Wednesday, January 6, 2016

52 Weeks to a Simpler Life – Tip #18 – Simplify Your Eating Habits

Eating! It's another of the necessities of life. We require food for the energy to operate our bodies and water to keep us hydrated and lubricated. At our most basic level, we are animals and have the same basic survival requirements as any other animal. The difference is, through some miracle, and I'm not going into that here, the human animal has evolved and developed our brains far beyond the basic instinctual level of all other forms of animals on the planet. We are blessed and gifted. However, in some ways, this ability to think, create and reason may actually be detrimental.

Most people love food and love to eat. The room in most homes where the most socializing goes on is, you guessed it, the kitchen. A hundred thousand years ago, or so, there were no fast food restaurants, no five star gourmet restaurants, no “wing shacks” no supermarkets, no convenience stores or even corner markets or general stores. Humans went shopping with clubs, spears, eventually bows and arrows, hooks, nets and similar instruments. Humans also were called gatherers (as in hunter-gatherers). Some members of the tiny nomadic bands would gather berries, fruits and whatever other kinds of edible vegetation was at hand. Food was simple, basic, usually raw (eventually simply cooked). The menu was simple. Life was simple.

Eating in the 21st Century

So, here we are 100,000+ years hence. There are still a few (relatively few in relation to the size of the current population) people who actually hunt and fish, grow vegetative foods and gather wild berries and fruits. In developed, western nations, the practice of hunting and gathering for survival is virtually an anomaly anymore.

We hunt in supermarkets approaching the size of a city block in some instances. Where our menu and the items we had to select from when we were hunting and gathering was extremely small and simple, the average supermarket has about 50,000 products (including a small percentage of non-food items). Compare that with 50 years ago when that number was in the range of 7,000 to 8,000 items. Do you think all these choices have made our lives any simpler?

Allow me to introduce another element to muck up the equation. We call them restaurants. Yep! I'm not even going to research how many restaurants there are and how many choices of cuisine. Western nations, especially countries like the U.S., are so diverse due to immigration of people from almost every country in the world. All of these immigrants bring with them the foods (menus) from their native lands. In most large cities, it's likely a person could easily eat for 30 straight days and, counting three meals a day, partake in foods from 90 different countries.

Additionally, we have fast food restaurants, buffet restaurants, moderate priced full-service restaurants, a variety of diners, delicatessens, specialty restaurants, ethnic restaurants, gourmet restaurants, street foods from push carts, moving restaurants in trucks and this list goes on.

I could go on with food from convenience stores, cafeterias at places of employment, colleges/universities, all levels of public and private schools, church dinners and breakfasts.

Do you think we may have an obsession with food? Our early ancestors hunted and gathered and maintained a simple menu and diet to survive. In our current U.S. society, food consumption on all levels is an industry exceeding $1.5 trillion dollars and I don't believe that includes purchases of food at restaurants, convenience stores and similar. That amounts to an average per person, based on an approximate population of 321 million, of about $4,700 per person annually or $12.80 per person per day – again, not including eating out.

According to my research, the U.S. is not the most expensive place in the world to consume food, either. The immensity of this obsession with food is mind boggling. And, of course, you can add the industries that create the implements of preparing and consuming food including appliances, cooking utensils and the utilities, gas and electric, used in food preparation and clean up. And, again, I'm only thinking of the U.S.

What Are You Putting In Your Mouth

So, we're obsessed with food, the amount, the variety and the diversity of places we acquire it. Let's also not forget to include the time consumption, that priceless commodity we can't replace. Whether we prepare food at home or make plans to get it at some other location where it's prepared by others for us. Of course, typically, the more complex the meal, the more time involved in shopping and preparing it.

But, because we still only have the same 24 hours in a day our ancestors had 100,000+ years ago, in actuality, we probably expend more time and energy with the eating process than they did. So, we cut corners all over the place. We consume all kinds of prepackaged, frozen, canned, dehydrated, and you name the other processes, foods. Yes! We actually do still consume some fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and meats in the form of fish, red or white meat and fowl, but even that has been processed in some manner, in most cases, to create the largest harvest yield. Additionally, it has to be preserved for a long enough time to travel, sometimes more than 10,000 miles, to reach our table.

Have you read the list of ingredients in so many of the common foods we consume? There are things I can't pronounce, let alone spell. What is that stuff? Is it all good for us? Or is it good for the food manufacturer so the shelf life is longer for the least amount of spoilage? I've heard people jokingly comment they won't need to be embalmed when they die, they are already preserved from all the preservatives in the food we eat. Is that really a joke?

I'm not even going to address the issue of obesity and certain, what I'll call, “mutations” to our bodies and maybe deformities that may be traceable back to foods consumed by future parents. This is all part of our complicated lifestyle. Mostly we take it all for granted because, as a society, we're too busy to consider the ramifications of everything I've just laid out. The question is: Is this all really healthy and does it have to be this way?

Simplifying Our Food Consumption Lifestyle

Let's face it. This is the American Way. This is what our lives and lifestyles have evolved to. Yes! There is a movement toward organic food, but even organic food has some stigma to it. Why do we have to pay more to buy food that is not processed and packaged or, at least not near as much. But, we have to pay a premium to eat healthy food. Something bothers me about that.

And, what of that $12.80 average cost of food per day? How much would that increase if we went all “organic?” Does it price food out of the average person's range. Consider if the cost per day increased from the $12.80 per person per day to $16.00 per person per day. That means an average family of four would spend $64.00 per day or about $23,360.00 per year to feed, not including eating out.

Do we REALLY need all the choices we have? Do we really need five or six brands of baked beans with five or six flavor enhancements in three or four sizes to choose from when we go to the supermarket. When we go to a restaurant, any restaurant, do we really need six to ten pages of menu items to choose from? When we go to a buffet (that I avoid if at all possible) do we really need 80 or 100 items to choose from?

Get the point? Eating, a necessary function for survival, has become as complicated, it seems, as figuring out the national budget – or your income tax. What would happen if we simplified our food consumption, cut back on the amount of food we buy, consume more stuff with less ingredients listed on the label – or maybe the only ingredient is – banana or orange or tomato or broccoli or tuna fish or yogurt. Is this message making any sense?

How about if we could prepare our meals in minutes with simple, basic ingredients that do not require long shelf lives, can be purchased economically and take little time to clean up after?

Here is what I see from my perspective, basically doing this simplifying process myself to a greater degree all the time. First, we will save on expending the priceless commodity of time. Score one for our side.

Next, if we establish a menu of a limited (not necessarily restricted or meager) variety of foods that are healthy for us and we actually like and enjoy eating regularly, we're going to most likely be healthier.

Add to this, we're probably going to save some dollars and cents, perhaps we can eat well for between $3.00 - $5.00 per person per day, average. Result? We don't have to work as hard to earn as much money to leave at the supermarkets and restaurants. We can enhance our savings account for other things and, by not needing to work as hard or as long, regain the use of more of our precious time. We win again.

Does this make sense to you? You win hands down, eat well, what you like, have more time and spend less money. Is there a downside here? Simplifying your eating may be one of the easiest, most instantaneously rewarding things you can do in simplifying your life.

The Bottom Line

I just enumerated the main advantages of implementing this simplifying tip. But, let me add a caveat here. This is the 21st Century. This is not 100,000+ years ago. We are not those early not yet evolved hunter-gatherers. We are modern people living in a modern world. We have choices, lots of choices, as I enumerated. Simplifying our eating habits doesn't mean giving up everything.

First, I suggest you make a shopping list like I have. On my list are the specific foods that I enjoy, are quick and easy to prepare, are economical and, mostly, healthy choices. These are the items I stock in My McVansion while I'm trekking and exploring the country. Each food item is something I enjoy eating, therefore, I don't mind eating these foods numerous times during a week. When I get a little tired of something, I replace it with something else on the list for a while. Of course, my list doesn't have thousands or even hundreds of items on it. In fact, it has in the low tens of choices. Using a list reminds me I have a limited amount of space to store food, I will enjoy a balanced diet of foods I personally like, I will stay within my budget and my meals will be simple and take little time to prepare and clean-up from.

Do, I like things that are not on my list? Absolutely! And, depending on the specific items, I might change out a few things from time to time to add variety. Are there foods that tempt me to stray from my list? Sure! I'm an average human male. I'm not a monk. So, on occasion I'll enjoy a doughnut or two or other decadent indulgences. The key words in that last sentence were “on occasion.” I could also say “infrequently.”

I enjoy an occasional Subway sandwich, too. I'll load the sandwich up with lots of veggies, in addition to whatever meats and cheese I might like that day. I'll often order a foot long sub at breakfast and have it cut into three sections. I now have my three meals for that day – breakfast, lunch and dinner. On a day when I'm really going to splurge, I might have a 6” Subway breakfast sandwich and order a foot long, still cut in three sections, I can have for lunch, dinner and a snack later in the evening (or the next day's breakfast or lunch).

Yes! I know, for the most part, most fast food places, like the ones with the arches or ruled by a king or the beefy place with the cowboy hat on the sign or the place named after a red-headed daughter and others, are not the healthiest dietary choices. But, they are part of our culture and, frankly, I enjoy some of them. I will virtually always order from the “value menu.” This means I can get all the food I need for between $2.00 and $3.00. My drink is normally tap water, which is free. Once a year the place named after the red-headed daughter sells a key tag for $1.00, good for an entire year. It provides for a free, diminutive size - but adequate, frozen, chocolaty treat with any purchase all year. I don't patronize these fast food places a lot, but they can provide ample food for a very economical price. I never eat in my van. I use these stops as a time and place to stretch my legs and interact with other humans.

I also enjoy finding the local eateries. I don't mean the national or regional, moderate-priced, chain, box restaurants found in most cities, reasonable sized towns and at major interstate intersections. I want to find the Mel's Diners (I actually found one by that name near the Outer Banks of North Carolina), Mabel's Cafes or Good Food Luncheonettes. I also look for local barbecue joints, pizzerias, hot dog stands and small ethnic restaurants. I will usually ask the locals I meet where these places are and how they rate them. Again, I do this infrequently, but it's part of what makes my living free, nomadic lifestyle fun and interesting. I consider it not only fulfilling the requirement of eating, but it's part of my entertainment and learning experience. I meet local people and learn about what's important in their town, village or region.

I also have favorite eateries all over the U.S. I look forward to revisiting whenever I can. I have gone out of my way, if I've been in a specific region near one of my favorite places, to go to there.

Of course, I also enjoy eating with friends (often new friends), fellow vandweller/RVers and blog followers when I'm passing through some area or camping together somewhere in the U.S. Often, we will share meals and prepare things together, either on our stoves or open fires.

Again, this provides for variety, yet remains economical, simple and healthy. Of course, I've just described how I've simplified my eating to be in tune with my chosen lifestyle. If I were living in a fixed residential environment, my simple eating style would be virtually the same. You will make your food list to match your tastes and chosen lifestyle. Remember the benefits of simplifying your eating habits. I haven't kept track of my food costs in the past. I do have a record of my fuel costs for the van and I'll post that in the future. This year, I'm going to keep track of all my expenses so I can tighten my budget. I'll post those numbers.

The key thing in simplifying your eating is not to deprive yourself. It's to stop allowing the marketing moguls in the food industry including the supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants, etc. from controlling your eating and spending habits. You'll save both time and money so you can use it more intentionally for living and enjoying a freer lifestyle. Eating is a mandatory biological function. It doesn't and shouldn't be controlled by external forces. You can eat well, enjoy some indulgences and even some occasional decadent pleasures and be way ahead of the game.

So, Tip #18 of the 52 Weeks to a Simpler Life is to simplify your eating habits and personal menu.

Life free and be happy. EH


Richard Rosen said...

Here’s my view: Our bodies require less to live on than we now consume. It's healthier to eat less rather than more. Eating mostly whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits and nuts, is best. Meat and fish are fine in moderation, provided they are organic as much as possible. Otherwise, they are dangerous because of the hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified foods (GMO) with which they are fed, plus environmental pollutants to which they are exposed. I am convinced that chronic disease results from a lifetime of ingesting chemicalized food.

Here how I live healthy in regard to food and the medical industry:

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Thanks, Richard --

Excellent input and points. Again, pointing to how simplifying can lead to a healthier, happier and freer lifestyle.


Richard Rosen said...

Should the link above not work, try this one: