Over the course of my life, my relationship with food has been a strange and complicated one. I do not remember much from my early childhood. I know that I breastfed for one year, that I liked to eat butter plain as a toddler, and that I liked those processed baby-food-meat-sticks back then, too. As far back as I can remember, though, I did not like meat. The texture weirded me out. Even thinking about the animal that it used to be gave me waves of anxiety. I usually doused my meat in ketchup and ate it quickly, so as to think about it as little as possible.
At around the age of 12 or 13, I decided to give up meat completely. I’d never liked it anyway, and my mom was supportive of vegetarian diets (she was a health food store owner). Looking back, I am sure that my decision was greatly affected by my own feelings of insecurity and lack of control. I took on other very tight eating practices during that time in my life, severely limiting my intake of calories.
My overly careful methods of eating continued for many years, despite moving on to a more healthy and successful approach to life. In fact, in college I ate almost the exact same meals every day: a bagel for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and a salad for dinner. I was not at all experimental with my food choices. And, meat still gave me the willies. I remembered thinking frequently (despite my hope of doing missions internationally) that I could never be a missionary in a country where one had to eat strange meats in order to be polite.
Furthermore, I never really learned to cook in my adolescent or college years. It was not one of my interests as a child/adolescent, I ate in the cafeteria in college, and (after college) I lived with a roommate who liked to cook so I did not have to. I also ate very small portions. When Josh and I got married, neither one of us really knew how to cook. I remember buying box or packet meals – like PastaRoni or seasoning packets. (It’s hilarious for me to think of this now, as I would pretty much never buy those sorts of things.) Somewhere along the way, I found a small paperback cookbook of vegetarian meals. I was thrilled and began cooking all the recipes in the book and loving them. I think that was the beginning of my love of cooking.
Also, during those years, I decided to run a marathon. Training for the marathon caused me to be much hungrier than I had ever been. A year or two later, I got pregnant and subsequently became a nursing mom. All of these things meant that I could not continue eating such small portion sizes and that I had to start thinking more about the nutrients I was getting in my diet.
I stood strong in my belief that being a vegetarian was a healthy path for me. I knew that I could get plenty of protein without consuming meat. During my pregnancies, I strictly monitored my diet to make sure that I was getting 80-100 grams of protein per day (following the Brewer diet). I became an excellent vegetarian. Whereas in the past, I had been a vegetarian simply by eliminating meat from my diet, I became a vegetarian who ate a well-rounded, protein- and nutrient-rich diet. I loved reading about foods, incorporating healthy foods and super-foods into our diets. I was careful to make my own baby foods and keep my children off of sugar until around age 2.
I began getting excited about local, organic, and seasonal foods. During that time I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The book is one family’s story of eating locally. This book was the first place that I read a positive view of being a meat-eater. The book included some information on the health benefits of meat that is free-range, organic, grass-fed, etc. The authors also mentioned that eating meat is actually helpful to the survival of that species, because that means people will keep raising those animals for food. This gave me more grace for people who did choose to eat meat, but I still did not feel compelled to do so myself.
My journey into the natural world of food (that had begun with my health-food guru mom) brought more new adventures over the years. I began making more foods from scratch. I started growing more of my own food and getting seasonal fruits and vegetables from a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. Our son Jedidiah began showing sensitivity to food with food dyes and additives, so we cut almost all additives and preservatives out of our diets.
Our diets had really changed over the course of 5 or 10 years. Yet, I was still noticing some troubling health issues. For one, my teeth were getting cavities and showing signs of disintegration in places. (Despite going off of sugar for long periods of time.) Also, my digestive system seemed altered after the birth of my first child. Further, my energy level was at an all-time low. All of this made me open to a change I never would have considered. I have a few friends in our community who follow a way of eating encouraged by Sally Fallon, the author of Nourishing Traditions. I received the book for Christmas this year and began reading it immediately. The pages opened up my mind to the benefits of animal fats and of eating meat in general. Despite my long-term anxieties and simple disgust surrounding meat, I was convinced to give it a try. After nearly 20 years of being a vegetarian, I suddenly felt open to eating meat.
The book suggests old-world recipes and ways of eating and cooking that have been used all over the world for centuries. Fallon stresses the importance of eating fermented foods on a regular basis. She also recommends soaking flour overnight to make it more digestible. One of my friends told me about a website called Nourished Kitchen where one can buy weekly meal plans. So, this is what I am trying (there is a sample one-week meal plan that is free).
It has only been a few months of this new adventure with food, but it has been a great new adventure. I have had much more energy than I usually do, my family has loved the new food, and I have enjoyed the new cooking challenge. Who knows where my food journey will take me from here, but I am thankful for where it has brought me so far.
As far as how this is keeping me from blogging…well, eating more like my great-great grandparents means quite a bit more time in the kitchen…making stock, making yogurt, starting fermented vegetables, making all of our bread, and washing LOTS of DISHES!!! Still, somehow, I am enjoying the real food and all that we are learning!