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From the time I was 5 years old when we moved off our farm back to the city, I “lived” on a steady diet of Oreos, Coca-Cola, bologna sandwiches on Wonder Bread and Campbell’s tomato soup – in which I gleefully dipped my toxic sandwich. A gourmet meal in our house in the late 1950s was dry, oven-baked chicken, canned peas and instant whipped potatoes.
We had soda, canned potato chips and Charles Chocolate Chip cookies delivered once a week, along with the family ration of beer.
Today I am able to call myself a raw foodist, defining that as at least 70 percent raw. But that doesn’t mean I live on lettuce and carrots. Raw food is a high protein, plant-based diet that does include lots of greens, but also relies heavily on a variety of nuts, seeds and anything you can sprout.
I didn’t go from zero to 70 percent raw in 8 seconds.
A friend, who started me on the road to healthy eating, once came up behind me as I was late-night slumming for junk food at a 24-hour grocery store and started tossing Cheez Doodles and cans of Coke into my cart. He was a devotee of 1970s nutritionist Adelle Davis who was best known for her stance against processed food, refined sugar and hydrogenated and saturated fats.
My friend gradually teased and informed me into looking at what I was eating. He gave me a copy of Davis’s “Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit,” and thus began my 40-year battle with food.
After reading Davis and other books on nutrition – spurred by having two young children who I didn’t want to poison the way I had been unknowingly poisoned – I became a vegetarian.
The first 20 years were on-again off-again, depending on variables like being able to find fresh vegetables wherever I happened to be living. In Albuquerque, in the late 70s for example, there was nary a fresh green to be found, so back to meat. But it was free range meat and actually tasted like the fresh butchered meat my father used to get from our farmer-neighbor.
Eventually, however, when I moved back East, my feelings about the way most animals are raised on feedlots and in dark, crowded, filthy chicken prisons – before they are brutally slaughtered – overrode the convenience of being able to slap a slab of flesh on a grill.
I learned to cook delicious, nutritious meals for my children even as a single parent struggling sometimes with two or even three jobs. Sometimes that meant spending Sundays cooking a few different meals I could freeze and reheat during the week.
I have to admit much of my motivation was the boys. And don’t think they didn’t eat their share of fast food. But I didn’t worry about it because the baseline was healthy and they knew the difference. As adults both of them have chosen vegetarian lifestyles, though one does move in and out of eating meat.
The information I obtained in the early ‘70s has gone through many changes and has been refined and redefined. I just finished reading “Wheat Belly,” by William Davis, M.D., who confirmed what I already knew from experience about the pitfalls of wheat, gluten, and even whole grains. They’ve made me fat. And Davis makes a strong case for the fact they’ve made us all fat. Look around.
Fat is not fun. I’ve been there. Fat makes us feel bad about ourselves, it informs what we wear, how or even if we are able to exercise and even who we hang out with. I have struggled with it since I was a teenager and I still do.
I love food! And I don’t have an automatic “stop” sensor. Well, maybe I do, but I can eat faster than my sensor can function. Chewing my food will allow the sensor to win, however. But that’s for another story.
Today, I no longer have young children to motivate me. Today, I have only my strong desire to feel good. When I am eating a diet that is healthy and clean, I feel good.
The information I started to gather about the dangers of sugar and refined foods 40 years ago is today mainstream information. The CBS news show “60 Minutes” did a brilliant and courageous piece on sugar a few weeks ago – a piece I have been waiting to see for many years. They made the connection between sugar, heart disease and cancer and exposed the addictive nature of refined sugar, comparing it scientifically to that of cocaine. Gee – no wonder we can’t stop! And so, there is no shame in the struggle to change. It is really hard.
But if it were not hard, everyone would do it – and we wouldn’t need health insurance.
All of this is easy for me to say. I can afford to eat well. But what do we do about those who cannot? Those with fewer resources financially are far more likely to choose cheap, fast food, over that head of expensive broccoli that doesn’t look big enough to feed even one person, much less a family.
There is a battle being waged across the county to stop subsidies to big farm conglomerates that are raising genetically modified corn that mostly goes to feed cows, most of which are brutalized and slaughtered to feed the fast food industry. And I am on board for that battle.
But it won’t solve the problem of how to provide opportunities for healthier lifestyles to the poor. That’s our job as the more fortunate to figure out. If we don’t, the rising cost of health care will drag us all down.
But the first thing those of us who can afford to feed ourselves in a healthy manner must do is – eat mindfully. Be healthy. Have the energy then to help others onto the path of a healthy diet. It is your life. Feel good.