My Journey to and Beyond Vegetarianism, Part 2

So in my last post in this series, I left off at the point where I was a complacent vegan who felt “pretty good” about my choices from an ethical and a nutritional standpoint, and was more or less satisfied with my diet for the time being.

Then, gradually, I lost passion about veganism.  Now, I was never one of those street-corner supporters, denouncing the evils of flesh food to anyone who would listen–but from the start, I had been quietly passionate about lessening animal cruelty and helping the environment–and being vegan was the most tangible way I thought that I could effect positive change.

Somewhere along the line, I lost passion for most other things in my life, as well.  I was in the grips of a deep depression.  I realized that I wanted out of my marriage at the time, and felt that I was trapped in a vortex of negativity and fear.  It took monumental efforts to shift my thinking and move forward from this dark place.  Naturally, things that were not of the utmost importance fell by the wayside during this time.

As I picked up the pieces, slowly, I started to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t have the finances to return to the way I had been eating before, when I was “healthier”.  I talked a lot about my vexing relationship with food at this time in my life here, over a year ago.

Truthfully, we ate pretty well after we mastered the learning curve of having a very strict budget to contend with.  But it was a far cry from my previous, convenient, “fast-veg” diet.

That year–the year I got remarried and had my third baby–I learned to cook spaghetti sauce from scratch, and to cherish the feeling of a full stomach.  I had to re-train myself to eat things that I had worked so hard NOT to eat, or want, or even like.  During that year, I think what kept me on the path of vegetarianism more than anything else was that it was cheap.

I developed a really rotten philosophy about food.  It was arguably necessary at the time, but it’s not easy to just reboot your internal programming and change your diet back to a healthy one after eating addictive crap for over a year.

I also learned a lot about how I regarded food.  I was never a good cook, and mostly I didn’t care about how my food tasted.  For all my high-minded idealism, I mostly just ate whatever was convenient that fulfilled the label of “vegan”, to shut my stomach up when it complained.  When I met my now-husband, however, he showed me a completely different way of thinking about food–one that I am still struggling to embrace after all my negative conditioning!

My husband now is an excellent cook.  He has a passion for good, fresh food.  He’s respectful of vegetarian and vegan diets, but he’s an omnivore.  One of the first days we spent together, he cooked me an unbelievable feast.  I thought, when I met him, that he might end up as a star chef one day–and I still do.

Ironically, the foods that my husband prepares are sometimes full of dairy, fat or sugar–but I feel differently about them.  His intentions of what he is trying to create–something beyond simple sustenance–cause a sort of alchemy to happen to his food.  He is able to infuse the food he cooks with a sort of energetic vibe that makes it fortifying and life-affirming, in spite of what the nutritional facts might say about it.

So I reveled in things I had never allowed myself to try before–like cream cheese, white sauces, homemade spring rolls, and more.  As money became less of a problem, we enjoyed our food even more.  Cooking a big dinner for the holidays has become joyful and amazing–instead of a drudgery, or even something to avoid altogether, like when I was a child.

However, as time went on, my husband’s health issues got worse and worse, but not in the typical “you eat the standard american diet” ways.

Then I met Catherine.  Catherine is my very best friend–and a cancer survivor.  She is passionate about food, but in a slightly different way than my husband is.  She describes her diet as “clean”–and it was very impressive to meet someone who ate like she did, especially to me.  Mostly organics, fresh fruit and veggies, nothing with more than six pronounceable ingredients on the label (yes, really!).

Although, I admit that I felt very uncomfortable when I saw that she ate organic dairy.  Oh no!  Dairy is so unhealthy for a cancer survivor!  I thought.  I never considered that there was a reason beyond that she wasn’t hungry, when she politely declined the pasta I fixed when she came over to visit.  But Catherine blew my mind when I learned that she regarded grains as unhealthy.  What???  That’s the foundation of my diet!  And you try not to eat them at all??.

She told me about Paleo and Primal diets, and I had never heard of such a thing.  Previously, I had considered the diet options of man as being on a sliding scale or continuum, with from least healthy/enlightened to most healthy/enlightened–and you moved up or down that scale mostly related to how much meat or dairy you ate.  Raw veganism was, in my mind, the pinnacle of dietary health, and something that mere mortals like myself were mostly incapable of.

Then we started putting the pieces together, and we found that my husband has celiac disease.  He is severely allergic to wheat, among other things.

Whaaat??The foundation of my diet was being implicated again!  I still had a lot to learn.

Here’s a link to Part 3 of this series.

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My Journey to and Beyond Vegetarianism–Part 1

I’ve been a vegetarian for about 17 years–but I’m currently experiencing an inner earthquake of thoughts on health, ethics, nutrition and more–and I need to write about it.  The next few posts are going to chronicle my thought process and dietary evolution up to the precarious, interesting point of view I’m at now.

I first went veg as a teen, along with my mother, who was becoming veg again for the third or fourth time in her life (she had a habit of not staying true to herSelf in the face of ridicule or opposition from those closest to her).  I remember wanting Long John Silver’s chicken strips, and fish sandwiches from Burger King (we ate out a LOT), and then feeling so guilty after eating them.

I had collected a bunch of propaganda buttons with animal rights messages on them:  “Go veg!”, “Animals are our friends”, “Love animals, don’t eat them”, and so on.  I had one that was black and red with big block letters proclaiming “Meat is MURDER”.  I wanted to use that button too, but I felt like a filthy hypocrite every time I’d cave and eat meat again.  I knew I’d be inviting scrutiny of my choices by going “public” with my belief in a veg diet, but I didn’t care.

Finally, the summer after I turned 14, I succeeded with staying veg.  I felt so proud of myself–like I was really making a huge difference in the world.  I even went out with flyers and distributed leaflets a few times.  I organized a library display for our town, highlighting famous vegetarians–and drawing the connections between environmental, ethical and health concerns.  The next year at school, I was made fun of for my new choice, but I didn’t waver.  I also met a few other veggie kids, which really surprised me. I even organized a protest when the school’s science wing installed a new exhibit:  a real-life, dissected, spread-eagled cat.  I had to walk past that thing to chemistry twice a week, and it bothered me deeply.  I collected signatures and got the school paper to write a piece about why we felt it was unethical, and that we wanted it gone. We succeeded in getting it removed.  I wrote a piece on vegetarianism for my school paper, and also got a letter to the editor of a national magazine published that year.  The topic?  Animal rights.  Of course I included vegetarianism as an extension of that concept.

I initially tried to go vegan, but being an already-thin person who had a very sensitive palate, that didn’t last long.  I’d restricted my diet so much that I was hungry all the time, but refused (or couldn’t deal with the textures/flavors) of many healthy vegan foods.  I made peace with being an ovo-lacto vegetarian for the time being, and enjoyed many processed meat alternative foods along with lots of fruits, veggies, pasta and rice.

By the time I was 21, I had read loads of vegan ethics and nutrition books, and I decided that it was time to get serious about my health.  My animal-rights zeal that prompted going veg was now a shared focus with health and proper nutrition.  I decided to cut out milk and cheese (which I already ate only in limited quantities), and eat more raw, whole foods.  While I still ate processed foods without thinking much of it, I felt that my diet was congruent with my ethics, and I also felt that I was eating really well.

This was the status quo for about 2-1/2 years.  What I wasn’t yet aware of is that comfort is sometimes a form of complacency–and mine was about to get disturbed profoundly.

Here’s links to Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.

Homemade Bumble Bars Recipe

Ah, Bumble Bars

Gluten-free, organic, and so delicious.  I was introduced to Bumble Bars by a dear friend of mine, who is big-into healthy eating (even moreso than I am).  At first, I wasn’t sure whether I liked them that much–but when I saw them at the store, I thought I’d try one again….and the next time….and, well.  I really love Bumble Bars.

They are, however, rather small, and rather expensive, and worst of all?  Only obtainable at stores that are an hour or more from my home!

So I decided to try making my own.  The first batch was okay, but wasn’t quite right.  This simple recipe, however, is spot-on awesomeness:  

Mix up the following in a medium bowl with a rubber spatula:

  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup flaxseeds
  • 3 Tbsp. honey
  • 3 Tbsp. corn syrup (Gasp! I had this on hand from making holiday candy–shhh!) or brown rice syrup
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans, almonds, cashews, or another nut you like
  • 1/2 Tbsp. cinnamon sugar (or 1/2 heaping tsp. cinnamon.  I didn’t have plain cinnamon on hand! )
  • 1/8 tsp. salt

Generously butter a square glass baking dish, spoon the sticky mix in and smooth it down as best as you can.

Bake in a 175 degree oven for 1.5  hrs.  It will still be sticky when it comes out.

You can eat it just like this, or you can improve it by flipping the whole thing over in the dish while it’s still warm (Yes, this is tricky.  Using two spatulas would be a good plan.).  Gravity works the honey/syrup down to the bottom as this bakes, and so if you don’t flip it, the top will be more dry/firm, and the bottom will be more sticky and moist.

Either way?  Amazing sticky goodness.  I would have posted a better picture of the finished product, but I ate most of it already. 🙂

Evolution of dietary thought: Does the past shape the future?

Hello all!  In the time since I’ve written last, I’ve been thinking a lot about my diet, and making some changes that are long-overdue for my health and well-being.  I want to write a series of posts discussing the evolution of my diet in both thought and action, from junk-food junkie to aspiring raw vegan.  (Back off, food police–I did say “aspiring“!  It’s an evolution, after all!)

When I was a kid, I ate lots of junk–whatever I wanted, really.  One of the curiosities of being the only child of fairly well-off, older parents, was that I got to eat nearly anything I pleased, with no regard to cost, and only scant regard to nutritional value.  I was nearly a teenager before it finally occurred to me that those numbers on the grocery tags and receipts actually meant something–that some people in the world couldn’t afford to buy anything they wanted at the grocery store.  I always realized that things like toys or nice clothes weren’t affordable for everyone, but food??  How could people charge so much money for something so basic and necessary?  (Insert Socialist cracks here for best effect 😉

As a teen, I was exposed to vegetarianism thanks to my mother, and with a combination of ethical, environmental, and health concerns, I felt very deeply that this was the path of higher consciousness.  My diet and my unique brand of spirituality have always been intertwined.  That’s one reason why I’ve always had trouble with “fitting in” to any traditional/organized religion, and why I eventually gave up organized religion like a painfully restrictive pair of shoes.

Naturally, over the past 16 years, my diet has gone through many “incarnations”, both ethical and nutritional in focus.  After the initial hump of figuring out what I could and could not eat (and a lot of microwave popcorn and raw cucumber!) at age 14, I started forcing myself to try new foods.  I gradually expanded my knowledge of veg nutrition and cooking, and my diet improved accordingly.  At age 20, I became a strict vegan (no meat, cheese, eggs, milk, butter, honey, leather, ETC), and stayed that way for over 2.5 years.

Somewhere along the line, I learned how to bake delicious vegan cookies and fry up some wicked tofu cutlets.  😉  However, finances (or lack thereof) did generally get in the way of “optimal eating” as I then defined it.  I managed to remain fairly careful about what I ate until my divorce, at age 25.

For a long time after that, I was in the sort of financial position where I had to eat whatever was cheap and plentiful.  I bought the healthy, whole stuff (fresh fruits and veggies) for my kids and ate whatever I could get ahold of cheaply and/or in large quantities.  We started receiving WIC benefits, and I found myself with way more dairy products than I was comfortable eating–but it was all we had, and so I ate it thankfully and had to reprogram my brain to accept things that were previously disgusting to me as food!  Ramen with cheese melted over it still holds a dually nasty/comforting impression in my mind.

At the same time, I also developed a sort of “hoarding mentality” when it came to pantry foods, which I still tend toward.  Our pantry is basically a supplemental back-up plan–a place that stores things I know I can make a week or more’s worth of meals out of, IF we have to.  A sound strategy, to be sure, but one that is fear-based; since for me, it’s grounded not in a place of frugality or prudence, but in the panicky, ill feeling of “What if we can’t afford enough fresh fruits and veggies this month?”

Under these conditions, I taught myself to cope with eating scarcely any fresh fruits and veggies, and large amounts of processed grains and dairy products–a far cry from my previous habits.  After two months of extreme hardship, we started receiving food stamps–and I gained 30 pounds in the first two months (yes, really).  It was so unbelievably comforting to know that we would all be able to eat until we felt satisfied–and honestly, when you’re that poor, you don’t have many other true comforts available. 

Now, I think living through that sort of experience can deeply throw off your inner equilibrium, no matter what your previous diet was.  Even as our circumstances improved, I found that I had very little energy or drive to be concerned about my diet.  I stayed veg, but instead of striving for nutritional excellence or ethical congruency as I had before, I just ate whatever was available and tasty so long as it didn’t contain meat.  It’s as if I turned off a part of my consciousness or applied a mental filter about what I was consuming.  I didn’t have the emotional energy, the inner strength, to question that deeply into my lifestyle choices at that point.  If I did, I would only find myself facing insurmountable challenges–or so they seemed at the time.

Just because we could finally make ends meet didn’t mean I could go trying raw veganism or eating a high organic diet–we didn’t have the money for me to care that much, and it was depressing.  So I closed that part of myself off, and approached eating as a necessary evil, for the most part.

This is just one of the many areas of “collateral damage” that hardships such as divorce and prolonged poverty can bring, of course.  I lost my inner power for a time, and with it, the ability to live with full consciousness and compassion.

So there.  I’ve briefly skimmed the surface of my dietary journey over the past 16 years.  Later on, I will have a post discussing the sorts of things that led me to vegetarianism (no soapboxing, I promise!), and then, a discussion of optimal nutrition that isn’t even veg-specific!  But you’ll have to excuse me, I have a smoothie waiting to be made…  😉

Living Deliberately Versus the Path of Least Resistance

“We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” –Gandhi

If your choices are not in line with your values, then you don’t really value yourself.  

What provocative statements these are for me!  A good word to sum it all up is “congruency”.  We won’t feel happiness or fulfillment in our lives if we are constantly in an internal conflict over what we do and say versus what we feel and think.
Are there elements in your day-to-day life that are at odds with the way you feel or believe?  Maybe you aren’t even fully aware or conscious of these conflicting feelings, but they will show up invariably as stress or irritation, reluctance to follow through, or simply depression.  To get through the daily grind, many people have had to dissociate themselves with their core values and emotions, sometimes for years.  
I recall having to do this to cope with school and life in general sometime before junior high.  I felt so bored and frustrated, and would rather have done just about anything instead of resigning myself to the pace and stagnancy of public school’s educational and social “diet”, yet I was not presented with any viable alternatives.  By the time I was seventeen, I was barely even aware I had emotions or opinions of my own.  I did what was expected of me, and followed the advice of my friends or my parents.  Even though those were often of opposite flavors, both were equally fruitless, diminishing paths for me to have followed.  
That year I had a vision of myself standing in a raging river, with my feet in two separate canoes, each drifting away from each other.  I was approaching the falls, and I knew that something had to change profoundly.  I took the path of least resistance and allowed fear and shame to rule me.  I entered a holding pattern–a placid, even joyful facade, with a deep numbness buried leagues beneath the surface.  I would not awaken from this paralysis for many years.  
I still have a long way to go before I am anywhere near to achieving congruency in my life, although I am light-years ahead of where I was, say, five years ago 🙂  My art is one of the many things that I simply didn’t allow myself the thought of pursuing.  I think I first spoke of wanting to be an artist when I was about four years old, and since then, everyone who was anyone in my life made sure to tell me about the “starving artists”, how people can’t really do that as a career, how it’s not really useful or necessary, not stable or respectable, and so on.  I have come to realize, however, that even if I don’t make another dollar with my artistic pursuits, even if no one “gets it” but me–I still need to allow myself a creative outlet for my own emotional health and happiness.  Otherwise, I’m missing on of life’s key points–at least in my own worldview:  Enjoyment.
Art aside, however, there are still things that I follow the path of least resistance on, and I am experiencing a feeling of tension about these things.  They are out of sync with my supposed vision and goals for the future, and they are holding me back spiritually–which is to say emotionally, socially, financially, and so on.  (It all comes back to Spirit, I believe.)  So why do I allow this incongruence?  Why does anyone allow this to persist in their lives, even when they are aware of the self-sabotage they are creating?  Maybe we are attached to the current situation more deeply than we are consciously aware of.  Maybe the fear of the unknown is more upsetting than the fear of failing to achieve our goals.  
Let’s take one familiar example:  Caffeine.  I have been fighting this battle for years, more often on the losing side.  However, I am even more aware now of how foolish it was of me to not conquer this issue years ago, because it would have been easier on me, and everyone around me as well.  Perhaps 10 years ago, caffeine was something of a mood lifter to me.  It was a nice extra, a boost to my day.  Today, it’s more of a need.  I feel like I can’t function properly–like I am below my baseline if I don’t have a cup of coffee in the morning.  Does that mean I should surrender and admit defeat?  Hell no!  However, this “below normal” feeling is what leads me to keep having that cup of coffee.  I don’t want to be an unproductive, whiny jerk to my family, and so I drink up.  In truth, my current circumstances reinforce the bad habit instead of my desire to overcome it, with fear closing the circle.  
I feel similarly about my diet.  I have been a vegetarian for over 15 years, but lately I have not made nutritional excellence my top priority.  I think about it, read about it, analyze my own rhetoric, but in the end, I don’t eat that healthfully–at least, not for a vegetarian! Worse, since I don’t want to give my kids the punitive “do as I say, not as I do” treatment, they eat pretty much the same way that I do.  My leading-by-example is pretty soft on this one!  Now, we are far from the “SAD diet,” (Standard American Diet, for those not up on veg-speak 😉 but there’s still loads of room for improvement.  
With regard to our diet, I think I am attached to the current situation in terms of feeling unable to afford a healthy diet (financial fear), and unable to commit to the extra time and planning required to eat healthfully.  That is a lame statement to make, but it’s all I’ve got!  I am right-brained to a fault, and I suck at time management.  I have fallen into a pattern of eating the foods of least resistance, and that is NOT in line with my long-term goal of optimum health, fitness and longevity.
In short, I’m no longer in danger of going over the falls, so to speak–but my life is largely following a path of least resistance in other areas.  This inner turmoil is going to increase until it’s louder than my own numbness and I will be forced to take action–either bravely toward my goals or away from my fears.  I am at least firmly grounded in one boat, but I need to pull out some bigger oars–or maybe a rudder!  

The Ongoing Caffeine Battle, and How It Shall End

I watched The Secret Garden with my kids this evening.  Later, I read some inspiring and insightful articles online, as my family all went to sleep before I did.  It got me thinking about how I am still struggling with caffeine.    Here are the facts:

I have been a soda fiend since before I can remember, with my grandparents and father handing me baby bottles full as a toddler.

I have tried before to quit soda, and have even succeeded in the past (several times, for months, and once for over a year).

However, in recent times, I’ve made the unpleasant connection that a sustained lack of caffeine creates the presence of “cranky-bitch mommy”, whom I do not like AT ALL and actively strive to avoid.

This year, I finally caved to my husband’s occasional desire for home-brewed coffee, and allowed a coffeemaker to enter our home.  As predicted, this thing has become the bane of my existence, since I now crave a cup’o coffee every morning just to gain coherence, let alone productivity of any sort throughout the day.  It may usually be only one cup of coffee, but sometimes it’s two.  I don’t drink the cheap stuff either–and it’s got to have special creamer, too.  This is only spiraling out of control as the years go on.

Years.  I’ve struggled with caffeine for years, and it’s getting worse and worse for me.  The last time I quit, I quit for nearly six months, but I experienced really debilitating mental and physical effects of withdrawal for what felt like two weeks.  Prior to that purge, however, I was downing a 12-pack of soda every day or so, with energy drinks and cups of coffee thrown in for variety.  It’s so embarrassing to admit that, as someone who is supposedly concerned with their health, both physically and spiritually.  Addiction at that level is simply gross, no matter the substance–and while I’m thankfully not that deep into it anymore, I also know that it would be disturbingly easy for me to regress back into such awful habits, under the wrong circumstances.

But back to my insightful readings.  I know that any new habit can be relatively well-incorporated after 30 days of sustained, no-nonsense effort.  I also know that my habits must support my goals if I intend to take them seriously.

So why do I keep the coffeepot?  Why do I allow myself to imagine how delicious a soda would be, poured into a frosty glass with ice, along with my dinner?

I think the fear of such drastic withdrawal symptoms–most of all my appalling mood shift–is what’s keeping me caffeinated most of all.  However, according to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, caffeine withdrawal is a matter of getting over the hump–which normally doesn’t last more than 4-5 days.  If I can’t hack it for that long, then I have bigger problems than caffeine addiction!

I need to find a way to keep the withdrawal symptoms at bay, which mainly includes being able to not become a horrible, cranky burden on my family.  This will take active concentration and attention to “ward off at the pass”, so to speak.  But it’s not insurmountable.  People can and do get over addictions to much, much worse things then caffeine all the time.

Barring this, I need to take some very salient advice that I just keep coming back to, as if the Universe continually causes it to cross my path:  Just Do It.  The only barrier between the achievement of my goals and dreams, and my current reality…is me.