Get yourself into that kitchen!

The Discerning Brute’s Resident RD, Matt Ruscigno returns with a call to action. Getting into the kitchen, even if it’s your first time – or what you dread most – is one of the most empowering, radical and healthy things you can do.
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There was a time in US history, long ago, when it was normal for someone, almost always a woman, to spend 3 hours a day in the kitchen. Three hours of food preparation a day! Then around the 1940’s the principles of the industrial revolution and systematic time-saving devices were applied to food production. No longer did one have to make pancakes from scratch, you could just add water! Why bake bread when you could buy sliced bread? Picking vegetables out of your garden? How uncivilized! Don’t you know that you can buy them frozen and just heat them up in a new special type of oven?

Slowly, but surely the kitchen changed from a space of production to one of consumption. Then that consumption moved out of the kitchen into restaurants. When the preparation of food went from individuals to corporations we may have gained time, but we lost skills, dietary variety/uniqueness, nutrients and most importantly autonomy.

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Most of my college students have no idea how to prepare foods. Cooking means heating up the individual ramen container in the microwave. Many have never cut up a vegetable or a piece of fruit. But we can’t blame them- our 2012 world continues the tradition of consumption over production. Who has time to cook and eat healthy? The world between microwave soup, drive-thru hamburgers and home-made plant-based meals is filled with seemingly insurmountable barriers. But there is hope. I won’t lie; I love cheesy motivational quotes and one of my favorites is:

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

It’s simple, but easy to forget because we want to be 500 miles into the 1000-mile journey and that seems so far away that we never take that first step. The same is true about getting into the kitchen.

There’s a lot to be concerned with in today’s world. And rightfully so. One of the most powerful things you can do is take responsibility over your food choices by getting back into the kitchen. When you do so you are:

  • • Deciding which foods are best for you, the environment, other people and the animals.
  • • Creating for yourself- food preparation is an art.
  • • Not paying someone else to do the work for you.
  • • Becoming more autonomous and less reliant on a global economy that makes decisions for you.
  • • Eating healthier! Fresher ingredients, prepared at home have more nutrients and you can control what is added. It always tastes better when you make it yourself or for someone you care about.

Getting into the kitchen
That first step is the hardest, I promise. Sauteing swiss chard and garlic from your garden in a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet will come, but you have to build up to it. Right now ask yourself what you are capable of and start from there.

-Sandwiches are classic AND easy. You aren’t technically cooking, but you are preparing your own food the way you want it! Try some vegan deli slices with tomatoes, lettuce and avocado. Half the price of buying it out and you can put all the avocado you want on there! Or hummus. Sure you can soak your own garbanzo beans and make it from scratch, but if you buy it prepared and make a sandwich you are still taking steps toward DIY kitchen awesomeness.

-Home-cooked meals don’t need to be complicated. Think-> grain, veggies, legumes, sauce. That’s it. Pasta, jarred tomato sauce and sauteed frozen veggies isn’t going to win you any awards, but it will get you in the kitchen eating food that YOU made.

-Find recipes that fit you. Forget whatever weird ‘ingredients you never heard of’ recipe from the newest, fanciest cookbook. Veganize what you like!

-Make it fun. Cook for friends and lovers. Cook with friends and lovers! Slicing garlic isn’t a chore, it’s a patient, relaxing activity that connects me to my family and my history (no mafia jokes please). What did your grandmother or grandfather make in the kitchen? How much fun can you have messing it up before you get it right?

-Tools for the trade. I’m minimalist punk kid at heart but when it comes to kitchen tools I don’t skimp. Sharp knives, blenders, cast-iron skillets, woks…there’s no stopping what you can do. Consider a rice cooker. When I don’t know what I feel like eating I just put brown rice in the rice cooker while I’m thinking- that way I don’t have to wait for it later.

I love to cook and my ongoing joke is that I don’t make really fancy foods, but I do make regular meals taste great. You can do the same. Below is one of my favorite recipes AND it’s super easy.

 

Practical Peanut Sauce
I love peanut butter. And this sauce is lazy fancy and so much better than anything you can buy in a bottle. And WAY cheaper. Check out the recipe:

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup veggie broth or water
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar (or other mild vinegar)
1 tablespoon sweetener (agave, maple syrup, unrefined sugar, etc)
2-4 cloves garlic or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon powdered
1 tablespoon sized piece of fresh ginger or 1/2 teaspoon powdered
Sriracha or other hot sauce to taste

It’s a very variable recipe. You can adjust the garlic, the spiciness, the sweetness, the thickness- whatever you want! It’s super fun to make. And the directions are easy:

1. Put all ingredients in a blender (if using powdered ginger and garlic you can just mix in a bowl!).
2. Blend.
3. Serve over sauteed vegetables (my favortiess are broccoli and red bell peppers), with tofu and noodles.
It saves well in the fridge so I make a huge amount and eat it for a few days. I’ll even dip raw vegetables into it while it’s cold! Yum.

Enjoy yourself in the kitchen- it’s a radical thing to do these days, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be joyous. I’ve some more simple, tasty recipes on my site, http://truelovehealth.com/category/recipe.

Written by Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RD

Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RD

Matt Ruscigno is a Registered Dietitian – the only professional nutrition credential available- and has been an ethical vegan for over 16 years. His personal site is www.truelovehealth.com. Matt is the Chair of the Vegetarian Nutrition Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and contributed to the best-selling cookbook Appetite for Reduction with Isa Moskowitz.

He’s also obsessed with burritos and dead set on finding the positive in any situation. He’s an accomplished athlete who races ultra-marathons, iron-man triathlons and 200+ mile bike races. He thinks good health, fun, adventure and ethics go hand in hand. Matt has a masters degree from Loma Linda University, one of only a handful of accredited schools that promotes vegetarianism.


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  • Kay

    I took a knife skills class 2 years ago and it immediately improved my cooking. It’s amazing what a 4 hour evening course can accomplish. I now have a good knife and cutting board. I can prep much faster now. I’ve always enjoyed cooking. Now that I can get more done quickly I went from making one dish for a meal to making four. And bigger batches so I have leftovers for days.