Clarissa Wei is head of marketing for Out of the Box Collective and a local food writer.
Guys, I think we’re approaching food completely wrong.
I’m in the millennial generation. It’s a generation of juice cleanses, paleo if you’re in that community, gluten-free, and an endless feed of photos of my generational counterparts hitting the gym hard and supplementing with murky green shakes. For those who aren’t into that sort of thing, or “bird food,” as some of my friends like to call it, they’re hawking over bowls of glorious artisanal ramen and seasonal shared small plates in airy restaurants with chalkboard walls and local beer.
People spend more money on gym memberships than on quality groceries. People know more about the pedigree of local chefs than their local farmers.
To be able to cook well at my age is a rare skill. Those who are adept at it are like unicorns. People actually brag about not being able to cook.
And it’s no wonder why. We were taught to prioritize academia. I grew up in a traditional Taiwanese family with immigrant parents who forced me out of the kitchen despite my protests. I was instructed to focus on math, piano, Chinese, science. When I would try to cook, I would be met with condescending eye rolls and scoffs. And so, illiterate in the art of cooking, I ate out all the time in college. I gained weight and felt depressed, constantly hungry, and obsessed with what I was eating. I started really getting into food and fell straight into writing about the restaurant world in New York City. People love food. Post an article on bacon-laced sweets or a doughnut/croissant mutt and lines will form. People will camp out. People will go out of their way. To consume, consume, and consume.
There was a brief phase where I started to really obsess over my body. Bombarded with images of fit, beautiful women both online and in real life, all while dating a gym aficionado — I guilted myself into not working out.
I started counting calories, running miles, eliminating wheat, eating smaller portions, and I’d order mostly salads whenever I went out. I became stressed out and obsessive. Who wouldn’t? In addition of normal day-to-day tasks, I was micromanaging my body.
I’ve abandoned all of the above: The daily gym routine. The counting calories. The fad diets. The heavy juicing. The obsession with restaurants. I will not wait in your lines.
And I’ve never felt better in my life. I don’t have to think about what I’m eating, how much I’m eating, when I should eat, if I should be eating. I don’t feel behind if I haven’t checked out the latest, hottest restaurant.
It’s simple really.
Eat. Real. Food.
You see, the gym fad and the diet fad requires you to consciously think about what you’re doing with your body. It requires you to pay for that membership, to abide by strict dieting rules to accomplish a certain goal. On the other end, in the restaurant space, it’s easy to overeat because you’re determined to try the darlings of the menu that you’ve heard so much about. Eating has become some sort of statement. Checking in at a particular restaurant gives you a weird type of street cred.
It’s so unnecessary. (Which I why I gravitate toward mom-and-pop restaurants in my writing. I adore them not so much for the food, but for the culture and stories they’re bringing.)
I get a box of recently harvested, locally-sourced, organic, pesticide-free groceries every week. It’s not just fruits and veggies. There are meats, cheese, grains, and occasionally, a bar of fair trade chocolate. I’m forced to cook, to feed myself, and for the first time, begin a real love affair with my food. I’m eating rich, buttery pork chops, freshly-made pasta, hand-harvested rainbow carrots. The tomatoes are potent — they’re dry-farmed.
I’m learning that dinner can be utterly simple. I’ll slice my cheese of the week and eat it with the grapes. Or, I’ll saute my sunburst squash with onions, season it with salt and pepper and serve it over pasta. Not every meal needs to be a epic feat.
When you eat fresh, amazing things happen. You don’t need the sauces, the complicated dressings, the elaborate prep work. Fruits and vegetables have an entirely different texture and taste. My onions are consistently sweeter than run-of-the-mill supermarket varieties. I can eat an entire tomato by itself. I’m hooked on the subtle sweetness of yellow corn. Quick blanched vegetables with a simple aioli — that’s my go-to snack. Trust me, recently-harvested carrots taste a hell of a lot better than baby carrots from the supermarket. I don’t have to worry about brining my chicken; it’s naturally juicy. Grass-fed butter over a fresh loaf of bread that was baked that morning? It’s heavenly.
As for my body. I don’t even think about it anymore. I don’t have to. I eat to eat. I don’t eat to make a statement. I’m eating whole foods and simple dishes that aren’t laced with additives.
Here’s why I will never diet again: Because I’ve fallen in love with real, wholesome food.
And so, I say, away with the crazy fads, the weeks of hard-core juicing, the obsessive workouts. Kale chips are delicious, but they shouldn’t be the only thing you eat.
I challenge you: try a week of eating real food. Try food that has been harvested recently minus the pesticides, minus the hormones. Go to your local farmers’ market. Re-learn, from the ingredients up, what you’re putting in your body.
Have a love affair with your food. Touch the produce. Cut it. Cook it. Because as with all relationships, if you’re in a healthy, loving bond — you won’t sweat the little things.