Thursday, January 2, 2014

Healthy eating resolution, Part 2: A meal and its shocking math

Several years ago on New Year's Day, I read an editorial in which the author threw down a straightforward but provocative gourmet gauntlet: 

If each one of us were to teach a healthy recipe to three other people in our society, we'd have the national obesity crisis licked.

The implication, of course, is that people in general don't know enough healthy recipes, to the point where their resulting default to unhealthy food is a big contributor to obesity.  Which this New York Times author more or less also concluded back in 2009 when he called major bullsh*t on the entire way Americans have come to regard food:

  Screengrabbed paragraph from his article.  By "Julia" he means America's trail-blazing TV chef Julia Child
I cannot find the source of that particular prior New Year's gauntlet or else I would wholeheartedly credit the writer.  I will proceed with the pay-it-forward principle, though: I'm going to use this post to teach a healthy recipe to at least three people. 

It's a versatile recipe which is both idiot-proof and adaptable to vegan and non-vegan eating plans.  It is predicated on one of the Cookwell & Company sauces I blogged about yesterday - the Green Chile Stew mix.
I was initially thinking that this dish would require three jars of green chili stew sauce, but it ended up taking four.  All of a sudden, buying six of them doesn't seem quite so hoard-worthy if a single day's prep job requires four, eh?
I'm going to describe a chicken stew, which is one of my husband's favorites.  All you really need to do with this stew mix is add the meat and it will be wonderful, but I like to round out the results even further for reasons of both cost and health, so here are my steps. 
I call these my Lazarus onions, because I'm always hacking away at them, and a few days later, back they come.  But you don't need to use fresh-grown onions, or even green onions.  You can chop a small store-bought onion if you'd like, or omit it altogether.  I like the mild taste of these. 
I chop half the fistful for immediate frying in a small amount of olive oil. 
I cannot find a chicken source that I'm completely happy with.  Organic chicken is very rare in our suburbs and free-range chicken is nonexistent, but we find this brand to be superior to mainstream industrial feedlot chicken, so it's a compromise of sorts.  We do not have a religious reason to choose it - we just find that it tastes better than the mainstream brands.  This product is only available locally at HEB Clear Lake Market on El Camino Real.  The League City HEB does not carry it. 

This dish could also be done meatlessly by substituting vegetables and/or tofu.  The green chili stew mix is very good quality and very accommodating to a variety of ingredients. 
Cube the chicken and fry with half the bunch of green onions.  I used seven chicken breasts, or about five pounds of chicken in total.  Remember, I'm making a lot of this at one time so that I can freeze and forget it. 
Fry the chicken until it is reduced, meaning, juices come off (the chicken dewaters some) and you have to keep frying until all that boils away. 
It helps the taste if you can achieve a bit of golden brown on the chicken. 
This is what happens when I next add 4 jars of the stew mix.  I'm not done adding ingredients but the total now exceeds what my 14-inch wok can hold, so I need to split this between my wok and my stock pot.  One day, I'm going to get a stew pot that is large enough for jobs like this.  I recently upgraded to this cooktop which is powerful enough to accommodate such a pot, so I really ought to get looking for one. 
Here's my next stew ingredient, the prettiest broccoflower I've ever grown, harvested today to coincide with this cooking job.  One of my buddies looked at this pic and said, "You have a green thumb, indeed."  I guess I set myself up for that one. 
My organic broccoflower weighed in at 3.5 pounds, of which I chopped one pound finely for the stew.  I also added about a half pound of finely-diced potatoes just to round it out without driving the carbohydrate content up too high. 

I have two bowls of each because I'd split my stew batch between two pots by this point in the process. 
After all ingredients are combined, simmer on very low heat for about 45 minutes in order to cook the vegetables.  They will pick up the green chili taste.   You can see here that I've also added the rest of the green onions by this time. 
Then comes the stockpiling part.  This is the total amount yielded.  Those are two-cup Pyrex storage dishes amongst which it is divided. 
...and labels, because if you're stockpiling, you need to be rigorous about labeling. 
I said label it.  Seriously.  Every time.  You don't want to waste any after going to this considerable effort to buy and cook it.  Remember that Americans throw away nearly half their food.  You don't want to be one of them, so you need to track the date of preparation of everything you produce. 
And into the freezer it goes, to be consumed over the next couple of months.  Stews freeze really well, with little or no detectable loss of quality upon thawing.   
Here's what happened to the part that didn't get routed to the freezer:  green chicken and vegetable stew served with home-made Cuban black beans and organic brown rice.  Of course, you don't eat each portion separately.  You mix some of the chicken stew into the rice and beans into the rice.  It tastes better that way. 
Now for the math and the eye-opening lesson that it teaches.

What I showed in the photo above is a light meal.  A full main-meal serving for a good-sized man such as my husband (6'1" and 170 lbs.) would be about twice this amount, or about one of those sixteen Pyrex dishes shown in the photos above, plus double the rice and beans. 

Let's assume a man-sized meal as a worst-case cost scenario.  When I added up all the ingredients and divided by number of servings, it worked out to be about $4.38 for that entire meal.  But if you remember, I didn't pay full price for one of the two most expensive ingredients.  I got those very expensive Cookwell products yesterday on a 2-for-1 deal.
This gem is worth posting twice. 
Taking that into account, if I average out the numbers recalculating for those cost savings, it instead works out to be about $3.40 for that man-sized meal.  Less per plate for women and children who eat smaller portions.  The light serving plate shown above would be about $1.70

How does that stack up against what the rest of America is eating and spending?! 

Two plates (one man-sized serving) of my healthy meal pictured above would still only amount to about three quarters of the cost of a Big Mac.  Not a Big Mac Meal - JUST the Big Mac hamburger itself. 

Screengrabbed from Google.  BTW, if you're not familiar with The Big Mac Index, it's quite a clever tool.  Here's The Economist's direct link. 
That bit above is worth repeating.  Pictorially, in fact. 
Burgernomics be buggered. 
And remember, I didn't just prepare average food, here.  I used one of the most expensive and luxurious gourmet stew sauces you can find in any local grocery store.  And I used chicken the quality of which exceeds feedlot chicken (in my opinion).  And I used organic brown rice from Whole Foods.  Plus organic vegetables that I grew myself, but even if you had to buy those, they wouldn't add much to the overall cost because they are a small proportion of the total. 

Think about that comparison the next time you're watching television and there's some prime time documentarian or would-be politician choking on his own righteous indignation as he parades some impoverished American family across the screen, and they're looking all forlorn and TV-worthy on account of the fact that they have concluded that they need to eat junk food because they can't afford the kind of quality food that would help them all to lose their excess weight. 

The bottom line is that we've simply lost our marbles on the issue of food.  I call major bullsh*t on the entire situation.  Our collective ignorance is even more far-reaching than our propaganda.  No wonder Americans can't figure out how to lose weight - many of them can no longer put basic cost realities like this in perspective. 

Anyway, there's a healthy - and cheap! - meal recipe which I know will now reach at least three people in our society.  Pay it forward.
Somebody out there is going to try to call major bullsh*t on my math, so here are the two scenarios line by line.

The take-away (pun intended) from the above:  Even if I'd paid full price, the meal would still be cheaper than the average American Big Mac hamburger (with no fries).  
The two products offered in the 2-for-1 deal were a bit different in cost, so what I did was divide up the savings proportionally between them, to arrive at a realistic effective cost for the green chili stew mix. 

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