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When Fear is Your Sous Chef

If you avoid eating something because you are afraid, it’s time to take the fear out of your food.

Updated 11/2020

Sous Chef: The second in command in a kitchen; the person ranking next after the head chef.                                                                      –

Fear of the unknown seems rampant in many food conversations these days.

What’s in it?

Where did it come from?

What does that ingredient do/why is it in this recipe?

What are the long term effects of eating in a particular way?

Should I be eating that?

This is the short list of some of the more common questions I have heard over the years either in individual conversations or as part of the Q&A portion of presentations. As people moved away from farms and their kitchens, it feels like food has taken on this mysterious presence, even as we are around it every day.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

So how did it get so complicated?

If you think about it, agriculture gives us the luxury to choose whether we grow and raise our own food ourselves or entrust someone else to do it for us while we focus on other professions.

Restaurants and ready-to-eat foods at the grocery store give us the luxury to choose whether we want to make our own food or have someone else do it for us.

The basic question is, how do we want to spend our “food time” to get what we need to live? Growing, creating our menus and making our meals? Or “simply” buying and eating it?

retrain your mind
Image by John Hain from Pixabay

There is no right or wrong answer, really, nor is this a judgment. The importance of this thinking and walking through the farm to table pathway of today is to understand that for every decision we make, there are consequences. For every choice we make, there are nutrition and food implications that will go all the way back to the farm while they also impact our personal health.

If people stopped eating a certain vegetable or fruit, for example, why would anyone want to grow it?  If people start going head over heels for a new fruit or veg, it makes sense that more people would want to grow it. Notice how kale is like “everywhere” right now? Yep. That’s an example of how this works.

And so on. For the choices you make, be sure it’s for the right reason. Not because you were afraid of the other choices. Everything we choose to eat supports farmers. I’ll say this a million (or more) times, because it’s awesome yet sometimes gets forgotten. Farmers are a unique, incredibly smart and adaptive group of professionals. How you choose to feed yourself? There’s a farmer for that.

We don’t get to do everything in life, so choices are made on what we like to spend our time on, what we have to spend our time on, and getting the things necessary for human survival (food, sleep, activity) in a way that makes sense to us mentally and physically.

This to me, is how #FOMO (fear of missing out) became such a driver of decisions and conversation. When you don’t know how to do something, you question it. When that something is personal, like the food we need to live, it becomes emotional, even when we know that there is both an art and a science to it.  If you are deselecting certain foods because you are afraid to cook it “wrong”, either from a food safety or a taste perspective (or both), perhaps it’s time to learn a little more about what it is that scares you about something. Fear is not the sous chef any of us needs. Look into the history of how that food came to be part of our menus. Find the best ways to select, store, and prepare it. Order it in a restaurant and split it with a friend if it’s new so you don’t waste it if you don’t care for it. If you like it, you can learn more about it.

line cooks
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Access to information and “how to” tutorials is at an all time high, both from informed and uninformed sources. Thus, we must choose our “tutors” carefully. Don’t learn from someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about. This seems so obvious, right?

Have some fun. Challenge yourself to try one new food each week, or cook one new dish per month. Make it part of your routine, and enlist some foodie friends to share in the learning. I think a recipe party sounds really fun. Crank up the music, invite your most curious friends, and get going. Ask people to bring their favorite recipe (either on paper, in a dish, or both!) and share your food knowledge, questions, and time. And when it comes to the nutrition and agriculture part of the conversation, that’s when you bring in the experts. Consider agritourism for your next day off or weekend event. Learn from agriculture experts, a nutrition professional, and other trained people who have degrees in topics you want to know more about. I’d take these as my sous chefs any day of the week. Oh, and fear? You’re out. 😉

knife and fork
Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

By Kim Kirchherr

I am a dietitian working in food and fiber (agriculture) through retail, addressing opportunities to make things better for people and planet.