Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Simon Spire Food Manifesto and Coconut Collard Greens

If I learned anything from Ted Kaczynski it is that people love manifestos. This just served to reinforce it. People also love extremes. So last time it was the meat eating, Swedish “shoegaze electronic” innovators Fort Fairfield who “invited” you to the table in their Lonneberga cabin. This time it is Simon Spire, a vegan macrobiotic foodie who writes catchy alternative rock music while discovering the best of New York’s vegan, organic and raw food scene.

Spire is kicking of 2012 with his first US EP release (on January 31st). No Solid Ground is a stunning piece of work that continues Spire’s tradition of meshing together feelgood anthems with “indelible hooks” and lyrics that are both “personal and confessional.” He has drawn comparisons to the likes of Sufjan Stevens, John Mayer and Ryan Adams. Nirvana, Leonard Cohen, Neil Diamond and Alanis Morrissette have all served as inspiration at one point or another during his life. It is all paying off as recently Spire won first prize in the Rock/Alternative category in the 2011 USA songwriting competition for his song “A Four Letter Word.” It was here, as Spire walked forward to grab his award, that I noticed the big bundle of paper stuffed into his bag. Making sure no one was looking I reached in and was elated to find this:

Simon Spire’s Food Manifesto
I’ve been called weird and I’ve been called boring. It’s sometimes hard for people to fathom that my culinary preferences really are that—my preferred fare. I have to admit that there was a time when I would have responded with similar bafflement. The truth is that, after a number of years of exploring the world of natural, unadorned, whole foods (the category of food, not the supermarket), any minor lapse in adherence to this approach only reminds me why I started eating like this in the first place. 
I have no creed or membership to any particular movement, but at some point it just made sense to me to forgo the often lifeless yet over-flavored food I had become accustomed to in favor of “natural” food. Easier said than done. Paradoxically, truly natural food can be hard to come by; it’s much easier to find complicated, refined, and manipulated ingredients. Chalk it up to the momentum of collective habit and the premium placed on convenience. What should be so easy—finding ingredients in their natural state —is difficult when the vast majority of normal food is processed in some way. Once you get into the swing of it, however, it’s possible that you might find yourself appreciating the subtleties of nature’s unadorned ingredients. The vibrancy, wholesomeness, and freshness of simpler foods may become more appealing both as a culinary experience and as a pillar of an energized body and clear mind.
Whatever the case, try out some of the following simplifying ideas. If anything strikes you as “bland,” think “minimalist” instead; if an item is more expensive than its conventional counterpart, remind yourself that it’s more nutritious and probably sustainable too, whereas many conventional foods are not. Let’s make natural the new norm! 
*Eat your veggies—local and organic if possible. Squashes, root vegetables, greens (kale, collard greens, spinach, bok choy, mizuna, mustard greens): they’re about as natural and life-giving as it gets—straight from the earth to your plate, the only processing being that which you do in your own kitchen. Kale is my staple. Robust and vibrant, it’s often available year-round without having to be transported too far and comes in a number of varieties, Red Russian being my favorite. Last week, while visiting New Zealand for the holidays, I was pleasantly surprised to learn the kale I was purchasing (nero/lacinato) had been picked the previous day from a local organic farm. Not always possible, of course, but not all that unheard of, either; farmers’ markets are my favorite location for produce when stateside. It’s usually organic or minimally-treated produce and, importantly, local which means that it hasn’t endured too many miles and days of transport and preservation. 
*Whole grains and legumes are, again, going straight to the source. The only processing these babies have undergone is that they’ve been dried. Soak the legumes (especially beans) overnight and then drain them to aid in digestion and to remove toxins. What was previously known as “rice” now becomes a whole new world where one encounters short-grain brown rice, long-grain brown rice, sweet brown rice, brown jasmine, and brown basmati. Try barley, millet, and quinoa. Your lentils can be red, brown, or green; your beans black, red, or fava, or try my favorites, mung beans and adzuki beans. And yes, flavor matters just as much as color. Luckily, whole grains and beans have been a mainstay of international cuisine for so many generations, that the methods of preparation are endless (to get started, think Indian dahl, Cuban black bean soup, Jamaican rice and peas, or Greek gigantes). 
*Ditch the table salt. I basically question all processed foods, and table salt undergoes a serious amount of treatment to transform it from its natural state into what we eat, rendering it unrecognizable to the body in some cases. Sea salt, however, is natural, health-supporting, and has a much milder flavor; table salt starts to taste harsh and bitter by comparison. I opt for Redmond RealSalt—the fine crystals make for easy use and a simple substitute for table salt. I also avoid the following: packaged convenience foods (including nuts and seeds, which are so much better when raw and unsalted), refined sugar (opt for agave, maple syrup or, if necessary, organic evaporated cane sugar in its place), and anything with artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. You could say that avoiding all of these processed foods doesn’t leave much to choose from. I say, it leaves everything that nature has to offer. 
*When in New York, splash out at these tasty and natural restaurants:
Candle 79 or Candle CafĂ© Souen (all three locations)
Applewood Pure Food and Wine or One Lucky Duck  
Celebrate the availability of nature’s brilliance with this Coconut Collard Greens Recipe. Slice those greens to the rhythm of my new single, “Knocking on an Open Door,” a song about searching, and searching, and searching, only to find that what was searched for was waiting here all along. Naturally.
I sat back in amazement, it was like this bundle was meant for me.