The magic pill: A personal culture of good food?

Making choices that allow us to achieve our optimal state of health is not easy. I had a patient ask me earnestly the other day what was the magic pill for feeling great and living longer. I told her, equally earnest, that being physically active and eating whole, mostly plant-based foods were the secret she was looking for. Simple, yes, but easy, no.

The truth is, most people need to make major shifts in their lives to achieve and sustain the wealth of potential benefits from moving more and eating well.

These shifts are not effortless. They are not “hacks.” They are born of the true desire to feel better, live longer, perform better, and truly be healthy. So while you may get some benefit from doing some stretches during the commercials or swapping yogurt for sour cream, you won’t transform. You need effort. You need commitment. And yes, you need time and money. However, for most people, both come down to prioritizing.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that things we do are things that we need to do.

Maybe you pay for cable TV, or buy a soda every day from the vending machine, or get lunch in the cafeteria a few times per week. Maybe you spend a mindless fifteen minutes checking Facebook in the morning, or stay up a little too late playing candy crush, or watch a few hours of TV at night. These things are part of your days, yet you may decide you don’t have the money or the time for healthy cooking. Did you know that Americans spend 6% of our income on food? That’s nothing! In France, it’s 14%. Maybe we need to reconsider how much relative value we place on quality food. It astounds me that patients of mine will consent to pay $50 a month for a prescription drug, but they balk if I suggest they put some more spinach in their grocery cart.

Yikes. OK. So, maybe you have found the will, the time, and the money to start developing health cooking and eating habits. Now what? Well, start somewhere. I could write a book about all the things you could do, but let’s start with developing a personal culture of good food.
How do you train yourself not to default to eating junk? Have healthy food around, and make plans for how to use it. Again, simple, but not easy.

Shout out to Debbie, Adam, & CJ, the farmers in my life!
Shout out to Debbie, Adam, & CJ, the farmers in my life!

When I think about whether there was a tipping point to when I became really interested in healthy, plant-based eating, it was joining a Community Supported Agriculture program. First in Philly, and later, in Tucson, and then in Tucson again. In CSAs, you pay up front (sometimes in installments) for a season’s worth of produce. Then, every week, you pick up a box from the farm— sometimes at markets, or other designated community locations that are easily accessible. You get whatever they grew that week. Some also offer eggs or even meat. We’ve had CSA shares on and off for years, and even when we aren’t currently getting that weekly box of awesome, the lessons of the CSA stay with me.


Why did the CSA help so much? I learned to prepare kohlrabi, and different varieties of kale, and salad turnips. I learned what to make with unstoppable eggplant and jimmy nardello peppers. I learned that I like fennel, and that I like beets sometimes. I learned you can eat sweet potato greens and make pesto out of pea shoots. I learned it’s OK to try something and not love it. i learned that it’s super fun to recognize season changes in what you get from the farm, even when the weather doesn’t seem to have that satisfying shift. I learned how to store veggies. I learned that it takes some planning to use that many vegetables! If you’re anything like me, wasting food drives you nuts, so you have to learn to use what you’ve got!

Some CSAs will send you home with some recipes. If not, ask! Or ask google. Or one of your tried-and-true recipe blogs. Be open to liking things you haven’t liked before— farm-fresh veggies are generally way more flavorful than the kind you buy at safeway, which have been bred to survive on long journeys, trucked across many miles, and left to wither on supermarket shelves for long enough to lose most of what made them special.
The key is to PLAN. When you pick up that box, figure out what you’re going to make. Make a list. Go get ingredients. Maybe you take an hour on Sunday and do some washing and chopping. (Yes, you do have an hour. You just have to find it). Does all this sound like a lot of work? You’re right, it is. It takes time, and it’s a major shift for most people.  It’s also rewarding, fun, and good for you.

Want to find a CSA? Check out these resources!
So, how about it? Have you ever joined a CSA? Would you?

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