The website for Whole30, a faddish diet program in the high-protein/low-carb Paleo vein, claims that its restrictions, which include the elimination of dairy, sugars, grains, and legumes from your diet, can have miraculous effects on your life. It suggests that in addition to weight loss, it can cure various aches and pains, increase your energy level, permanently quell seasonal allergies, and address fertility issues (which ones, or how eating burgers without the bun will fix them, is not addressed). “This will change your life,” the site says, even though, like, literally everything you do changes your life. You reading this stupid aggressive vegetable cooking column changes your life if only because you wasted 15 minutes reading it instead of doing your dishes. Regardless!
Whole30 is one of many diets that heavily restrict what you eat and claim, with varying amounts of garbage science and armchair anthropology, that by cutting out the more processed parts of your diet, you can improve your quality of life, and also get skinny. The creators of Whole30 are probably bazillionaires, having written a very successful book that espouses said garbage, and I find this frustrating, because I also spew garbage about food and yet I live in a two-hundred-and-eighty-square-foot apartment in Brooklyn in which the ceiling occasionally falls onto the floor after heavy rains. So I have decided to create a diet myself. It’s called The New World Diet™. (It is not a registered trademark but I think that little ™ makes it look more professional.)
What Is The New World Diet™?
The New World Diet™ is a set of unruly restrictions aimed at forcing us in North America to realize that we have all the best produce. For thirty-one days, which, mathematically, is one better than the Whole30 diet, you must restrict your eating to only ingredients which were found in the Americas prior to 1492. This can include fruits, vegetables, grains, and even meats and fishes. Llama, for example. Eat as much llama as you want.
The New World Diet™ is not an attempt to make you healthier. If it solves your seasonal allergies or fertility issues I would be VERY surprised.
Why New World Foods?
There are huge categories of New World foods that immediately transformed cuisines around the world upon their export from the Americas starting in the late fifteenth century. I have no idea what kind of gruel people were eating before then, but every single major world cuisine improved drastically with the addition of fruits and vegetables and spices that come from the New World.
We have everything here: grains, fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, legumes, tubers. And even now, when globalization and transportation technology gives us the ability to eat anything, from anywhere, at any time, it’s the New World crops that get us most excited. Summer, in the Americas, means corn and tomatoes. Fall means squash and pumpkins. We should never forget that these are ours. Fuck you, Europe. Try cooking without tomatoes sometime.
What Foods Are Permitted?
Let’s start out with the trio of crops usually referred to by archaeologists and anthropologists as the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. In the more temperate parts of North America, these three crops were by far the most important part of the diet of the native populations, and often planted together. Corn was planted first, growing tall and fast, followed by beans, which used the corn stalks to climb, followed by squash, which covered the ground and prevented the growth of weeds. They are a perfect combination. Eat a shitload of these.
Tomatoes were first found in the Andes but first domesticated, probably, in southern Mexico. (Potatoes, too, are native to the Andes. Potatoes are great. Same with the sweet potato.) The idiot Europeans thought that tomatoes were poisonous when they were first introduced, owing to their membership in the Nightshade family. (Also, to be fair, tomato leaves are poisonous.) We’re in the heart of tomato season in the Northeast right now. These will be an important element in The New World Diet, offering sweetness, acid, and juice.
Chile peppers are perhaps the best-traveled of the native New World crops, becoming an essential part of cuisines from Thailand to Ethiopia to, well, every other center of good food. These will figure heavily in your diet, ranging from very sweet to very spicy, huge to tiny, fresh to dried to powdered.
The avocado is native to Mexico and Central America. It will provide a lot of the fat that in lesser diets is supplied by, say, butter, or coconut oil.
Onions are a problem. There are many varieties of wild onion native to the New World, including the famous ramp, but the vast majority of cultivated plants in the allium family, among them garlic, yellow/red/white onions, leeks, and scallions, are Old World plants. This is very unfortunate. We will allow any sort of wild onion, ramps, and chives to be used. Cheating is acceptable in this case only. I mean, Whole30 allows ghee, a form of butter (butter is otherwise banned) that has been processed (processed food is otherwise banned), which is ludicrous. So, screw it, use a leek if you want.
Every variety of the common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris, will be permitted in The New World Diet™. Like a lot of other heavily domesticated plants, this one species of bean native to the Americas has been bred and re-bred to produce many very different-looking and -tasting crops. Varieties of the common bean include green beans and French beans, but also kidney beans, which probably come from the Andes as well. Lima beans, or butter beans, are also permitted. Fava beans are not. Peas are not.
Peanuts, pecans, black walnuts, and cashews are all native to the Americas and are embraced wholeheartedly, along with their oils and any pastes or butters made by pureeing them. They are all extremely high in fat and will not help you lose weight, which is unimportant to the aims of The New World Diet.
Wild rice and quinoa are both native to the New World. They are both very tasty.
Permitted fruits include the blueberry, strawberry, cranberry, pineapple, guava, papaya, and huckleberry, and permitted sweeteners are maple syrup and agave. Both chocolate and vanilla are New World ingredients. Use them liberally.
Tobacco use is encouraged in the New World Diet™. Cocaine use is technically permitted. Check with your local authorities to find out if cocaine is legal in your area.
A Recipe, To Get You Started: Basic Summer Succotash
Shopping list: Peanut oil, fresh corn, yellow tomatoes, summer squash, green beans, sweet peppers, lima beans (dried, fresh, or frozen), Mexican oregano, any wild onion you can find, squash blossoms, quinoa
Succotash is a pre-Colombian combination of corn and beans. After 1492, the dish changed in some of its details but not in that basic conception; the types of beans changed, maybe, and now, often, it’s made with dairy like butter and heavy cream. When not conforming to the wonderful restrictions of The New World Diet™, I’d likely use a little bit of butter, but peanut oil makes an interesting, and not at all inferior, substitute.
Using a knife, cut the kernels off a few ears of corn. I do this in a big bowl, standing the ear on end and gripping the top half of it with one hand before shaving off the kernels from the bottom half of the ear. Rotate until the entire bottom half of the ear is bare, then flip end over end and do the same to what was previously the top half of the ear. Save the cobs.
Throw the cobs into a pot of water and bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and let it simmer for about 30–45 minutes. Then take out and discard the cobs, keeping the water, which is now a nice mild corn stock. Use the corn stock to cook some quinoa according to package directions, usually a ratio of two parts stock to one part quinoa, brought to a boil then simmered until cooked. Retain any extra corn stock.
Put a large pan or pot (I like enameled cast iron, but really anything will work) over medium-low heat. Add some peanut oil and let it heat up. Chop up your permitted wild onion or your cheater Old World onion and toss it in; let it cook until translucent.
Chop green beans into inch-long pieces. Chop summer squash (any variety is fine, but I like the firmer ones for this, like pattypan squash or zephyr squash) into smallish cubes. Slice tomatoes into small pieces. Chop peppers into small pieces. Everything is in small pieces; this is basically a chopped hot salad. And prepare your lima beans in whatever way they need to be prepared — thawed, shelled, whatever.
Our goal here is to have a one-pot dish in which everything finishes cooking at the same time, which requires some knowledge of how specific ingredients cook. The corn, for example, we want to barely cook at all, but the summer squash will need a bit of time. So we have to add stuff in stages.
First up after the onion will be the squash. Stir and let cook just a bit. Then the green beans and peppers. Then the tomatoes. Then the lima beans. Then the corn. And finally you’ll throw in the cooked quinoa.
Watch this carefully the whole time; you may have to add in a little more peanut oil, but lean toward using the leftover corn stock to deglaze the pan. (Deglazing just means tossing in some liquid when stuff sticks to the bottom of the pan, then scraping all the stuff off the bottom of the pan.) Add in a spoonful every now and then to make sure nothing’s sticking and, as a bonus, to get more corn flavor in.
A succotash should be fresh-tasting, herbal and crunchy and sweet, not mushy and not creamy. We want as little cooking as possible, really, just enough to heat everything through and mingle the flavors, but not enough that any individual ingredient loses its flavor or texture. The corn is the most important: the corn should be super sweet and still crisp when you serve it.
When everything is done, season to taste. Then chop some chives and some Mexican oregano (which, by the way, is a totally different plant than European oregano, though the flavors are weirdly similar), and tear up some squash blossoms. Scatter these last over the top and serve.
The New World Diet™ doesn’t stop at succotash. It should be a way to force you, the reader who hopefully knows nothing because this diet is based on very little factual information, to become more aware of what grows around you. Use corn, not wheat. Use the peanut, not the soybean. Experiment with ingredients that have yet to really penetrate the rest of the world, from tomatillos to chayote to cherimoya. And do it for thirty-one days. It will change your life. Because so does everything.
Photo by Neil Conway