How healthy is your kitchen?
I’m not talking about how clean you keep your countertops or how many organic vegetables are neatly organized in your fridge; nor am I concerned with the state of the dishes, sink or your small wastebasket designated for composting. What I am talking about is how well your kitchen supports healthy food choices.
Yes, that is correct. Your kitchen makes decisions that affect your health.
The environment of the most important room in the house greatly dictates how one approaches food.
Traditionally, the kitchen was the center of activity in the home. In the Vedic science of establishment called sthapatya veda, the kitchen is the furnace from which warmth and life springs. In feng shui, the kitchen represents nourishment and prosperity, sustaining life. And in many other societies, the kitchen acts as a sphere of social, familial, and political connectivity. Literally, the center of life, the kitchen radiates heat, replenishes energy and connects society.
Today, however, the kitchen has become a wasteland of shiny appliances and unused barren spaces. Once the largest room in the home, the kitchen has now been reduced to a mere box. Barriers divide it from the rest of the house, keeping it segregated and confined.
The modern kitchen, rather than inciting words like warmth, comfort and love, is instead synonymous with adjectives like sterile and sanitary. It is no wonder we do not know how to feed ourselves. The very instrument used to create nourishment has been transformed into a metallic machine incapable of inspiring the brightest souls.
In order to reclaim our health, we must first reclaim the kitchen.
Here are five ways you can begin to transform your kitchen.
1. Get rid of your microwave.
Just toss it out. If you have one already installed, uninstall it. Microwaves have long been a topic of heated debate among those worried about radiation and cancer rates.
Although there has been surprisingly sparse scientific research on the negative affects of non-ionizing radiation in microwaved food, various sources have confirmed their skepticism with scientific certainty. Russia, from 1976 to 1987 banned microwaves based on 20 years of research that suggested the benefits of microwaves did not outweigh the potential health hazards.
Another study by Blanc and Hertel showed that microwaves significantly alter the molecular make-up of the heated food. This translates into deformed and destroyed nutrients. One example is the complete destruction of the essential vitamin B12 in all meat products and vegetables.
They also took blood samples from participants immediately after eating microwaved food. They found hemoglobin levels had risen in all participants, showing anemic tendencies, with worse results shown two months into the study. There was also an independent study that showed the detrimental affects of microwaved water on house plants.
There are risks that have been documented, some of which have been withheld from the public (A gag order was issued on the Blanc and Hertel study, published in “Search for Health,” issued by a trade organization which threatened them with fines and imprisonment). However, even if no complete consensus is agreed upon, are you really willing to risk your health for a couple of extra minutes in the kitchen? I sure am not. Toss it.
2. Get a real knife and a sizeable cutting board.
This is certainly the most expensive step, but it is the step that will most alter the way you use you kitchen.
If there was one relationship I forged during my entire culinary training, it was the bond between my knife and me. Inseparable, my knife became the equivalent to the Marine’s gun (except that I used mine to create).
Go out and buy a sizable, reasonably priced chef’s knife and learn to sharpen it (buy a nice steel). It shouldn’t cost more than $100.
And no knife can be without a superb cutting surface. My block of choice is a 2-inch thick, 18×24 inch wooden surface. Wood doesn’t dull the blade, doesn’t impart plastic flavor, and is easily cleaned. Not only is wood functional, but it brings a piece of nature into your kitchen.
So how does this step induce better health choices? Well, it inspires cooking. When I walk into my kitchen, the first thing I see is my knife resting on my cutting board. From there ideas spin and the process of creation begins.
Removing those extra barriers between you and your meal will make it that much easier to start cooking and eating healthier.
3. Take everything out of the cupboards.
And for that matter, take everything that won’t spoil out of the fridge. Hang your pots and pans, spatulas, wooden and metal spoons.
Throw out your colanders and fill them with fruit. Store your dry goods in jars and leave them on the counter. Hang bananas by the bunch, leave out the onions and avocados, garlic and tomatoes —never put tomatoes in the fridge, the cold temperature will destroy the linolenic acid, turning it into Z-3 hexenel, resulting is loss of flavor and texture— and hang your towels up on display.
And throw in a couple of your favorite plants.
This principle is much like the previous one. You are creating an environment that is inductive to the actual function of the kitchen: sustaining and creating life.
As we have grown accustomed to the shiny, barren kitchenscapes of Home & Garden and Martha Stewart Living, we have shut away the function and form of the living, breathing utility of the kitchen.
Let the most important room in your house show its bounty. This will not only look, smell, and taste better, but it will encourage cooking. No longer will that rotten peach go unnoticed, nor that bag full of almonds be forgotten. Snacking on nuts, fruits, and veggies is another byproduct of emptying the cupboards.
Leave all of these things out and you will find yourself eating better.
4. Get a spice rack. Any good cook understands the importance of this step. The spice station is the basis of taste. It is what separates bland from flavorful. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, this step is probably the most crucial, since the flavor profile of a meatless diet is not the most diverse.
I keep my spice rack smack in the middle of the wall, right above my stovetop. This way I am always reminded and can easily reach for my ingredients.
Keep your spice rack filled with healthy items: turmeric, cayenne, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and every dry herb you can imagine. Spices are a sure and natural way to increase the health potential of your meal, while adding robust and layered flavor profiles. Plus, you’ll look like a real chef when you use them.
5. Get a salt grinder. This step sounds insignificant in comparison to the others, but after coming out of a French culinary school and working at a French restaurant, salt is the most potent health hazard in the kitchen.
Most people scoop handfuls of salt out boxes or pour mountains of it our of canisters, not thinking twice about the amount of sodium their about to ingest.
By now, most Americans understand the heart related problems faced by a high sodium diet. Yet, even with this widespread consciousness, the taste buds still crave salt; and rightfully so, since salt—when used correctly—makes ingredients taste fuller, highlighting their natural flavors. However, when salt is as easily accessible as pouring or scooping, it is just as easy to go too far.
This is why I use a salt grinder. I fill it with pink Himalayan salt, as I can be sure that there are no preservatives or additives (don’t use iodized salt for its flavor is subpar and there are debated health risks surrounding its use).
Whenever I need to season something I break out the grinder and start twisting. Not only is this effective, but also it is a reminder to watch my salt intake as I am consciously working for each ground morsel.
This list is by no means a complete list. It is a beginning for what will turn into a never-ending relationship with a living organism.
In order to live a healthier gastronomic life, you must treat your kitchen as if it is alive. Try to see it as an extension of your body. We cultivate not only nutrients and sustenance in the kitchen, but also life, love and nourishment.
The kitchen is your sanctuary, your meditation room, your chapel, where you are the monk, the priest, and the servant, ready to co-create a better future one meal at a time.
I’ll leave you with the wise words of Alan Watts:
“There can be no taste at the table without love in the kitchen.”
[Photo: via Georyl]
Editor: Andrea B.