That’s not to say that nutrients aren’t important. Because they are. They’re very important. But nutrients are only one of many parts to a complex story.
Take my beautiful salade composé pictured above. There is so much more going on than a string of numbers can communicate.
THE NUTRITION FACTS STORY
First take a cold hard look at that small little subset of information called nutrition facts.
660 calories, 48g fat, 8g satfat, 660mg sodium, 30g carbohydrate, 8g fiber, 6g sugar, 26g protein.
It’s hard to say whether that string is healthy or not. My first though is always that I need more information. Without checking the ingredient list and without the picture, there’s no way to tell what foods are on the plate.
AND NOW FOR THE REST OF THE STORIES.
Every recipe has a story to tell. Even when as is the case here, there was no recipe. Its confession time and that means I’ll have to admit that I didn’t actually follow a particular recipe. I followed a pattern. For those who feel more comfortable with a recipe, however, there are hundreds available via a google search.
When I put a salad like this one together, I use what’s on hand. Each salad is different. Depends on what’s is the frig, how big the plate is, what’s in the pantry, how creative I am feeling, and who else will be sitting at my table.
Some recipes have a backstory, but I checked my Larousse Gastronomique and all I could find was the fundamental distinction between tossed salad versus composed salad. Tossed gets well tossed. And composed just sits. Timing of the dressing is the same in both cases, just before serving.
Every ingredient has a story too. Pictured above are arugula, chickpeas, tuna, cucumber, tomato, egg, farro, red cabbage, parsley. All artfully arranged or “composed” on plate and dressing with a classic vinaigrette.
Where were the chickpeas sourced? Canned or home made. And how were they grown? Organic. Conventional. Regenerative. And how about how old are the chickpeas because age really does make a difference when you’re cooking chickpeas from scratch.
What about the tuna? Is it domestic or imported. Line caught or net caught. Skipjack or yellowfin or albacore or one of the lesser known species. Jared or canned or fresh. Just for the record, the tuna pictured above is Tonnino, a branded product packed in Italy.
What about the vegetables? Where were the cucumber, red cabbage, and parsley, tomato grown. Organic. Regenerative. Conventional. Local. How long they kept in storage before hitting the supermarket shelf or were they picked up that day from the farmer’s market.
Are the eggs from pastured hens or caged hens? Is the farro imported Italy or home grown in the US? Is the vinaigrette classic clean home made or an off the shelf branded?
So many, many stories to tell for one very simple salad …
WHERE DOES FOOD FIT?
Up until recently, neither recipes or ingredient lists were counted by the experts.
Most home cooks and chefs and other foodies however figured out long ago food does count and perhaps that’s why this group tends to pay so little attention to what the government does and does not say is healthy.
Our FDA has only recently agreed to reconsider what constitutes healthy, but other countries has been more aggressive. The Brits worked out their traffic light system of food labeling over a decode ago. The Australians implemented their Health Star Rating System a couple of years ago. And last year, the French approved a voluntary front of the packaged label Nutriscore that counts vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts.
AND WHAT DOES ALL THIS HAVE TO DO WITH A SALAD?
While trying to reduce something as radiantly complex as food down to a couple of nutrients really is a bit crazy making, putting food back into the equation might actually work.
So I began to wonder what would happen if I borrowed the French approach to consumer packaged goods and applied it to a recipe?
First identify the Negatives, which do happen to be nutrients. Then identify the Positives, which are a combination of nutrients and foods. Then balance the Negatives against the Positives and assign a color coded range.
Using this concept, my salad scored reasonably well. Not completely healthy because I use more salt (sodium) and lots of olive oil (satfat). But better than somewhat healthy because the salad is a good source of protein and fiber and is mostly plant based. The salad is 52% plant based (cucumbers, tomatoes, chickpeas, arugula, cabbage, parsley) and that’s not counting the grain farro.
If the salad were completely healthy, I could put a dark green circle. If the salad were somewhat healthy, I could put a light orange circle. So let’s say the salad is reasonable healthy and give it a light green circle. Not sure if it works for the FDA but it works for me. How about you?