Born and raised by my local family in Hawai’i I was taught that I had to eat whatever was put on my plate; that it was rude to turn food away and that it was a huge compliment–not only to the cook but to the family–if my plate was clean at the end of a meal. So essentially, I was raised to eat. A lot. Regardless of what it was (although it was typically some form of meat and white rice).
Growing up in a house where food was looked at as tasty rather than nutritious was what caused me to be overweight since… well, I honestly can’t tell you a time when I wasn’t overweight. I remember trying all sorts of diets with my mom in high school until the Atkins Diet came out and everyone started seeing results. My senior year my mom and I decided that we’d try it together. The only thing I really remember about that diet: We ate a lot of meat and cheese and I always felt tired. I chalked my tiredness up to having a busy senior year schedule and working out at Curves every day rather than eating food that had very little nutrients.
It wasn’t until I started dating Ben that my eating habits really started to change. We both met our freshman year of college at the University of Oregon in Eugene (which is a very liberal & conscious environment) and quickly became close friends. During that first year I was learning how to fuel my own body, mind and spirit for the first time in my life. I began watching what I ate and choosing to eat more fresh fruits and veggies, but I still ate meat and dairy. Ben, on the other hand, was having the same issue but from the opposite perspective. Raised in a mostly vegetarian household with a mom who is a Registered Dietitian, he always ate very nutritious and healthy food. During our freshman year he always had chocolate-covered pretzels and Red Bull in his dorm room because, for the first time in his life, he was allowed to fuel his body in whatever ways he wanted as well. Those first couple of years were filled with late nights, drinking, smoking, greasy fast food, sugar-and-fat filled munchies, and of course caffeine (how else could we have made it through?).
Ben and I lived together (along with two other friends Sara and Chris) our sophomore year of college. Our eating styles were all extremely different. Chris was our typical carnivore who ate red meat for dinner just about every night and drank whole milk (I kid you not); Sara was a long-time vegetarian who loved to cook great meals and made lots of brownies (and somehow had the willpower to only eat one); Ben didn’t cook much aside from pasta but he loved frozen meals because they were easy and we lived down the street from Safeway; and I made protein smoothies every day and attempted to cook healthy foods for dinner. At that point I started to realize that I really didn’t want red meat and was mostly eating chicken.
Then Ben and I took a health and nutrition class that completely changed my view of eating red meat. Learning about the environmental factors of cow farming as well as the ways in which these animals were being treated was enough to make both Ben and I agree that we were done with red meat.
Fast-forward to our senior year of college and we decided we were also done with caffeine. We began to notice the effect caffeine really had on us as well as how most caffeine drinkers are slaves to the cup, and we realized that it’s a drug that is completely understated in our society. The fact that I got insane headaches when I tried to quit drinking caffeine was my biggest sign. I thought, isn’t this what happens when people detox off of hard drugs? Without it I felt less-jittery and much more naturally energetic (it also helped to get enough sleep).
As I became more serious with my wellness I realized that many people practicing yoga had very clean diets. I was practicing Bikram yoga often and my skin was beginning to clear up but I still had these tiny bumps on my upper arms. I decided to ask a Naturopath and he suggested that I try to find out what my food allergies are (it’s quite the process and if you’re interested you can email me) which resulted in my finding out that my body functions best when I eliminate sugar (which also means alcohol), cow dairy, and wheat.
Then I read a book that changed my life. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer seemed like it was written for me. Sure, I had read Pollan’s books and others that were mind-opening, but this book really opened my eyes to the fact that, even if I was only eating poultry and fish, I was relying on tortured flesh to fuel my life.
So I essentially became a vegetarian who also didn’t eat cow’s milk (a cowegan?).
And then I also became “borderline anemic” (gah!).
At which point I needed to re-evaluate. What feels best for me in all aspects of consciousness (societal, personal, internal)? I know that I want to fuel my precious mind, body and spirit with wholesome, nutrient, positive substances. That I only want to consume things that are raised with loving energy and not abusive, negative or fearful energy. I also want my children’s children to be able to choose what they consume in the same manner.
So I’ve made a few compromises and I feel that what I eat will continue to shift as I continue to learn and grow, but this is what I’ve decided works for me at this point in my life:
- My diet is based mainly on nutrient-rich, local, organic fruits and vegetables.
- I’m picky about my grains and legumes: the heartier and denser, the better.
- In an effort to get more iron and not need to take those supplements that make my tummy hurt, I eat lots of leafy greens and
- I will only eat meat if it comes from a sustainable source (i.e. my uncle’s farm, Maui Cattle Co. or other places that I’ve researched myself).
- I won’t eat cow dairy, but I love goat cheese (and like goat yogurt too)!
- Drinking alcohol and smoking doesn’t make me feel good (on the contrary, it thwarts my fitness efforts) and as such I’ve stopped doing both.
- I love sugar, but I’m learning to control my addiction a little better.
- Although I still struggle with the concept of taking smaller portions and not finishing my plate, I listen to my body and intuition above all else.
- And as part of listening to my intuition and doing what I feel to be right in my personal relationships, I am flexible. There are always situations in which I change the rules for myself (my uncle made spare ribs especially for me on my graduation day or my auntie invited us over for dinner but only made meat spaghetti–you bet your butt I’m not going to turn down those things that happen every once in a while). For me, as long as I feel righteous within, that’s what matters most.
I’d like to finish by quoting Jonathan Safran Foer on the hardships of being a “Selective Omnivore” (which is what I consider myself to be):
Let’s assume you’re like Pollan and are opposed to factory-farmed meat. If you’re at the guest end, it stinks not to eat food that was prepared for you, especially (although he doesn’t get into this) when the grounds for refusal are ethical. But how much does it stink? It’s a classic dilemma: How much do I value creating a socially comfortable situation, and how much do I value acting socially responsible? The relative importance of ethical eating and table fellowship will be different in different situations (declining my grandmother’s chicken with carrots is different from passing on microwaved buffalo wings).
More important, though, and what Pollan curiously doesn’t emphasize, is that attempting to be a selective omnivore is a much heavier blow to table fellowship than vegetarianism. Imagine an acquaintance invites you to dinner. You could say, “I’d love to come. And just so you know, I’m a vegetarian.” You could also say, “I’d love to come. But I only eat meat that isn’t produced by family farmers.” Then what do you do? You’ll probably have to send the host a web link or list of local shops to even make the request intelligible, let alone manageable. This effort might be well-placed, but it is certainly more invasive than asking for vegetarian food (which these days requires no explanation). The entire food industry (restaurants, airline and college food services, catering at weddings) is set up to accommodate vegetarians. There is no such infrastructure for the selective omnivore.