Does health and happiness come from real food?

Today I am sharing my thoughts on what I think real food is – and it is probably not what you think it is.

Maybe a back-story first, though.

I love Food!

I have been a lover of food all of my life and I was blessed by marrying someone that loved to cook – and cook exceptionally well.  For all of our lives together, we would eat fantastic meals. Our meals were probably nutritionally better than what many people ate – as main meals were mostly based on fresh ingredients.  Generally our cooked meals would have been high-carb meals with plenty of pasta, rice and potatoes. But they were good – like Moroccan Lamb casserole – a multitude of spices and hours in the preparation.  We also loved to go out to restaurants and, again, we ate similarly high-carb but flavoursome dishes.

We loved everything about food.

Like many readers, we struggled with weight and health issues that got worse over time but eventually came to understand the real issues underpinning the problems we experienced.  While we both loved our carbs and all those yummy ways of consuming them, we decided to cut back.  Our diet became a sort of roller-coaster ride with more carbs coming in and then going out again over the years.  We had generally cut out the worst carb offenders (and vegetable oils) but were still not what I would call healthy.  Our weight went back up when the carbs went up and then, with some effort and fewer carbs, our weight came back down – and health improved.

Our diet today is what most people would call “very low carb” – lots of varied meats, some organ products (liver, heart etc), eggs, some cheeses, a few vegetables (mostly baked) and some berries.  The meat is mostly either roasted or BBQ’d and simply seasoned with salt and pepper.  Sometimes we will do a 36-48 hour slow-cook in the Sous Vide – brisket or ribs and then brown off on the BBQ.

We are not fanatical and will eat what is available, such as when we travel.  Occasionally we will still have a homemade meat pie or a similar carb hit.

To readers, this may sound like a boring and unsatisfying way to eat.  However, I feel that we have never eaten in a more fulfilling way.  I really enjoy what we eat now and look forward to each meal. We make an effort to buy raw ingredients that are naturally full of flavour – like:

  • A 350g Rib Fillet with a decent amount of delicious fat – salted, then seared over high heat – a couple of minutes each side.   Season with some salt and pepper and top with a dollop of butter.
  • A beef brisket – browned over high heat – seasoned with salt and pepper. Vacuum sealed and then slow cooked in the Sous Vide for a couple of days.  Seared again over high heat for a few minutes and served with gravy made from the meat juices.
  • A lamb shoulder – seasoned with salt and pepper and then roasted in the oven for seven hours.  Served with pan juices.

This is such a long way from where we started our culinary journey. We used to eat meals with lots of spices and complex cooking methods.  People would LOVE to dine at our table.  Now we hardly ‘cook’ at all and its mostly about preparing the ingredients.

We used to cook food – now we prepare food.

So, a bit of a long back-story, but probably important to provide context.

What is food?

What a stupid question! I hear you say.  Well, maybe its semantics, but I think that we (my lovely wife and I) are now eating food – real food; and we used to eat a lot of food-alternatives.  Maybe I should explain my reasoning.

In my mind, food is what we, the human animal, would eat naturally – way back when. Real food would be naturally flavoursome, nutritious and could be eaten with little or no preparation.  Food would comprise, animals, birds, eggs, sea-foods and berries.

Food-alternatives are the stuff we would eat when real food was scarce.  These alternatives would need complex preparation methods – often to remove toxins and they may end up being edible – particularly as we discovered new spices and herbs to season them.  These alternatives were far less suitable and nutritious for sustaining a human animal but they staved off hunger and starvation.  Food-alternatives were the plant foods from seeds, nuts, tubers and leaves.

Over the centuries we had to rely more and more on food-alternatives as real food became scarcer. [Why do you think all the big land animals disappeared whenever man showed up?] We discovered agriculture, selective breeding and cross breeding techniques to make food-alternatives easier to prepare, less toxic and higher yielding.  We developed suitable cooking techniques.

What is cooking?

Personally, I think “cooking” is the collection of techniques that we have developed over centuries that turn food-alternatives into a relatively safe and enjoyable meal.  Cooking turns raw ingredients that you would never consume if you stumbled across them in a field, into something that we modern humans can enjoy.

In fact, we have bred such a collection of palatable plant varieties and got so good at cooking techniques that we now consider the food-alternatives as “food”.

Personal reflection

I used to enjoy my “sweets” like ice-cream, cakes and sweet buns.  Funnily, upon reflection, they never tasted really sweet back then.  Today, I gag on the sickly sweet smell of supermarket bakeries. Today, blueberries taste sweet to me, and I cannot stomach anything much sweeter.    My taste buds have recalibrated.

Today, I get immense pleasure from a slow cooked lamb shoulder just seasoned with salt and pepper.  The smell of it cooking and then the flavour and mouth-feel are just divine.  Adding more spices would just mask its naturally great flavour.  My taste buds have recalibrated.

I have never eaten better at any other time of my life.  I eat maybe two meals a day and am rarely hungry without limiting what I eat.  As I approach 60, I am physically strong and healthy in mind and body. My weight is now almost back to what I weighed in my late teens. I am happy and content.