The Fluidity of Healthy Food

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Where it Flows (And Where It Doesn’t)

Having just finished reading Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, I couldn’t banish from my mind the author’s observations about the dietary changes produced by his move from his hillbilly home to Yale Law School. He attributed his newfound care for nutrition to this sudden cross-class exposure. Reflecting on my own habits, then, I was curious to know about others’. I first enlisted the investigative help of my best friend in Atlanta and she asked two Georgia natives and one Canadian about their favorite healthy meal.

The Georgians listed “Squash and collard greens” and “Hearty veggie soup with veggies… Or bread, beans and rice.” When faced with the thought of delicious healthy food, our Canadian subject could think of “None,” before reconsidering, then said “Poutine,” which, according to Wikipedia, is “French fries and cheese curds topped with a light brown gravy.” 

Next, I asked a close friend of mine from the Scottish Highlands, who said she favors “Chickpea, feta and beetroot salad, maybe with some chicken.” I was relieved to hear it wasn’t Haggis, “a traditional pudding made of the heart, liver, etc., of a sheep or calf, minced with suet and oatmeal, seasoned, and boiled in the stomach of the animal,” but at the same time, I was a little disappointed. That would have made a more flavorful story.

My Floridian friend said, “I love a good salt and pepper porkchop. And green beans.”

From Massachusetts to Maryland, Louisiana to New Jersey, the majority of my friends and family included salmon and quinoa on their short lists. Timeless trends, no doubt, though the quinoa craze is relatively new in the United States.  Many also included chicken, most notably my 22-year-old cousin, who went so far as to include it twice. “Chicken, rice and spinach,” he said. “And a family-sized bucket of KFC.”

When I consulted my college roommate, she asked: “Does a Caprese panini count?” and sent me a photo of cheesecake.

. . . . .

For members of Generation X, I thought it valuable to ask about their preferences during both adulthood and childhood. Since my dietary patterns have evolved over as short a time period as 5 or 10 years, I figured a longer lifetime could lend some insight.

My mom, born in New Orleans but raised in Texas and upstate New York, said her favorite healthy meal consists of “quinoa, pickled stuff, veggies, cauliflower parm and falafel.” (You can see where I get indecision and random palate). But there’s a disconnect between now and then; without a strong cook in her nuclear family, she liked tacos and “good bread and butter” as a kid.

My dad, now on the Salmon Bandwagon, possessed a different definition of healthy growing up in Washington. “Twice baked potatoes, you know, with the cheese on? Oh! Flank steak. Homemade French Dip sandwiches. We were pretty much meat and potatoes. Then some salad… Some vegetables. Oh! Turkey and stuffing.”

For our founder Diane Hatz, who does not suffer from indecision, it’s “Steamed broccoli with baked sweet potato accented with raw cashews (all organic mind you).” And growing up, she devoured “Quadratini,” which apparently references a sort of pasta with red sauce and spinach, but sounds suspiciously like an Italian brand of cube wafer biscuits with layered sheets.

In summer months such as these Diane also used to love “a sandwich with sliced tomato from my dad’s garden, cucumber, optional green pepper, sweet onion, sweet pickles and miracle whip. “I still love it,” she says, “but I use Fabanaise and instead of my father’s garden, the farmer’s market.”

. . . . .

This informal survey resurfaced in my mind a story Harlem Grown’s Tony Hillery tells, of the children with whom he works. They all live in New York City, the metropolis at the forefront of every superfood trend, and yet when he would ask them the origins of a tomato, the children would tell Tony that tomatoes come from the supermarket. Before the inception of Harlem Grown, most couldn’t name their basic vegetables. In a concrete jungle barred by fast food chains, who could blame them?

Harlem, New York City.

In contrast, all of the people I asked about their favorite healthy meals have had the privilege of exposure, if nothing else. At Change Food, our goal is for everyone — from where J.D. Vance was born in Bloody Breathitt, Kentucky, to where he grew up in Middletown, Ohio (and where the first two articles my Google Search produced are titled “Everyone I know is on Heroin” and “After Middletown mom ODs, police find children living in filth”) — to not only know about healthy, sustainable food sources, but to have access to them. When there exist obstacles blocking facets of everyday survival, it leaves little time for anything but that which is readily available. And in food prisons, that’s hardly ever healthy.

As Guerrilla Gardener Ron Finley says, “The drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.” But he offers a solution: “Let me change this paradigm, let me grown my own food. This is one thing I can do to escape this predestined life that I have unwillingly subscribed to.” And like Change Food’s Doc in Residence Robert Graham says, “If you grow it, you eat it.”

That’s one effective solution – and one that so many of our friends at Change Food do exceptionally well in both urban and rural settings. And I suppose that’s one reason Diane is our founder – She was already making meals from her father’s garden as a child.

But what are the solutions when growing your own food is not an option? How do you escape a food prison when you were born into a cell? How can nutritious food surpass social divides? Sign up for our newsletter to hear our ideas and let us know yours on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Carly Brand studies Sustainable Urban Nutrition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Global Nutrition & Health at Metropol in Copenhagen. She looks to Change Food for future generations and loves to hear your perspectives at

Change Food® works toward a healthier food system for people, animals & the planet.  Learn more about Plant Eat Share – planting food in public spaces. For free.