Friday, June 27, 2008

up for a challenge?

Elsewhere in the blogosphere I read the story of a hardened meat-eater chowing down on an animal product ladened meal, which is fine by me. It is just the blog title heralded a vegetarian offering at a fine restaurant. It made me realize that my idea of a meat-free meal may differ from the average carnivore's. My choice to not eat meat was a natural progression after twenty years of eating the stuff for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If anyone had told me at 19 that within a year I’d be turning my back on a juicy steak or start feeling nauseas at the smell of bacon cooking I would have thought they were mad. I can’t explain the transition, it just happened.

My relationship with all things milky had been even more passionate. I forswore that dairy was something that I would NEVER give up, at a time when every second person was being told that anything that ailed them could be alleviated with a wheat and dairy-free diet. Oh no, not for me. To say I lived for dairy would be over stating it, but lets just say that polishing off half a kilo of cheddar in a week would not have been unusual. Despite the dodgy tummy, the sore throats once or twice a month and a whole host of other bodily displeasures I was in firm denial that this had anything to do with my diet. But one day after a delicious dairy-rich meal I became aware of my heart thumping so fast that I began to wonder if someone so young could have a heart attack. The next cheesy delight did the same thing and what is more it came coupled with other hard to ignore symptoms and so it slowly dawned on me that my road to good health would not be coated in chocolate ice cream after all.

While eggs and seafood still adorn my diet, winter is the perfect time for grains and beans. Inspired by the challenge to a meat eater to have an animal product free week – I wondered what I would be prepared to give up for 7 days in order to expand my cooking repertoire? So I thought what has been over represented in my diet this month and the answer was obvious – wheat. There is something comforting about flour. It is convenient. After an inedible airline breakfast, having got up at dawn, paced about the airport for 2 hours, sat on a flight for another 4 and deplaned slower than a wet week – I was desperate enough to grab a snack to keep me going for the car trip to my parents home. As often is the case, the only thing I can find in most airports that I am able to eat is an egg sandwich. I have had some horrors – over chilled, of dubious age and totally tasteless but let me tell you the new kiosk at Wellington airport delivered the freshest pre-packaged egg sarnie that I have ever found, in grainy bread that was soft and with three days stamped til it expired – it was a winner.

The last couple of weeks have been studded with eating out – spaghetti marinara twice, the pre-dinner nibble on crusty bread because it is there, a lunch grabbed on the run inevitably in some kind of wheaty wrapper. So my body suggests rather loudly that the food to challenge for me is obviously wheat.

Wheat is a sneaky sucker. Not just the main ingredient in most breads and cakes (sure there are a lot of non-wheat and gluten-free options out there if you shop at the right stores but this involves planning, when you are hungry the choices can be quite limiting), it is a favourite of chefs to dust on fish or meat before searing, to thicken a sauce, to mix with other flours (check out your rye loaf, often there is an ingredient just called ‘flour’) and also used to make non-floury foods like soy sauce.

For this week I am going to banish the wheat and bring in alternative grains. Though not spelt, burghal, couscous. semolina, kamut or triticale. Also no malt (fortunately my favourite soy milk is wheat-free but this also means no beer or malt vinegar), soy sauce or anything pre-made with thickeners, starch or the ubiquitous ‘flour’. No solstice cake either!

So, is anyone else up for the 1 week challenge? Take your pick vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, rotation diet, nut-free or whatever you think would be a suitable shift of perspective for you. Anytime, even months after this is posted, give it a go and send me a link.

For a week, post what you eat and drink each day, as well as any observations you make. The idea is diversification rather than deprivation. To think outside the box a little diet-wise rather than focusing solely on what is temporarily removed. It is a great motivator to revisit neglected favourite meals or try something new.

Need some ideas?

A dairy-free diet is reputed to help chronic conditions like eczema, asthma, recurring sinus and chest infections and IBS. If you’re stuck for ideas, the majority of my recipes are moo-juice free.

Going wheat-free might give you a little more energy. Once again, not many of my recipes worship this grain (or contain gluten) if you are looking for inspiration. There are also lots wheat-free products available in supermarkets in most big cities.

Gluten-free ramps it up a notch, removing not just wheat but all members of the grass family. Any coelic/cellac friendly meal will fit the bill. If you are prone to getting mouth ulcers, gut upsets or are low in iron (especially if you are already a meat eater) this might just be what you need.

For aching joints having a rest from the nightshade family is an obvious choice. Avoid: tomato, eggplant, potato (sweet potato is ok), capsicum, chilli, paprika and tobacco.

A sugar-free diet is perfect for those trying to break their sweet addiction or are sick of mood or energy swings. On this diet fresh or a little dried fruit is as sweet as you get. Cane sugar is an obvious ingredient to steer clear of but anything ending in ‘ose’ (eg fructose), as well as honey, maple and other such additives are to be avoided.

Going vegan or vegetarian for a week is perfect motivation to get back in touch with eating grains, beans, seeds and nuts. It would get the Singer or Pollan tick of approval.

It is a good idea to do a bit of reading first, as sometimes things are not as obvious as they seem. A gluten-free diet excludes some alcoholic drinks like beer and whiskey. A vegetarian gets used to asking restaurants (and friends cooking for them) what stock is in the vegetable soup and if there is gelatine in the jelly.

But the upside is an exploration of different tastes and flavours. On a dairy-free diet there are alternate milks (rice, oat, nut, soy etc) and dubious cheese, yoghurt and ice cream replacements but there are also other ways to approach flavour balance. I’ll use olives to give an omelette a salty tang instead of a sharp cheese, crumbled tofu instead of ricotta, finish a meal with a plate of raw nuts, dark chocolate and dried fruit instead of cheese when I have guests.

A week is too little time to cause a nutritional deficiency if you haven’t got the hang of how to balance the temporary way of eating but long enough to make you rethink your automatic approach to food.

Happy low-allergy eating.


Blogger docwitch said...

Ok. I'm up for it.

I've been thinking about eliminating dairy for ages. I was off it completely at one stage in my life, but drifted back to it. Having given away the gluten, (which has made a big difference to my overall health), I'm finding the dairy may still be a problem, (I get lots of colds, and have one right now. Bleuch).

But...but...I just love yoghurt and brie. Still, I'm sure I'll manage without.

btw - forgot about the wheat in whiskey (stoopid, I mean, really, I knew that). That would explain the strange reaction I had when I drank a glass the other week. My jaw literally seized up.

12:16 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Good on you, considering your diet has already had a massive upheaval this year! OH yes the whiskey! Of course - so it wasn't just a reaction to the in-laws after all!

On the dairy free front have found a dairy and soy free wonderful vanilla ice cream at Maria's Pasta on Nicholson St of all places. They had "gluten free" pizza bases too (i didn't check what they are made from).

12:56 pm  
Blogger Wendy said...

I read an article in The Guardian the other day about a restaurant critic who went vegan for a week and got caught out by ground shrimp in Thai curry paste. Was intrigued by his whole experience (though he was a bit whiney) and toyed briefly with the idea of doing it myself. Too much going on just now but will definitely do it later in the year.

5:04 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Wendy - thanks for contemplating it. There are easier times than others to give it a go - that is why its not an event with a time frame and round up. A universal theme!

I must hunt out the Guardian article. It is a bit like when a doctor becomes a patient in their own hospital - seeing things from an entirely different point of view. I'd love it if every restaurant reviewer gave it a go!

5:14 pm  
Blogger Zoe said...

I'm keen too, but not exactly sure which path to go down. I've done a couple of stints of macrobiotic vegan food while on meditation retreats, and I think something like wheat free would be harder for me than that!

I'll have a chat to the bloke and see if he's up for it too. Quite a good chance, him being a Virgo and all ; )

2:03 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Zoe, I was in a cafe yesterday and it would have been much easier to eat vegan than wheat-free and that really surprised me. Maybe just have a week off dairy?

Oh yes this is such a virgo challenge - we're obsessed about health and order in our lives :)

2:36 pm  

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