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“Health” food: Inhibiting or enhancing culinary creativity?

April 8, 2012

Does cooking healthy meals, or grilling healthier sandwiches, limit our culinary creativity?  It’s a tough question to answer.  Nutritional standards are unclear and transient, and it is challenging to assess the relative healthfulness of foods.

Many characteristics influence the perceived health value of a food including its vitamin and mineral content, where and how it was grown or produced, and the presence or absence of controversial ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oil, artificial sweeteners, and MSG.  The value placed on these factors varies from person to person: we all perceive a food’s healthfulness differently based on our own dietary goals.

However, certain value judgement can be made.  Few would argue that lard is healthier than spinach.

Restricting a chef to healthy foods certainly reduces her options.  Fewer ingredients=fewer possible combinations!  However, when the available ingredients are restricted, she must think out of the box.  Maybe, in providing that restriction, healthy cooking actually enhances culinary creativity?  I know that for me, becoming a vegetarian, and thus not cooking with meat products, significantly increased the creativity of my own endeavors in the kitchen!

At FeelGood’s fall retreat, two teams of members competed in an Iron Chef grilled cheese grill-off!  Each team used the same bread and cheese but were allowed to purchase “secret ingredients” from the Burlington Farmer’s Market.  While they were not strictly instructed to healthy secret ingredients, most of their options were quite healthy due to the vast amount of produce available at the Burlington Farmer’s Market in September.  Both teams created sandwiches that were delectable (I should know–I judged them!), creative, and….healthy!

White bean and basil hummus, pesto, heirloom tomatoes, and Shelburne Farms cheddar and Klinger’s Bakery multigrain wheat bread.

Caramelized onion hummus, apples, caramelized onions, cinnamon, and Shelburne Farms cheddar on Klinger’s sourdough.

The creativity of the iron chef competitors certainly did not seem to be inhibited by the absence of unhealthy ingredients.  But, who knows: perhaps they would have created even MORE creative sandwiches if additional fix-ins were made available.

FN 4/9

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