Because I love my family, and because I don’t want to knowingly feed them the ingredients for diabetes, cancer, or various autoimmune diseases, I’m in perpetual learning-and-adjusting mode regarding what we should eat and how we should live. My family, of course, isn’t always exceedingly grateful and happy about this. But, I refuse to let the American food industry dictate how and what we eat (any longer). Also, it just shouldn’t be this hard. So I’ve been on a bumpy journey towards healthier eating for at least the last six years, and am often asked what I’m doing and why.
I’ve developed this food code for our family that we follow closely, but not perfectly. Sometimes other priorities (cost, time, being a guest in someone’s home, supporting local businesses, etc.) take precedence. Sometimes the school is holding a fundraiser at the Golden Arches and I bite my tongue and we go. More often than not, though, this is how we eat these days:
- Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants (almost a direct quote from Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto)
- Eat local and organic whenever feasible
- Limit sugar + fried foods (*limiting sugar is definitely hardest for some of us!)
- Drink mostly water
There are blogs and books and websites and documentaries to thank for all of this. One of the most significant sources, which has informed several others, is Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. It’s an eye-opening read and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s ready to think critically about what’s going from their fork to their mouth, how it got there, and why it matters. But I didn’t just stumble into this line of inquiry.
It all started with my friend Ben. Several years ago, he landed in the hospital with terrible abdominal pain and the doctors struggled to diagnose his condition. At some point in his 22-day hospital stay, they determined he had pancreatitis (among other complications). At one point he became septic and was knocking on death’s door. He had been an otherwise healthy guy, so this life-threatening acute sickness was a real wake-up call. After all that, his doctors said he needed to go on a strictly plant-based, real food, healthy diet (without oils or salts or sugars. Sorry salad dressings and hard alcohol—there’s no room for you here). He and his family did their research, watched documentaries (including Forks Over Knives) and as a family they all went vegan. Watching them walk through this, and hearing about what he was learning about a plant-based lifestyle, I had to see for myself. I watched the documentary and I was convicted, inspired, horrified, and changed.
We dove into plant-based eating and eliminated all animal products except for eggs (I didn’t want to give those up but we did switch to free range egg whites). Although I’m certain it’s the thing that gave us more digestive troubles than anything else, cheese is the thing everyone missed the most. Nevertheless, we persisted and discovered new foods we liked and how much better our bodies felt and responded to this new way of eating (e.g., better digestion, more energy, decreased eczema, fewer sicknesses all around).
The rails came off when I was pregnant with our fourth child. That darn first trimester always gets me. In my constant state of nausea, things I used to love like coffee, chocolate, and anything green – became utterly repulsive. The things I wanted to hate—macaroni and cheese and Taco Bell and Lucky Charms–those were the only things remotely edible. So, operation Vegan Christy’s officially went on pause. Post-partum, we eased closer to plant-based but still had seasons of meat- and dairy-eating.
In January 2018, one of my goals for healthier living involved shifting food habits. I was already convinced that plant-based was the way to go for ethical and environmental reasons, but after reading In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto along with The End of Dieting: How to Live for Life, I was convinced that it was also much a healthier way to live. My family has come along somewhat reluctantly. No one seems to miss meat. Some of them recognize that dairy upsets their stomachs, so they don’t miss that either. Overall, the biggest challenge has to do with convenience and availability. When you’re eating away from home–whether that’s on vacation, dining out, or getting lunch at school–it’s simply easier to eat standard American fare (meat, dairy, highly processed grains, and high amounts of oil and sugar). I wish it wasn’t the case, but it is. So as long as I’m doing all of the shopping and cooking (including sending everyone with homemade lunches), we can eat according to our code relatively easily. And the longer we’re at it, the easier it gets.
One last note – while the documentaries are intellectually compelling, the parts that resonate most with my kids have been clips from feed lots and slaughter houses that tug on their heart strings and ethical sensibilities. Some of these images are graphic, but I want my kids to know where their food comes from and what sacrifices are required to get it on their plate. I consider this part of raising responsible community members who can make informed choices now and as adults.
We just watched the movie Okja on Netflix. It centers on a young girl who raises a pig that becomes family to her, but is later threatened by the meat industry. Although the profanity might keep some parents away, the story is powerfully moving and is basically a narrative approach to subtly advocating for a plant-based lifestyle. I recommend it!
Where are you in your food journey—are you eating the way you were raised, or have things shifted? Have you made a choice to avoid certain foods? How do you feel after you eat—energized or tired or somewhere in between?