Janis Smyth, the culinary talent behind the Real Food blog Jan’s Sushi Bar, was a popular food blogger long before she transformed her entire family’s diet. Suffering from chronic pain, fatigue, insomnia and arthritis for which a parade of doctors could find no cause, she began researching “healthy diets” in the Spring of 2010. So began a journey that started with a side of grass fed beef, a pastured hog, pastured chickens and eggs, sustainably caught fish and seafood, and locally grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables — and the end of the health problems that had been plaguing her for years. Her blog is now a celebration of the “slow food movement” and her family’s embracing of and participation in it. Indeed, as the mother and step-mother of a grown — and growing — family, she is living proof that your loved ones (including your children) can and will embrace a healthy diet and enjoy it.
Q: How did you get involved in cooking to begin with? Was it something you learned to love early on or did you come to it later?
I’ve been cooking since I was 12 years old (I’m 50 now) — it’s definitely something I learned to love early on. By my late teens, I was the main cook in our house and that has never changed. Cooking will never be just a “chore” to me; it is my passion, and has been for nearly 40 years.
Q: Why is eating grass-fed meat and sustainably-caught fish different? How does it affect your cooking?
Grass-fed, pastured meats and sustainably-caught fish (or ethically and responsibly farmed; being land-locked, that is often the only kind I have direct access to) is different for many reasons, but health - both of our bodies and our environment - is probably the most important. And since pastured meats need to be treated with a more deft hand — most are much leaner than their industrially farmed counterparts — I find that a bit more care goes into each dish, which has served to make me more creative in the kitchen.
Q: Is it just about health? Or is there more to it than that?
Not at all. Grass-fed and pastured meats are far more flavorful than those that are industrially farmed. When properly and thoughtfully prepared, the taste far surpasses even the most creative recipe using CAFO meat.
Q: How did you learn about grass-fed meat?
I had several chronic conditions/illnesses that the doctors could find no cause for, and were reluctant to treat (I think they believed it was all in my head). By 2010 I was just at the end of my rope, so I began to research healthy diets in the hope that I’d find some sort of answer there. To be honest, I fully expected to find that going vegan was going to be the answer; instead, I discovered traditional diets and the whole local food movement. The next thing I knew, we were ordering a side of grass-fed beef from a local farmer. We haven’t looked back since.
Q: Why is it so important to have the right ingredients?
You can’t sculpt with a dull chisel; you can’t cut down a tree with a nail file; you can’t play Stairway to Heaven on the ukulele (well, my daughter might try, but that’s beside the point). Food is no different; you need the right tools for the job and superior ingredients — which does not necessarily equate to “expensive” — yield superior results.
Q: What are the most important keys to success for the home chef?
Well, first, you have to cook, and cook often. Practice makes perfect, and all that. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and don’t be afraid to fail. Invest in a good cookbook or two. And have fun — you’ll never become a good cook if you view it as drudgery and a chore.
Q: What are your best tips for home cooking?
Keep it simple, for the most part. My best, and most popular, recipes are the simple ones; they’re the ones that are pinned and repinned, shared and passed around; the recipes that people come back later and comment, “I made this — it was so easy and everyone just loved it!”
Q: What is your favorite recipe using grass-fed meat?