Did you know this blog is really about love, not food?
Don't worry - you'll be forgiven if you thought this was a food blog because I myself seem to have neglectfully forgotten what this blog is all about. It's been months - MONTHS - since I posted anything significant on the topic of love, focusing instead on the enormous fun and excitement of food.
But as I typed up Saturday's micro-post on the Titanic tragedy, I realized I was a bit of a hypocrite. There I was, pointing fingers at the lack of love that culminated in one of the deadliest peace-time disasters of all time, yet what had happened to the love in my own blog? As I looked back over the posts, love was starting to look like an inconvenient nuisance rather than my motivation.
Yet the topic of love can be extremely volatile. It can lead one on dangerous rants, alienate readers, and leave folks muttering, "What a nut job!" After all, who writes about love except for romance novelists, religious fanatics, and philosophical idealists? Who does that?
But love is what started my blog, love is what prompted each of the different weekly series (Made with Love Mondays, Tuesday Tutor, Food Fetish Friday) and love is the only reason I should continue to blog. Because if my posts are just about food, then what is the point?
Food without love is just flavors and textures shoveled down into our gullets to satisfy cravings. And that's nothing to glorify or blog about - at best it's self-sustenance and at worst it's self-indulgence and gluttony. How many of us really want to read or write about self-indulgent gluttony?
So it's back to blogging about love through food. Ok, but how does one express love through food? And what exactly is this "love" I keep sprinkling over everything like some kind of magical fairy dust?
First, let me back up for a minute. This is my blog, my perspectives, and my convictions. And while I may state everything as fact, each of us has a responsibility to examine and live by our own convictions and perspective. So while I always hope to influence others for good, I certainly would not FORCE my opinions or convictions on others. Thus, read on with care and form your own conclusions.
I think we can all agree (although it's easy to get confused), love isn't romance and it's not attraction.
For me, love is putting the welfare of greater good ahead of myself. Love is the absence of self-absorption, self-indulgence, and self-pity. Love is doing what is RIGHT, not what is easy. Love is never influenced by money or fame or power or popularity. Love is NEVER self-seeking, never bullies, never fears. Love does not hate (truly HATE) anyone (even those opposed to us) and never seeks revenge (even when justified). Love protects, love forgives, love encourages, love supports - without the slightest hope or desire for reciprocity. Love does not sit in judgement or condemn, but rather seeks knowledge and understanding.
How's that for a definition? And as anyone who knows me personally will tell you, I don't measure up well against this definition. I frequently take the easy route instead of doing what's right. I frequently fall into the trap of self-absorption and indulgence - especially when it involves bread and cheese! And I'm quick to make snap-judgments about other people. In fact, once I've formed an opinion about someone, it's extremely difficult for me to alter my perception or give them a second chance.
Yet despite my own failings, that doesn't change the importance or love. If real love became our motivation for everything in our lives (jobs, travel, food, friends, family, faith, etc), imagine the world we would live in! Money, fame, power, popularity - GONE. War, hatred, bullies - GONE. Greed, exploitation, bigotry - GONE. What a world love could build for us...
But there's a catch (and isn't there always?) - love will never be automatic for any of us. Because love is work. Love requires us to carefully think before we take action. Love never blindly follows and thus love requires us to trail-blaze our own path - which is exhausting. Love requires personal sacrifice for the greater good. And all of us have different opinions about what the "greater good" should look like!
Yet despite the work, love is a reward unrivaled by ANYTHING else in this world. It won't make you rich or famous or popular - but it will make you happy. And when love ceases to be your motivation, a tiny part of you will remain inexplicably unhappy no matter how perfect your life situation. This isn't philosophy - it's fact.
When love ceases to be our motivation, we always arrive at tragedy.
- We let greed creep into our lives and slowly consume us until we're robbing our own employees of their retirement (ENRON, anyone?)
- We become convinced of our own superiority (or the superiority of our convictions) and seek to enforce our views on others (Slavery, Third Reich, 9/11, Don't Ask Don't Tell, Defense of Marriage Act, etc)
- We become so obsessed with getting what we want (money, comforts, fame, etc) and recklessly abandon responsibility and disaster signs (Johnstown Flood, Titanic, Sub-prime lending disaster, Detroit Automakers Bailout, etc)
I think I've made my point - love needs to be at the center of everything we do. And that includes cooking and blogging. But how does one apply something so nebulous as "love" to something so specific as cooking?
For me, it means evaluating my motivations and answering a few questions:
- Am I contributing to the "greater good" with my food/blog? My definition of the "greater good" may be different from the next person, but I ask the question to force myself to evaluate the long-term consequences of my choices. If I struggle to see a connection between my food/blog and the greater good of the world, then it's time to re-evaluate my motivations and choices.
- Am I showing love for the welfare and enrichment of the lives of my readers? For me, showing love for my readers means respecting their health, encouraging responsible food choices, and sharing knowledge to enrich their lives. As soon as my blog posts drift away from this core, I know I'm drifting away from love for my readers.
- Why am I writing this post or cooking this food? For me, blogging and cooking should NEVER be about making a buck or turning a profit. Or increasing my popularity. Or building a following. Because as soon as any of those reasons becomes my focus, I know love has ceased to be my motivation.
- No trans fats. Ever. Trans fats are partially hydrogenated oils that are difficult or near impossible for the body to breakdown, resulting in increased cholesterol and increased chance of heart disease. Many "low fat" products like margarine traditionally used these partially hydrogenated oils and some have now been reformulated (like Crisco) to use only trace amounts of trans fats. Because of the severe health risks associated with trans fats, I do not use products or ingredients with partially hydrogenated oils on the label.
To avoid trans fats, you will need to read the ingredient list carefully as many products labeled with "0 trans fats per serving" actually still use partially hydrogenated oils. Many candies, cake mixes, and pre-prepared snack products still include trans fats.
- No Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is a suspected carcinogenic (cancer causing) chemical used as a container liner by many food packaging companies. In fact, most canned foods contain BPA in the lining of the can, including tomatoes and tomato paste. And the BPA is not listed on the ingredient list of products because it is technically not an ingredient but rather a part of the canning process. Even more confusing, just because something is labeled as organic, it does NOT mean the cans are BPA-free unless specifically labeled as such (or the company has publicly committed to not using BPA in the canning process).
Due to health concerns and to err on the side of safety, I do not use products from cans. Fortunately, the growing consumer concern of the health-risks associated with BPA has pressured several large food packaging companies (such as Hunts) to strip BPA out of their canning process. Research the canning process used by a company before purchasing a product and assume BPA is part of the packaging process unless explicitly stated otherwise.
- No High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) or Corn Syrup. HFCS is an engineered sugar manufactured from corn and ardently backed by the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA). Although no major US food or medical organization (such as the FDA or AMA) has officially declared HFCS to be more harmful than naturally occurring sugars, there is a growing preponderance of evidence suggesting increased health risks associated with HFCS, specifically related to heart health and diabetes. Thus I would rather err on the side of safety for my readers and avoid HFCS entirely.
HFCS is most notably found in soft drinks (like Pepsi and Coke) and many candies, but it can also frequently be found in all kinds of strange places from ketchup and BBQ sauce to pie fillings. In fact, many baked goods and preprepared products include HFCS as an ingredient, so the only way to avoid HFCS is to read package labels carefully.
To complicate things further, the FDA allows companies to call HFCS "corn syrup" on ingredient labels, thus I avoid all products with "high fructose corn syrup" or "corn syrup" on the label.
- Avoid Artificial Food Dyes. Artificial food dyes are used throughout the food industry (both in packaged foods and foods ordered via restaurants) to improve the visual appeal of food products. Sometimes the food dyes are obvious such as with colored candies or jimmies or sugar crystals. Sometimes the dyes are hidden in the ingredient lists as "caramel coloring", "Blue 1 and 2" or "Yellow 5".
A growing cry from health experts warn about the potential risks associated with food dyes, specifically dyes made using known carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds such as benzidine. Some believe food dyes may be linked to hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders in children. And really, why add more chemicals to our food? Thus I avoid products with food dyes in the ingredient list - although this can be a real challenge and sometimes I relent for special holiday occasions.
- Avoid Preservatives. Food preservatives are everywhere and in almost any preprepared or packaged food. In fact, sometimes preservatives are in "fresh" or frozen foods. And since most of us don't recognize the chemical names for preservatives, these preservatives can be particularly difficult to avoid. A few common preservatives that are easy to spot include sodium nitrate and sodium benzoate.
The best way to avoid preservatives is to Google unfamiliar ingredients before buying a product and to start with fresh ingredients when possible. Avoiding cans, bottles and preprepared shortcuts will eliminate most frequently offending preservatives.
- Start from scratch. Starting from scratch isn't some kind of gimmick - it's simply the best way to avoid stuff like trans fats, BPA, HFCS, food dyes and preservatives because I can precisely control what goes into my food. Perhaps even more important, starting from scratch prevents me from whipping up a decadent cake in 5 minutes, baking off a sugary batch of cinnamon buns every morning, stirring up mac and cheese every lunch, or popping pre-made cookies into the oven at every craving.
Indulgence is suddenly work and thus indulgence is limited to special occasions. There are no shortcuts, no quick-fixes, no instant gratification. And that's a good thing. Love has a chance to temper my cravings and cause me to think better of gorging on sugar, fat, and carbs.
- Test everything, every time. I've written before about my perspective on recipes - there's no such thing as an "ultimate" recipe or the "fool-proof" recipe or the "best-ever" recipe. Everyone's tastes are different and we all have different preferences for texture, sweetness, saltiness, etc. And beyond personal preference, I don't really believe in strictly following recipes because it encourages fear of failure in the kitchen. We should all feel empowered to experiment with food, tweak recipes, and imagine new possibilities.
Yet because I respect my readers' time and energy, I believe in thoroughly testing all of my recipes before sharing. I don't want to waste another person's time or ingredients on mediocre results, nor do I want to contribute to another person's fear of failure in the kitchen. Thus, I always test all of my recipes before posting - if I'm not happy, I assume no one else will be either.