Friday
Mar232012

A Pattern for Salad

Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is a literature professor, a successful writer, and a farmer.  But overarching all, he’s a man of ideas.  More than a farmer, Berry is the thought leader behind the local, sustainable farming movement.  He wrote a famous 1981 essay titled, “Solving for Pattern” that introduced a new approach to problem solving.

In his essay, Berry observed how solutions to problems often bring unforeseen consequences that are worse and more intractable than the original problem.  If you live in the South, you know about kudzu, an imported grass that became a terrible weed.  There are many examples in modern corporate farming, but we also find such disaters in nutrition.

Here’s an example:  The rise of heart disease in the ‘50s and ‘60s was linked to fatty plaque that blocked coronary arteries.  This led to the false idea that saturated fat caused heart disease.  It was logical in a way, but it was wrong.  In fact, heart disease is multifactorial—meaning there are many causes—and dietary saturated fat is not a major risk factor.  Truth be known, our consumption of the main sources, butter and lard, had been declining while heart disease was increasing. 

Anyway, heart disease was blamed on saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, a form of fat, and it was recommended we eat margarine, which had polyunsaturated fats.  We now know this made the problem worse in two ways:  First, margarine was hydrogenated and contained trans fats later shown to be a significant cause of heart disease.  Second, the reduced-fat movement caused Food Inc. to add more sugar to processed foods to improve taste and sugar is also a significant cause of diabetes and heart disease.  So a serious problem was worsened by the proposed solution which demonstrates how in dealing with complex problems, the most obvious solutions are often wrong.

Solving for Pattern

Wendell Berry’s essay, “Solving for Pattern,” introduced new criteria for finding solutions to complex problems.  Both farming and nutrition are examples of complex problems.  Berry sought solutions, if I can condense his criteria, with these characteristics:

  1. Solutions must be widely applicable, meaning they can be applied to related problems.
  2. Solutions share a common technology that anyone can apply.
  3. Solutions should be robust, working effectively in varied environments.
  4. Solutions harmonize with Nature and are sustainable over time.
  5. Solutions enhance the underlying economies.
  6. Solutions blend with traditional practices; they take advantage of the lessons of history.

The Pattern of Healthy Changes

Clever readers have likely noted that our Healthy Changes nicely comply with Berry’s solving for pattern criteria.  The Healthy Changes have broad application, can be done by the weakest person, are robust, harmonize with Nature and tradition, and are affordable by all.   Two examples: 

  • The Healthy Change rule of “more natural fiber than added sugar” was first applied to packaged breakfast cereals, but it also works with bread, crackers, and other grain products.  It’s a universal rule for processed foods that leads to the correct idea that it’s best to do your own cooking.
  • Eating more homemade soup is another Healthy Change and there’s a simple pattern for making soup.  Think of soup as five components: 1) the main plant (legumes, potatoes, etc.); 2) liquid (usually homemade stock); 3) mirepoix (carrots, celery, and onion, the aromatic vegetables); 4) a little meat (for texture and flavor); and 5) seasoning (traditionally bay leaf, thyme, parsley, salt, pepper, and perhaps garlic).  With this recipe pattern you can make soup from whatever’s on hand.

The Gout Pattern

Sometimes it’s better to learn from the experience of others.  Take gout, for example—an unbearably painful joint condition that afflicts 6 million in the US.  Gout is usually the logical consequence of a food pattern heavy in meats and alcoholic beverages.  Frank Bruni, past N. Y. Times restaurant critic and serious eater, recently wrote about his gout experience in an article titled “Red Meat Blues.”  The pain of gout compelled Bruni to give up his favorite man foods: meat and booze.

In Bruni’s new dietary pattern he eats whole grains and nuts, even vegetables and fruits.  When he does eat meat, he keeps it under a pound in a week—as in sparingly.  There’s a benefit: he sleeps better, feels healthier, and he’s keeping the gout at bay.   In the end of the article he shares an important thought:

There are times, crazily, when I’m almost happy about the gout . . . .  It provided a dietary shove where the gentle pushes of a vague desire for self-improvement hadn’t sufficed. I always sort-of meant to kind-of get around to paring down the meat in my meals, and I always sort-of meant to kind-of get around to decreasing my drinking. But it wouldn’t happen.  I lacked the proper motivation.  Illness and the threat of extreme pain have provided it. . . . . My pivot hasn’t been as joyless as I’d feared.  Old hankerings fade; new pleasures dawn.


The Salad Pattern Recipe

For Bruni, and all those who secretly want to eat better, here’s the answer:  salad.  Rather than a recipe for one salad, we offer a pattern for making salads that can be as varied as what’s in your refrigerator.  Salads can be like a kaleidoscope; varying the mix of ingredients gives a different taste every night.  Actually, now that I think about it, women are like salad—the same dish but each day interestingly different, and unpredictable, though always enticing.  This salad pattern has six parts:

  1. Greens—more varied these days, and darker.  To spinach add romaine, kale, or buy the packaged blends to get variety.  The best value is old-fashioned spinach in a bunch that you wash yourself (but do a thorough job).
  2. Protein—nuts, seafood, chicken, bacon, ham, or grains, it’s all good.
  3. Cheese—there’s such a variety today; a good subject for a future post.  We usually stock cheddar (Tillamook), feta, goat, and gorgonzola or Jarlsberg.
  4. Fruit—so many choices, including pomegranate seeds, grapefruit sections, pears, pineapple, apples, or Mandarin oranges.  Meat sometimes competes with fruit; you don’t always need both.
  5. Vegetables—they add color, texture, and interest to the salad.  The beautiful wife enjoys peapods, broccoli, carrots, radish, bell peppers, and, always, green onions.
  6. Dressing—best with a healthy fat, like olive oil.  For a long time I ate my salad without dressing to save calories; then I learned it makes the fat-soluble nutrients more bioavailable.  Now I enjoy it, in moderation.

Please comment:  To get five daily vegetable serving you need to eat salads.  Please share your favorite salad combinations or dressings.

Top photo: Guy Mendes

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Reader Comments (10)

I love salads! Best thing in the world. I usually have a variety of vegetables in the fridge so I just add whatever I feel like having. Mixed greens, romaine, spinach, kale, cabbage, alfalfa sprouts, green onions (high five to your wife!), parsley, cilantro, bell peppers, carrots, radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, celery, green beans......

I just need to list the entire vegetable section of my grocery store. I don't think there's anything there I haven't added to a salad at one point or another! ^_^

My favorite salad recipe though is this:

1 Romaine Heart, chopped
1 Kale Leaf, chopped
1 cup Cabbage, red and green, shredded
1 small handful of Spinach
1/4 Green Bell Pepper, chopped
1 Handful of baby carrots
1 Handful of Grape Tomatoes
3 Radishes, chopped
1 Green Onion, chopped
1 Handful Parsley, minced
1 Handful Alfalfa Sprouts
1 Boiled Egg, sliced
1/2 cup Cheddar, shredded (sometimes swapped for feta)

Toss with fav salad dressing. Mine is a vice...Hidden Valley Ranch but I'm still working out a homemade version that I like enough.

March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRill

Salad is what got me started on eating healthy! I started pushing the good stuff in with yummy salads (as opposed to starting with taking things out of my diet). Some of my favorites include:

Massaged Kale Salad: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/aarti-sequeira/massaged-kale-salad-recipe/index.html

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/roasted-root-vegetable-salad-recipe/index.html

Cranberry Spinach Salad: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/simple-cranberry-spinach-salad/
(I add pear slices to the latter.)

March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAsh

my favourite salad is spinach, with shredded beet, shredded carrot, some tart fruit like a granny smith apple, and a dressing I concocted which is olive oil & vinegar with mustard, a clove of garlic, fresh pepper, dijon mustard, a touch of honey and some yogurt to make it creamy. a little bit savory, a little bit sweet and very delicious.

March 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkelly

Greek salad is my favorite! The fresh lemon dressing is fabulous! http://ncbrownfamilyblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/fresh-friday-greek-salad.html?m=0

March 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Brown

My favorite salad as of late (a la the salad bar in my university's dining hall):

Spinach
Romaine or Spring Mix
Cucumbers
Cherry tomatoes
Sliced mushrooms
Feta cheese
Balsamic vinegar

Sometimes I add sunflower seeds or chicken.

March 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

I love this salad dressing: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/spinach-and-strawberry-salad/. Everyone I've served it too has adored it as well. It's definitely a sweet one, but compliments beautifully with spinach, green peppers, cucumbers, feta and whatever fruit is in season. It's especially lively with the tarter fruits like blackberries, or granny smith apples. When I have this on hand I eat larger and more frequent salads. It's better with age. So, make a day ahead for best results.

March 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKjirsti

Now that the weather is warming up I like the thought of a fresh salad more. Dried cranberries, chopped nuts, colorful onions, and sliced fruit on mixed greens and sprinkled with pineapple juice is usually a combination we can put together without going to the store. The kale in the garden made it through this mild winter. I don't use it as often as I should and still have the frozen kale from last autumn in the freezer. GLAD TO SEE YOUR BLOG THOUGH. The Sunday paper article is great! Can't wait to be able to forward it to my family. Did send your blog address out already and hope you will continue posting : -)
Leah

March 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeah

My favorite light salad is:
arugla
blanched asparagus
mushrooms
shredded chicken
parmesan
and for dressing -
olive oil - lemon juice - equal parts baslamic and red wine vinegar - salt and pepper to taste.
Delish!

March 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen

We like hard boiled eggs for protein too and toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)....apple juice sweetened Craisins.

March 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNancy O

I love all of the ideas for salads. Fantastic resource!

I love salads with spinach, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, egg, sunflower seeds, and some ranch.

Sometimes I make a super salad with romaine, tomatoes, corn, black beans, cilantro, chicken...all on a bed of lime tortilla chips and topped with a dressing of half ranch/ half salsa. Yum-o!

April 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjulie

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