Yehuda Katz is a member of the Ember.js, Ruby on Rails and jQuery Core Teams; he spends his daytime hours at the startup he founded, Tilde Inc.. Yehuda is co-author of best-selling jQuery in Action and Rails 3 in Action. He spends most of his time hacking on open source—his main projects, like Thor, Handlebars and Janus—or traveling the world doing evangelism work. He can be found on Twitter as @wycats and on Github.

Delicious Food

A couple of months ago, I read The End of Overeating, which got me started on a series of books about food. I worked my way through In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

After reading through these books and doing a bunch of auxiliary research, I came to the fairly disturbing conclusion that the food we eat from the grocery is sorely lacking in required nutrients. That’s especially true for packaged, processed foods, but even the fruits and vegetables purchased in a typical produce section are lacking.

Studies show that fruits and vegetables grown without pesticides or herbicides have significantly higher levels of certain vitamins and antioxidants. And simple replacements of the missing compounds assumes that we have a full understanding of what’s missing. We don’t.

Additionally, breeding fruits and vegetables for high yield, uniform appearance, and long travel distance necessarily reduces other more important factors, like taste and nutritional content. Like I said, studies have found this to be true, but in retrospect, it’s fairly self-evident. Evolution is a process of competition among zero-sum ends. If yield and long-distance travel win out, something else loses out.

With that introduction, over the past few months, I’ve slowly started working toward cooking virtually all of my own food. In the past few weeks, that has expanded to include breads and sauces. In short, the rule I try to follow is: “Only purchase items with a single ingredient in their ingredient list.” And at a very minimum, a rule I got from Michael Pollan’s books: “Only purchase items with a few ingredients, all of which are understandable.”

It probably sounds like I’ve absorbed too much of San Francisco’s culture, but I have to tell you, the quality of the food I’ve been eating has increased dramatically. For the most part, food tastes better, and even when it doesn’t, I really enjoy putting together meals.

In order to make this happen, I’ve purchased a few pieces of equipment. First of all, I purchased a bread-maker. It cost only $100, and I’ve already made two loaves of pretty good tasting whole-wheat bread.

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I also purchased a rice maker, which makes cooking brown rice myself actually possible. Trying to do it on a stove yourself is basically impossible (try Googling instructions on cooking brown rice).

I dramatically increased my consumption of organic fruits and vegetables, much of it locally grown. After a month or so, I can absolutely confirm that the quality and taste of the fruits and vegetables is significantly higher, and I’ve straight-up stopped worrying about the small differences in fat in things like whole milk and skim milk, since those items are mostly garnishes on fruits and vegetables. As a result, I’ve been able to focus on the taste of my ingredients, instead of trying to squeeze a few more grams of fat out of a meal, and I’ve still been able to lose a bunch of weight since I started (again, in retrospect, it’s not all that surprising that eating a ton more fruits and vegetables, regardless of what else is in the diet, would result in weight loss).

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From The End of Overeating, I also completely cut out snacks (snacks are actually a relatively new Western invention), focusing heavily on three meals a day, which increases the quality and enjoyment of actually eating food that I prepare carefully and well.

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Finally, I joined a local CSA, which delivers a weekly box of vegetables. I got my first shipment today, which brought me 1.5 pounds of yellow peaches, 1.5 pounds black plums, 6 oz. blueberries, 1 pund summer squash, 1 bunch chard, 1/2 pund gypsey peppers, 1/2 pound lipstick peppers, 1.5 pounds heirloom tomatoes, 1 bunch greenleaf lettuce, 1 bunch red beets, 1 bunch nantes carrots, and 1 pound red onion. All from local farms, all organic, and all for just $30.

In the past, when I heard people talking about stuff like this, they sounded like kooky hippies, so I suspect that’s how I sound to people as well. But if eating tasty, nutritious food that I prepare myself, losing weight and saving money is a kooky hippie thing to do, I’ll take kookie hippie any day.

25 Responses to “Delicious Food”

OMNOMNOMNOMNOM!

You’re in the land of Sourdough, you should make some! And then mail some to me! ;)

Congrats. :-)

…but… I think you’re falling into the same trap many of us have (including myself).

An heirloom tomato is an heirloom tomato. Saying that it’s taste has to suffer for ship-ability is like saying that smarter people are weaker. It might be intuitive, but that doesn’t make it true.

I can almost guarantee what you’re tasting isn’t the “organic-ness” of the ingredients, but instead the tastiness of fruit and vegetables bought in-season, and naturally ripened (as opposed to grocery-store gas-ripened which makes for attractive colors, but doesn’t do so much for the taste).

You don’t need to spend twice as much money on wasteful, unsustainable agriculture to get the benefits of locally grown, fresh fruit and vegetables.

“Organic” is bad for the environment, and humanity.

Ok, now that I’m done preaching the gospel… I know that wasn’t your main point. Seriously, congrats. Inspirational. You’ve renewed my determination to cook more. I’ll try to start with no more take-home dinner. ;-)

Sam, organic is a complicated subject.

I’m hard to pressed to say that it’s worse for the environment though?

Organic food as a brand that’s being exploited by big industry is indeed scurrilous and possesses dubious benefits either for the consumer or for the world at large.

However to say that it’s a bad idea to reduce anti-biotic use, or hormone use in north american animal stocks, is just kinda crazy.

Food is a complicated subject, and it’s worth staying away from generalizations.

@sam So you’re saying I should go hunt for locally grown, naturally ripened fruits and vegetables in farms that use pesticides? I have enough trouble finding local food in stores that sell organic :P

I had to tweet this, excellent to hear about other people getting into eating healthy :).

@Sam, @Ted, Whether organic is better for the environment is nothing to the fact that the food is better *for humans to eat*. Many organic farmers practice sustainable methods of production, which probably ends up being better environmentally.

@wycats, Whole Foods is pretty good about labeling their organic vs conventional produce. Vitamin Cottage, iirc, sells only organic (at least does here in CO). Sunflower Market and Sprouts, if in your area, usually have a good organic selection. Also look for “raw” foods rather than pasteurized, as the process removes a lot of nutrients (especially in almonds and honey!).

Big mainstream grocery chains usually suck at stocking organic and raw food, but that depends on the area and local demand of course.

As the respected person you are in the Rudy technical community, THANK YOU for speaking out about food.

My wife is a chef and meal planner. http://www.chefcarlin.com Take a look at her blog.

It is all about using real food and spices.

We have to eat, why not enjoy it. God only gave us one body. Why would we put junk in it.

This is a GREAT site for spices. http://www.penzeys.com Get their paper catalog it is an education on spices.

Your pictures are really good.

Thanks for all you do and your voice in the community.

Ted is right in his assertion that “organic” has become an overcommercialized word that doesn’t mean much anymore. That makes it much more important that you do your homework when shopping for organic produce. The CSA is a terrific start, and if all those beautiful-sounding fruits are local, I’m extremely jealous. You California folks have all the fun.

However, the antibiotic issue irks me. Corn isn’t a natural food source for cattle; their stomachs aren’t able to digest it well without getting sick. But corn is cheap and plentiful, thanks to government subsidy programs, so industrial agriculture corporations feed it to them anyway. To do so, they just pump them full of cheap antibiotic cocktails to keep them alive long enough to make it to slaughter. Grass-fed cattle doesn’t need the antibiotics, reducing our exposure to them and making it less likely that bacteria living inside of us mutate into multiple antibiotic-resistant superviruses.

Just saying…

Amen Ted Han

I don’t thinking there is anything unhealthy about snacking. Eating too much because of snacking, yes. Eating junk food for snacks, of course.

We eat two main meals – breakfast and then dinner around 3:00 PM or so. Everything else comes from snacks: nuts, fruit, yogurt, a piece of cheese.. good stuff.

Good stuff, I myself have made the switch as well. I started a vegetable garden, and look forward to eating my own crops. I’m curious why you’re against eating 4 to 6 times a day vs. 3 meals. I notice my metabolism seems better when I’m eating more times a day, and it seems I’m able to digest better with smaller portioned meals. I’ve cut out dairy and have lowered my animal protein intake to about 6 oz. a day. I have high hopes that this trend will continue to rise, the health of the average American seems to be deteriorating because of what’s convenient.

I’ve been doing something vaguely similar. I went on a simple diet: With the exception of juice, and special occasions, if I don’t make it myself, I can’t eat it. Nothing in a package is allowed. I can directly correlate weight loss to periods where I was careful about sticking to this “diet” and weight gain to periods where I was lax and lazy.

Funny thing is, I make a lot of very delicious pizza, and I still lose weight. Not much, but I’m certainly not going up, which is the important thing.

I am trying to add more exercise into the mix too though, because I know from past experience that dieting only does so much. It’s much healthier to get a normal caloric intake and to lose weight by adding exercise on top of normal metabolic energy consumption.

Regarding snacking, I’m absolutely sure this is a person-to-person thing. The realization I had from reading Kessler’s book was that it’s far to easy to eat things you don’t think about when snacking. When eating a few planned meals a day, I know EXACTLY what I’m eating. For me, snacking leads to mindless eating during the day.

If that’s not the case for you, and you find that a certain amount of planned snacking during the day improves your energy and metabolism, by all means do it. I’m just reporting what worked for me ;)

It’s really… good to see all this food-care popping up in unexpected places. It seems like it’s really catching on. Thanks for posting.

Don’t forget about all the TED talks about food, fishing, etc… !

Yehuda,

I know you travel a lot, have you figured out a way to eat health when you’re on the go?

If your travels ever take any of you up to the Chico, California area, I’d happily trade a tour of the CSA Farm that I live at in exchange for some Ruby advice.

Nice article! I made similar diet changes a year ago. I feel healthier, and I feel like I am supporting a healthy community in the process.

Bread makers are cool – I got one last year and I haven’t bought a ordinary loaf since. If you stick it on the timer you can wake up to the smell of freshly baked bread in the morning. There’s also a whole range of different flours you can use as well – these are the best in my opinion (http://www.dovesfarm.co.uk/listing.html?categoryId=137) but I don’t think they’re available in the US.

Did you get one with a dispenser in the top? They’re great for doing seeded and fruit loaves – cinnamon and raisin or apricot and almond are my favourites.

Yehuda, what rice maker did you purchase?

CSA 懐かしいなぁ. I moved from SF to tokyo – i wish we had CSA veggies here. webvan with a healthy face.
we do have rice-makers in abundance tho :D

Good post, also enjoy seeing this kind of “off topic” commentary from people I respect in the industry.

Also, it’s pretty sad how often important ideas are brushed aside for fear of sounding like a “kooky hippie.” Glad to see that is starting to turn around in the food realm.

Some great ideas coming out of those books, especially on the unprocessed food and organic produce. You might be interesting in adding this to your reading list – http://www.amazon.com/Good-Calories-Bad-Gary-Taubes/dp/1400040787. A little more on the science of healthy eating.

Have you looked at grass fed beef and other meats? I switched a while back and discovered the rich flavours that are typically lost in mass market meat.

@hunter regarding grass-fed beef: absolutely. I found that bison meat (which is commonly grass-fed) is pretty awesome too. Will add that book to my list :)

don’t forget about the very superb book called “The China Study” which is an epidemiological study of nutrition.

I know exactly what you are talking about. Since I have been cooking a lot more at home, I find it a lot harder to find a restaurant where the food tastes as well as at home. This might sound arrogant but I think it has mainly to do with the ingredients.
In SF, it’s still relatively easy to get tasty and healthy food, but once further East, it gets a lot harder.
You motivated me, have been looking to join a CSA for a while, my friend says, farm fresh to you is good!
Regarding snacks: in summer, all the berries are such easy prey!!

Great post Yehuda. In the last year, Michael Pollan has become one of my favorite authors. Even though I spent the first 20 years of my life on a farm, I was amazed to learn how little I knew about food.

You might enjoy the film, King Corn: http://www.kingcorn.net/ (it’s on netflix). Michael Pollan is actually in it, albeit briefly.

Keep up the good eats!

rice? I prepare brown basmati rice like pasta.

Comes out fine. Don’t know about what this does to the nutritional content though.

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