Matthew Apsokardu has spent nearly 20 years training in the arts of Okinawa Kenpo Karate and Kobudo as well as Japanese Swordsmanship. He has combined his degree in Professional Writing with his martial arts career to create IkigaiWay, a prominent martial arts blog. As part of his martial arts training Matthew has taken care in learning the Okinawan methods of diet and wellness. As such, he provides insight into how Westerners can adapt the habits of a culture famous for its longevity. Connect with Matt on Twitter, Facebook, and his blog IkigaiWay.
Where do you shop for food?
First, I rarely have such a good excuse to clean my fridge (and thus rarely do). This Q&A inspired me to give it a good once-over. As for shopping, I’m lucky enough to have a farmer’s market within walking distance of my home. My wife and I try to shop there as frequently as possible. Unfortunately, it is seasonal so we have to resort to a local supermarket known as King Soopers. The quality and prices aren’t bad and it’s a decent option here in Colorado, but back in PA we had access to Wegman’s which was a bit better in terms of quality and selection.
Do you love food shopping or dread it?
For a while I loved it. The idea of being in charge of my own culinary destiny was pretty exciting, and no one could stop me from buying a candy bar if I felt like it. Eventually, it became more of a routine and lost some of that initial spark.
I’ve noticed now that shopping at a farmer’s market has a much better vibe than regular grocery shopping. The energy is different, you get fresh air, and you can directly see the people that benefit from your purchase.
What is the single most important thing on your mind when you are shopping for food?
I have my go-to list whenever shopping, but I am always on the lookout for something new and interesting. If I can find an item that may be a superior alternative to something I already get (healthier, better tasting, etc) than I will consider the outing a success.
How many times a week do you eat out? (based on 21 meals/week)
My area of Colorado has some amazing restaurant options. Inside of a five mile radius I probably have over 20 choices in terms of eating out. The restaurants vary widely in terms of quality, convenience, cost, and style. With all of these options, it is tempting to make eating out a habit, but we try not to do it more than once a week.
How do you plan your weekly meals? Create a spreadsheet of fly by the seat of your pants?
I have two different meal strategies. First, since I operate my web design firm from home, I am pretty much on my own when it comes to lunches. As such, my tactic is to buy a few different options every weekend and then wing it during the week. I can never be sure what I will be in the mood for so, I try not to over plan. Second, when it comes to dinners, I sit down and plan those out with the Mrs., which keeps us both organized and on the same page.
Although I try to keep things interesting from week-to-week, I have a few “food elements” that I always try to include. First of all, I aim for whole grains when buying bread and pasta. On my pasta I’ll use simple, organic sauces that involve tomato, basil, etc. At least once a week I try to have a fish-based meal.
What is the most coveted food in the fridge right now for each member of the household? Why?
Like most self-respecting Coloradans we have a shelf almost entirely dedicated to beer. We stock a mixture of craft microbrews as well as house favorites. When enjoyed in moderation, beer can be healthy for the heart, kidneys, brain, bones, and more. Not to mention it’s great for unwinding after a tough day at work. When you try new beers, specifically microbrews, and attempt to understand the methods of the brewer it slows down your consumption and raises your enjoyment of the taste, smell, color, and experience. No need to chug.
The Okinawans, of whom I take many dietary and health cues, have long enjoyed beer as part of their culture and martial arts training. Uehara Seikichi, the late headmaster of Motobu Udun Di, stated that beer is cleansing and aids in sweating out toxins. His word is good enough for me – cheers.
Do you believe in leftovers?
I definitely believe in leftovers. When cooking, it is a great opportunity to cook for more than one meal. For example, I’ll cook more pasta than I need in one sitting. It reheats easily and can make for a quality meal the next day.
For individuals who come from modest backgrounds, an appreciation for not wasting food is ingrained in us from youth. I think we all have imprints of our mother’s voices threatening us to finish those peas.
What convenience product can you not live without?
I’ve become quite dependent on multigrain bars. My current favorite is a brand called “Good n Natural”, which contains an awesome mixture of rolled oats, cranberries, soy nuts, flaxseed, etc etc. It’s a health conscious food product that provides a really clean fuel feeling.
When hiking around the Colorado Mountains it is critical to have energy boosters on hand, but I don’t like to rely on things like energy drinks, “power” bars, and things that rely on pure sugar and weird chemicals to get you going.
How have your cooking/shopping habits changed over the last 10 years?
My habits have changed dramatically over the past 10 years. I used to be primarily concerned with convenience and cost control. Those aspects still matter to me but, I now realize that smart food selection on a day-to-day basis, combined with consistent exercise, is the key to improving your odds for long lasting health.
I still rarely cook from scratch as I haven’t taken the time to develop that particular skill-set. However, when I buy ingredients or even prepackaged meals I take care in assessing the ingredients and preservatives used to maintain them.
What are your go-to food/nutrition/culinary/cooking website/s, book or cookbook?
If there is one important takeaway from my Q&A today it’s this: acquire the book, The Okinawa Program.
Okinawa is a small island off the Southern coast of Japan. It’s famous as the birthplace of karate, but also for being a “blue zone”. Blue zones are a handful of areas on Earth where people are unusually long-lived and healthy. “The Okinawa Program” studies the exceptional nature of the Okinawans and explores how they integrate exercise, diet, social interaction, and purpose to create a healthy lifestyle. It’s a must-read!
If one person could cook for you tonight, who would it be?
I would choose Jiro Ono. Ono-sama was the main subject of a movie called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, which followed his day-to-day activities as he operated his small Sushi shop located in a Japanese subway. Ono is renowned as the greatest sushi chef in the world and has received rare accolades for his cooking prowess.
I love sushi and his sushi is among the best, if not THE best.
What words of wisdom or advice do you have for other folks who are doing their best every day to fill the fridge?
My best piece of advice when it comes to having a healthy relationship with food is to make small incremental improvements over time. When you read a book like “The Okinawa Program” you will be inspired to renovate everything you do regarding food. However, as you attempt to make those changes you’ll notice how overwhelming and upsetting it can be to your everyday happiness.
Instead of a dietary overhaul, make a list of a few changes that are within reason. Make one improvement at a time and stay focused on maintaining it. Once it becomes habit and you don’t think about it anymore, integrate a new change.
What are you working on these days that you’d like to tell us about?
I continue to blog over at IkigaiWay, but I am also working on two book projects. My latest project hasn’t been revealed to the public yet, but will be shortly. Keep an eye out on the blog for that announcement!
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