Sunday, March 15, 2015

Saladosity, Part 1: Introduction

[This is the first post in a long series.  Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a blog post about salad.  Nothing wrong with that post—feel free to go back and (re)read it if you like—but lately I’ve been wanting to update it.  In fact, I’m going to do an entire series of posts about salad.  Not just the one salad I talked about in that first post, but several different kinds of salad.  But, you may be asking yourself: why devote so much time and effort to salad?

Allow me an analogy.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m a gaming geek.  Well, the first page or so of any roleplaying game (D&D, Vampire, Shadowrun, what have you) is devoted to answering the question “what is a roleplaying game?”  It goes on for some length about how it’s a game with no winnners or losers, and it’s cooperative, and blah-di-blah.  All us gaming geeks just skip over that part.  Because we all know what a roleplaying game is already.

Similarly, when you read about a new diet, it starts off with a bunch of hooha about making life changes in the way you eat and blah blah blah.  You always skip over that part, right?  Because everyone already knows what a diet is.

Except we don’t.  We’ve forgotten what the word actually means, because we’ve started using it in an entirely different way.  We mean the food that you eat (or mostly don’t eat) when you’re trying to lose weight.  But that’s not what it means at all.  Here’s the primary (first) definition of diet according to

food and drink considered in terms of its qualities, composition, and its effects on health

In other words, a diet isn’t what you eat when you’re trying to lose weight, it’s what you eat all the time.  Viewed in this way, “going on a diet” doesn’t make any sense.  You’re always “on a diet,” because you’re always eating something.  “Going on a diet” implies that at some point you get to “come off” the diet.  But you don’t.  Even when you stop trying to lose weight, you still eat.  You just go back to eating all the crappy stuff you ate before the “diet.”  Then you gain more weight, and then you “go back on a diet.”

This is silly.  You’re not going on and coming off a diet: you’re changing your diet—and then changing it back.  But this isn’t helpful in the long term.  The truth of the matter is: anyone can lose weight.  It’s actually not that hard.  The hard part is keeping it off.  And, honestly, losing weight is not the only thing you should be thinking about.  In fact, I personally believe it’s not the most important thing to think about at all.  I say, plan on eating healthier, more sustainably, more organically, more locally—whatever buzzwords turn you on—and the weight thing will mostly take care of itself.

Michael Pollan has famously said (over and over):

Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

The thing I like best about Pollan is that he doesn’t demonize any particular types of foods.  He doesn’t tell you not to eat carbs, like the Atkins people.  He doesn’t tell you not to eat grains and dairy, like the paleo people.  He doesn’t tell you not to eat fat, like the Weight Watchers people.  He doesn’t even tell you to limit your calories.  He just says: eat food.  As long as it’s real food—not over-processed, over-preserved, pre-packaged crap that’s so far away from actual food that it doesn’t even go bad any more—you’re good.  He does advise you to stop before you get full, and to favor plants over non-plants, but that’s it.  Well, salad is real food, and it’s mostly plants.  You’ll have to handle the not eating too much by yourself, but the rest I think I can help with.

So what this series is about is making a change to your diet that involves a new appreciation of—and a concentration towards—eating salad.  I happen to think this is a positive change in just about anybody’s life, regardless of what tribe of priests you subscribe to when it comes to nutrition: if there’s a group out there claiming that salad is bad for you, I certainly haven’t heard of them.  Now, there may be various ingredients that I advise you to put in the salads that go against your particular viewpoint on what’s good for you and what’s bad for you.  But that’s okay.

Because the point of this series is not to give you exact recipes to follow.  Well, I suppose it sort of is, but you’re free to modify them as you see fit.  Because the real point is to get you excited about the possibilities inherent in eating salads as a regular recurring meal.  Because that excitement is what’s going to help you make a change in the way you eat, and what you eat.  And that’s where your long-term benefits will come into play.  I personally think you will feel better, and get sick less often, and maybe even live longer.  If you also happen to lose some weight: hey, bonus feature.

But it’s hard.  Salad is not an inherently exciting food.  Getting to the point where you will actually want to eat it 5 times a week, if not more, will be a challenge.  And the most general answer to that challenge is “variety.”  It’s not enough to find one type of salad that you like: you must find several.  I personally have six, so I can eat salad six times a week and yet never repeat a meal.  Some of them are so good that I want to repeat them, which opens me up for eating salad even more often ... or just having fewer different types in a week, because sometimes you need variety even in your variety.  You don’t require any salad schedules, or planned meals.  You just need a way to prepare your kitchen such that you can, on a whim, walk in there and say “I think I’ll have a _______ salad today,” and, in 5 minutes or so, start eating it.  If that amount of preparation is combined with a rich menu of possible salads to choose from, and all of them something that you really enjoy eating, you won’t have any trouble getting maximum vegatation into your diet.

So that’s our goal here.  I’m going to talk about how I got started down this road, and what my goals are for ingredients, and then I’m going to talk about building up a stable of handy ingredients to have ready for a variety of different salads, and I’m going to talk about pros and cons of those ingredients according to different nutrition philosophies, and I’m going to talk about how to make sure none of them go bad on you (because it’ll be real food, remember, so it can go bad), and I’m going to talk about how to combine all those ingredients together in interesting ways, and at the end I’ll display six completely different (and yet very functionally similar) salads that I personally eat on a regular basis.  You can make those exact salads yourself, or you can use them for inspiration to make your own, different salads, or some combination of the two.  As long as it inspires you to make a change—not to “go on” a diet, but to change your diet—then I’ll feel I’ve been successful.

Next up: debating various nutritional philosophies.

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