A healthy diet for diabetes and delicious food can go hand-in-hand. ASweetLife’s culinary contributor, Chef Missy Lieser, has proven this over and over again. Some of our most popular recipes, like Bacon Wrapped Shiitake Mushrooms, Baked Buffalo Chicken Wings, and Grilled Lamb Chops are straight out of Missy’s kitchen. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Missy over the last year as she’s worked on perfecting sugarless, low-carb and easy-to-prepare recipes for us. Missy doesn’t have diabetes, but like people with diabetes, she’s very aware of what she eats. Last month Missy began a project, The Eat Local Experiment, with the goal of spending an entire year eating only foods grown within 250 miles of her home. Missy is blogging about her experience here, but I have to warn you that reading her blog will make you very hungry! Here is an interview with Missy about her project:
Please tell us about your culinary education, background, and experience.
I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but never really thought about it being a profession until well after I had finished my undergrad studies in Family Economics.
I first began culinary school at Kendall College in Chicago. My husband was transferred to Raleigh, NC before I was able to finish. There I took a position at a catering company, where I learned a lot, most importantly that I loved cooking for a living.
We then moved to New York City. Once there, it wasn’t hard to decide on the French Culinary Institute. It ranks amongst the top 5 culinary schools in the country and has an amazing restaurant where you spend one-third of your school time cooking.
Since graduation, in addition to being a stay home mom to my 2 children (ages 8 months and 2 ½ years) I have worked as a personal chef – planning and preparing dinner parties as well as cooking meals for families.
I think that I have always been aware of the food that I put in my body, though I have definitely become much more conscious through two pregnancies, a combined 3 years (and counting) of breastfeeding, and feeding two growing children. I feed my children “real” food. It is very important to me that they consume healthy foods and are taught about the importance of eating healthy.
As simple as it is, I’ve always bought into the “you are what you eat” phrase. I’m a firm believer that all of the things we ingest have an impact on our health and how we feel.
I know you’ve learned a lot about diabetes since you became a culinary contributor to ASweetLife. Do you worry about the growing diabetes epidemic?
The opportunity to become a contributor at ASweetLife has absolutely made me aware of the growing diabetes epidemic. I try to read as much information as possible regarding health and diets and I am appalled and saddened by the number of people who are being diagnosed with diabetes.
When did you come up with the idea of the eat local experiment?
About five years go, I read a story about a woman who decided to consume only local foods for a year and thought that it would be something that I might enjoy trying. I added it to my life’s to-do list and kind of forgot about it until we moved to California last year. What better place to try to tackle a challenge like that? After talking it out with my husband and trying to figure out how it would all work, he pushed me to start it in 2011. I’m very lucky – he’s incredibly supportive of all of my ideas no matter how crazy they may seem sometimes!
I guess the bottom line is this is just something I wanted to do for myself and for my family. I’m not making some grand stand or trying to sound preachy or anything like that. I think it’s important to create individual goals and to practice self-discipline, and this is my attempt at that for the year. I think when it’s all over, there will be things that we continue to do. Some things, however, like dark chocolate will return to my diet. I know I’ll really enjoy that first piece of dark chocolate that I have after a year without any!
Tell us about the experiment! What are your rules? What are the biggest challenges?
The rule that I created for myself is that for one year I’ll consume only foods grown within 250 miles of my home (which includes all of the ingredients that go into those foods). I have a couple of exceptions that I have listed on my website, such as coffee (I couldn’t make it a year without coffee), pepper, baking powder/yeast… Other than those things, everything else has to be local.
You’re only a little over a month into the experiment. How is it going so far? Are you finding it difficult? Is there any food that you really miss? Is it harder or easier than you expected?
So far, the experiment is going really well, almost easier than I expected it to be. Dinner and breakfasts are the easiest. I feel like we kind of get into a rut with lunches, and snacks are challenging. It isn’t so much figuring out what to have, but there are nights when you are in front of the television and you want to snack on some chips. Instead of opening a bag during a commercial, you have to slice the potatoes and make them yourself. It’s just a matter of planning, but with two kids under the age of three, sometimes carving out the time to do it is a challenge.
The one really ongoing challenge is the amount of time that has to be committed to the project. Meals definitely take longer to prepare than before, grocery shopping takes longer and has to be done much more frequently, though I’m finding that each week the planning and shopping is taking less and less time.
There are definitely moments that are difficult. Prior to the start of the experiment, we did take out/delivery one night a week. After spending every day running after two kids, I really miss my one night off from the kitchen. Outside of that, the only thing I really miss is dark chocolate.
I will say it has all been worth it. I feel healthier and more in control of what I consume than I ever have, which is a very satisfying feeling.
Who are your culinary influences?
I have a number of chefs that I admire. Alice Waters is at the top of that list. She is not only a very accomplished chef, but she has been instrumental in the slow food movement for years. I cannot wait to visit her restaurant in Berkeley this spring!
What ingredients are essential to you? What do you always have at home? Your basics?
I did a lot of preparing last fall for the start of my project. I froze tomatoes (pureed and whole) and made a number of stocks (chicken, vegetable and beef). We also purchased a half a cow, so we have a freezer full of local beef.
In terms of basics that we always have, I’d say whole wheat flour (we consume a lot of pastas, so we go through a lot of that), cheese and eggs. Beyond that, I make several trips to farmers’ markets every week, and whatever they are selling that looks delicious becomes what I plan our recipes around for the week.
What are your favorite places to shop?
The vast majority of our food right now (and even before the experiment began) comes from the local farmers’ markets or directly from a farm. Food bought directly from the farmer is by far the freshest food you can find outside of growing it yourself. I also love knowing that I’m supporting a family farm by purchasing their products.
The remainder of my food shopping is done at Whole Foods. I find that they work hard to support local farms and label local products throughout their store. As a grocery chain, they are making great strides for local products.
Any tips for people who want to try to eat local?
The tips I would give are just are to go to your local Farmers’ Market, get to know the people, fall in love with the process and get your family involved. Food is such a major part of our lives that we should enjoy it! Occasionally, make the whole process an event. Make homemade pasta with your significant other while you share a bottle of wine. Have your children pick out fresh foods for a chef salad. Have the whole family sit down for dinner. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but once in a while, really try to enjoy the whole process.
What do you hope to achieve at the end of this experiment?
Outside of the obvious goal of eating only local foods for the full year, I’m hoping that when all is said and done I will have discovered what works for my family, what I can do or make myself and what I can’t.
For more visit The Eat Local Experiment.