Rob Baris, who owns the Z&M delicatessen and the famous Zinc restaurant in Rotterdam, is a bon vivant without dogmas. He has worked out an action plan for Ode readers: a menu of delicious food that is healthy and socially responsible.
The first step is a shopping trip to the natural food store, where you’ll be shocked at the prices. Organic farmers get a fair price for their produce, and you get better quality food – an essential part of good eating. But you have to be prepared to pay a little extra for it. Of course, the most important thing is to enjoy eating. You won’t make many ‘ethical’ meals if you don’t enjoy them. Buy a couple of nice cookbooks or take a cooking class. Enjoying life begins with enjoying your food.
Most people eat too many refined products from which valuable minerals have been removed. Common products such as white rice, flour, oils and salt have a longer shelf life, but their flavour and taste have suffered as a result. Even Asian white rice is highly refined. And take salt. Salt is so refined that it tastes the same everywhere. But real sea salt from Normandy tastes different than sea salt from Italy. These variations give your food more character and are also much healthier because they contain more minerals.
It is very important to eat whole grains. A small bowl of brown rice goes with any dish. Couscous and the Middle Eastern wheat variety bulger are also good. It’s also a good idea to get used to sourdough bread. Yeast is another modern industrial product that, like salt, tastes the same everywhere and adds nothing to your food. Yeast also affects digestion and impairs our intestinal flora, thereby diminishing our ability to absorb nutrients. You don’t have to give up yeast completely; just buy sourdough bread once a week.
White, brown, black beans, chickpeas, lentils – they all provide proteins, so you don’t have to eat meat. Legumes are actually crucial in our daily diet. And it’s nice to know that legumes have a long tradition in North America, the Middle East and Southern Europe. It’s really nice to make cultural dishes from those regions.
Vegetables and fruit
After grains and legumes, vegetables are the third most important ingredient in our diet. You can eat them boiled or fried; try them raw or sun-dried as well. Try to eat vegetables in season. The same goes for fruit, which I personally think is an overrated food. Especially if the fruit comes from abroad, was picked green and then spent weeks on a boat. Hmmm…
Like fruit, dairy is a secondary food. It’s an option, but not a necessity, even though you’ve probably been told to ‘drink your milk’ a thousand times. Milk is a panacea, a great growth booster. Which is why milk is important for babies. But it’s actually unnatural for adults to drink milk, particularly in the quantities currently consumed. And dairy products also damage the digestive system. You’re better off using organic dairy products. But try to be creative and come up with something other than a cheese sandwich.
Also start cutting down on meat, which you really don’t need to include in your daily diet. I’m not saying everyone should be a vegetarian – I myself am not – but if you do eat meat, make sure it’s organic. Animals slaughtered for organic use have never eaten poor quality animal feed and, therefore, have not ingested antibiotics. Reducing your consumption of meat and other animal products such as milk, cheese and eggs is a good step towards reducing the inequalities in the world. Many developing countries produce soy products that are added to animal feed in the west, while their fertile soil would be better used for other purposes.
I personally like fish, but industrial fishing practices are obviously questionable. The world’s waters are so intensely fished that the ecological balance has been seriously disrupted. This is why a lot of fish is produced in fish farms, but the techniques used there are just as ecologically and socially irresponsible as in the traditional sector.
Other tips …
What else should you keep in mind? Buy various types of oils, but make sure they are unrefined, which will taste better. Unrefined oil is also great for frying. And I think seaweed is a great choice. It’s full of minerals. It can easily be added to soups, but also tastes good in a simple salad. And I really like wild plants – dandelions or wild roquet – although these may be options for more advanced cooks. Wild plants add a delicious richness to your food… and keep us humans from turning into the hothouse plants we eat.