I never thought I’d have a crisis of faith over yogurt. Charlotte loves the stuff, so I buy it regularly. Recently, the Independent was out of her usual brand, so I had to deliberate between the myriad of possibilities: fat-free, probiotic, Greek, sugar-free, gelatin-free… just to name some options. Her usual brand has just a few ingredients that seem plausible in yogurt production (milk, cultures, flavour), so I don’t mind if she eats a lot of it.
It took me a while to read all the ingredients and nutritional content of the contenders, and settle on a winner. But it’s not just me, food enthusiast, reading labels at the grocery store; go down any grocery aisle and see people scrutinize all the small type found on practically everything we eat these days, whether it’s as processed as cheez spread or as simple as an apple.
I recently read that food is the new religion. Once, our only salvation was living a good life or honestly repenting our sins. But now, with people turning away from traditional religions, eternal life can be achieved by stuffing ourselves with superfoods or adhering to obscure diets. We’re regularly accosted by how some miracle food can cure our ills of gluttony and sloth. Go online and bear witness to a desert of prophets who claim their way is the only way, confirmed via questionable science and slews of apostles.
It wasn’t always quite this way. While the Egyptians, for example, knew that eating liver would improve eyesight, it wasn’t until the late 19th century when vitamins were discovered and the simple act of nourishment began its evolution into science. Coincidentally, this is also when industrialization began, and we all started sitting a lot more. We once needed to eat to sustain strength; now, we still do, but we also have the free time to deliberate what we choose to eat.
In certain demographics you’ll find all realms of food restrictions. Some have genuine allergies to gluten; others go gluten-free in the belief they’ll lose weight. There are vegetarians, vegans, pescaterians, locavores, raw foodies… and that’s just off the top of my head. There are people who don’t consume aspartame or white sugar. Some wage war against food colouring; others, hormones in animal products.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy — science does have its benefits, and the free market its failings — and to do what’s ethically right. But if you are able to have the wherewithal to worry about these kinds of things, you also have the money to do so. Although the gap is narrowing, organic, free-range, and local foods generally cost more than the sprayed and trucked variety most of us are accustomed to. And if you’re going to venture into less charted dietary territory, you best be prepared to shell out the time and money necessary to be dedicated to your cause.
But aside from the weighty economic injustices that dictate who can eat healthily, these fads and prophecies cloud the average eater’s ability to make generally good decisions. A casually conscious eater can be paralyzed by choice: should we eat organic, even if it means our produce was trucked across the continent? Should we go low-carb, or whole grain? Cut out all meat, or better appreciate grass-fed, free range options?
Why bother trying at all when ignorance is bliss?
There’s no place on my plate for fundamentalists; they starve our souls with stringent rules, judgment and shame when we don’t adhere. I’d rather be yielding, enjoying, and appreciate what I can afford to, emotionally and financially.
Pasta has been ostracized thanks to the low-carb craze. But it’s delicious and comforting, especially when made with homemade sauce. It’s worth seeking out San Marzano tomatoes for this recipe; the flesh is thicker with fewer seeds, and the taste is stronger, sweeter and less acidic.
28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
7 garlic cloves, peeled and slivered
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 large fresh basil sprig, or 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
Pour tomatoes into a large bowl and crush with hands. Pour one cup water into can and slosh it around to get tomato juices. Reserve. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. When hot, add garlic. As soon as garlic is sizzling (do not let it brown), add tomatoes, then reserved tomato water. Add red pepper flakes, oregano (if using) and salt. Stir.
Place basil sprig, including stem, on the surface. Let it wilt, then submerge in sauce. Simmer sauce until thickened and oil on surface is a deep orange, about 15 minutes. (If using oregano, taste sauce after 10 minutes of simmering, adding more salt and oregano as needed.) Discard basil (if using).
Makes about 3 1/2 cups, enough for one pound of pasta.