On the third night of Hanukkah, we lit the hand-dipped beeswax candles, sang the blessing, and sat down to a latka extravaganza. Latkes are one of those dishes, similar to apple pie, that never comes close to right when eaten outside of your mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen. I hate to spoil it, but it’s usually not because the recipe really is THAT GOOD. It’s because the flavors and textures of the dish are interwoven with cherished memories and the tastes trigger the feelings. No offense, grandmas!
For those of you who didn’t grow up in a safe and loving environment, I send blessings of courage to be the safe and loving person who breaks the cycle of violence and refuses to pass on wounds to future generations. I also hope that my recipes will become part of your new traditions, especially the latka recipe that I’ll share on the eighth night.
It’s my belief that at least a few of these wounds come from a lack of empowerment and often it begins with the way we spell, or speak. So many of us struggle to make sense of ourselves and our relationships in a society that loves to paint everything in binaries: as A or B, good or evil, man or woman, left or right. Binary thought makes it so incredibly challenging to escape our gender roles, define our politics and make room for creative solutions. Instead, I invite you to use the incantation of many realms by saying “yes, and” instead of “or/but” next time you find yourself at what seems to be a crossroads.
How does any of this relate to food?
Diet trends are some of the more obvious examples of “or” mentality. Remember the egg scare of the 80’s? Suddenly, eggs went from being great to being terrible. Or the Atkins-inspired carb scare of the 90’s, or the fat scare of the 60’s? We’re still reeling from the effects of that one. Is it possible that a food, or in fat’s case, a family of molecules is totally bad or totally good? This is an incredibly oversimplified way of judging the world, is it not?
Let’s take a look at how to think beyond “good fats” and “bad fats”
Here are some of the oversimplified fat consumption rules you may have come across:
Fats are bad.
Animal fats are bad. Plant fats are good.
Saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and trans fats are bad. Monounsaturated fats are good.
Omega 6’s are bad. Omega 3’s are good.
Now let’s get complicated!
Fats are bad. We know that the human body needs fats to perform essential functions and protect us from potential famine. See Fat – Part II for details. Animal fats are bad. Plant fats are good. Fats come in a variety of forms and can be sourced from many foods. The reality is that we should be paying much more attention to what our foods are exposed to during growth and processing because nerve-toxin insecticides like organophosphates and heavy metals accumulate in fat. Don’t believe that just because it’s organic, it’s safe. It’s true that organic production standards are constantly changing and unlike Canada, where COG is the governing body created by and made up of organic farmers, the United States has the USDA that is informed by lobbyists for Big Ag, the National Organic Standards Board and the public. Recently, as organics have taken a greater market-share of total food sales, large producers are finding new ways to weaken regulations. Your best bet is to find local sources, meet them and ask how they produce their crops or raise their animals. You’ll not only be able to support your local economy, but you’ll make new friends and eat the freshest possible food available. If all else fails, write an email to your favorite far-away producers and ask them what they use in their fields and farms. Gain the knowledge and get the power to eat fats with confidence. Saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and trans fats are bad. Monounsaturated fats are good. In my high school home economics class we were taught that trans fats (from lab-created fat alternatives) and saturated fats (from split-hoofed animals and some plants) were bad, polyunsaturated fats (from chicken and some plants) were ok, and monounsaturated fats (from some fish and some plants) was ideal.
There’s nothing I can see worth defending in trans-fats, especially the use of penny romance novel cover star Fabio persuading the (mostly female) household food purchasers that it’s a legit alternative to butter. I avoid them at all costs, meaning I’ll eat them when they’re free but would never spend a dime on them. I’ve yet to see conclusive evidence that there is a benefit to consuming this fat. Since the human body has yet to figure out how to effectively process this lab-created fat, it often stores it or flushes it out. My old adage is to eat molecules that have been consumed for at least a thousand years.
So let’s take a closer look at saturated fats. Assuming your fat source hasn’t accumulated environmental toxins, recent studies have shown that there’s no proof that saturated fats increase heart disease. They don’t do a tremendous amount of good lowering heart disease, but hey! At least they don’t increase it and they’re recognizable as food in the body and to me they are food for the soul. Monounsaturated fats like omega 9’s like those found in olive oil and some tree nuts oils are fabulous, I won’t argue with Mrs. Hathaway*.
Omega 6’s are bad. Omega 3’s are good.
As for polyunsaturated fats such as Omega 6’s and Omega 3’s, our body can’t make them and it’s essential that we get them from somewhere, to support basic body functions, hence their title, “essential fatty acids”. They’re liquid at room temperature. Without getting too complicated, I’m just going to suggest that foods high in Omega 3’s, 6’s and 9’s are all great in diversity and moderation. I’ll expand on their role as cooking oils in my post, Hanukkah and Fat – Part IV.
If you’ve got a favorite Northwest source for fats, list it in the comments.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of my home ec. teacher….in case.