A few weeks ago, I purged my extensive collection of cookbooks to make way for new ones. Like the 30 or so I just weeded from the mix, the new books will be learned from, splattered upon and well-loved until I’ve extracted all of their goodness.
I purchased most of these books for myself, which is to say that I consciously hand-picked them guided by my food filters of the time. There were a lot of Cooking Light annual compendiums among this outgoing batch, as well as celeb chef-type books. The Cooking Light era reflects my early yearning to use healthier, fresher ingredients and prep techniques. The celebrity chef books reflect the strange truth that I learned most of my cooking techniques and knife skills by obsessively watching Food Network in its early days. I still break down bell peppers the way Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger—the “Too Hot Tamales”—showed me and other home viewers to do it. It’s a cool, efficient hack that continues to serve me well. I spent hours poring over these books, marking recipes, cooking from them and sharing the food I prepared. I made tons of mistakes, but I had lots of successes, too.
The cooking tomes I’ve amassed in the interim and continue to collect have still been influenced by my love of healthy food prep but are now decidedly filtered by my belief that humanely raised, organic and minimally processed ingredients make the tastiest and most healthful bites. In recent years, I also have taken a turn around the world on a magic carpet of vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts, pickles, spices and herbs. These days, my tastes and cravings bend to global flavors and ingredients. Opening my mind to other “foodways” has even enhanced my understanding of the people who have prepared and eaten specific foods for generations. A subtle but meaningful bonus of all this experimentation is gifting myself and others with a more diverse diet and, probably, a more diverse microbiome.
March is National Nutrition Month, but perhaps we should up the game and look at it as more of a celebration of international food. As author Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RDN, FAAP, FACSM, suggests in our cover feature, perhaps it’s time to shift our focus from calories, dieting and macronutrients to taste, culture and mindfulness. “Fitness pros can help to turn things around by encouraging clients to reorient their mindsets about food and eating,” she says. “You can guide clients on savoring and enjoying food, learning to like new tastes and textures, and incorporating cultural practices and mindfulness into their eating routines. These approaches will do more than dieting and weight loss to help your clients improve their overall nutrition, health and well-being.”
Maybe this is a good month to try one new dish from a far-flung place or to test a recipe that widens your understanding of another culture or flavor profile. As I wind up this message on a chilly Friday at the end of January, I’m eyeing one of my favorite books from the last several years—Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi—and getting some ideas about what to eat this weekend. Will it be shakshuka or chermoula eggplant with bulgur and yogurt? Though I’m not certain yet, I know it will be a warming and delicious adventure to prepare and share.
Find your food inspiration and follow it! Your health will smile in return.
For all you do to Inspire the World to Fitness®, IDEA salutes you!
Sandy Todd Webster
EDITOR IN CHIEF