How We Eat: Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition

What you choose to eat or not eat in this time in history is probably one of the most confusing and baffling parts of life. This is true, especially, if you are interested in good health, animal or environmental welfare, or your pocketbook. If you are at a point in your life where you don't care about aforementioned concepts, by all means, skip to the next blog post. If figuring out the "best" way to eat is a constant internal conversation, stay and have that conversation with us for a bit. Let's talk about Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition. Kristl and I have come to this way of eating after struggling through thousands of dollars of mediocre restaurant food, easy convenience food, and home cooked food ranging from the lavish to the very simple. We have been those people who eat out every meal just because there is a restaurant they haven't tried. We have also eaten just potato chips and soda for dinner. Or brownies. And this isn't all like "in the past" either. In December, we definitely existed on nothing but white pizza for three days, and on Easter, we pigged out on candy (and then seriously suffered the consequences. Seriously.) No joke.

Those are the exceptions. Let's talk about the rule. The rule is we want to eat what makes us feel good. We don't particularly care about weight gain or loss, or packing on muscle. We do have some things to take into consideration. I have epilepsy, and my neurologist, who doesn't seem to care about my diet at all, will admit that limiting your sugar consumption is better for your brain. There are numerous studies to back this up. I can tell you, without the help of any studies, that sugar does not make my brain feel good. Sugar also tends to make Kristl's gallbladder issues act up. So, for the sake of feeling good, processed sugar gets the boot.

Ok, back to Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition. What does it mean? Why is it healthy? What can you feed us if we come over for dinner?!

If you think way back before globalization, before industrialization, people ate what was available to them on their farm, in their community, and what was in season. There weren't factories to break down the food into boxes, and then put it in your freezer so you could heat it up in your microwave. People were confronted with the whole cabbage, the whole chicken, whole food. Now, no one is suggesting that we all go back to subsistence farming. However, the closer you are to your producer, the fresher the product is likely to be (not always, but usually.) This is sustainable because you are supporting the local economy with your dollars, and giant trucks are not going as far to bring you delicious food.

Ok, these are our ideal standards:

  • For meat: Locally raised (five state radius), grass-fed, pastured (able to graze on grassland in appropriate weather), never treated with hormones, only given antibiotics in appropriate situations. Limit beef, and try to only cook with meat 3 days a week. Try to eat parts other than muscle.
  • For fish: Salmon should be wild caught from Pacific waters, small fish are almost always better, avoid farmed seafood, especially from Asia. Eat fish 1-2 times a week.
  • For eggs: Locally raised, grass-fed, pastured in season, organic feed otherwise. We eat as many eggs as we want.
  • Limit tofu, but fermented bean stuff, like tempeh is a-ok
  • Limit dried beans, only because they upset Kristl's stomach in large quantities, but see above, we are experimenting with tempeh
  • For dairy: We eat only grass-fed dairy products, and only whole fat (4%). This is a lot of Kerry Gold cheeses and Kalona cottage cheese and sour cream. Also, for butter we usually get Kerry Gold or Organic Valley Cultured. Grass fed is preferred, then organic local, then local, in that order. But we always want to avoid added hormones and antibiotics in our dairy.
  • Eat all the fermented food! This includes pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread, yogurt, kefir, etc, etc, etc. If it's cultured, we want it. Good bacteria to the maximum. Anything is easier to digest with fermentation!
  • Consume bone broth daily. We make bone broth from bones left over from other dishes, and vegetable scraps. We do not necessarily consider bone broth a magical cure all, but there are lots of good minerals and collagen inside.
  • Eat 8-9 servings of locally grown vegetables a day. "Locally grown using sustainable practices" trumps "organic" from California/Mexico/Peru. If it is not the growing season, we check out the Environmental Working Group's Pesticide Residue Data (a la Dirty Dozen) and make an informed decision about buying organic. We do eat frozen organic green beans and peas, because they are frozen very fresh, contain no salt, and are a great value from Costco.
  • Eat nuts sparingly. Nuts are a great snack, and we enjoy a mixed nut butter called Nuttzo, but since few nuts are found locally we don't pig out on nuts.
  • Eat fruits sparingly. The sugar from fruit is still sugar, so we snack on vegetables over fruits, but we probably average about 1 fruit a day.
  • Limit natural sugars. We love honey and maple syrup, but they still give Rachel a little bit of brain fuzz, so we use them sparingly
  • Avoid processed goods. If it comes in a bag or a box, isn't in the same shape it was when it came off the plant, has more than five ingredients, contains alcohol, and/or includes preservatives, "natural flavors" or fake colors, you can bet it's not coming home with us.
  • Avoid processed sugar and alcohol. It makes us both sick and sad, but if processed sugar is as addictive as science says it is, then it probably makes a lot of people sick and sad. And Kristl is super allergic to alcohol. Womp.

That's our way of eating. That's the long and short of it. That's what keeps us healthy, makes us happy, and shines a little light on the world around us.

What I always tell people is that if it's not sustainable for you, then it's not going to be sustainable for the planet. If we had jumped in and tried to start eating this way when we started this blog two years ago, we would have started the week with an armful of vegetables and sunshine and ended the week with a bucket of frozen custard and shame.  The vegetables would have rotted, we would have wasted our money. We weren't ready then. Big changes don't necessarily happen overnight, and it often takes more than good intentions to push you in that direction.

The purpose of this post isn't to coerce you into adopting a Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition diet. Although, let me tell you, it is quite tasty. The purpose of this post is to demystify what these Sustainable Queers are doing over here and to inform you.

We'd like some company. We are essentially pinging the depths. We want to know if there's anyone out there who eats like us. Do you eat a lot of vegetables? Do you value local food? Do you geek out over fermented foods and making sustainable choices? Do you cook most of your own meals? Maybe you don't right now, but you could find yourself heading that direction... let us know in the comments.

The Great Butter Tasting of 2015!

We've been threatening to do a butter tasting since we returned from Wisconsin in October, and so, on January 1st, fresh into 2015, we decided to make good on our promise and make a bona fide butter tasting a reality. We definitely took it to levels untold: we purchase five different butters to taste, we made our own butter from Organic Valley heavy cream, we decided to make it a BLIND taste test--which we managed even though we were the only two testers--and we recorded audio of the tasting and edited it podcast style.  So, that should be fun to listen to, surely more fun than a typed transcript, but if you don't have time to listen, we'll touch on the highlights below.

Please enjoy the recording here: [soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/187587277" params="color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

First, what butters were we tasting? Well, while we were in Wisconsin in October, we picked up two local-looking butters.  They were both butters that we do not encounter in the Chicagoland area, so we thought we ought to try them.  The first is Freis Von Kiel Butter, which doesn't seem to have a website, but is the featured butter on M Magazine's (Milwaukee's Lifestyle Magazine) Locavore page. The other Wisconsin butter is an alleged Amish Country Roll Butter. It was mysteriously packaged and we tried to find some information on it because it looked legit, but it also wasn't labeled with any particular Amish association or community. As far as I know, there are not generic Amish individuals just sitting around making butter for the rest of us. So, with a little google work we uncovered this blog post, and we think we were fed a similar bill of butter goods. Dang.

The next purchased butter was Kerrygold, which is a favorite for many of our readers, I'm sure, and I'm also sure you are interested to see how it holds up to other high quality butters. We also bought Organic Valley Cultured Butter and Kalona SuperNatural Unsalted. We love both of these butters already and use them all them time. I don't know if other people have three favorite butters, but Sustainably Queer does!

And then we made butter...

And then we made butter. Kristl has made butter before, and she is also the boss of the KitchenAid mixer, so I let her take charge of this process.  We used the instructions from Joy the Baker's blog, which you can find here. We will include some photos below, but we will not reinvent the wheel, Joy does a great job. Mostly, you agitate the cream's fat molecules until they let go of the milk and stick together. Then you squeeze the result and rinse it. Add salt if you want, but that's about it. Butter, done.

Butter, done. Salted and unsalted.

So, we made our own butter in preparation and we let all the butters come to room temperature before we spread them. We served each butter spread on two small slices of sourdough bread on each plate. We did our best to make the slices look identical so that once the butter was on the bread we wouldn't know which was which. The plates were correctly labeled on the bottom, and Kristl put the correct butter on the correct plate when she applied the butter.

This is how we made it blind... we're smart.

Once we had everything on the correct plates, we put the plates on the tables and swapped them all around. Then we numbered the plates so we would have a reference for our blind taste test. We set up the recorder and we dug in.

For those of you unable to listen here are some highlights: Rachel is not awesome at describing the actual flavor of the butter, but will definitely tell you whether or not it was from Wisconsin, and if it contains salt. Kristl is good at describing the color and texture of the butter, especially in terms of paint glosses (e.g. one butter was very glossy and yellow, others were more eggshell and pale). We'll provide our initial reactions here and then reveal the butter key at the very bottom, so you can play along.

Our seven butters in the blind taste test

Butter #1 was pretty good, but rather non-descript.  It was the first butter we tasted, and we also hadn't tasted sourdough bread in a while, so it brought more attention to the bread than the butter. Rachel was convinced that it was a Wisconsin butter. Kristl was convinced we shouldn't have used sourdough because it was too distracting.

Butter #2 was very pale in color and immediately upon tasting it, Kristl felt like it had an off flavor (she said "rancid" on the recording). Rachel felt the butter was a little off too, but didn't have a huge mouth feel, and was pretty mild over all.  This was not a butter you would go out of your way to get.

Butter #3 was not salted, but had a very deep and luxurious creaminess to it. Rachel felt immediately that it might be Kalona, because she will sometimes eat a little bit of Kalona first thing in the morning. Kristl agreed that it was was smooth and creamy, and could possibly be Kalona, but definitely had to be one of the salt-free butters.

Butter #4 was also not salted. It was also extremely creamy, for being butter. We talked a little bit about the odds of the two unsalted butters being directly next to each other. Rachel said something silly about it having a Wisconsin vibe, even though both the Wisconsin butters included salt. Kristl stated that this was probably Kalona (which is made in Iowa).

Butter #5 immediately caused us both to sit up a little bit because it had a lot more salt than the other salted butters.  We could tell that it had been hand-salted with sea salt recently. Some of the salt was still crunchy in the butter.  This definitely improved the flavor for a butter tasting on bread. This butter was very lively and showed its cards pretty easily with that crunchy salt.

Butter #6 was also pretty easy to guess, because it had the slight tang of yogurt that comes  with the territory of cultured butter. Cultured butter was a nice variation after all the plain butters that we had tasted, and it definitely would have stood out more if we had tasted it on a bread other than sourdough.

Butter #7 was the glossy, yellow butter.  Looking at the butter, knowing the butter, and having former experiences with this butter, we actually thought we would like this butter the best, because it's so fatty and soft. It is very good butter, there are no questions about it, but to be honest it lost out to the homemade stuff.

Well those were our blind taste test reactions in a nut shell, listen to the recording for a full spectrum.  Here are the actual answers:

Butter #1: Freis Von Keil

Butter #2: Amish Country Roll Butter (probably not actually Amish)

Butter #3: Homemade Unsalted

Butter #4: Kalona SuperNatural Unsalted

Butter #5: Homemade Salted

Butter #6: Organic Valley Cultured

Butter #7: Kerrygold

Our goal in this experiment was not to rank the butters or to pit them against each other, necessarily. We mostly wanted to see, given an ingredient that is pretty simple and easily produced, how different separate butters could taste. That being said, we really enjoyed our homemade butter the best. It was clearly the freshest, and when the tasting was complete, we combined the salted and unsalted and finished it within the week.

So, that's The Great Butter Tasting of 2015! There will be more tastings in 2015, don't worry. If there is a food you would like us to taste and post about, please let us know in the comments below. We're happy to take on any whole food challenges!