Food is meant to nourish, but too often it becomes an addiction, an obsession or, worse yet, an enemy.
In this land flooded with over-abundant, overprocessed fake foods heavily laced with sugar, fat, salt and chemicals, but devoid of the nutrition our bodies crave, disordered eating has practically become a national pastime.
If you turn to food to soothe your feelings, dull your emotions, slack a seemingly insatiable hunger or cope with the stresses of the day, then you’ll want to check out two new books from women with Maine ties.
While differing in format and approach, both address the underlying issue of unhealthy food relationships and offer concrete solutions to help you turn away from fake food and fill your plate with real, plant-based foods instead.
In “The MILF Diet,” former full-time Portlander and current summer resident Jessica Porter presents a beautiful cookbook that shows women how to use the techniques of macrobiotic cooking to bring their bodies and lives back into balance.
In “Food Fix,” Falmouth resident Susan Lebel Young provides an accessible self-help guide based on personal experience and the principles of mindfulness to lead readers out of the junk food abyss and into a real food oasis.
“The MILF Diet: Let the Power of Whole Foods Transform Your Body, Mind, and Spirit Deliciously!” by Jessica Porter. $35; milfdietbook.com
First, let’s talk about the cheeky title.
If you don’t know what the acronym stands for, I suggest you Google it (since we’re not allowed to tell you in a family-friendly newspaper). But in PG language, I can tell you it means a mother with sex appeal.
Porter, who now lives in Santa Monica, admits that “perhaps I live in a bubble of Southern California,” before saying all the female friends she asked about the term viewed it as a compliment (even those who lived far from the liberal lifestyle).
Still, this hasn’t stopped bloggers and commentators (particularly those who haven’t read the book) from criticizing the title as sexist. However, the first thing you read on picking up the book is Porter’s feminist embrace of MILF as a term that shatters the madonna/whore complex.
“It occurred to me the word MILF contained maternity and husky, musky sexuality,” said Porter, who authored “The Hip Chick’s Guide to Macrobiotics” when she lived in Portland. “Those things have been driven in separate ways by our culture.”
Porter says the MILFs she knows combine good looks with the more important emotional and physical health.
In order to regain or maintain one’s MILFness, Porter advocates eating whole, plant-based foods that follow the macrobiotic principles of balance. This starts with limiting or eliminating extreme yang foods (meat, baked goods) and extreme yin foods (sugar, dairy) and adding cooked whole grains and leafy greens. And chewing them really well.
Those who want to take it further, add in beans, more vegetables and seaweed.
But Porter is well aware that many women may pick up this book after being stuck in our society’s merry-go-round of disordered eating and dieting and may need to proceed very slowly toward change.
Writing that she “grew up on TV dinners and Tang” and later moved onto dieting and bingeing, Porter demonstrates that it is possible to break out of this cycle and create a different relationship between food and your body.
“A macrobiotic diet is a daily seeking of balance based on healthy ingredients and that person’s age, gender, desires and what climate that person is living in,” Porter said.
While her book is firmly centered in the cooking philosophy of macrobiotics, Porter isn’t a big fan of the word.
She points out that those who eat macrobiotic foods tend to look younger than their years and radiate a certain energy. The diet is also a favorite among people looking to reverse cancer and other serious illnesses.
“I’ve always thought macrobiotics sounds mechanical and heavy and is not attractive,” Porter said. “I’ve always thought it should be called hot, sexy, beautiful diet. Or magically healing your entire body diet.”
So what do the MILFy macrobiotic women in Porter’s world eat?
The book’s recipes include such dishes as quinoa soup with corn, tempeh Reubens with Russian dressing, deep-fried seitan with sweet-and-sour hibiscus dipping sauce, seaweed-nut crunch and super-delicious mystery “cheese” cake.
As Porter writes in the book, “Remember, this is not a normal ‘diet.’ It is a way of eating that will transform your life from the cells on up.”
And with your newly transformed cells, you’ll be on your way to MILFy ecstasy.
“Food Fix: Ancient Nourishment for Modern Hungers,” by Susan Lebel Young, foreword by John Robbins. $19.95, in bookstores and on Amazon.com March 13; heartnourishment.com
For years, Young struggled with what she calls food frenzy — a manic eating of packaged cakes, cookies and candies that had no relation to actual hunger.
She knew what she was doing wasn’t how she wanted to live, but she couldn’t find a way to break free.
“I’d go from book to book, from doctor to doctor and expert to expert,” Young recalled. “And sometimes get advice that was good to take and sometimes totally contradictory advice. Even the advice that was good, I wasn’t in a place to accept it because I was kind of rebellious.”
But then she had a conversation with a rabbi and he directed her to a book that discussed the concept of mindfulness.
“This present moment, non-judgmental awareness was called mindfulness,” Young writes. “I needed it. New to me, yet ancient, these ideas seduced me: we are intrinsically whole; our suffering can be healed (if not cured); we are larger than our pain.”
Young, who has a master’s degree in counseling and teaches mindfulness, and is a contributor to the Portland Press Herald’s “Reflections” column, further explored her relationship to food with a writing teacher.
Many of the very personal essays these sessions generated were ripped up and tossed into the trash, but soon Young began to collect the essays and some of them are included in the book. She pairs these with information about how to apply mindfulness techniques to disordered eating habits, concluding each chapter with a set of three exercises called Find Your Heart, Know Thyself and Get Real With Food.
While the book advocates that whole, plant-based foods help heal and rid the body of the demons of food frenzy, Young doesn’t provide specific recipes or menu plans.
“I see my job as helping people help themselves in their own way,” Young said. “I came to realize that if I ate real, actual food that came from the ground, I always felt better than if I was eating Luna Bars and peanut butter and marshmallows. Then it dawned on me this food comes from nature. There are consequences to eating stuff that isn’t designed for the human body.”
But by demonstrating how to apply the non-judgmental principles of mindfulness, Young shows how to overcome those consequences.
Reprinted with permission from “The MILF Diet” by Jessica Porter.
Because tuna is high in mercury, it’s important to let it go. But don’t despair; this is a great substitute for tuna salad and is perfect in a sandwich, in a salad or right off the spoon.
Servings: Three or four
One 8-ounce package tempeh, cut into chunks
2½ tablespoons umeboshi vinegar
2½ cups spring water, or enough to cover tempeh
1/3 cup Vegenaise
Any spices you desire — cumin, curry, paprika, saffron (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
1 stalk celery, diced
Small handful of chives, thinly sliced
1. Bring the tempeh, the umeboshi vinegar and water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, drain the excess liquid, and let the tempeh cool for a few minutes.
2. Mash with a potato masher or fork until there are no longer any big chunks, but the tempeh is not entirely smooth. Let it cool completely.
3. Add the Vegenaise, seasonings, celery and chives. Mix well. Serve with pita bread or as a sandwich.
VARIATIONS: Add any herb or spice you like. Tempeh works well with everything.
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: