The way we eat around here.

Furtively, the Chef and I glance in other people’s baskets and gesture toward each other. “That one has Fig Newtons, Oscar Mayer hot dogs, and bottled spaghetti sauce,” he whispers to me.

“Yeah? Well that girl has twenty little containers of the yogurt with the gelatin and food dye in it. She’s also buying nonfat cheese, six boxes of low-fat cookies, and a twelve-pack of diet grapefruit soda.”

“Ewwww,” he shudders against my shoulder.

To be clear, the Chef and I are not making direct judgments about the people with the baskets. Honestly, we never look at their faces. If we did, we would see their stories, and then we couldn’t play the game. More, we both have an autonomic response to this kind of bad, packaged food.

You have to understand — I grew up eating all that stuff, even more than most people. It made me sick, all my life. When I look at bad packaged cookies and quick preparation foods, it evokes a visceral reaction in me, like I’m looking at people buying Drano for their kids.

The Chef sees it that way too. But he also knows the joy that comes from cooking from scratch and feeding people with those tastes. Nothing compares.

Convenience is over-rated.

The Chef will eat almost anything, made from scratch. He doesn’t turn up his nose at any food. (Well, with the exception of lima beans, which warms my heart, since that is the one vegetable I cannot stand.) Pork belly, sunchokes, sweetbreads, celeriac — any food that other people might think looks knobby, funny, or just plain gross? He jumps at the chance to eat them. He knows that great food doesn’t always look pretty. Really, for someone with such a fine palate, he’s not picky.

There are only two foods he refuses to eat. If I want to make him shudder and shake his head in disgust, I only have to say two things: tofu. And American cheese.

The tofu thing? Well, he’s a straight guy. I have to admit — I haven’t met many straight men who like the stuff. He’s fairly well versed in Asian cuisines, having cooked them many times. The flavors and techniques of various Asian cultures have filtered down into his dishes. But he just cannot stand the thought of tofu. I think it’s a texture thing.

And American cheese? That stuff is just plain disgusting.

One part of my book is a kind of horrified nostalgia for the food I ate as a child: everything wrapped in plastic and dyed, the ingredients list a dozen names I never knew how to pronounce. We all ate that food, or most of us did. Remember Crunchberry cereal? Twinkies? Canned chili with Fritos crunched on top? I lived on the stuff as a child.

Now, however, the sight of endlessly packaged foods in other people’s grocery carts turns my stomach, just a bit. What are we doing to ourselves? How is this any way to feed each other?

I have to admit: before I went gluten-free, I still ate some pre-packaged foods. Sometimes, the exhaustion of not feeling well caused me to buy boxes of macaroni and cheese. And I remember one time, late at night (more near dawn), my friend Gabe and I sat on the counters of his Seattle apartment kitchen, swinging our legs and eating a bowl of Cookie Crisp cereal. We still talk about it, however, since it was the first and only time either one of us had eaten it. Simultaneously, we lay aside our bowls, because we could not stomach the sweetness.

However, once I went gluten-free, I was liberated from packaged foods. Oh sure, at first it seemed like a loss. What would I eat? But over time, and fairly quickly, I came to see what a gift this celiac diagnosis truly is. Since most packaged foods contain gluten, I had to start cooking.

My life has never been the same.

I have never eaten better than I have since I went gluten-free. After the Chef entered my life, my eating improved twelve-fold, because he is astonishingly talented, plus he expresses his love through the meals he makes for me. But it’s more than that.

One afternoon, a few months ago, I said to him, “You know, if you’re going to make the restaurant gluten-free, I really have to investigate every product you have in the kitchen, just to make sure there isn’t any hidden contamination. We don’t want anyone getting sick.” He agreed.

It took me about three minutes to realize that this would be a short task.

The Chef never uses anything packaged. What is in his kitchen? Boxes of fresh produce. Chickens ready to be cut down. Veal stock he has made from scratch. Butter. (What restaurant kitchen could exist without butter?) Spices ready to be ground. Exquisite cheeses from around the world. Rice. Polenta. Cream. Milk. And so on. There was absolutely nothing in his kitchen that would require a phone call to a major corporation. He makes it all by hand.

I know that’s part of the reason his food tastes so damned good. He makes it all by hand.

Those of you reading who are recently diagnosed? Take it from me — throw yourself, gleefully, into the world of cooking and baking food from scratch, and your life will improve, irrevocably.

This weekend, Michael Pollan published an incredible article in The New York Times magazine, called “Unhappy Meals,” about how we have done ourselves damage with the way we eat. I encourage you all to read it. He breaks it all down, fairly simply, especially the nine guidelines he gives at the end of the piece. Following every fad, terrified of fat, then carbs, we are perpetually worried about food and what it does to us. We regard food as the enemy, and we are allowing it to kill us.

The longer I live with food and write about food, the more convinced I am — we are pretty screwed up in this country, when it comes to food.

I especially loved this paragraph:

“This brings us to another unexamined assumption: that the whole point of eating is to maintain and promote bodily health. Hippocrates’ famous injunction to ‘let food be they medication’ is ritually involed to support this notion. I’ll leave the premise alone for now, except to point out that it is not shared by all cultures and that the experience of these other cultures suggests that, paradoxically, viewing food as being about things other than bodily health — like pleasure, say, or socializing — makes people no less healthy; indeed, there’s some reason to believe that it may make them more healthy. This is what we usually have in mind when we speak of the ‘French paradox’ — the fact that a population that eats all sorts of unhealthful nutrients is in many ways healthier than we Americans are. So there is at least a question as to whether nutritionism is actually any good for you.”

That has been the biggest discovery for me, since I went gluten-free: the ineffable pleasure of eating.

Living gluten-free is no loss.

meatloaf

Gluten-free meatloaf

What was in our basket the other night when we stopped at the store? Two pounds of Oregon country natural ground beef; an organic onion; fresh herbs; free-range eggs; canned tomatoes from Italy; a small tub of sour cream. Some people might have looked at our cart and thought, “Oh, the horrors! Beef. Full-fat dairy. Eggs.” But that’s such a short-sighted view of food. The night before, we ate a quinoa salad with smoked salmon and a dozen vegetables. Once in a while — in the name of eating a variety of foods — there’s nothing wrong with meatloaf.

That night, there was everything right with this meatloaf. I hadn’t eaten meatloaf in years, since it also requires breadcrumbs. The Chef, however, seems to be on a quest to cook me foods I have been missing all this time. Of course — with all apologies to my mother — this meatloaf is the best I have ever eaten.

And one of the fullest pleasures I have had lately was watching the Chef eat a cold meatloaf sandwich, on toasted gluten-free bread, in bed next to me, sometime after midnight that night.

2 pounds ground beef
½ medium yellow onion, chopped fine
2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
2 eggs
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
½ cup gluten-free bread crumbs (this bread makes great crumbs)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

2 tablespooons olive oil
¼ onion, diced
2 teaspoons garlic, chopped
½ cup canned tomatoes (we only use San Marzano)
1 whole tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
½ teaspoon turbinado sugar
¼ cup ketchup

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Place the first half of the ingredients (from the beef to the black pepper) in a large bowl. Mix them all up with your hands until they form a coherent mixture. Put the meatloaf in a loaf pan and bake it for about an hour.

Bring a skillet to heat. Add the olive oil to the hot skillet. When the oil runs around the skillet as easily as water, add the onions. Cook them, stirring occasionally, until they have started to soften. Add the garlic and cook for one minute more. Add the tomatoes and everything else on the list, except for the ketchup. Turn the heat down to medium and cook the food for fifteen minutes, or until it all smells redolent and enticing. Move the tomato mixture to the blender, then add the ketchup. Puree it all up.

Brush this tomato mixture over the top of the hot meatloaf, coating thickly. Return the meatloaf to the oven and continue to cook it until it has reached an internal temperature of 160°.

Serves six.

32 comments on “The way we eat around here.

  1. Anonymous

    Brava! Eating gluten-free has indeed been a blessing. Cooking from scratch – how revolutionary. :-)

  2. Lacey

    I love M. Pollan and think he is doing an amazing job enlightening Americans on the big picture around food.

    As a nutritionist, one piece of advice that I start with is to shop only around the outside aisles of the market– not going in the center (except for our lovely olive oils and gray sea salt…)

    I also like how he points out about traditional eating (French paradox) vs. scientific eating (USA and fad diets)

    Food is health, but it is more than health– it is love, community, connection, relationship, pleasure.…

    I just love your blog!!!

  3. J.Thompson

    I’m glad you’ve found food that works for you. I totally agree that unprocessed is healthier, and that eating FOOD, as Mr. Pollan stresses, rather than weird low-fat-low-carb-etc products is more pleasureable. But I just want to point out that your game with the chef sounds a bit holier-than-thou. Why not focus on your own happiness, and on promoting good eating through your inspiring blog, rather than judging others’ baskets? When you snicker over their Snackwell’s cookies, all you’re saying is “No.”

  4. Peyton's Mom

    I’m cracking up here about the tofu thing!! WonderHubby eats it — okay — perhaps not *overly* willingly, but he’ll eat it!

    I’ve got to let you know — you’re such an inspiration.…one of our kiddos was diagnosed with celiac, but she’s a vegetarian… *sigh* I’m back in learning mode!

    Thanks once again for your transparency here — you & your fabulous Chef feel like old friends!

  5. Anonymous

    Some people might have looked at our cart and thought, “Oh, the horrors! Beef. Full-fat dairy. Eggs.”

    well, but you would have been right. unlike all those people that were obviously v wrong, when you peered into their cart. do you mean?

    there is something about this entry that makes me very sad. some sort of something which in your writing has never before been revealed.

    your new interface is lovely. still my very best to you both.

    Elodie

  6. madre-terra

    Ah, another trip down memory lane with Shauna. I remember Velveeta grilled cheese sandwiches and a concoction called “enchilada pie” with Fritos on top. Ugh. I shudder.
    Nice to know that other people out there in the world like to peak at what other people other buying at the grocery store. We’ve been doing it for years. Maybe it’s the actress in me.…a sort of character study.

  7. Ellen

    I couldn’t agree with you more — we always ate pretty well to begin with — but since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, we eat incredibly well — nothing processed in our kitchen — and I am cooking all the time — and I don’t leave the house without food on my person. Thanks for the reminder that we are doing really well with our new take on food!

    Ellen

  8. Bo

    I’ve loved reading your site for quiet some time but I am somewhat disappointed by today’s post. There is an air of judgment and superiority that is very unappealing. As a holistic health counselor I advise people that no food — packaged or not — is bad. It’s when we begin to polarize our food that we become neurotic about eating. A vegetarian or vegan could easily criticize your diet, and they would be short sited in doing so. Packaged foods, for better or worse, are the only things some people in this country can access and afford. For others, its comfort and familiarity. And for some laden with work, children, and the craziness of life, it is relief. The question really shouldn’t be how can we get more people to eat whole foods, it should be how do we redesign life to allow people the luxury of thinking about what they put in their body.

  9. Slacker Mom

    I loved this post. It spoke to me.

    I just got diagnosed a few days ago, and I am in a little bit of mourning, but not for my food at home, for the food out…special places, places like the Chef’s, that have all fresh beautiful food, but contains gluten.

    I have always cooked from scratch, and I do the check out the others groceries too!!

    My best story, one time when my children were 2 and 4, we went to the deli, we didn’t go that often, and the woman behind the counter offered them a slice of cheese, so I said ok.

    Unfortunately, she gave them American. My kids took one bite (they never had it before), and spit it out.

    One of my proudest Mommy moments!!

  10. Bengali Chick

    I agree, packaged foods are definitely scary. The one fast food that I love to indulge in (once in awhile) is In-N-Out Burger: protein style burgers (wrapped in lettuce as a bun, vanilla shake and fries. Yum.

  11. GrewUpRural

    Thank you for the gf meatloaf recipe. I will have to try it soon.

    Before becoming gf I ate a lot of prepared foods. Now that I can’t eat a lot of those items, I have to cook for myself now. I actually enjoy cooking now.

    I have to agree with Lacey, shop only on the outside aisles of the market. However in my market, the bread is on the outside aisle with the dairy products. Everytime I go near the gluten-filled bread, I shudder. Yuck.

  12. gaile

    Yes! You let him eat meatloaf sandwiches in bed — beautiful! However, I have to come to the defense of tofu, and of straight guys I’ve known who know and love it. I challenge the chef to explore the myriad of textures tofu is capable of. Frozen and shredded, Pressed and deep fried into pillows of deliciousness, baked into chewy goodness. Granted, fresh and raw it is most assuredly an acquired taste.

  13. Diane

    I cook/eat the same way as chef. My poor house sitters bemoan staying at my house as I have no frozen pizza for them, not easy-to-heat foods. I don’t even own a microwave.

    But…here’s the other thing about eating this way.

    Not only is it better for you. It is cheaper. If you aren’t buying packaged foods, you have that much more $$$ to spend on really good cuts of meat. Cheeses. Etc. I find my grocery bills are very low compared to my friends.

  14. Excelsior

    I’m with a couple of the other commenters here who find your game rather judgemental. To paraphrase a pro-choice bumper sticker: “Against ________? Don’t have one.”

    Re: meatloaf, I make meatloaf with cooked quinoa instead of breadcrumbs, but I struggle with the other fixin’s. This recipe gives me a new one to try. Thanks.

  15. Bengali Chick

    Some of the comments don’t sit well with me. Does every post have to be politically correct? Jeez, this is a blog! You should be able to express yourself on your own blog free of judgement.

  16. Shauna

    Goodness, I certainly didn’t expect to upset anyone with this post!

    For those of you who disapprove of my judgements, well… I know that I espouse yes and happiness and joy. But sometimes, the most powerful yes is to another life, the one that is born by saying no to the wrong thing.

    To be clear, the Chef and I are not making direct judgments about the people with the baskets. Honestly, we never look at their faces! If we did, we would see their stories, and then we couldn’t play the game. More, we both have an autonomic response to this kind of bad, packaged food.

    You have to understand — I grew up eating all that stuff, even more than most people. And it made me sick, all my life. When I look at bad packaged cookies and quick preparation foods, it evokes a visceral reaction in me, like I’m looking at people buying Drano for their kids.

    The Chef sees it that way too. But he also knows the joy that comes from cooking from scratch and feeding people with those tastes. Nothing compares.

    Convenience is over-rated.

    I also echo what Diane wrote — eating whole foods is so much cheaper than convenience foods. You’re not buying the packaging and marketing. You’re buying a mango.

    I have to say, I disagree with those of you who wrote that packaged, processed food isn’t that bad. Respectfully, I disagree. We are doing harm to our bodies by living on one awful food after another, feeling neurotic about calories and carbs, instead of truly becoming conscious about what we are putting in our bodies.

    We all have biases. Even those of you disapprove that I am against something are against something yourself. It’s important to become aware.

    (Besides, it was meant as a bit of whimsy. I sure hope no one reading thinks that I am the paragon of gluten-free virtue! I can be as snarky as the rest of them, for a moment. And then I go back to loving people.)

    I encourage you all to read the Michael Pollan article. Make your own decisions about it from what he writes. For example, in Omnivore’s Dilemma, he writes that a third of American children eat at a fast-food outlet every day of their lives.

    This truly is a problem. And if I seem judgemental to you by writing that, then at least I have given you something to think about.

  17. Carmen

    I was the manager of a small health foods store for years, so I’m all too familiar with helping people with their gluten-free lifestyles, especially when they were first starting out. We created a whole gluten-free section in our store as the demand rose through the years, and recently, I started pointing people towards your site so that they could browse your recipes and gain hope and insight into a happy, gluten-free lifestyle. Love the site — thanks for doing what you do!

  18. Nat

    Yeah!
    This post (and your response to the disapprovers) speaks to me, much as M. Pollan’s article did when I read it last weekend.

    There is a strange virtue in eating GF, if only for the efforless mindful eating one develops with time. For me, that counterbalances the annoyances of every frustrations that are encountered.

    As for the highly processes stuff? We’re not only poisoning ourselves with so much crud, we are poisoning the planet with the non-biodegradable, manufactured packaging. Not to mention shipping.

    And if these ideas are offensive to some? It suggests that you are saying something meaningful, something that needs to be said.

  19. Camille

    hi, i’m new to your blog…i LOVE it. i too am a gluten-free chef in cali. fyi– i get rice cracker from trader joes and ground them up in the food processor. thats what i use in my meatloaf.

  20. Leeendah

    Dearest Shauna,
    I absolutely love your blog, every single word of it! (And I will try to keep this comment a little shorter than my first one…) Even though I am not celiac, I am allergic to gluten, and many other things. You have helped me in SO many ways! Not only did you enlighten me to the fact that a wonderful gluten-free pasta really does exist (Tinkyada), but you have also helped me with my graphics arts job. One of my duties is preparing slideshows to present at quarterly briefings, and it has always been so difficult to whittle down the vast multitude of my photos… Your quote last month “…kill your darlings” has been sticking in my mind and helping me! And I can’t wait to try your quinoa and salmon salad. Your photo of that salad awhile back absolutely sparkled like diamonds in the light. In fact, all of your photos sparkle just as much as your words do! Please don’t ever stop being you.

    P.S. Since I can’t eat tomatoes, does the Chef have any suggestions on what I can use instead on that great-looking meatloaf?

  21. Gluten Free Momma

    Michael has it all together and then some. I read the Omnivorse Dilemma last year and it resonated. Michael Abelman is another wonderful writer, Fields of Plenty takes into consideration all of our personal choices in foods.
    I am so glad that the Chef has real food in his kitchen. There is hope that food service isn’t all pre-prepared frozen soups and such.
    I can’t wait till I have a chance to eat at his restaurant!
    Meatloaf is one of the staffs of life in my book. I always use rice for the starch but I might just try this.

  22. swank

    My partner, a straight 30-something male, eats tofu… by choice, no less. You don’t know him, but well, I hate stereotypes so I just had to pipe up.

  23. Anonymous

    I have to say, in your defense, that I too play the supermarket game of looking into peoples carts. Only I guess I am even more judgemental because I have noticed that the more processed the food in the cart is, generally speaking now, not every single person, the more overweight the person is and the more unruly the children are. People just don’t realize that when you put things into your body that you can’t even pronounce it will affect it in some way. Now I have to say that I do occassionally eat bad stuff, too, but not nearly as often as when I didn’t know any better;)

  24. Peyton's Mom

    (this may come to you twice, if so, feel free to delete this! I had a weird system-hiccup-thing as I hit send!)

    My dear, new, on-the-blog friend.…I had to chime in again — I can’t stand it!!!! =0)

    I had no idea you’d be hit with such — and I hesitate to use the word ‘negativity’ because these folks are simply expressing their opinions as they see them, but then again — hey! so were you!! — so how about ‘opposing views’…I had no clue they’d come at you like this.….

    Human nature demands comparison, that’s why you find 2 year olds on the playground snatching others’ toys — it looked better by comparison.….

    If I were to compare my cart to yours, I’d say ‘ewww, dead animal, rotting flesh, aborted chickens’ — and?? so?? who have I hurt, bothered, or upset?? Nobody — it was said to myself or possibly my daughter.…

    Shauna, you are listed on *my* blog as my favorite foodie blogger — in a group of vegan bloggers, there you stand — head & shoulders above the rest!! I don’t come here for someone that shares my views or strokes the ego, I’m here because I love your transparency, I love your eloquence, wit, & wisdom.…not because I wanna eat a meatloaf! BUT I certainly respect your right & desire to do so.…

    To the nay-sayers, I wonder if they’ve ever walked down the street or sat in a coffee shop & whispered to their friend, ‘she wore those shoes with that dress?’ or ‘I can’t believe he’s eating another bigmac…’

    Everyone’s ‘guilty’ of the game you play, you were just honest enough to put it in print! As someone else said, these are BLOGS not PC editorial columns and I’m pretty sure the 1st Amendment works here too! ;)

    Keep up the good work — the new layout rocks — and so do you guys!!

  25. Shannon

    Wow, this article by Michael Pollan has really taken off. It’s making people really think, including myself. Tomorrow, I am starting my own Eat Real Food challenge based on his nine principles for healthy eating. I love that you are already living this way, Shauna. I’ll have to stop by the Chef’s restaurant sometime to have a meal during my challenge–it will be at least one meal out that I can trust!

  26. Sheri

    “I have to say, I disagree with those of you who wrote that packaged, processed food isn’t that bad. Respectfully, I disagree. We are doing harm to our bodies by living on one awful food after another, feeling neurotic about calories and carbs, instead of truly becoming conscious about what we are putting in our bodies.”

    Case in point in our home tonight: The Man brought home an Uncle Ben’s wild rice mix. Why the heck does a rice mix have wheat protein in it? If I hadn’t looked at it and just used it, I would be miserably ill right now.

    I am grateful to be gluten free as it forces me to be vigilant about what I am putting into and onto my body. When I realized I had a problem with gluten, I started eating exclusively whole foods for the first time in my life. I lost 15 pounds, feel wonderful, and enjoy life again.

    The Man, who eats “junk” most of the time, who does not have gluten intolerance or Celiac, usually feels like crap and falls asleep in front of the TV every night. I attribute this to the garbage he puts in his body. Because it doesn’t happen if I make dinner.

    I firmly believe that most of the diseases suffered by our society would be lessened if we stopped eating all the chemicals that no one but a scientist can pronounce.

    Sorry for the ramble and if I don’t make sense.

  27. N. Cloud

    I saw this page via Food Network. I must say, you do amazing work, and you make it easier for a LOT of people. I myself am not a gluten free person, but these foods look so dang tasty! :O

    Anyway, you keep up the good work, I’m telling all my friends about this.

  28. Shauna

    I want to say thank you to everyone for this conversation. To add to my earlier comment, I’d like to say thank you to those of you who have written to support me.

    But something here has grown out of hand. I’m not sure what it is, but I would like to put a stop to it. For those of you who have sent in the aggressive comments I have not published, the ones calling me a snob, a classist, a snooty member of the elite, narrow-minded, stereotyping, and an all-around jerk? I would ask you to ask yourselves why this bothers you so much.

    This is a blog. My personal accounting of life. My opinions. And an attempt to be an authentic record of where I am in the moment, rather than a prettied-up picture of the self I think I should present. If you feel differently, please do so. However, the personal attacks (and oh, the emails telling me that you will never read this website again?) really do just have to stop. Move on.

    I have never done this before, but I am now closing the comments on this post.