Culinary Creativity and Dietary Constraint
My Whole30 Challenge
I am taking the Whole30 Challenge, a 30-day diet based on eating healthy proteins, vegetables, and fruit. Like most diets, it tries to emphasize what you can eat (mean, vegetables, fats, fruits, nuts), but it is much easier to describe it by what yo can not eat. Here's an incomplete list of banned items:
- Processed or canned foods (with a couple exceptions)
- Cured Meat
- Dairy (except ghee)
- Legumes, including peanuts and soy
- Vegetable or legume-based oils
- Alcohol (not even for cooking)
- Alternative Sweeteners (splenda, stevia, honey, agave nectar, etc.)
- Skin and fat from conventionally raised meat (skin and fat from organic meat is allowed)
Restriction Aids Creativity
What's for dinner? When you can choose anything to eat, the sheer amount of choice is overwhelming. To make up for that, your brain limits your choices for you, and you end up eating the same stuff over and over again. Without restriction, I make a lot of soup and stews. I mean "a lot" -- perhaps even a disturbing amount of soup. Or I end up not feeling like cooking anything, because I can't choose, and I end up at McDonald's. I also eat a lot of dark meat chicken for no reason other than I can get a 10 pound bag of leg quarters for $5.90. I know a lot of people who say they are "Meat and Potatoes" kinds of people. What happens when you take away the potatoes?
Jack white talks about the need for restriction:
Or you can read about the value of forced constraints in this more scholarly book review.
Being on the Whole30 has really kicked up my creativity and diversity. I have made dishes that I have never tried to make before. Nothing in my life was preventing me from marking carnitas, but it wasn't until the realization that carnitas fit within my restrictions that I felt motivated to make them. Strange, considering they are my second favorite thing to order at a Mexican restaurant. I would have never thought of making homemade breakfast sausage until I wasn't allowed using store bought. And you never really think about how many vegetables you ignore until you start relying on the for variety. Beets, jicama, eggplant, daikon and endive have all crossed my cutting board for the first time this month. The constraints of my diet have led me to make some fantastic, and bold-flavored, food.
People ask me how I can live without pasta or without dairy or without wine for sauces. They say it would be impossible for them, and I must be having a rough go of it. "But I'm not," I say, and I show them pictures of what I ate last week. Then the question changes to "when are you inviting me over for dinner?"