One of our Social Diet members, Patrick Pittman, talks about expecting more from your food when you're watching calories. He stopped eating junk food once the calories started counting more. The reasoning is simple: Those foods don't deliver enough pleasure and aren't interesting enough, especially if you're watching how much you eat. Every bite needs to be outstanding if you're eating fewer bites. Patrick is putting a new premium on flavor. All food-interested people would say they're doing this, of course, but there's less wiggle room on a 1,500-calorie regimen.
Where's the flavor these days? It's in the plants grown with care by market farmers; it's in small-batch this and handcrafted that. It's in supermarket foods, too, of course—better yogurts, better salsas, all kinds of new products that are responding to the general growing-up of the American palate. And it's in good food made at home.
When you recalibrate your flavor demands, the cost of these foods isn't as daunting as it can seem, partly because you're investing in pleasure, partly because you'll be eating less. I'm not saying this applies to a $9 bar of chocolate. There is some price silliness going on. But it applies to a lot of foods that, at first blush, seem a little dear.
Consider the humble dried bean. At the fabulous Bi-Rite food store in San Francisco (the one near the fabulous Tartine bakery) I picked up a small bag of Chestnut heirloom dried beans, also known as Christmas Lima Beans, packaged by a little outfit called Community Grains. They're $7 a pound online, but a pound of dried beans goes a long way, and you're paying for great color and meaty flavor. Some say the taste is chestnutty, but I think that better describes the texture. (Rancho Gordo was one of the first companies to make heirloom beans hot, and they sell Christmas Limas for $5.95.)
I hauled several varieties of beans home on the plane. This weekend I sautéed some onions and a bit of smoky Benton's bacon in my pressure cooker, threw in some overnight-soaked chestnut beans, some chopped tomato, thyme, and chicken stock, cranked down the lid…and less than 2 hours later had fantastic beans like no other I have tasted. I made this a tasty meal with rice, a tomato-feta salad, and a glass of Chianti. The next day I put some of those beans between a whole-wheat bun for an impromptu veggie burger (spicing it up with a squirt of Sriracha), and it was a terrific lunch.
All food-interested people take this kind of care with their meals, but I think it's especially valuable when calories count.