26 things I’ve learned about food


Y’all, I am 26 now. This sounds like the age of a person who has a career and knows how to accessorize. But I am not that person. I am mostly just a person who loves, loves food.

Some might say that the main achievement of civilization has been to allow most of us to focus the majority of our daily efforts on things other than feeding ourselves. But I would still contend that it is in our nature to treat food as life—to schedule our days around it and to treat feeding each other as an act at once vitally basic and transcendently holy.

Looking at it that way, I’m willing to say that the things I’ve learned about food in 26 years are things I’ve learned about life. Here they are, in roughly the order I learned them.

  1. You have to try it at least once.

    This was such an ironclad rule for me growing up that I am truly astonished to encounter picky adults. Why would you deprive yourself of the wonders of the food world that way? It won’t kill you. Have a chaser ready and try a bite.

  2. Pack a lunch.

    Once you’re in the habit, it’s the easiest way to save thousands of dollars and calories every year.

  3. Anyone who can read a recipe can cook.

    Pretty much all of the foods and a lot of the baked goods you want to eat regularly require no special skills. Here is most recipes: Chop. Skillet. Medium-high.

  4. Grow an herb garden.

    OK so I, personally, have successfully kept exactly one basil plant alive in my life, but my mom’s garden taught me there is no comparison between fresh herbs and dried, especially when the fresh herbs are free.

  5. Cake of all kinds is a breakfast food for the week following any birthday or major or minor holiday, and also on Sundays, or when there cake in the house.
  6. A sharp knife will transform your attitude toward cooking.

    If you don’t like cooking, it could be because all your life you’ve been machete-ing vegetables and fighting with your meat as if it were still alive, instead of slicing them with perfect economy of motion in a blissful dance of color, shape, and flavor. When your pen is out of ink, you don’t keep trying to write; you get more ink. When your knife is dull, you should sharpen it. The deli people at nicer grocery stores will often do this for you for free.

  7. Say grace.

    Just because it’s a ritual doesn’t mean it’s meaningless. Even if you’re not religious, mealtime is a time to cultivate gratitude.

  8. Practice saying “it’s too sweet.”

    Sugar is one of the main ingredients in many “savory” convenience and fast foods (check out the labels on pasta sauce, teriyaki stuff, Wheat Thins, lunchmeat…). The people who make this stuff have us hooked on sugar, but if you get used to eating homemade, you’ll be surprised how much of it doesn’t taste right.

  9. Double the recipe.

    Leftovers are the best lunches.

  10. Less meat isn’t as depressing as it sounds.

    Whether you’re trying to save the earth or you’re just poor, you could probably cut down more drastically on meat, without making huge sacrifices, than you think. Just a couple strips of bacon can add a lot of flavor and heft to even the biggest pot of vegetarian chili.

  11. Double the garlic.
  12. Plan your meals.

    Everything worth doing takes a little planning. Take 20 minutes to find some recipes and make a list before you head to the store.

  13. Food connects us to everything.

    Everybody eats, and everybody eats things that come from the earth. The way we consume and share these resources affects everyone and everything around us.

  14. Don’t throw away food.

    Plan to use up what you have.

  15. Good food is satisfying.

    You know what’s not a good food? Those cheezballs in the giant tub that leave a film in your mouth but somehow you want to eat them all even though they are nothing but air, corn dust, and orange. Put down the cheezballs and pick up a food made from food.

  16. On that note, don’t buy cheap chocolate or cheap cheese.

    You’ll end up using less of the full-flavored, higher-priced ones, so the costs even out.

  17. Don’t diet.

    It’s one thing to cut out sugar  for a few weeks because you find yourself eating the stale plain Munchkins in the office break room after everyone has picked out all the other flavors, and you realize you’re on the sugar addiction train.
    It’s another thing to subject yourself to the rules of any diet for a long time. Those rules create shame and fear and even when you succeed you come out with this weird self-righteous mindset about what a good skinny rule-follower you are.
    Start with this rule: get at least 6 fruits and vegetables every day. Then make a list of healthy proteins and starches to balance out your meals, and you’re well on your way to a habit of eating healthfully.

  18. Pay attention to your eating.

    I eat stupid snacks like Funyuns when I’m bored and lonely. Whenever I want Funyuns, I congratulate myself on another victorious day of NOT eating Funyuns and put a little effort into becoming less bored and lonely.

  19. F*** the patriarchy.

    People sometimes seem to expect women, especially small women, to eat like we are actual fairies, sipping tea out of thimbles and nibbling micro greens while smiling fondly at our men as they devour seconds. That is so incredibly not my style. Only since I’ve gotten a wee bit angry about that have I recognized that my love of food actually helps me eat better. And that it’s one of my favorite things about myself. And that the quest for the perfect buffalo wing is a noble one indeed.

  20. Pay someone else to deep fry things.

    Not worth it at home.

  21. oatmeal + peanut butter + 1 sliced banana + 8 chocolate chips.

    You’re welcome.

  22. If you cut up bird’s-eye chilis for your super-spicy Thai curry, throw all the refuse in the trash and don’t spray it off the cutting board with extremely hot water.

    That’s called pepper spray.

  23. Feed people.

    Even if it’s frozen pizza. Even if they have to sit on the floor. They don’t care; they’ll be grateful. Don’t miss out on the love and life found in sharing a meal just because hosting seems intimidating.

  24. Instant oatmeal is a scam!!!!1!!

    Regular rolled oats microwave in 90 seconds if you use just enough water to cover them.

  25. Be kind to yourself.

    Lots of people make resolutions to cook more often or eat better, but get caught up in a lot of weird food shame when they fail one week. Congratulate yourself for trying. But don’t set yourself up for failure: recognize that these things require you to make time for them.

  26. Fulfilling the Ultimate Quadrilateral of an Excellent Food—cheap, easy, healthy, and delicious:

    Curried lentil stew.
    Breakfast burritos.

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1 Comment

  1. Mitchell Baker

     /  September 25, 2016

    #6 is a must and can be frustrating when you can’t really sharpen them yourself.I have yet to sharpen a knife as sharp as my dad or grandfather. You could shave with them if you wanted.

    I might add #27 encourage your spouse to learn to cook as well. Quality time in the kitchen is great. [Maybe not if either of your are OCD ]

    I always love your posts and look forward to them. You have a gracious style.
    Also, sorry I missed you when you came through a few days ago.


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