You Are What You Don’t Eat

calfYou are what you don’t eat. And what you do eat. Or maybe you’re not food at all. So what, then, “are you” when it comes to nutrition and dietary choices?

Telling people I’m a vegetarian is the easiest way to explain why I don’t eat beef, pork, poultry or lamb. But it doesn’t explain why I do eat wild-caught fish and shellfish. It also doesn’t explain why I don’t eat sugar, refined carbohydrates or processed foods that contain ingredients I can barely pronounce. It doesn’t explain why I try to avoid the “dirty dozen” (the produce that absorbs the highest amounts of pesticides) or why, for me, a day without vegetables is like a day without water.

So what exactly am I, and does it really matter? Personal dietary choices are something like religious beliefs in a way. Just because someone claims to be a member of a particular religion doesn’t mean that person has the exact same beliefs and behaviors as all the other members of the group.

Why labels don’t really matter

Religious labels do not tell the whole story, and neither do dietary labels. Still, people seem to want them. It helps to have some “rules” if you need to explain to someone why you choose not to eat turkey on Thanksgiving. You really can’t just say “turkey is not part of my diet” and get away with it, but you can say, “No thanks. I’m a vegetarian.” It seems people expect a label with a definition attached to it, and then you are allowed to say no to the turkey. A case like that is a perfect example of “you are what you don’t eat.”

Dietary labels get complicated in some circles. It’s difficult to explain to your Italian mother that pasta is not something you eat now that your body is showing signs of carbohydrate intolerance. It took my mom years to adjust when I began to move toward a vegetarian diet. Now this?

If I had to find a label for my diet, I guess it would be unprocessed/clean, real-food vegetarian that also eats some kinds of fish and drinks red wine and too much coffee. (By the way, did you know that some vegans eat shellfish?)

But do you eat eggs?

Yes—cage free organic omega 3 eggs (unless I’m in a restaurant; then any egg goes). And, believe it or not, I really don’t like talking about any of this most of the time.

I know people imagine my dietary choices are restrictive or boring, but they’re really not. It’s true what they say; you stop craving things that are bad for you when you start eating healthier (and yummier) things instead. You don’t have to believe me, but there really are much tastier dishes you can make with veggies and lentils. Bacon grease or white bread are extremely dull by comparsion!

Why all this fuss about food?

My interest in vegetarian nutrition started when I was in college looking to shed the “freshman 15” (more like 20). Soon after I graduated, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. I took an actual test though I know it was a fad diagnosis at the time. I learned more about hormones and other unwanted things that accumulate in the fat of animal flesh. And I gradually made the shift to a vegetarian diet. As a DES daughter (one of millions whose mothers took this drug during pregnancy between 1938 and 1971), I’d already overdosed on synthetic hormones before I was even born. (The consequences of that is another story.)

As I learned more about the things going on in the food industry, particularly with respect to factory farming, I became more and more convinced that the lower on the food chain one eats the better. It’s better not only for that person’s health, but for animals and the entire planet as well. Ethical reasons for my food choices soon became as important, if not more important, than health issues.

Then I realized how complicated that can get!

It took years to get where I am now, and I’m sure my dietary choices will continue to evolve. I even earned a traditional college degree in nutrition. I believe the important thing, whether you eat animal flesh or not, is to pay attention to how the food you choose affects you, the environment and the world. There’s always something new to learn when it comes to nourishing not only our bodies, but everything around us as well.

And life is just better when you care!

I think the important thing, whether you eat animal flesh or not, is to pay attention to how the food you choose affects you, the environment and the world. There’s always something new to be learned when it comes to nourishing not only our bodies, but everything around us as well. And life is just better when you care!

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