Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Love and Other Commitments

LoveWord


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?

Jesus Freak

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.

NoHate NoH8

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.

Titanic Evacuation
  • 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)

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  • 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. 
The answers to these questions and the impact on food will be different for everyone, but I want to share my personal perspective on food - and why I've made these choices.
  • 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.

    Arby's Fast Food

    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).

    Homemade Tomato Sauce

    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.

    Soda Cans

    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.

    Colored Sugar
     
  • 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.

    Homemade Chocolate Cake

    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.

    Kitchen Mess

    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.
Consider this blog post to be my statement of commitment to my readers. And as one of my readers, feel free to hold me to this commitment. Because sometimes love needs a gentle nudge in the right direction to stay on course.


29 comments:

  1. Great post! You have a great gift of writing. Thank you for sharing your commitments; they are truly an inspiration. Have a great day!

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    1. Thank you, Jessica - I'm happy I could share :)

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  2. Is it too mushy or awkward if I say, "I Love You"! Let me be more specific - I like how you write, your passion for what grabs your interest in life, and your willingness to be real. On top of that, you articulate it extremely well!

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    1. No, it's not awkward ;) And I'm just glad I have passion for something because that makes everything so much easier...

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  3. Nice job JW...um, it is so easy sometimes to forget what "is in" something when we forget to pay attention or become lazy or too hurried to pay attention. It works for so many diff. areas in out lives as well, if I forget to water my plant, it will droop, if we neglect to deposit, there can be no withdrawl and if we forget to take care and tend to, what we love, then that will whither as well. Do you remember that "scandal" with Yoplait and how they were coloring their yogurt? It takes diligence to be pro active in life and congrats to you for always trying. Here is just one link re: the beetle coloring but you can google it of course and find tons of info. ciao : ) http://www.meetup.com/RawFoodFriendsUSA/messages/boards/thread/2228846?thread=2228846

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    1. Jenn, you're very right, it is easy to slip into bad habits because of time crunches or poor motivation. I have to admit that when I was selling our house last year, I really didn't pay much attention to my health or what I was eating and let myself use lack of time as an excuse ;) And I did hear about the beetle coloring - I really wish companies would just ACCEPT the color of their products and be done with it! If no one used food dyes (regardless of their source) then we would stop expecting artificially colored foods...

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  4. Wow! I really like this post. I completely agree that food is always related with love. You know, I studied psychology and there is one lesson I learnt: people feeding us is their way of giving their love to us. Then I realized about my mother, grandmothers, friends, great moments, always with food around. Even, some people just cook, they may seem less affectionate, but the truth is that love is there. You only need to learn to see how people express their love. (I hope this haven't gotten too mystic...)

    I think that is the reason why I also like a lot the title of your blog :)

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind words and certainly we all have our own ways of expressing love - whether it be through food or in other ways. And certainly with food, there are many different techniques and choices that can express love without uttering a word...

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  5. As I read this I see some things as a fine line and some things as a hard rule. You do expect to have some sort of following or you would have never made this blog public, but I understand it is not the ruling factor. In this day and age I believe that it is going to take a mountain of people to make any changes in the industry to stomp out GMO and artificial this and that, however we can change our way of eating if we are willing to sacrifice convenience. This was a great read, glad I stopped in. Good way to get others to raise the bar!

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    1. Tina, thanks for reading and for your thoughtful feedback - it's always appreciated and puts a smile on my face. You're absolutely right - change will be extremely slow and difficult with the momentum of the industry today and steering away from GMO, BPA, HFCS, and everything artificial will be like trying to turn the Titanic before it collides with the ice berg. But for me personally, it's worth making the effort.

      As for followers, the reason I started my blog was to share my perspective with others and hopefully influence chance for good. That's not rhetoric - that's the truth. Now, to be fair to your point, in order to share my perspective more broadly and influence broader change, it helps to have a readership ;) But as you said and I emphasized in my blog, I NEVER want it to be my focus...

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  6. Great post, Javelin! I try very hard to avoid many of things you've mentioned here. Carbonated beverages have been out of my system for at least 5 years, I try very hard not to buy anything in a can. Thank goodness for the boxed San Marzano tomatoes at World Market! Scratch cooking is always preferred and I think more fun and satisfying anyway. The more the word is spread, the better!

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    1. I wish I wish I wish I wish (I WISH!) I had a World Market something within an hour drive of me - so jealous of those tomatoes! And I'm glad we're on the same page when it comes to from-scratch cooking - I really do think it's reward of it's own...

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  7. Wow!! What a great post! I love all you say and agree with it entirely. Food equals love and also if you don't love what you cook then the food you produce won't taste very good. Also it is about giving to other people.
    Well done. Take care X

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    1. Alida, thanks so much for your kind words and you summed up my entire post perfectly in just a few words... I'm so glad you appreciated...

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  8. A very thoughtful post JW on the very complex subject of love. I do try and do those things (except for artificial colourings, really hard with all the cake and sweet decorating) and I hope that I contribute positively but of course others should be the judge of that :)

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    1. Certainly, everyone will have a different perspective on things like food dyes, but I can't deny they do make gorgeous cakes and cookies ;) And of course, feedback is really a great clue as to the success or failures of our contributions...

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  9. You're such a great writer. I LOVE YOU:) LOL

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  10. Great post....You know...very much insight. Hope things are going well!

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    1. Thanks Ismael - and I hope all is well with you too. It's been a while since I've seen a new post from you, but hopefully life is good...

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  11. LOVE your post and LOVE what you do JW. So please keep up your great work. You have nice influence on everyone here. LOVE you! ;-)

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    1. Thank you so much, Nami - that means the world to me and I'm very flattered...

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  12. This is such a lovely post! I really enjoyed reading it.

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    1. Thank you so much - that means a lot to me...

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  13. I so appreciate your commitment to not cooking with yucky stuff. From the media I totally get the idea that I am loving my family by feeding them processed cookies and frozen meals and that is so far from the truth. It's sad that it takes more work sometimes to cook healthy, but what is love if not making an extra effort for the good of someone else?

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  14. I so appreciate your commitment to not cooking with yucky stuff. From the media I totally get the idea that I am loving my family by feeding them processed cookies and frozen meals and that is so far from the truth. It's sad that it takes more work sometimes to cook healthy, but what is love if not making an extra effort for the good of someone else?

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  15. I so appreciate your commitment to cooking without the yucky stuff. It's so easy to get the impression from the media that loving your family means feeding them processed cookies and frozen meals, but that is so far from the truth. It's sad that being/cooking healthy sometimes is more difficult, but what is love if not making an extra effort for the good of someone else?

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