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have a nugget of something

I’m a vegetarian and have been for many years now. Even so, I can respect cuisine of all varieties (even if I don’t eat it)–of the carnivorous persuasion and otherwise. It’s shocking, however, to consider the variety of disgusting processed byproducts our fast-food nation passes off as food–especially to our children. Jamie Oliver demonstrates this nicely in the following clip from his new show Food Revolution.

I swear I threw up a little in my mouth when Oliver revealed the contents of his food processor. What’s worse is the kids, having seen the true nastiness of the so-called “chicken nugget,” all said that they wanted to eat it once it assumed its “friendly” shape. My god, eat a carrot already–preferably organic. Too many children and adults live a life of processed junk, preservatives, McDonalds, and the like. Oliver is clear in his mission that we are killing ourselves and our children by cultivating a culture that offers and accepts these substances as food.

We’d all be better off if we knew where our food came from, got closer to it, and made simpler and even slower choices.

feed your family (healthfully) for only $2.90

Recently in one of my classes we were discussing food and our ecological footprint on the world. One topic that kept resurfacing was how many of my students would love to buy more organic foods but the cost is just too high. Not only is the price not right, the other main argument that many of them made is that it just takes too long to make a healthful meal. And it is these two factors–cost and time–that often leads to people eating crappy food. This sentiment is one I’ve heard not just from my college students (who you might expect to not always eat the healthiest of foods), but from other adults and parents that I talk with.

I really don’t understand why anyone would subject themselves to the fast-food garbage that they call food.

In addition to this discussion, I keep seeing these commercials lately from the typical fast food restaurants enticing customers with their low prices. You know the ones–“Feed your family for under $4” and in small print it clarifies that this is “per person.” Given the hard economic times I can see how this might sound good for many.

But all this got me thinking . . . is it really true that you can’t eat healthfully without spending a fortune or without spending all day in the kitchen?

Thinking about this I decided to break down a couple of our recent meals to see the cost and time factor.

The first was a meal of Tofurky brats and dogs on buns, organic baked fries, organic steamed veggies, and a salad. While some of this food was processed, it was a simple, fast meal (less than 30 minutes) in which everything but the bread was organic and non-GMO. And average cost per person for this meal was $3.65!

The second meal was a casserole dish that is extremely fast and easy to throw together–less than 10 minutes. However, cooking time does take awhile at 1 hour–but then the casserole is in the oven leaving you plenty of time to do other things and not just slave away in the kitchen. The dish consists of Tofurky kielbasa, frozen and fresh organic veggies, organic potatoes, and organic cheese. This dish alone comes out to be just $3.08 per person (sometimes even less because we often have leftovers with this dish). Being the bread lover that I am, I typically serve a loaf of bakery bread stuffed with roasted garlic hot out of the oven, bringing the total up to $3.58 per person for a really easy, nutritious, and tasty meal.

Galloping gargoyles! It is possible to eat healthfully for less and not spend all day in the kitchen.

One last meal that I recently prepared was a recipe for chickpea and potato curry over rice. Using canned organic chickpeas and canned organic tomatoes saved me on the preparation time. All the other ingredients were organic as well, including the rice. The total time for this meal was about 35 minutes and the cost came out to only $2.90 per person! This meal does require some more uncommon spices, so if someone doesn’t have these on hand the cost might be slightly higher.

I have to say I, myself, was a little surprised by these figures. I actually thought the cost per person would end up higher. Our family has been trying to make strides in eating healthier, and due to this I am willing to spend more on organic and non-GMO items. But, breaking it down like this I see that in comparison to those typical fast-food places we can actually eat better, more nutritious food for less money!

Using an expression my son loves–galloping gargoyles, IT IS possible to eat healthfully for less and not spend all day in the kitchen doing so! Now, with these two main arguments of cost and time not holding up to my test, I really don’t understand why anyone would subject themselves to the fast-food garbage that they call food.

ikigai and living to be a hundred

Another fine video from TED came across my desk today, and it struck a chord with me. It’s entitled How to live to be 100+ and the speaker is Dan Buettner–a National Geographic writer and explorer who studies the world’s longest-lived peoples.

Now, I’m not necessarily interested in living to be a hundred. (I mean I guess it would be nice, but I’m more interested in living a life that matters–a quality life for as long as I can.) This is what Buettner is talking about–I think–the quality of life. This resonated with me, as I have for a long time now been trying to make the choices I think will result in a better life for me and my family–and for others in the world. I’ve never been very motivated by money or material wealth, and have made career choices based on doing what I enjoy, doing what I think matters, doing something that will afford me with as much family time as possible–basically doing something that really doesn’t feel like work at all. I’ve seen a lot of people around me dig themselves into holes of despair in pursuit of shadows and phantoms–money, stuff, and status–and I feel lucky that I’ve done a fairly decent job of avoiding such trappings. I’m trying anyway and thinking about it everyday.

Buettner has identified a number of areas in the world that he calls “blue zones.” These are places where people regularly live healthy, happy, productive lives for well over a hundred years. One of the groups he mentions in his study is the Okinawan people. In Okinawa there is no concept and no word for retirement as there is in the United States. Instead, the Okinawan people live by a principle known a ikigai, which roughly translates to “the reason for which you get up in the morning.” One question on a survey distributed by the Buettner’s Blue Zone research group asked these people what their ikigai was. They knew instantly. It is a principle that deeply imbues their lives. From Buettner’s talk, this notion is what stuck with me most–ikigai. I think about it often. Everyday, what am I doing? How am I spending my time? What is my purpose?

People sometimes ask me about work, or about homeschooling our son Aidan, or about any number of other things that occupy my time. Sometimes the conversation goes directly to this matter of time. When do I get off work on Friday? How long does “school” last for Aidan each day? These questions honestly baffle me, and I am hard pressed to find an answer. I do very little compartmentalization when it comes to living my life with my family. We just live each day. We do things. I teach college kids. I think often about ways I can better reach them and better help them in their development as writers and as people. I spend time with Aidan. We go places and learn things. We have long conversations over breakfast and dinner. I love my wife and try to tell her every day. Each day unfolds easily without much planning. Each day is in many ways a pleasant surprise. This feels good. This feels more natural.

If I were asked to tell you what my ikigai is, I guess I would have to think about it–find the words to express it. I’m quite sure, though, that it would have something to do with my family, with curiosity and learning, with being of service to others as I try to be a better person and a better friend to the people in my life.

In all honesty, I do like sleeping in, but when I wake up I do so with a light heart knowing that I am living a good life and will continue to take gentle steps to make it better for me and those around me each and every day.

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