Part II: Anjali Shah
Anjali Shah is a food writer, health coach, and owner of The Picky Eater, a healthy food and lifestyle blog. Anjali Shah grew up a “whole wheat” girl, but married a “white bread” kind of guy. Hoping to prove that nutritious food could in fact be delicious and desirable, she taught herself how to cook and successfully transformed her husband’s eating habits from a diet of frozen pizzas and Taco Bell to her healthy, yet flavorful recipes made with simple, wholesome ingredients. Through her blog The Picky Eater, Anjali shares her passion for healthy, tasty cooking.
Caryn Hartglass: Hey everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass. And we are back. Thank you for joining me today. It’s April 9, 2013. And it’s such a beautiful day here in New York. I hope it’s beautiful where you are. I’m a little hesitant to start the next part of the show because we’re going to be talking about my favorite subject, food, and I’m feeling a little hungry. So, here we go. I’m going to torture myself for a while. I’m going to bring on Anjali Shah. She’s The Picky Eater. She’s a food writer, health coach, and owner of The Picky Eater, a healthy food and lifestyle blog. Anjali Shah grew up a “whole wheat” girl, but married a “white bread” kind of guy. Hoping to prove that nutritious food could in fact be delicious and desirable, she taught herself how to cook and successfully transformed her husband’s eating habits from a diet of frozen pizzas and Taco Bell to her healthy, yet flavorful recipes made with simple, wholesome ingredients. Through her blog The Picky Eater, Anjali shares her passion for healthy, tasty cooking. Yum! Thanks for joining me today.
Anjali Shah: Hi, it’s so great to be here. Thank you for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Well, I think you need to take over the entire country.
Anjali Shah: Wouldn’t that be nice?
Caryn Hartglass: You started with your husband and you figured out how to get him to eat more healthfully and now the rest of the country awaits.
Anjali Shah: Yeah, I have sort of experimented on him because he’s sort of the classic fast food lover and didn’t think that healthy food could ever taste good. Once I started sort of sneaking in healthy ingredients into recipes that he loved, he came around. So I’m hoping that through my blog, the rest of the country can do the same.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I love the name The Picky Eater because it’s such a fun play on words and I like the idea of changing the feeling of what “the picky eater” means. It shouldn’t mean someone who only likes to eat certain kinds of foods, whether they’re healthy or not. It should be all of us really being selective in what we eat and choosing the best foods for us. Why shouldn’t we be picky?
Anjali Shah: Yeah, exactly. I mean, the traditional notion of what a picky eater is is the little kid who only wants ice cream for dinner. I don’t see why we can all be picky about what we put into our bodies and just choose things that are better for us and be picky in a good way. So it is a play on words because I was saying my husband’s a picky eater in a more traditional sense and I’m a picky eater in the less traditional sense.
Caryn Hartglass: Your bio says that you grew up a “whole wheat” girl, so you were raised in a family that believed in healthy eating?
Anjali Shah: Yeah, that’s right. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. I think my parents were kind of like hippies. We always had super wholesome healthy ingredients in our house. I didn’t even know what packaged food was until I went to a friend’s sleepover when I discovered Pop-Tarts and frozen pizzas and all these kinds of delicious things that might not be the most healthy for you.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so how is it you didn’t rebel against your parents?
Anjali Shah: I did for a time. When I would go to friends’ houses and things I would certainly indulge, and when I went to college I definitely “fell off the wagon.” But eventually I realized that the way that I was raised and the types of food that we would eat at home was really the type of food that made me feel the best. So eventually I ended up coming back to what I grew up with and the food that I ate at home. And even when I was a kid I would rebel when I was at my friends’ houses, but then when I was at home the only choices that were available to me were healthy ones. So it made it kind of hard to do that, even as a child.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s such an important thing that you just said, and people should really hear it. For parents that struggle with feeding their children well, one of the first really important steps is to not have any crap in your house. To eat healthfully and not have the wrong choices.
Anjali Shah: Yeah, exactly. I like to think that if the temptation isn’t in front of you, you will be much less likely to find it. So in my house I’ll have my little treat, which is my dark chocolate-covered almonds, in one of the cabinets, but in general I keep the rest of the house pretty healthy. So if I really, really want that chocolate chip cookie, or I really, really want that pastry, then I have to go out and buy it for myself and then I have that one time when I get to indulge, but it’s not something that happens all the time.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Well, I like to cook a lot. I can make anything, so if I don’t have it I could always make it, which is kind of a scary danger. If I want a cake or cookies, I can make it, and I don’t mind cooking. A lot of people want that instant gratification. They don’t want to have to make anything, so they just buy the stuff. But you write that you taught yourself how to cook, so did you not help prepare the healthy meals at home when you were younger, or did you come up with a new kind of cuisine?
Anjali Shah: Both. When I was younger, I definitely was not a helper in the kitchen. I did the clean-up and the chores afterwards, but I was never involved in the actual preparing the food process. And so after I got married, I actually didn’t even know how to use the can opener. I had a really embarrassing experience when I tried to make enchiladas and I could not open the can of beans. So I was at the very, very end of the spectrum of what a novice cook would be. Eventually after eating the same meal for two weeks because it was the only thing that I could make, which was like veggie burgers not even from scratch, I realized that this was not something that could go on. And so I just started looking up recipes online and trying new things and learning how to use kitchen tools. And then I started recreating some of the recipes that I had learned at home, but then I started making my own up to satisfy my husband’s picky tastes.
Caryn Hartglass: What you went through, except learning how to cook, the part about growing up and not knowing how to cook or prepare healthy meals, that’s what most Americans do today. Most Americans don’t know where their kitchen is. They don’t know how to prepare food. It’s just a part of our culture today because food has become so inexpensive and you can get it so cheaply in fast food restaurants and even higher-end restaurants. The incentive is not there for most people to prepare their own food.
Anjali Shah: Yeah. It’s really hard because cooking can be very intimidating. Figuring out what things to put together that’ll actually taste good in the kitchen seems like a super-overwhelming task. I remember feeling the exact same way when I first started cooking. You spend an hour in the kitchen and it turns out not-so-great and then you feel like you wasted all that time. So I can certainly thoroughly empathize with the process and what that’s like. Of course, it’s so much easier to go out and buy something from your nearest restaurant or just some takeout to satisfy that because you’re hungry and you want to eat. So, what I like to tell people is to try to start cooking when they’re not hungry. Start at 4 or 5, when you probably aren’t going to starve if your dish doesn’t turn out well by 6 P.M. and then do a little bit of experimentation. Along the way you’ll realize that it’s actually not that hard. A lot of meals you can make in twenty minutes or less, and so that’s almost as fast as it would be to drive someone to pick something up and drive back home.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, it’s faster. It’s even faster than making a phone call and calling in for delivery. It’s not hard to make food.
Anjali Shah: Right. And it’s cheaper, too.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, your husband went along with all this?
Anjali Shah: Well, he sort of didn’t have a choice because I took control of grocery shopping and he hates going to the grocery store, so that was an easy win.
Caryn Hartglass: And okay, this may be an obvious question, but why do you want to eat the way you eat?
Anjali Shah: Yeah, I mean, I guess it is an obvious question, but at the same time a lot of people want to be healthy but also struggle with some of the treats and junkier things that taste really great. For me, what I realized after even just a month of eating much healthier home-cooked meals, organic food, I started feeling better. I had some digestive issues in the past and those started going away. I just realized that what I put into my body really affected how I felt and the energy levels I had and my general happiness. After realizing that, it just seemed so much more worth it to put the effort into eating healthy. But until you have that change, you feel like you feel fine and you don’t really realize how much better you could feel.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I like to say you don’t know how good you can feel until you’re eating healthfully. The thing is that, in our culture here in the United States, our culture of people on the standard American diet—a very, very, very bad, unhealthy diet—most people, if they’re going to turn around and change their diet, don’t do it until they’re in a health crisis: they’re older, they’ve gained too much weight, they really are feeling bad. So I’m happy to see younger people interested in health. The motivation isn’t necessarily there for younger people, other than maybe wanting to really keep a slim figure, because the human body is amazing at how forgiving it is for a very long time.
Anjali Shah: That is very true.
Caryn Hartglass: You could be in your twenties and early thirties and really trash your body and you just keep going and it doesn’t really hit you.
Anjali Shah: Right, and then when it does, it might be too late or you just might be too used to the lifestyle you’ve been doing for the past thirty or some odd years and it’s really hard to make a change even if you want to. So I absolutely agree. I think starting young is the best thing that you can do. Starting with kids, teaching kids how to cook, getting them in the kitchen, teaching them how to grow vegetables in their garden, getting them excited about eating healthy, really makes a difference, because the way that I was raised, even though I ended up deviating from the path, I naturally came back to it. So I think it’s really important to instill those values and the knowledge, actually, about food and health at a young age.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so you may or may not know this, but I am a vegan and I promote eating all plant foods and we know that our greatest nutrients come from plant foods. People need to be eating more plant foods, whether they choose to be vegetarian, vegan, or not, plants foods are so, so important. You have a lot of recipes on your site, and a lot of them are vegan.
Anjali Shah: Yeah, I’m actually vegetarian. I am totally with you about plant foods being healthier and about them being more nutritious on a number of levels. I think there are some meats out there that have benefits like fish, for example, in terms of the omega-3.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s debatable.
Anjali Shah: But you can still get that from plant foods.
Caryn Hartglass: We could debate that one, but I don’t want to do that right now. We hear it all the time from the media and from some doctors and nutritionists, about how certain foods are healthy. I just don’t agree with a lot of what some people say, and unfortunately I don’t think they know what they’re talking about, but some of them have credentials and that makes people think that they do. But. Were you raised vegetarian? Did your hippie parents raise you vegetarian?
Anjali Shah: Yeah, they did. It was interesting. My dad never ate meat. My mom would only eat chicken, turkey, and fish, so I guess she was in the white meat group.
Caryn Hartglass: I call them the feathered vegetables and the scaly vegetables.
Anjali Shah: Yeah, there you go. And then my brother eats everything. I did eat chicken, turkey, and fish when I was growing up, but when I went to college I actually went vegetarian just because once you start hearing about the treatment of animals, I just couldn’t do it.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. It’s interesting though how your brother went a different way.
Anjali Shah: Yeah, it is! It’s interesting because he’s still really health-conscious, but he still totally eats meat and everything that comes along with that.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. You have a really nice following on your blog and people seem really appreciative of what you’re doing. What are some of the really good responses that you’ve gotten from your recipes and your spin on food?
Anjali Shah: I think the most rewarding responses that I’ve gotten have been from moms trying to prepare healthy meals for their kids or dads trying to prepare healthy meals for their kids. Or for their families in general who have someone that has maybe struggled with high blood pressure or high cholesterol or certain other issues and they’ve actually been able to change their lifestyle and the way that they eat by using my recipes because they find that my recipes actually taste good to them. And so they’re able to use my blog as a recipe book and follow along. It’s incredibly rewarding when I get a message from a reader who has been able to transform their life with the help of my recipes. Kind of amazing.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it really is. It’s amazing because it’s so simple. We know it doesn’t take much, but food can really be so powerful. In two ways: what we don’t put into our bodies that can be harmful, and what we do put into our bodies that can really nourish us. And those two things both go on. The results are quick in terms of when we stop eating what we shouldn’t be eating and we start eating what we should be eating, the body reacts really fast.
Anjali Shah: Mmhm. It’s so magical. Yeah, it’s incredible. I think I read a study about when they basically did a test on a bunch of participants and they had them drink soda and eat junk food for two weeks straight. They measured the change in their cholesterol levels and their glucose and everything after only two weeks, and they were originally just very healthy eaters. And there was an incredible spike in all of the bad things. And that was just after two weeks!
Caryn Hartglass: We saw something like that in that movie Super Size Me, and that was a month of eating really bad foods, what happened to Morgan Spurlock.
Anjali Shah: Right, exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: But for some people, they can really feel the difference just in a meal or a day. I’m glad you’re out there doing what you’re doing, because we need so many people just helping people get through, I don’t know what it is but there’s something that makes it difficult to move over to feeding ourselves well and wanting to feel good.
Anjali Shah: Yeah, I think there’s just a lot of misinformation out there and it can be incredibly confusing. You go to the grocery store and you walk down an aisle and every box in the aisle has something like “whole grains” and “organic” and “natural” and all of these labels that actually don’t mean anything until you actually look at the nutrition label on the box.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Anjali Shah: But people don’t know. I mean, it’s so hard. Unless you read articles and you’re trained in nutrition like I am, how would you know? It’s so incredibly confusing. I just think that’s the way this country has evolved. If you just think about Michael Pollan, right? “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” or something, right, is that what he said?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I think he actually—I’m not sure of this—but I think he took that from Jack LaLanne’s expression, “if man made it, don’t eat it.”
Anjali Shah: Oh, interesting.
Caryn Hartglass: But Jack LaLanne, he’s from a long time ago, so don’t expect you to know who he is.
Anjali Shah: No, I’ve actually heard of him. I watched a video of his in one of my training classes.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, good. He was very, very inspirational and he passed a few years ago. So I was going to ask you, you said you have a background in nutrition?
Anjali Shah: Yeah, I took some classes in nutritional science at UC Berkeley when I was getting my degree in economics, and then I also certified as a health coach through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, good.
Anjali Shah: Yeah, so it’s been really great so far.
Caryn Hartglass: And do you plan on doing more than your blog with food?
Anjali Shah: Yeah, eventually I would like to grow my health coaching practice and help people, volunteer at various places, and just help to spread the word about healthy eating, because I don’t think that there’s enough resources out there that are easy to access and free or at least very, very cheap. So yeah, that’s ultimately where I want to go or what I want to do.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m all for that, easy-access and free.
Anjali Shah: Exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: No, it’s a challenge because you want to provide things, and a lot of people want to provide their services, but we all have to survive and make a living, so there’s that balance.
Anjali Shah: Right, exactly. I’m lucky enough to have a full-time job so I’m able to do this as a service. I’m just lucky to have both.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. So do you think you’re going to have a cookbook come out at some point, anything like that?
Anjali Shah: Yeah, that’s the plan actually. I’m working on a cookbook right now. It’s some of the recipes from my blog that are expanded and some that aren’t to give people something a little extra.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, that sounds great. I wanted to tell you, actually I want to tell everybody, so while you’re here I’ll tell you too, because you’re in the San Francisco area. I have a non-profit, Responsible Eating and Living, responsibleeatingandliving.com, and we have an event in San Jose on Earth Day. Not too far from San Francisco. And you can find out more about it at swingingourmets.com. That’s one “g” in the middle, “Swingin’ Gourmets dot-com,” but we’re doing a musical cabaret about healthy food. And it’s going to be really fun and it’s on Earth Day, which is also my birthday.
Anjali Shah: Oh, happy early birthday!
Caryn Hartglass: Because I like to make eating fun and, as a vegan I talk about all of the bad things that go on in the world, how factory farming is so cruel and is so bad for the environment, and how people really struggle with food and so many people have illnesses, and I really don’t like to focus on all of that. It’s unpleasant. It’s dark. And I like to talk about how healthy food can bring a good life. It can bring joy and the light. So one of the things that we’re doing is we’re doing this show because it’s fun and maybe it’ll help some people get the message about healthy eating in a different way rather than being lectured to.
Anjali Shah: Yeah, exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: So that’s coming up very soon, couple of weeks actually.
Anjali Shah: Oh great, yeah. I’ll try to make it out. I mean, that’s not too far from my home.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I’d love to meet you.
Anjali Shah: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay Anjali, thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food. I really appreciate it and I love what you’re doing and I’m definitely going to try some of your luscious recipes.
Anjali Shah: Thank you so much for having me, and yes, let me know how you like them!
Caryn Hartglass: And your husband, he sounds like a lucky guy.
Anjali Shah: Aw, thank you so much!
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, thank you. Anjali Shah.
Anjali Shah: Bye.
Caryn Hartglass: Bye-bye. So you can check out her blog at pickyeaterblog.com, The Picky Eater. Okay, I just wanted to remind you, as I was saying, it is two weeks away: The Swingin’ Gourmets’ Happy B’Earthday Revue. And if you do live in the Bay area, please come! I want to meet you and it’s going to be really fun. And if you don’t live in the Bay area but you know someone who does, spread the word. And if you can’t do either of those, The Swingin’ Gourmets will come to your town, so just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can talk about it. Okay? Have a very, very delicious week.