Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Real Food Journey (Part One)

You know, we've been writing this blog for three months now, and it just struck me the other day that while I've written some periodic posts regarding specific nutrition, and mentioned bits and pieces of how we eat scattered throughout recipe posts...I've never actually addressed how we eat or why we eat that way. Maybe it's time to remedy that situation so at the very least, whether you agree or not, you'll know where I'm coming from.  :-)

In my experience, both online and in real life, it's usually health issues that bring people to the point of being willing to look at diet. It makes sense, of course; why would anybody question diet when they feel good? Only as our food choices catch up to us and our bodies start to fall apart, or we can't lose weight even when we go exactly by the social diet guidelines, do we start questioning what we've been told all our lives about how to eat properly.

I'm an exception to this general rule, but I really have no idea why. I can't even really remember how it all started. In college our household cooked, but it was always inter-mixed with frozen pizzas and other exciting pre-made stuff. It wasn't until I was 22 that I started digging into health. And no, I have no idea what precipitated it. I'm guessing I wanted to lose weight. (No, I'm not overweight, but everybody knows what it's like to have that five pounds that won't budge...)

I've always had an overly strong aversion to exercise. In school I would get horrible stitches from running. I loathed P.E. from a young age and never stopped. As a young adult, my one and only motivation for exercising was to stay slender, and while vanity isn't particularly commendable, I clung to it simply because that was the only thing that could push me to do something I hated so very much. I heard stories of people- and even lived with a couple- that had to exercise to feel good. And they didn't fight that need; they just accepted it and went to exercise. At that point in my life, however, I didn't need exercise to feel good, and doing so at all was a I continued on through college and life beyond, exercising periodically until I ran out of motivation or got bored. That endless cycle is still repeating itself.

At age 22, I remember subscribing to a magazine called Clean Eating. I don't know why I chose that one or started viewing diet as something to focus on (as opposed to just exercise), but I did. It was a pretty decent magazine, really, encouraging its readers to eat "clean", which meant no additives, no processing, no chemicals...just real, quality food (although I looked somewhat askance at their recommendation for agave syrup). But I was young and broke and it's expensive to experiment with food, especially when everything you have in the kitchen doesn't fit with a new regimen. Clean Eating slowly petered out.

When I was 23, my dad sent me two books in the mail: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and Nourishing Traditions. As I remember, it was a randomly sent gift, and I have no idea what his own food journey had been that had even brought him into contact with such books. AVM is a food memoir of sorts, chronicling the story of a family who attempted to live a year eating only locally produced food. It was written by an actual author (Barbara Kingsolver), so the writing itself was good, and I was captivated. Part of their project was growing a great deal of the food themselves (both meat and vegetables), and she also added several miniature essays on factory farmed meat, the trials of small organic farmers, nutritional info, and other bits of interest scattered throughout their story. This was my first brush with the world of local, seasonal eating, and I was fascinated.

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A goodly portion of AVM is comprised of gardening, since they were growing not only their fresh fruit and veggies, but also enough to can/freeze/store for the rest of the year. A particular chapter on tomatoes gave me the bug to try making my own tomato sauce, which I did, going to the local grocery and buying an entire box of Romas. I felt ridiculously gratified at my effort to make something from scratch. I was hooked. How cool would it be to put up an entire year's worth of food from your own garden?!

Now here's the background to the background...

I've always wanted to be a stay-at-home wife and mother. Seriously, I had no interest in a career, struggled to find a major I was interested in at college, and honestly resented the fact that I had to be out in the world working rather than at home doing the things I loved (that I was best suited for) just because the right guy hadn't come along yet. I spent hours and years reading about all the topics I couldn't act on. Every book and website I could find on the topic of homemaking was fair game: how to save money as a homemaker, cook for a family, run a household, grow a garden, and just about anything else related. I specifically remember buying a book on backyard homesteading and being so excited about it that I took it to the gym to read while I was on the treadmill. (Tell me somebody else understands that even a little bit...)

What I'm leading up to here is gardening, and by extension, the whole world of minor homesteading and producing one's food. I spent so much energy learning about and yearning for the day I could be a SAH, that I had a very clear perception of what it meant to me to be one. One of these factors was, obviously, being wise with household money, since I wouldn't be earning any myself. There's lots of ways to do this, but for many years I have had in mind that part of being a proper SAH included gardening, because that was a way to save money. Let me make it very clear that I don't pass this judgment on anyone else; this is what I've concluded for myself. Of course, if you're interested in gardening I'll probably encourage you to death because I think it's so satisfying.  :-)

Okay, back to the story. So the AVM book caught my attention in large part because of the gardening parts of the story. I started a garden. Mom had a garden plot next to her house that she wasn't using, so that year, I used it. It wasn't a huge project, just enough to help me feel like I was doing something about these things I had read about and learned about and wanted so much. I don't recall a lot about the obviously wasn't perfect, because I had to travel 20 minutes to weed it, but I think it did all right over all. It produced some summer fun and veggies, and naturally I planned to do better (and more) the following year.

As to the other book that Dad sent, it was a behemoth! It's 688 pages long and was packed with information on a food lifestyle (not a diet) that was totally different than anything I'd ever heard of. It advocated foods in their whole, unprocessed forms, sanctified saturated fats, and basically encouraged us to look back to how people used to eat, pre-1900 (more or less). The whole premise of the nutritional philosophy in the book is based on the work of a dentist back in the 1930s who traveled the world documenting native peoples (still on their native diets) and assessing dental and physical health, assessing what they ate in relation to this, and drawing some fascinating conclusions as to how completely off base our modern diet is.

As massive as it was, I couldn't just read the entire book through, but between AVM and the information I understood and began to glean from NT, I started out on a real food journey that has been going on for almost four years now...

Be sure to check in tomorrow for part two!


  1. Very interesting read, Kirstyn. I enoyed this post. I will definitely check back tomorrow. I can only imagine the benefits to you and your husband's health by choosing to eat this way.

    Betty Figarelle

  2. Such a joy to read your story, I can't wait to read more!