Introduction to Biological Cuisine
Biological cuisine is a healthy way of cooking fresh, organic, wholesome, nutritious, unprocessed, and seasonal food that provides all the beneficial elements necessary for our well being, to maintain a healthy weight, and to prevent illnesses.
Therefore, Biological Cuisine is exactly what the adjective means: Bio-Logical, i.e. in harmony with our body, in order to facilitate its functions.
It should be intuitive that the food that we introduce into our body ought to be compatible with our biology, which means made of the same substances that our organism is made of, so that we can easily process and assimilate them.
But, unfortunately, nowadays this is not always the case, especially in the industrialized countries and in particular in the United States.
The concept of Biological Cuisine cannot be explained clearly without giving credit to its source: Biological Medicine.
Biological Medicine is an ancient medical tradition based on the biology of the body and its natural healing capabilities. An illness is seen as an unbalance of the body’s regulation system that needs to be brought back to its ideal state.
While conventional medicine looks for the acute cause of an illness and spends time trying to alleviate the symptoms that patients are experiencing, Biological Medicine recognizes that many factors – both physiological and psychological, in combination and over time – lead to an illness.
Imagine your body as a barrel into which you pour all kinds of good and bad things. In some measure, the good ones compensate for the bad ones, but we all know that often the latter – processed food, alcohol, smoking, emotional and physical stress, fatigue, lack of sleep, etc. – tend to outnumber the former. Sooner or later, the barrel overflows and we become sick. Over time, our immune system has been weakened by our bad habits and it is no longer able to maintain a positive balance.
Biological Medicine strives to find the underlying cause – or causes – of an illness so that it can be addressed.
Since our body – provided it’s given the support it needs – has the potential to heal itself, cell by cell, the goal of Biological Medicine is to strengthen the human regulatory system in order to encourage healing and to prevent future illness.
In particular, Biological Medicine has recognized for centuries the importance of a healthy digestive tract. It is in fact in our intestine that most of our immune system is located and, in order to keep it strong, it is fundamental to ensure optimal absorption of vital vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and good fats. That is why Biological Medicine emphasizes the key role of an organic, wholesome, and nutritional diet and the elimination of all the poisoning substances.
Unfortunately, we often underestimate the importance of our digestive system and with different excuses – that range from the lack of time to the limitations of our budget, from prioritizing work or our children’s sport practice over cooking, etc. – we often end up eating the wrong kinds of food, which in today’s fast-paced lifestyle is often the most easily available, i.e. processed food.
In the past seventy years the food industry has grown dramatically. In order to remain competitive, to extend the shelf life of products, to maintain their freshness, and to make them tasty and look appealing, it has resorted to adding to them more and more chemicals, preservatives, salt, hydrogenated fats and high-fructose corn syrup. Over time, the convenience of processed food has become inversely proportional to its quality and this means that, while the consumer is given the deceiving impression of saving time and money by eating ready-made food instead of cooking it from scratch, in reality that time and money will be spent trying to heal all the ailments caused by an artificial diet, devoid of what our organism really needs.
To our partial justification, it must be said that most foods are no longer what they used to be.
Fruits and vegetables no longer come from familiar locations such as local farms and markets but from extensive mono-cultures or from humongous greenhouses that can exist only with intensive applications of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. In both cases, produce is forced to grow fast, picked well before it’s mature, and then refrigerated and shipped to warehouses where gases take care of its ripening just before the produce is ready to be transferred where it is sold.
What you’ve just read shouldn’t surprise you if you have ever picked a fruit from a garden: that juicy, rosy peach that ripened in your backyard wouldn’t keep more than a few days without spoiling, even if you put it in your refrigerator. This is because of the way Mother Nature created it: if it’s not used after being separated from the tree, it is supposed to rot in order to return its nutrients to the soil. Have you have wondered why those peaches from Chile make such a beautiful display of themselves in our American supermarkets in February and stay fresh for days, even after traveling for thousands of miles? Or why those perfect apples never shrivel but instead decay from the inside out? If you haven’t, I suggest that you start questioning what has been applied to them and what remains of their nutritional value.
Also the butcher is rarely the familiar face with a white apron that used to travel to small, clean farms to choose the animals to butcher in the back of his shop.
Slaughterhouses have become huge industrial plants that process tons of meat per hour, from animals that have been raised in quarters so cramped and in such unhealthy conditions that they had to be pumped with antibiotics in order to survive until the time of their demise.
Remember when the baker used to be the guy down the street, who stayed up all night to make the bread that smelled like Heaven while it was baking? Nowadays most bread is pre-baked in huge industrial bakeries and then shipped to supermarkets hundreds of miles away, where they finish cooking it and where we buy it. For this process to work, many chemicals must be added to the dough, making what used to be one of our staples a much less desirable nutritional component of our diet.
In fact, while we still cannot resist the enticement of that delicious white bread, our body is already rebelling against the genetically engineered, pesticide-laden, and bleached grains that are used to make it.
The other day I was watching my favorite quiz show on television and I was very surprised to see that one of the categories of questions was “Gluten-free food”. I don’t think that twenty years ago we needed to know what gluten was, let alone which foods don’t contain it. Nowadays, instead, many of us must know because we have become intolerant to it or, even worse, allergic to it.
I remember the days when food intolerances where a rarity and diet choices were based on taste, personal choice or religion, but very infrequently on allergies and intolerances. Today, though, you can no longer have a dinner party without asking your guests in advance what foods they need to avoid.
I have a long, personal experience of food intolerances. I can still remember my shock when I read the result of my allergy tests and I thought to myself “What am I supposed to eat now?” I thought that I already had a very healthy diet but the nutritionist in front of me was making it clear that I could no longer eat gluten, soy, dark meat, eggs, nuts, cow milk and, of course, cheese. And yes, that included my beloved Parmesan cheese.
My memory went back to my childhood, when I had asked Santa to bring me a slice of ham for Christmas. I had been on a strict diet for six months after an illness and I craved all the foods I wasn’t allowed to eat. At that time, however, I was eight years old and my mom was in charge of my nutrition. Now that I was the one responsible for the family cooking, how would I be able to combine my needs with those of the rest of the family? Would my friends still be able to appreciate my cuisine?
Fortunately, I’m not easily discouraged and I love challenges. After the natural couple of hours (make it days) of disgruntled complaints, I thought that if the nutritionist’s recommendations could help me get better, then I would follow them to the letter. And follow them I did – I’m proud to say – from Mother’s Day of that year until Mother’s Day of the following year, when I rewarded myself with a well-deserved scrumptious brunch in one of my favorite restaurants. Big, huge mistake: my taste buds were suddenly reminded of the pleasures that I had been forced to deny myself for way too long. I felt like an addict who is reminded of the substance she used to be dependent on.
Could there be – I wondered – a compromise between the nutritionist’s strictness and the wonderful Mediterranean cuisine that I grew up with? Thinking back to that year of culinary magician’s tricks to transform my boring food into something inviting, I suddenly realized how many recipes of my repertory I had tailored to fit into my dietary restrictions, while discovering several others that were already compatible exactly as they were. As for my friends, I kept entertaining them and none of them had realized the shift in my diet.
At the next appointment with the nutritionist I showed her some of my recipes and she approved them. I also realized how many times I had found myself giving advice to friends and acquaintances with my same problems and on how to make their diet more interesting and satisfying. Any diet, in fact, tends to become repetitive, especially when we have little time to cook.
This is how the idea of this book began to take shape. Of course I wanted its title to honor the Biological Medicine that had helped me recover my health and this is how Biological Cuisine was born.
At first Biological Cuisine was only a blog – mainly because my husband said that a cookbook was “so 1990s” – but later I realized that many people still prefer messing up a book instead of messing up their laptop or tablet while they are cooking, while many others love to give a cookbook as a present or buy it for themselves.
In reality, I cannot claim to have invented anything new. I have simply given a logical name to a way of cooking that already existed when we had no other choice than cooking from scratch with ingredients that were naturally wholesome.
Our grandmothers – and in many cases also our mothers – didn’t need to choose between organic and non-organic ingredients. The ingredients they bought were organic, period. They didn’t have to bother reading the labels of packaged food like we do today, simply because packaged food didn’t exist or was made with a few basic ingredients. They didn’t need to educate themselves about the risks posed by all the chemicals added to foods either. It is true that they had to spend more time shopping because food spoiled faster, more time cooking because almost everything had to be made from scratch, and they didn’t have the amazing selection of food we have nowadays. But they didn’t have to worry as much about Type 2 diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, obesity, and an array of auto-immune and inflammatory diseases that seems to have sprouted out of nowhere in the last two decades and that I suspect are the consequence – but this is only my humble observation – of our very bad eating habits.
On this particular topic, allow me to open a parenthesis. I remember very clearly that, when I moved from Italy to California twenty years ago, my doctor warned me to be very careful with food “ … because here food is not what we are used to in our countries”.
Dr. Z – an Afghan – had lived in the USA much longer than me, and he presumed that I understood what he meant. I actually didn’t, and at that time I didn’t pay much attention to his admonishment. After a few years, though, when my digestive problems went from occasional to persistent, my headaches became very frequent, and my health started to decline rapidly, I remembered Dr. Z’s words.
I also remembered a German friend who suffered from Crohn’s disease. At the young age of thirty, he had already undergone several surgeries and his future looked dismal.
After spending three days with him in Stuttgart, my husband and I couldn’t wait to go back to Italy and resume our eating habits. Since our friend had always stayed at our place during his visits to Italy and we had cooked for him, we had never realized how wrong his diet was. I remember that one night, after drinking just a sip of our friend’s favorite drink – a liqueur distilled from potatoes – my husband exclaimed, “You don’t suffer from Crohn’s Disease, your problem must be corrosion!”
I must clarify that our generation of Italians has grown up without the faintest idea of political correctness and still many of us don’t care about it. However, we do care about our friends to the point of telling them bluntly the hard truth. Our German friend ended up marrying an Italian woman who happens to be a very good cook, he moved to Italy and, after two years of good Mediterranean diet, achieved complete remission from Crohn’s disease (or, perhaps, corrosion).
I could tell endless stories of how our choices affect our well-being.
The following one will allows me to introduce another related topic.
An Italian friend of mine, who also moved to California from Italy, started to suffer from recurrent stomach pain. Being very athletic and very attentive to his diet, he had always been very healthy and he was quite surprised – and scared – by this sudden symptom. His doctor diagnosed him with acid-reflux disease and recommended a medication to take care of it. After reading the side effects of the prescribed drug, my friend decided to seek a second opinion, only to obtain the same diagnosis and the same prescription. He couldn’t resign himself to taking a drug for a prolonged period of time and he consulted a homeopathic doctor. He had to answer a very long list of questions – very different from the ones asked by the allopathic doctors – but the culprit was finally found: a very acidic brand of coffee that my friend was abundantly drinking at work. The homeopathic doctor put him on a very strict diet for three months – devoid of any acidic foods – and then slowly re-introduced certain foods, except the very acidic coffee. Problem solved, forever and without any side effect.
The related topic I was referring to is that of medications. Medications have become the mainstream, easy, fast, and convenient way to fix the problems created by wrong diets. This approach is so widely accepted that some types of food are automatically associated with certain types of drugs. Italian food, for example, is linked to anti-acids. Anti-acid drugs commercials show the typical Italian-American restaurant with red-and-white checkered tablecloth, implying that Italian food causes acid-reflux. The advertising industry uses same association between Mexican food and bloating. Are you going to a Mexican restaurant? Take this drug to prevent gas in your stomach! Fortunately, this is only true in some Italian and Mexican restaurants in the United States and a few second-rate ones in Italy and Mexico, and for the same reason: their use of low quality, processed ingredients.
I must admit that it would be much easier not to ask too many questions and simply use drugs as Band-Aids for any symptom. After all, this is what we have been brainwashed to believe since the invention of synthetic drugs, regardless of all their nasty side effects, which are listed at light-speed in commercials and in tiny fonts in printing, in the hope that they might pass unnoticed. On a funny note, in Italy the leaflets that accompany medications are dubbed “bugiardino” (little liar) but unfortunately they don’t lie. You really risk all those consequences the pharmaceutical companies disclaim in order to protect themselves from lawsuits, but not you from much worse diseases than the ones you’re trying to cure.
Therefore the quality of life you want to have in the future depends from how well informed you are today. Think about nutrition as an investment: the more wisely you invest, the more likely you’ll get a good return.
Or quite the opposite. As my mother used to say “You don’t pay back your debt on the same day you make it. You pay later, and with interest.” All the bad things we introduce into our bodies add up over time and we end up paying our dues when we least expect it, and with interest. Or, if you prefer to use an American proverb, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” and, although an inexpensive meal (as in “fast-food inexpensive”) might seem convenient, it comes with a hidden and costly price tag.
Having grown up and lived in Italy for almost forty years of my life at a time when food was still genuine – unfortunately, it’s changing there too – I took many food-related things for granted. After living in the United States for a few years, I began to realize how wrong I had been to trust blindly the quality of the food I was buying.
In Italy cooking is so ingrained in our mentality that it has become part of our cultural heritage, so you can imagine my astonishment the first time I heard an American state “I don’t cook”. Only then did I realize how diffused this bad habit is becoming in many industrialized countries. Learning to cook arises from a need but when somebody else conveniently caters for that need – restaurants, stores, fast foods, supermarkets, etc. – the incentive to learn disappears. Unless, that is, somebody teaches you – implicitly through example or explicitly through education – the benefits of preparing your own food.
I have realized that in the United States the majority of people ignore the basic principles of a good nutrition simply because it’s not taught either at home or in schools. Moreover, people have become so used to the availability of the same produce in every season that they don’t have the faintest idea of the seasonality of fruits and vegetables, i.e. when they are less expensive and more nutritious; and, most importantly, even if they claim that they know how to cook, they actually don’t.
Most of them are persuaded (or, better, have been persuaded by the big food corporations) that cooking means assembling a can of this with a jar of that, over a pre-baked frozen crust, covered by a package of shredded cheese. Or – even worse – that it’s perfectly fine to put on the table take-away fast food or frozen entrees reheated in the microwave oven.
Why not? After all the commercials make it seem not only convenient but also satisfying. You might have noticed how happy and pleased the people in those commercials are. Unfortunately, in a few years those same people will have a very good chance of becoming diabetic or obese, to suffer a heart attack, or to develop an autoimmune disease for which there is no cure. Processed food might be the cheap and easy way to solve the three-meal-a-day problem but it causes a lot of collateral damage.
So much so that even the food industry is backpedaling towards the kind of foods that were available one or two generations ago, making us pay even more for less artificial products even though they are the ones who ruined them in the first place.
This brings us back to the same question that was puzzling me when I found out about my intolerances: What are we supposed to eat?
All we need on our plate is a small portion of protein, some starch and lots of vegetables. Imagine your (small) plate divided into four sections: one is for starches (potatoes, pasta, rice, etc.), one is for protein (seafood, meat, lentils, beans, tofu, etc.) and the remaining two quarters are for healthy, colorful, nutritious, and tasty vegetables.
I’m hearing a chorus of protest and I totally agree with you.
Yes: healthy food is expensive. But isn’t it more sensible to buy better food than to own a newer car, television or the latest model of smart phone?
Yes: cooking is time-consuming. But so is going to the doctor’s appointments, dealing with the health insurance or working longer hours to pay hospital bills.
And yes: this kind of diet might sound boring, but only because the majority of us have become used to foods too rich in salt, sugar, spices, and the wrong types of fats. But I promise you that if you break your addictions to greasy, salty, sugary food and re-train your taste buds to the real flavors of real food, you will no longer crave the wrong ones.
And I also promise you that, with some planning, organization, the right ingredients, and some tricks that I’m going to teach you, in a few, life-changing weeks you’ll master the fine and rewarding skill of cooking according to the healthy, tasty and nutritious principles of Biological Cuisine. And if you are cooking (from scratch, of course, and with organic ingredients), you are in total control of what you are eating: no more additives, preservatives, colorants, OMGs, MSGs, etc. in your diet.
You don’t need a gourmet kitchen, expensive pots and pans, complicated food processors, or extensive training to become a good cook. People have cooked for generations in very small and modestly equipped kitchens with marvelous results. They have learned the basics from their parents and grandparents and they have improved their skills over time, often by trial and error.
And when in doubt, keep it simple. Simplify your life and shorten your shopping list by using less spices and condiments.
Follow the recipes and, please, do not substitute ingredients. One of the reasons why I decided to put my recipes in writing is that I realized that people changed them for their convenience. One evening I was served a dish made with eggplants that vaguely resembled my Eggplant Parmigiana – which is what the hostess claimed it was – because she had used the recipe I had given her. Instead of my homemade tomato sauce she had used a jar of commercially made garlicky marinara sauce that overpowered the taste of eggplants, and the fresh mozzarella had been replaced by a layer of hydrogenated orange “cheese” that had melted into a brownish and greasy crust. Episodes like this happened several times, and that’s why I decided to create my blog in order to avoid more “culinary misunderstandings”.
As we all know, nobody is perfect and I’m to first one who needs some indulgence. This is why I have included an entire category with this name. Once a week or on particular occasions, I need to cook and eat something richer and tastier. I can be very good all week if I know that I can reward myself with a particular dish that I’m craving.
Looking forward to it helps me to avoid straying from my own guidelines or to plan ahead in order to compensate for the extra calories (for example, by exercising a little more). The key to a little indulgence is to do it in moderation and to not make it a habit.
While using this cookbook, please remember that mine are only guidelines. I’m not a certified dietician or a nutritionist, and my recommendations are based only on my own experience. A lifetime of it, but still just my personal opinion and results.
Another important recommendation: listen to your body.
Your digestion is a good indicator of which foods agree or don’t agree with your organism. We are individuals, and what works for one person might be bad for another.
Your weight is another way to judge if you are following a healthy diet: if you are keeping your ideal weight or if this diet helps you shed those extra sticky pounds, then you are on the right track.
And remember: cooking is an act of love towards yourself and the people you love, it’s worth every minute of your time and every penny of your hard-earned money and, most of all, it’s fun, rewarding and sexy.