like an item on which to splurge, but your food will taste like whatever you cook it in so get something that tastes good. 
  • Real salt. There's a healthy table salt vs sea salt vs rock salt debate happening on the Internet. All very interesting. I, personally, am fan of Himalayan pink salt. It's flavorful and pretty. 
  • Some nice spices. These are my desert island guys: Cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne. If I'm allowed two carry-ons: Red pepper flakes, cumin, cardamom. 
  • Eggs
  • A leafy green with some stamina that you can eat raw or cooked: Kale, Swiss chard, arugula, spinach. Lettuce gets really wilted and depressing looking real fast and since cooked lettuce is not a thing I usually only buy it if I know I'm going to eat it in the next couple days. (That said, chopping, rinsing, drying, and Ziplock bagging your lettuce will extend it's fridge life much longer than if you just leave it wither.)
  • Apple Cider Vinegar 
  • Raw, local honey 
  • Respectable bone broth, chicken or vegetable stock. Springbone, in NYC, could even deliver it you.   
  • A grain: quinoa, exciting rice
  • Apples. Keep 'em in the fridge. 
  • Nice nuts (raw + organic)
  • Good storage containers so your food has a place to go. I love these, these, and these

2. Spend one night prepping food for the week ahead. I like to do this right after I go shopping or get my CSA box. It's so tempting to do it later, but there is nothing less enticing than dirty vegetables with all their stems and leaves staring at you from the fridge when you are hungry and looking for something to eat. If you put the food away and forget about it it will forget about you, too. It will mold in retribution. It will go limp in despair. 

So, wash everything that needs to be washed. Put your apples in a pretty bowl. Cut up your kale. Chop your carrots or potatoes or squash so you can roast them later. Or, hell, just roast them now; you're listening to a podcast anyway. Soak some quinoa so it will cook faster and digest easier later. Really into the podcast? Cook the quinoa and put it in your fridge. There's your lunch with some sautéed greens and a fried egg. Give yourself over to an hour or so of prep.

Is this the most convenient thing to do? At the time, it might be more convenient to throw a bunch of plastic bags in the fridge and deal with them later. Or not go shopping at all and order takeout. But see above, point 4. CONVENIENCE IS A MYTH. 

3. Get into your food groove. I go through food phases and, depending on the season, eat a lot of the same things a lot of the time. When I am sick of eating those things my body tells me and we move on to something else. The beauty of eating seasonally is that right when I am so incredibly done with sweet potatoes is when the asparagus and rhubarb and first strawberries start showing up and my new cravings have a place to land. 

This is what's prepared in my fridge right now: 

  • Roasted sweet potatoes
  • Ribboned kale, massaged, sensually, with salt and olive oil. It's ready to be sautéed, braised, or eaten raw after another massage. 
  • Tahini dressing (tahini, lemon, olive oil, water, salt, garlic in the blender)
  • Homemade mayonnaise
  • Cut up lamb sausage

These are my building blocks. Really simple. Nothing elaborate. My goal is to always have something ready to eat in my fridge so I'm not faced with any of those Snickers' commercials scenarios when I'm hungry. We do weird things when we're hungry. We make poor choices. If my available food choices are good, it follows that I will make good food choices. I may also eat most of a jar of peanut butter, but that's okay. I'm okay. 

4. Learn how to roast a chicken. It's really easy

One more truth from Ms. Tippett: 

"As the era of care-less food comes to a reckoning, we're relearning the elemental delight in growing what we eat and preparing it as though it matters."

And this from Dan Barber: 

"When you are greedy for the best food, you are by definition being greedy for the kind of world that you want used in the proper way. That's the true definition of sustainability."

Change your diet, change your life, change the world. Easy.