Lifestyle changes – how long do they stick?

Recently our outsourced CFO from Verge Advisors, Jonathan Iannacone (we highly recommend him and his company), asked me if any trace of the passion I experienced after reading Michael Pollan‘s The Omnivore’s Dilemma remains nearly a year later. If you’re interested in such things, here’s a somewhat long post for you. If you’re not… then this is a good place to stop reading!

Jonathan’s query:

Nicolas,

After hearing your glowing reviews of the book I decided to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  I must admit that it is an utterly fascinating and intellectually stimulating look at the food we eat (I am about 3/4 of the way through).  It is forcing me to look at how my family consumes food and how we can do things better.
I know you went through this same type of thinking and I wanted to follow up to see how things have changed for you and your family.  What has stuck and what proved too difficult to change?  Has convenience overtaken idealism? I am reluctant to buy a meat freezer to put in the basement because I feel that type of fossil fuel energy consumption defeats the purpose.
My eyes are open, but the path to improvement is unclear.  Do you have any pointers or resources?
Thanks,
Jonathan

My response:
Hi Jonathan,

Good question. I believe I read the book a little less than a year ago, and here are some results:

– I bought a freezer that’s too big, but have used it extensively:

  • for beef from local farms (I’ll buy 20 – 40lbs at a time)
  • for pork from a local farm (I buy 10 – 20 lbs at a time)
  • for 80 pounds of low-bush blueberries I bought last August. I use these for morning smoothies, and it looks like I have gauged the year about right. I will run out in the next couple of months.
  • for anything we can preserve from our summer garden, such as tomato sauce or pesto. Last summer, we made over 20 batches of pesto, each enough for at least two pounds of pasta (we had a mammoth basil crop in last year’s strange summer weather).
  • for chickens I bought from a local farm – I bought 10, but this was too many and next time I’ll do five at a time.
  • for the occasional extra meal we make ahead of time or overcrowding in our fridge.

I’m thinking of going in on half a cow with a friend, so the freezer might fill up, and I might sell some of the meat back at cost to neighbors if they are interested. Happy to send you links to amazing local farms that we really enjoyed for their meat, their owners and the scenic element when you visit. Also, my toddler really had fun going with me and walking around and seeing some of the animals.

Being that my freezer is too big, we fill gallon milk jugs with water and use them to fill up empty space and reduce the cost and environmental impact of the freezer.

Even though we have plenty of meat on hand, we eat less meat than we ever have, and when we do, we have a good feeling about what we’re eating (for many reasons: humane treatment, local agriculture, healthier). However, depending on the cut, it does taste slightly different, and that turns off some of my relatives. So we occasionally compromise by buying regular beef at a store. But we NEVER buy beef that isn’t grass-fed anymore, and I think we have greatly reduced buying any meat that isn’t fed according to nature’s wishes (you know what I mean if you are reading Pollan’s work).  Note: you do have to learn to cook these meats differently to get the best flavor.

The most popular (with my family) and easy-to-use beef has been hamburger. But even with this meat, if you’re making burgers, you want to be careful not to overcook and lose the flavor.

We have used the local free-range chicken for soup and stock, which has been terrific. Occasionally I roast one, and I think it’s delicious —  slightly different than store-bought chicken, but as with the beef, it’s almost more… chickenny, the way chicken is supposed to taste. The same goes for local eggs that we get, which have a rich orange color and taste more real than regular grocery-store eggs (Pollan discusses this in the Polyface Farm chapters).

We eat vegetarian on a regular basis (at least 3 nights per week), grow more food than we have in the past (for instance, we just planted seeds in little pots to get our plants started for summer), and try to preserve what we can’t eat in the summer. We eat fewer sweets, and have basically banned HFCS from our household, although it does appear in some stuff that can’t be helped. We look at ingredients and think about where things were grown. And we have pretty much stopped budgeting when it comes to groceries, understanding that there are plenty of places to cut back — but when it comes to what we put into our bodies, quality is critical.

My wife, whose favorite food group had been McDonald’s, hasn’t frequented one of those “restaurants” in nearly a year, and she claims that she never will again. Knowing how committed she is to her ways and fixed in her tastes, this alone is a huge accomplishment for Michael Pollan!

We also consider nutrition more carefully in my son’s diet and school lunches, and we are open to thinking about nutrition when it comes to his behavior, more cognizant of what has gone into his body that can affect his mood (the relationship SEEMS to be there on many occasions). Sam, who just turned 4, doesn’t get separate meals and is willing to try everything we eat. I think he’s pretty amazing when he tastes a beet salad or vegetarian lasagna and says, “It’s as delicious as chocolate!”

My wife is now reading In Defense of Food and The Botany of Desire, and I will read them next.

A long answer to tell you that overall, the effect has been lasting. The book has changed our habits permanently, although perhaps not as dramatically as they changed immediately after reading it – the pendulum has indeed swung back a bit, but will never swing back all the way.

The changed eating habits have also made a big difference in how healthy we feel, even when we’re unable to exercise or get outside.

I hope this helps, and look forward to hearing whether Pollan’s work makes any difference in yours and your family’s eating habits.

Nicolas

Mower

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Comments

  1. Hi Nicolas,
    Thanks for the post. I’d appreciate it in a future post if you’d share more about the specifics of what it takes to implement these changes on a weekly basis. For example, which of the butchers deliver and how much driving does your family have to do to purchase from a variety of places? I believe that quality is important; I struggle with the balance of time with shopping, cooking, and managing life’s chores. I don’t like living as if time is a commodity (“Time is money,” etc…); nevertheless, there are only so many hours in a day, so anything you can share about ways to modify your schedule would also be interesting and helpful. Thanks.

    • nboillot says:

      Hello Catherine,

      Thanks for the comment. Some of these changes were hard to implement, but mostly I rely on having bought a big freezer. The farms generally do not deliver (though we now have a great local dairy doing delivery in glass bottles, old style!), so I rely on going there and buying six months worth of what I need. It’s harder to do with the items that cannot be frozen.

      However, I did find that my son really enjoys visiting the farms, so it can be a family activity. On our first visit to a farm where we buy pork, my son was accosted by a young goat that followed us and kept trying to chew on his jacket. Her name was Melia (She was born on Inauguration Day). Last weekend we went to a music festival and there were some farm stands… there was a tiny newborn goat that we went to pet — Melia’s daughter!

      All this exposure is helping our family and my son not only value good food, but also value local farms — and while they may come in different shapes and sizes, there isn’t a place in this country where you can’t get to a farm in a reasonable amount of driving time (I think).

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