For the past couple of years, my husband, Clif, has struggled with high blood sugar, which, as I’m sure readers know, can lead to adult-onset diabetes. Mostly he’s been able to control it with diet and exercise, and often when Clif goes for his checkups, he gets a “gold star” from his doctor. Clif’s weight and blood sugar are exactly where they should be. However, occasionally Clif backslides, and if I’m going to be honest, I have to admit that it’s partly my fault. After all, what’s a husband to do when his wife gives him a sidelong glance and whispers, “Do you want to go to Bolley’s for fish and chips and donuts?” Does he take the high road and refuse? Of course he doesn’t. He succumbs every time. And who can blame him? No man worth knowing is immune to the siren call of Bolley’s, to those hand-cut potatoes, deep fried to perfection, crispy on the outside with just the right amount of give on the inside. To the fresh, flaky fish in a crumb batter so good that we eagerly eat the crumbs left behind. Then, there are the donuts, those tender, sugared circles of fried dough, which taste as though they’ve been fried in lard, even though the owner assures us that they have not.
When Clif backslides too much, he gets a “wag of the finger” from his doctor as well as a stern lecture about the evils of high blood sugar, which, of course, are very real. Chastened, Clif turns to salads, at least for a time, and brings his weight and blood sugar down to where they should be.
As every foodie knows, we are now in what might be called the “High Holy Days of Eating,” a time of sweet and savory excess where the appetite is fondly and shamelessly indulged. No sensible person tries to diet in December. After all, New Year’s Day, with its emphasis on penance and resolution, is just around the corner. Until then, bring on the eggnog and cognac.
For some inexplicable reason, Clif has chosen to have one of his frequent blood tests and doctor visits in December, and not surprisingly, this is when the wag of the finger usually comes. Last week, Clif went for the blood test, and yesterday he went to his doctor. We had both prepared ourselves for the usual holiday lecture. Instead, what Clif heard was so astonishing that at first neither of us could really believe it. Blood sugar, bad cholesterol, and weight were down. Good cholesterol was up. How could this be? How could this be happening in December, when sugarplums are dancing into our mouths as well as in our heads?
We thought about what had changed over the past few months, since Clif’s last appointment, and we both came to the same conclusion. The biggest change is that we started this blog, which means that local, made-from-scratch food is absolutely at the center of things in our household. Now, we’ve been heading in this direction for some time. We didn’t, say, go from Little Debbie Snack Cakes one day to homemade carrot ginger soup the next. It’s been a gradual process that has spanned many years. But with this blog—the cooking, the writing, the thinking, the talking, and the photos—everything clicked into place, and intent and practice have finally combined to become a way of life for us.
Very little of what we eat comes from a box. Bread, muffins, and biscuits are made by my hand and baked in my oven. I don’t buy skim or low-fat dairy products, but they all come from New England, indeed, mostly Maine, including Kate’s butter, which we now swear by. No margarine or butter substitutes for us. Our eggs come from a small farm, and the yolks are nearly orange. In the summer, we buy almost all our vegetables from the farmers’ market or a wonderful farm stand just up the road from where we live. Winters are harder, but we do what we can, and our emphasis is on soup, which we never seem to get tired of. How we love soup—warm, nourishing, economical, delicious, and, again, made by me.
This posting could go on and on about the various implications of cooking from scratch, eating locally, and their effect on health, both on a personal level and on a national level. There are issues of time, which Americans never seem to have enough of; money spent on food; the advertising and subsequent pull of highly processed food; misconceptions about healthy and unhealthy food; and the role of joy and pleasure in food and eating. The list is long, and no doubt I’ll be returning to these issues over the next year.
But, in brief, the food writer Michael Pollan is right when he advises, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” For more about this, read Pollan’s excellent In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. He writes at great length about the health benefits of food that is grown locally, organically, and naturally. As he puts it, we are what our food eats.
Then, for heaven’s sake, if you aren’t already (and I suspect most readers already are) buy as much local food as possible, and go forth and cook from scratch. Your body will thank you.