22 February 2012

something to chew on.

since i said that i would be writing lots of posts about food i feel like i should start - otherwise you may begin thinking that my life does not revolve around it.  well, let me assure you that it does indeed.  because this is my first post about food i feel like it is imperative that i explain a few things about how i eat and why.  my relationship with food is complex and ever-evolving.  as you will learn, i have always been taught the value of 'good food' so many of my habits were set long before there was a 'food movement'. (thanks mom!)

some of my first memories involving food deal with food co-op in jamestown, nd.  i was a child and spent most of the time playing with other kids.  however, because of the food co-op i got to eat 'junk food' like fruit leathers, sesame sticks (aka cheetos), and herbal 'soda'; obviously delivery days were something for me to look forward to.  to this day i still indulge in most of these treats and find my comfort foods in the health section. 

my mother intentionally raised children who refused to eat colored cheeses (milk is white not orange, folks) and were never treated to fast food (the only exception: ice cream).  we attended farmers markets religiously during the summer growing season.  she feed us meat from animals that were raised by people we knew or would form relationships with if they weren't already close friends or family members.  there was never really 'kid food' at our house and somehow we managed to still be happy, healthy, and 'normal' (hah).

early in my adolescence i decided to stop eating meat and was lucky enough to have a parent who supported me and respected my right to decide what i put into my body.  it was easy since meat was rarely the focal point meals and they regularly vegetarian.  over the years i went back and forth between eating vegetarian, pescatarian, and occasionally organic, free-range, and hunted meats.

eventually (during a period of eating meat) i started to have issues with my digestive tract and after months of extensive testing (and no diagnosis) the doctors suggested an elimination diet.  after which they decided that i had a protein intolerance, like lactose intolerance; then suggested that i try and eat plant based proteins as they are more simple and therefore easier to breakdown.  so, back i went back to being a vegetarian.

soon i started having other symptoms, mainly weight-gain and migraine headaches; i weighed around two-hundred pounds and was regularly on narcotic pain medication.  it was becoming harder and harder to function normally and my college course work (and daily commuting) was becoming an issue.  during on of my frequent visits to the emergency room the doctor suggested allergy testing. 

i made an appointment with an allergist and two-weeks later went in for pin-prick environmental testing and a blood-draw for food allergies.  it turns out that i am allergic to almost every grass, tree, weed, flower, dust, mold, and animal there is; the doctor told me that she'd never seen anyone react as badly to anything as i had corn-pollen.  because i live in the land of ethanol-plants and feed-lot grain she suggested i move.  (i've done the research; there are few places in the u.s. with minimal corn production.)

in addition to the environmental/seasonal stuff she told me that i needed to eliminate eggs, wheat, yeast, mushrooms, and liquid dairy. (which means i can still include the solid bits of heavy cream and products made from it - yay!)  basically i was being forced into veganism or a variation on it.

if you know anything about me, it is probably that i don't really like being forced to do anything.  (i'm all about free-will, baby.)  so i decided that i would eat almost vegan at home; allowing myself only minimal amounts of organic cheese.  however, i realized that at times i would need to be flexible.  i decided that i would treat myself now and then to high-quality seafood and fish (only if i'm out for dinner, at someone's house, or having company).  if i hadn't i would end up eating alone a lot…and what good is food if you can't share it with others?

to break it down simply my diet now consists primarily of: beans, nuts, seeds, wheat-free grains, veggies, and very little soy.  most of my food comes without packaging in its raw state.  i cook things from scratch on a daily basis.  i only buy organic.  a typical shopping list includes: coconut milk, steel cut oats, beans/lentils, steel cut oats, nuts/seeds, raw milk cheese, popcorn, and veggies (frozen, fresh picked, or from farmer's market).  

because i love veggies, grains, and legumes this has always been pretty easy for me. (if you haven't noticed yet, fruit is absent from this list as i tend to only like peaches, mangoes, and cherries and they have to be perfect for me to enjoy them.)  the only times i really struggle are during large gatherings/holidays and when traveling, but over time i have learned how to cope (mostly by packing lots of homemade snacks and side-dishes).

i have also learned where all the natural, health-food, and gluten-free stores are.  i have networked with the local food producers, frequented farmers markets, joined a csa, became an urban farmer, and local food activist.  i have connected with my community in more ways than i ever imagined possible.  i have found inspiration and support in strangers, some of whom have become integral parts of my daily life.

i have spent hours researching health, nutrition, farming, environmental issues, and biotech.  i am certain that i am healthier not only because i avoid my allergens but also because i eat as much organically grown food as possible.  i am aware of the dangers of ingesting chemical-laden herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms.  these substances challenge our body and after extended exposure may cause major system disruptions (and cancer). 

i am certain that most of our current health (and environmental) issues are due to the industrialization of food production.  we are no longer concerned with taste, nutritional content, or growing methods and have shifted our focus to cost and constant availability.  i believe that the solution is simplifying and returning to our roots. 

i "eat food.  mostly plants.  not too much."  
     m. pollan - in defense of food: an eater's manifesto.

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