I love to cook, and being in the kitchen instantly makes me calmer and happier. I love that cooking is equal parts creativity and precision, and that feeding someone is a universal language of caring. (Sometimes this can be hazardous for the people around me, as I tend to express my love by the pound, usually of butter. :)
It is a blessing that I enjoy cooking so much because I am in the kitchen more often than most. In 2007, I developed severe allergies to multiple common food preservatives. After suffering life-threatening reactions on a daily basis for months, an immunologist and I finally identified the culprits, and my transition to an all-natural, sulfite-free diet began. The first thing everyone says when they find out is, “Wow, what do you eat?!” I think it’s a telling comment about the culture of today’s food production and consumption in the U.S. that people honestly see preservatives as the kind of allergy that might lead me to starvation; the same set of allergies in my grandmother’s generation would have left only alcohol and a few types of vinegar off the menu.
In today’s world, eating preservative-, dye-, and sulfite-free means 90% of typical grocery store convenience fare is off limits. Other than some hand-cut fries from a local burger joint, I haven’t eaten at a restaurant in four years. I considered myself a healthy eater before 2007, so I was shocked to discover how many foods I ate and fed my family contained copious amounts of artificial ingredients. Fortunately, I already considered the kitchen equal parts art studio and therapist’s couch, so I plunged right in to making ketchup from scratch and canning my own marinara. During times when my health was so poor that I couldn’t leave the house, cooking every day motivated me and made me feel like a human being.
As is often true in life, with time I have found a healthy middle ground. I can buy perfectly good, non-allergenic ketchup, and Newman’s Own marinara tastes just fine. I divide my grocery shopping between Publix and Whole Foods, and I know which products are safe so shopping trips no longer involve hours of tense label-reading. I still bake everything from scratch, make my own BBQ sauce, and can my own apple butter because I want to, not because I have to. The recipes I share will always be all-natural and sulfite-free because that’s how I cook, but I am happy for you to make substitutions. Cooking is freedom for me, and I certainly don’t want you to feel any other way.
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