Color My World … with REAL Food!

I remember back to a comical conversation I had at lunch with a handful of Massage Therapy students, some 25 years ago. We were discussing various food styles: macrobiotic, vegetarian, vegan.

My friend Dawn said, ”I have an Aunt who thinks that the epitome of healthy eating is following the principles of the color wheel – my plate should look like a balanced painting, with each food/color represented by its opposite on the color wheel,” laughing hysterically as if it was the most lunatic advice anyone could ever give. Go figure.

Her Aunt Sadie was ahead of her time – or just naturally in sync with eating whole natural foods because, lo and behold, March is National Nutrition Month and it’s the essence of this months’ theme: “Eat Right with Color.”

I just wish it were called – National REAL Food Month instead. You see, REAL food implies a very different meaning than nutrition to me, and I feel it is more than just nuance. Nutrition, while an aspect of food, remains a subset of it – an extraction, or quality of it. It is clinical, scientific, calculated, measured, distilled, quantified and separated. It exists in fiber content, minerals and vitamins, and sexier ingredients like Omega 3’s and phytochemicals.

Some of it can also be easily added back to NON FOODS/JUNK FOOD – those processed, denatured, boxed, artificially colored, sweetened, stripped and enriched, easy to make, often happy and healthy looking depicted creations of modern manufacturing we find in freezer sections, non refrigerated grocery aisles, and fast food restaurants – making us think we are eating healthy real food.

REAL food on the other hand, evokes that which is whole, unprocessed, natural, essential and complete. If I look to the natural world I am stunned by its beauty, diversity and color. So too with the FOOD kingdom, particularly the plant world, comprised of vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and legumes. They are as magnificent as flowers; colorful, fragrant, diverse, and unique.

Unfortunately it’s not enough to just bring the word FOOD back to the lexicon of healthy choice, wellness and wholeness. While I stand “in defense of FOOD,” along with Michael Pollan, and thank him for his gem of a book (In Defense of Food), these days we have to constantly qualify FOOD as the real or junk variety. Both can come packed with color!

If we eat real food, in decent variety, we will naturally, effortlessly, “eat right with color.” It’s a no brainer. Let’s take it a step further. Have you noticed that in a temperate climate (I live in New Jersey) there are changes in color depending upon the dominance of which local/regional fruits and vegetables are in season – creating a natural shifting color palate through the seasons?

Autumn for me is punctuated by bold orange colored foods. They evoke sun, warmth and vibrancy. I’m speaking of garnet yams, squashes of every variety, and of course, pumpkins. Spring’s personality is dominated with tender green for sprouts and baby leaves, snap peas, shelling peas, asparagus. Summer is vibrant and diverse – a Fauvist’s delight, colorful berries abound with fruits and veggies galore. You get the picture.

Here’s a question: Why is it that some people recognize food to be whole, natural and unprocessed, and others have no clue or care about this? How do we become desirous of eating a predominance of whole, minimally processed, natural foods that include a wide variety of fruits and vegetable, legumes and beans? Exposure, awareness, more exposure, and more awareness helps, but may not be enough.

It’s important to spend regular time out of doors, in parks or nature, in order to connect with the natural world and its rhythms. It’s vital to connect deeply with your body, in some consistent way daily, or frequently through exercise, meditation, simply walking, Yoga, Tai Chi, etc. That way the desire to care for it and not violate or abuse its natural integrity becomes inherent.

It is wonderful to grow a few edible plants, see them as FOOD, watch their growing cycle, harvest the food and eat it. Go to the supermarket produce isle and look around at the variety of choice for fruits and vegetables and marvel at their beauty and vibrancy. Employ mindful eating – LOOK at what you are about to eat. Really taste it, and become aware of the difference in taste to over salted, fried, and sugary foods verses a clean piece of fruit, a carrot or piece of crunchy red pepper.

Eat whole and unprocessed foods that are colorful, this month and every month – and don’t worry – the nutritional benefits are automatically included.

Photo credit: joannova, used with permission under Creative Commons license.

18 thoughts on “Color My World … with REAL Food!

  1. I think that people don’t engage in as much mindful eating as possible because food isn’t food for many of us – it’s a tin escape from the pressures of unrelenting life and the whole, simple, essential foods are not “bad boys” of food. The addictive quality of our home grown junk food culture is deeply physiological so I really like your suggestion to go outside and take in a little nature. In some ways, trusting nature to insinuate itself into an unhealthy organism is the only hope some might have. And as you have always said and know so well, growing it from there! Thanks, Ina, for a great piece!

    1. I appreciate what you say Maryann, and agree that “food isn’t food” for many
      people. The question of how to jump tracks from one way of using food – as addiction or escape – to the natural pleasure of daily nourishment and fuel, is one that really sits with me. I also think that the “bad boys” of food is an interesting concept. There are so many choices that are better bad boys, they don’t have to be “best”. Please check out my article on Upgrade Along the Continuum if you haven’t yet, because I feel it could apply to your connumdrum. I believe it’s normal & ok to eat a little “junk” here & there….quantity and frequency are what count. Also – sometimes we cna just upgrade the choice a notch or 2, & it can really add up.

      How do we find the fortitude to be salmon swimming upstream in our mass junk culture….and which “battles” do we choose to swim against. There are so many – our junkfood culture is one of them. Our overstressed lives are another. They make quite a couple. Something for me to write about in coming articles!
      Thank you for responding. Come back again!

  2. Yes to all you say Bruce!
    I feel like you’ve summed up the essence of the “Slow Food” movement….It’s really quite natural…real people, cooking, eating & savoring, smelling & tasting. The simplest things in life that often go unnoticed…if only we stop to smell the flowers, taste an apple, see the beauty of natural goodness in front of our eyes.
    Thank you for noticing…
    Here’s to the simply pleasures of life,

  3. This essay reminds me how a shared meal is not just a pit stop, not just a quick re-fueling. It’s an opportunity to linger in the delights of the senses: the tastes of course, but also the smells, the sounds of laughter and the universal mmmmmmmm… of good food, the feel of the ingredients in our hands and the juices on our lips and tongue, and the joy of color! This essay really helps me to remember what FUN the sharing and eating of food is!

  4. Wonderful article(s) Ina! Spring has arrived and I will welcome it this evening with a colorful asparagus and spring onion salad!

    1. I am right there with you! I recently made my first batch of Spring asparagus soup. Here’s to the colors of Spring, and thanks for your comment.

  5. Thank you Angela. It seems that this is a colorful topic!
    I have always been fascinated about what it is that switches on in a person to want to take care of themselves, their precious body. I know for me it surfaced only once I began my Yoga practice. I do believe the more we connect with nature, and our own bodies, the greater chance there is to want to take of them. It’s harder to feel that way in front of a computer 24/7, or from an arm chair with the remote in hand.

  6. I love that you bring the beauty of food (back) into our consciousness. Good point that junk food and real food can both look colorful, attractive. Helpful that you offer ways to connect with yourself and nature as ways to move towards healthful eating. I love colors and food, and crave the vitality that comes with health, so you really reached out to me.

  7. Yeah, cool. I choose the colors of paint on my walls based on “washing” a small section with a color and seeing if I have a visceral reaction to it, like “OMG, I have to eat that color NOW; I have to swim in that color; I have to LIVE in that color!!!” Funny, I’m naturally drawn to the fruits and veggies that are the same colors as my walls (and yes, I have a VERY colorful house!).

    1. I know just what you mean.
      Sometimes I want to dive into the soup I’ve made – particularly an autumn green lentil& butternut squash soup, or this red lentil and tomato soup. The colors beckon! Actually soo many whole foods do that to me – sometimes just a slice of melon or the inside of a garnet yam. 🙂

  8. Dana,

    What a great idea – food as art AND edible!

    Thanks for seeing good food in a new way!

    Let’s keep the conversation going,

    Gail Nickel-Kailing
    Co-Publisher, GoodFood World

  9. Wouldn’t it be cool if we discussed what we ate in terms of primary, secondary and tertiary? Art teachers around the world could become nutrition educators too. Thank you Ina…for your words and imagery.

    1. Actually Dana, I think My friend Dawn’s Aunt holds the curriculum for your idea. 🙂

      There is something to what you say though, because from my experience, appreciation of food – eating, preparing it, cooking, ought to engage our senses…not least of which is sight. Truly – don’t you ever look at a cut piece of fruit – like a kiwi, papaya, slice of beautiful summer melon,and marvel at the luscious color and design? Here’s to Artful food! Naturally…

  10. Ina Denburg makes complete sense! The pity is that so many folks are conditioned to think of packaged food as easy and convenient, as opposed to real food that is hard to prepare. It’s not true, of course! “Real food” needed be complicated to prepare, and in my experience, it does offer all the benefits Denburg describes so well. In fact, I am getting hungry just reading this stuff!

    1. Thanks Avery. Oh that we could instill the desire in others to try what we know & experience to be true.

  11. Ira,

    I think that in the “white” and “brown” seasons, we need to have colorful plates even more.

    It’s amazing how wonderful carrots, beets, and potatoes look on the plate. Try brushing them with olive oil, sprinkling your favorite herbs on them, and baking them in chunks on parchment paper until tender.

    Let’s eat good food – and keep the conversation going!

    Gail Nickel-Kailing
    Co-Publisher, GoodFood World

  12. good thinking– but winter is a problem, eating mostly white food; and now mud season, how much brown food can one eat? seriously, though– another good reminder of how to properly consider what too often doesn’t come naturally

    1. Ira,
      I appreciate your humor.
      I think of roots, tubers, squashes, soups & stews in the winter.
      Of course there’s mushrooms for that snow white touch, or a little home made whipped cream 🙂

      It’s true however, that the more I have tried to abide by local fresh seasonal produce,in winter there are times I am aching for something more varied from another season. I admit ….I love good canned peaches in the winter…or frozen ones.

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