Early last week, I returned to the United States for the first time in a year. After a year of adapting to other cultures, I was ready to unleash my inner American. And what better time to do so than the Fourth of July?
For the Fourth, I was craving something over-the-top American. Yet I was also concerned about poor American eating habits, which are extremely evident to me after spending a year abroad. Upon re-entry to Iowa, I was struck by the commonness of obesity in my home state. Where as before it seemed normal, now it is everywhere I look: the parking lot, the grocery store, even the farmers market. My solution was this: host a traditional whole-hog roast with a healthy twist.
The first step was finding the pig. I wanted a local pig, raised in the open air without hormones, on a varied diet and cruelty free (no tail docking or nose rings). I searched local farms and chose a pig from Highland Vista Farm in Wellman, Iowa. Next, I constructed the rest of the menu. The main components were exactly what one would expect from an Iowan BBQ – chips and dip, coleslaw, potato salad, a bean dish, and desserts. However, I put a healthy spin on them.
The appetizers were “light”. There were tomato mozzarella bites with more tomatoes than mozzarella. Sliced cucumbers and carrots were served with a garlic low-fat yogurt dip. Instead of fried, baked potato and blue corn chips were served, along with whole-wheat crackers I made myself. All of the vegetable-based side salads had vinaigrette dressings – meaning they contained no animal products (we had enough with the pork). While the desserts were not “light”, they were served in small portions. No soda was allowed; instead, we served lemonade, iced-tea (unsweetened), white wine sangria (no sugar added), and lemon water.
We shopped as locally as possible, buying almost all of the produce from the local co-op, the hog from a local farm, and the rest from the health foods section of the local supermarket. Of course, we made compromises. The lemonade was made from concentrate, but the iced tea was made at home. We served store bought buns, but they were whole-wheat. It was important that our guests had some items they recognized (chips, buns, ketchup, etc) so they would be open to the new preparations (salads without mayo, homemade crackers, and fewer-animal products).
The response? Overwhelmingly positive. While guests did notice the fare was a bit “healthier” than usual, there were NO complaints; in fact, it was appreciated. Everyone left the party full, but not stuffed. In the days following the party I was asked to share some of the recipes. One of the most discussed dishes was the homemade crackers – many guests didn’t know there was an alternative to store-bought.
The party satisfied my urge to cook and my craving for American comfort food. But at the same time, I was able to share my beliefs in sustainable agriculture, locavorism, and eating healthy. While these beliefs may seem commonplace, it is important to realize that in many areas they are relatively uncommon practice. I’m doing my part to change that, starting in my own back yard.
If you’re looking to host a “healthy” BBQ, here are some recipes to try:
Alexis ZK is an undergraduate at New York University studying French and Food Studies. After spending a summer working on farms all over the US, she spent a year studying, eating, and working in France. Now, she has returned to the farms, this time focusing on wine and value-added products. Follow her adventures here.