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

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my diet, and making some changes that are long-overdue for my health and well-being.  I’m writing 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 Social Justice Warrior diatribe 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.

To say that divorce fucked me financially would be an understatement. I might have been 25, but thanks to manipulation and abuse-I-didn’t-recognize-as-abuse, I was basically still a hopelessly naive teenager–except now I had to figure out how to live + feed myself and my two kiddos. 

For a while after that, I was in the sort of financial position where I needed to eat whatever was cheap and plentiful.  

I bought the healthy, whole stuff (fresh fruits and veggies) for my kids–and I 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.

So I ate it thankfully and worked to reprogram my brain to accept things as food that were previously disgusting + inedible to me.  Ramen with sliced 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 confess I still tend toward.  Costco = LOVE.

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 just created 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 til now (2011).

Later on, I will have a post discussing the sorts of things that led me to vegetarianism, 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.



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