Cooking for Real, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Butter

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February 26, 2013 by productoverprocessed

Growing up in my mother’s kitchen, butter was a dirty word.  Well, maybe that’s not quite right–we said “butter,” but all of us knew we weren’t actually referring to butter.  Instead, we were talking about margarine, that ultra-spreadable butter substitute from the innocuous yellow cup.  Butter–the real butter–was too fatty, too unhealthy, and besides, it was so damn hard to spread!  From the schmear on my grilled cheese to the half-stick in the cookies, it was Fleischman’s for us, and it’s a habit my mother has not shaken to this day (despite my best efforts).

Not that I can blame her.  For decades, the prevailing wisdom has been that animal fats–lard, butter, schmaltz–are artery-clogging poisons, their consumption forbidden on all days not named Thanksgiving.  Margarine and other industrially processed vegetable oils were seen as healthy alternatives, replacing saturated fats with other fats that were not perceived to be a health threat.  My mother did what most home cooks of her generation did–she internalized the message and declared margarine king.  And it wasn’t just her generation.  ”Oleo” is all over my grandfather’s time-tested recipe for roasting the Thanksgiving bird.

All this to say that as a fledgling home cook and lover of all things food (and food writing), it’s taken me a painfully long time to warm to the testimony of foodies like Michael Ruhlman, singing praises as they do of animals and their beloved fats.  Enjoying life quite a bit and wanting to prolong it as much as possible, I couldn’t help but feel my arteries tighten reading about chicken fat flavored with onions and cooking perfectly healthy green vegetables in rendered bacon fat.  But the more I read, the more it made sense: animal fats (especially those culled from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals) come from natural sources, and we’ve been eating them forever.  We evolved eating them.  The obesity epidemic postdates the introduction of animal fats into the human diet by several millennia.  The introduction of industrially processed trans fats, however, coincides quite nicely with the obesity epidemic.

Happily, my conclusions have been corroborated by my tastebuds.  Real food tastes better.  Real food makes you feel better.  And when you eat real food, cutting large portions of the food pyramid out of your diet no longer seems necessary.  There are no 2,000 calorie fat-bombs when you make your own food from scratch.  Just tasty, nutritious noms.  

And so, after years of searching for a diet that makes us feel good about ourselves and about how we interact with our environment, my lovely wife Monica and I have settled on no diet at all.  The only hard and fast rule in our kitchen is this: we make our own food.  No canned chicken stock, no jarred tomato sauce.  We make it ourselves, and often, even the mess-ups taste twice as good as what we’d buy at the store.  This blog is a place for us to share those mess-ups, and hopefully some successes, too.

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