Getting Real with Your Food on National Food Day

Today is the first annual Food Day, which is dedicated to eating real food that is produced locally, sustainably, and affordably. And, of course, let us not forget healthy! You’ll see, if you are into that kind of stuff, lots of relevant postings on Facebook and Twitter about the celebration of real food, urging you to attend a Food Day event.

And in other news about “real food”, McDonalds made a major announcement: the McRib is coming back for a short time. Facebook groups have been forming, heralding the return of the sultry sandwich; geo-tagging all participating McRib locations.

Us healthy and real food activists sure have a hard time getting our voices heard above the din. Here we have our first real dedicated day towards our cause, and with one fell swoop, McD’s drowns out our noise with their announcement.

The McRib is about as unreal of a food as you can get. Generations of kids grow up thinking that barbecued ribs are perfectly pressed, boneless discs of meat, lacking in the very thing that makes them what they are: ribs! While real barbecued ribs are not what I’d call a healthy meal, if you are going to eat them, at least make them from scratch. Like I did for my two guys last night – but that’s another story.

I believe that much of the problem with our food system lies in the fact that everything is too convenient for us. Convenience that comes in a jar or box makes us disconnected from the food we are really eating. How can you determine if a food is healthy if you have absolutely no idea what is in it?

My journey this year is to really get in touch with the food I eat. While I eat healthy enough, it’s also way too easy to open up a jar of something I purchased at Trader Joe’s, perhaps an Indian chutney, or a salsa. My ancestors couldn’t do that – anything they ate, from sauces to jellies to main dishes, had to be made from scratch.

And I’m sure they ate a lot better because of that.

With that focus in mind, I decided to take on one of my family’s favorite condiments: giardiniera. Any good Italian worth their weight knows that a good giardiniera is the perfect topping for almost anything. We use it to grace the top of our roasted salmon,  we add it to a salad, it even spices up a bowl of chicken soup. (I’ve even added it to a scoop of chocolate ice cream at Jason’s Deli – it was an experiment!)

One day, at my local Caputo’s, I searched through the hundreds of different jars of giardiniera because I wanted to find one that used an olive oil bath for the mixture to swim in. To no avail, I might add – most contained soybean oil. Since I make it a practice to stay away from most soy products (80% of the soy crop in our country is genetically modified – Roundup Ready soy by Monsanto), I was dismayed and vowed to make my own.

One Sunday afternoon, I set out to make a large crock, using the recipe below. While it was pretty time-consuming, I learned several interesting things about this supposed condiment:

  • Giardiniera is really a vegetable dish posing as a condiment. There is such a variety of healthy vegetables – red and green peppers, cauliflower, carrots, onions, and more – that it could stand alone as a meal, based on its nutritional content.
  •  The reason I couldn’t find any bathed in olive oil? First, olive oil does not have a stable shelf life when other foods are introduced into it. It’s not cost effective for a company to mass produce olive oil-based giardiniera because it can’t last long on a shelf. Also, olive oil, when cooled in a refrigerator, congeals and hardens.

So I made a huge batch of it, marinated in vinegar. When we use it, we simply add in our own fresh olive oil in the amount we desire. Which also cuts down on the fat and calorie content, because the stuff from the bottle is simply drowning in oil.

I challenge you, on this first annual Food Day, to find a product that you take for granted; maybe a salsa, granola, or even soup. Make it from scratch one afternoon.

I guarantee that you’ll appreciate and understand what you are eating more.

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