Saturday, April 16, 2016

Food is Family

In Trust Thyself, I wrote about finding balance and the fact I believe our bodies will inherently lead us to it, much like butterflies somehow find their way to Mexico each fall. To some extent, I've settled on this conclusion because I've seen my body hold objective preferences towards certain food groups (or families) when left to its own devices.

For a long time, I loved all foods (save for maybe zucchini and peanut butter). If it was edible, I often ate it. But, after suffering from a bout of "lost appetite" for a good three years (see Cheers to Ms. Fisher), I noticed my preferences begin to reshape and even mature.

When one suffers from a loss of appetite (for whatever reason), I believe the body craves pretty nutritious foods on the rare occasions it is hungry. If you subscribe the idea that the body intuitively knows what it wants, it makes sense it'd go for the most "bang for buck" when given the opportunity to eat. This, at least, was my experience. While the loss of an appetite was painful, I noticed my body begin to shun some foods and really crave others (no, I was not pregnant during this time). And like a person who finally grows into a certain style of dress or finds their unique voice in writing, I really found my epicurean preference to lie with "greens and beans"... as it were.

Greens and beans, ya'll.

For the past several years, we've heard the hype about dark greens. But while trends come and go (in any sphere) dark, leafy greens really are good for you. Loaded with vitamin A and sometimes K (or C), items like kale, cabbage and collard greens are packed with nutritional value. Combined with beans, your body is provided with an invaluable combination of minerals and protein. But... this is not everyone's preference and, indeed, there are other ways to attain a diet compete in health. However, knowing which groups we prefer to pick our nutrients from can save us some thought and thereby headaches. Indeed, foods belong to particular families within the plant and/or animal kingdom, some with more or less nutritional value. And while it's great to have a variety of foods on our plate, it's more important to have have those items which will give us the greatest benefits in the long run.

I bet you can pick out which foods are "related" (hint: they're the ones with "little tails" at the end).

When it comes to cooking, I have little tolerance for presentation. I know chefs say, "one eats first with their eyes," but this complementary component of eating has always driven me up the wall. Indeed, in many parts of the world, many people feel lucky simply to have food on their plates. So, unless you're really bored (as most rich people are), the food before us should be valued for what it can do for our bodies and not just for our sense of culture. To be sure, I'm currently at the (price) point in my life where I skimp on items in a recipe because, while they may add flavor, they don't add too much nutritional value. And, by leaving them out of my meal, I'm able to "add" to my bank account (or at least not subtract from it). So, at this point, my recipes are essentially distilled to contain foods I both like and are good for me. And, to some extent, I'm happy I'm not double dipping because although those stupid salad bowls look nice, they really can run up the tally in our wallets whether or not you produce them at home (no pun intended). So, without further ado, I figured I'd parse out some plant families in order to see which ones you prefer and/or if you're getting some real variety in your diet. Enjoy!

Lamiaceae: "Start small," they say. And, indeed, the Lamiaceae family is composed of small herbs including basil, mint, rosemary, sage, oregano, lavender and thyme... to name a few. And, with the exception of lavender for medicinal (read: mental) purposes, I know I'm not a large fan of this family's flavor. But, if you are, I suggest checking out the Greek shop, Daphnis and Chole.

Allium: In terms of flavor, the Allium family (or genus, to be specific about it) is really where it's at. While I might skimp on carrots or celery (both members of the parsley family) I can't skip adding my onions, garlic, leeks, shallots or chives as they add that hint of flavor (and bite) I can't resist.

Brassica: Brassicas is really my bread and butter. As stated before, leafy greens are my jam and there's something about kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, collard greens and Brussels sprouts that make my mouth water. Whether it be kale kimchi, cauliflower rice or Brussels sprouts with bacon, these vegetables usually find their way into my diet on the daily.

Solanaceae: Kind of like members of the Lamiaceae family, I don't mind members of the Solanaceae (also known as Nightshade) family but I could do without them. And this is good because, in general, items like tomatoes, potatoes, peppers (both bell and hot varieties) and eggplants can add some cost to your meal without any real nutritional benefit. Indeed, Gisele Buchenden's personal chef says she excludes tomatoes and eggplants from the supermodel's diet. In general, the cost of tomatoes can be high, even in their summer season. And when you compare the price of two tomatoes (around $2 at the farmer's market) to a .99 bunch of kale, it makes you thankful that nutrition is not (always) expensive.

Cucurbitaceae: Gourds are gross. 'Cept for cucumbers. Maybe watermelons. 

Legume: According to Wikipedia, "a legume is simply a dry fruit that develops from a simple carpel... and usually [opens] on two sides. But peas, beans, peanuts, soybeans and even clovers differ from our conventional ideas regarding "fruit" (a definition which technically includes vegetables). And, to some extent, members of the legume family are different than most fruits. Legumes, provide us with a great source of protein. Indeed, I recall my father eating them on the daily in order to maintain his vegetarian habit. And, like members of the Brassica family, they're often cheap (if not salty) in canned form. So while kimchi and kale chips are a large part of my nutritional repertoire, I usually whip up a bowl of hummus to go with them.

To be sure, these are just several of the "families" which exist within the Plantae Kingdom. There are many others like the grass and parsley (or Apiaceae) family which I chose not to address in depth (mostly because I don't like them). However, it's important to note that many of these families (like many of the ones I grew up with in Rhode Island) are related. Of course, they're all plants. But, as taxonomy breaks down from kingdoms into phylums and eventually into families, there's an important point when the above families either fall into the unranked categories of Asterdids or Rosids. While tastes might seem to be objective and individual, there seems to be some scientific basis behind them. In general, the Lamicaeae, Apiaceae and Solanaceae fall under the auspices of Asterdids while the Brassica and Cucurbitaceae families fall under the category of Rosids. And when I think about my salads, I know I'd fall for one of cabbage and cucumbers over lettuce and tomatoes any day. As Socrates said... "know thyself."

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