Foodies and Food Security

It seems that Los Angeles is the land of foodies – food trucks, farmers markets, restaurants popping up around town on the daily, fusion and food experimentation – it all happens here in LA. Yet, there is a sort of frowning upon the foodie that happens. Being interested in alternative foods and concerned about the quality and sustainability of food production has become almost synonymous with being a hipster or a snob. Why is that?

The other day while discussing career options and various ideas about the future, someone asked me, “Well, what do you enjoy doing?” My answer went something like this: “Well, I like cooking…I like eating…I like planning for meals and shopping for food…I like talking to my friends about food…I like going out to meals with my friends…I like wine and beer…I like exercising…I like eating healthy to refuel my body after exercise…I like writing about food.” It seems pretty clear that food is always on my brain and probably always will be. And the person said, “Well, yeah. You’re a foodie!”

So…that’s probably an extremely accurate description. But at the same time, I’m thinking, “being a foodie isn’t always considered a good thing”. The other day in the grocery store, I overheard a young man joking with his girlfriend about his gluten sensitivity and how he only eats organic meat that is raised humanely. He was making it up – laughing at the people who are concerned with those things and mocking the culture that accompanies it. And I get it…Our culture’s frenzy around food allergies has made it a hyped up hipster phenomenon. But at the same time, it is very real and the quality of our food – how it is produced, distributed and sold affects each of us!

Yes, it is true that it is somewhat of a luxury to be concerned about the quality of produce and certainly a luxury to be able to pay for the top-end stuff. But what is funny about that? And why is the focus on how these well-off individuals are “snobs” because they are concerned about that? The focus should instead be on the dysfunctional system that allows for this class separation and yields the market where quality food is not readily accessible to everyone.

A new Sprouts Farmer’s Market opened up in our neighborhood. While Alex and I are giddy and excited about this new addition to Eagle Rock, there is also the question of gentrification to consider. As one person put it, “it’s the last straw for Eagle Rock.” But to be honest, Sprouts is affordable. It is certainly not anymore expensive than Von’s or Ralph’s which also are located nearby – so why all the hype about Sprouts and it’s devastating impact on the neighborhood and the local population that are being pushed out by new residents?

Probably because Sprouts is marketed as a store that supplies food that is “better for you.” For some reason, that marketing angle means that it is specifically geared towards a specific demographic of people, when in reality it should probably be praised because it is a store that provides high quality produce and bulk items that are considerably more affordable than the unfortunately high prices of health food stores or Whole Foods.

The question is how can we improve the quality of food for all, without alienating populations that are not interested in the “health food” craze that has caught on among the hipsters and foodies; without making healthy and sustainable food the butt of a joke when it really should be the goal. How can we bring more grocery stores selling high quality produce, without the high prices, into underserved areas that need them so badly? How do we educate the populations that are struggling to make ends meet about the importance of nutrition and well-balanced meals in a way that elevates and empowers them?

As long as the sustainable, local, and health-focused food movements continue to be seen as isolated luxuries within the upper class “snobs,” there will be no real or successful efforts to alter our food system and make healthy food accessible to all. Within my lifetime, I sincerely hope that the food landscape continues to be improved so that food security and food quality can go hand-in-hand.

 

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Quinoa Bowl with Kabocha & Tahini

Jumpstart your healthy eating routine with this Quinoa Bowl with Kabocha & Tahini!

The other day, Alex and I both became aware that our bodies were feeling a little bit sluggish and our pants were fitting a juusssssst a little bit snugger. Recognizing that we had enjoyed ourselves quite a bit the last few months, with brunches, birthday parties, happy hours, homemade cookies & crackers, etc. we made a conscious decision to clean up our act the next few weeks.

I don’t know about you, but when we decide to get serious about eating healthy – we have to make a plan that will actually work for us and not try to limit ourselves so insanely that we can’t sustain it for more than a few days. We’re not paleo people or low carb people – we simply commit to being more conscious of our eating and supporting each other so we make healthy choices together.

Here’s our go-to philosophy for clean eating regimens:

  • conscious of portions – no mindless eating!
  • eat when we’re hungry, not out of boredom
  • no alcohol during the weekdays
  • no baked goods during the weekdays
  • don’t have unhealthy snacks & chips in the house
  • pack healthy lunches & eat dinners at home during the weekdays
  • prep healthy grains, protein and veggies in advance so meals are easy to put together

A few samples of what this looks like in practice:

  • Breakfast: Overnight Oats with raw nuts, seeds & berries (no PB)
  • Lunch:
    • Salad with filling protein & delicious veggies
    • Warm Quinoa Bowls
      • with roasted chicken, chard, tomatoes, and sriracha
      • with chickpeas, roasted kabocha squash, chard, tomatoes, and tahini
      • with chicken sausage, saurkraut, and roasted beets
    • Healthy Wraps (multigrain or flax wraps with lower calories than bread)
      • with roasted chicken, avocado, hummus, cucumbers and sriracha
      • with roasted veggies, avocado, sprouts and balsamic dressing
  • Snacks:
    • Small yogurt or kombucha
    • Cucumber & carrot sticks with 1 tbsp of hummus
    • Hard boiled egg
  • Dinner:
    • Roasted chicken & veggies with green salad
    • Cumin crusted salmon with zoodles and mint yogurt
    • Tofu & Veggie Stirfry with quinoa (or small portion of brown rice)
  • Dessert???
    • Strawberries or mango for a sweet palate cleanser is my go-to when I really need a treat

Out of love for our bodies and compassion for ourselves, we try not to do strict diets where we completely cut out certain food groups or count calories – instead we come up with healthy recipes together that excite us but limit less healthy grains, sugars, and fats. It’s also fun to grocery shop with this in mind – we go crazy in the produce aisle and buy lots of veggies that will hold us through the week.

Over the next few days I will post guides & tips for a few of the meal recommendations above. To get you started though….

Warm Quinoa Bowl with Kabocha & Tahini

Ingredients

Meal Prep – quinoa and kabocha

  • 1.5 cups uncooked quinoa
  • Spices: cumin, paprika, salt & pep
  • 1/2 can chickpeas
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 kabocha squash, halved, seeds removed
  • Coconut or olive oil for brushing

Lunch Bowl Add Ins

  • 2 chard leaves, chopped into bite sized pieces (or kale or other green veggie)
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • 1 lemon wedge
  • 1 tsp tahini
  • sriracha

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400.
  2. Brush the inside of your kabocha squash with coconut or olive oil. Season with paprika, cumin, salt & pep. Optional: brush it with a little red curry paste. Place the halves face down on a baking sheet and put in the oven for 35-40 minutes or until it is golden and has some crusty bits on the edges. A fork inserted into the flesh should go in easily. Once done, set aside on the baking sheet and let it cool – it is verrrrrrry hard to handle when it’s hot!
  3. Put 1.5 cups uncooked quinoa in your rice cooker (or pot over medium-low heat on the stove) and cover with 3 cups water. Season with a few shakes of cumin and paprika and with salt & pep. Let it cook for 10 minutes, then add in canned chickpeas and give it a stir. Continue cooking until fluffy and the white ring on the quinoa becomes visible.
  4. At this point, you can store the quinoa and the kabocha in the refrigerator and use them throughout the week for lunches or meals at your convenience.
  5. When prepping your bowl, place about 3/4 cup cooked quinoa/chickpea combo in the bottom of your microwave safe tupperware bowl. Top with raw chard and tomato slices.
  6. Cut a wedge of kabocha squash and remove the skin with a knife or your fingers – careful not to lose a lot of the tasty orange squash along with the skin! Chop the squash into large cubes and place ontop of the bowl.
  7. Combine lemon juice and tahini and drizzle on your bowl, finish with a squeeze of sriracha or hot sauce.
  8. When you’re ready to eat it – microwave with a top on for 1-2 minutes. Leaving the top on will help the quinoa heat up without becoming dry, the steam from the tomato juices will help wilt & soften the chard and the tahini will flavor everything deliciously 🙂

Enjoy and feel good.

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Make this bowl everyday for the week using the quinoa and squash you prepared. OR add quinoa to any green salad to make it more filling. Kabocha can be eaten as a side OR throw it into a stir fry or curry. I love kabocha so much I’ll eat it on its own as a snack – the consistency is buttery and delicious!

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Fresh Spring Rolls

As a kid I had lots of energy and was never quite able to slow down or stop moving- those who know me will say not much has changed in the last 20 years. Dinner was particularly difficult. Our family always sat down to eat together and I was usually so excited and energy-filled that I spent more time chatting away about my day, getting so involved in stories that I would be up out of my chair demonstrating things, than actually eating. At some point this actually became somewhat of a problem because living in a family with two older brothers – if you didn’t eat quick, you didn’t eat at all!

Filled with energy, I fondly remember the meals we got to assemble at the table. Often, my mom and dad would prep different ingredients and toppings for burritos or tacos and then we would each make our own. I enjoyed these dinners, funneling my energy into putting together creative combinations of toppings. It seemed like a dream come true, getting to play with my food and assemble the meal exactly how I wanted it.

Today, DIY meals are still some of my faves. Prepping a lot of ingredients and then allowing each person to make their own wrap, taco, or roll is a great way to have an interactive dinner party. Sushi tacos are one of those meals we like to bust out for fun dinners with friends – see recipe here.

Another DIY meal that is sure to please? Fresh spring rolls! Stuffed with your protein of choice, crunch veggies, and fragrant herbs, dipped in heavenly peanut sauce – these will impress guests OR can make a quick and healthy weeknight meal.

Fresh Spring Rolls

Ingredients

  • Rice paper wrappers (available in most grocery stores with other Asian cuisine ingredients)
  • Tofu (Or protein of choice – ex: shrimp)
  • Vermicelli noodles
  • Cucumber, cut into thin spears
  • Carrot, cut into thin spears
  • Avocado
  • Mint
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • 1 tbsp Natural Peanut Butter
  • 1 tbsp Soy Sauce
  • 1 tsp Hoisin Sauce
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 tsp Sambal Chili Paste
  • 1 tbsp water
  • Sriracha

Directions

  1. Put vermicelli noodles in a pot or bowl. Pour boiling water on top and let soak for 8-10 minutes, until soft but not goopy. Drain and cut with scissors a few times, so the noodles are not too long.
  2. Prepare tofu by cutting it into small rectangles and pan frying them on each side until they’re lightly browned! Set aside. (If not using tofu, prep your protein of choice as desired.)
  3. Mix up the sauce by combining peanut butter, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sugar, lime juice, chili paste, and water together. Taste and add more of whichever ingredient you like the most. It should be nutty, tangy, and a little sweet! Add sesame seeds if you want 🙂
  4. Put hot water in a shallow bowl or pan and place on the table, along with all of your prepared toppings – including herbs, veggies and sauces!
  5. When ready to eat, soak rice wrappers one at a time in the hot water, dipping it on one side and then the other – careful not to leave them soaking for a long time. Once the wrapper has started to soften but is still holding together, place it flat on a plate.
  6. Load with your toppings, but be careful not to over stuff it or the wrapper will break! Tuck in the ends and then roll like a burrito, pulling it tight so it sticks together and makes a dense wrap.
  7. Make a bunch at the beginning of the meal and chow down without interruption, or make wraps one at a time as you eat them. We love making them one at a time – creates a fun dinner activity that is interactive and lets you play with your food!