Snowflake Diet

Some people can reach a near religious fervor when it comes to whatever diet they think is the best. Whether it’s gluten-free, grain-free, sugar-free or bacon and candy every day, conversations (or rants) among people of differing diet theories can sound like the current Republican presidential primary debates.

breadFor example, I recently posted an article on my Facebook feed touting the sanctity of eating grains because I found it an interesting addition to the discussion on diet. The article was written by someone who had published two cookbooks all about grains, so perhaps decidedly biased (as an FB friend pointed out). It was filled with claims of scientific and nutritional studies to back up her argument, which is fairly common to all diet theories. The author contends that “your grain-free diet isn’t natural, good for you or good for the planet” and she takes aim in particular at Paleo or Paleo-inspired diets that eliminate all grains (and sugar and dairy and legumes and and and and – look it up).

I can’t imagine anyone taking umbrage with the environmental part of
her argument, because it is basic math that it takes less of Earth’s resources to grow grains than to produce meat, but one FB friend commented that her waistline does not agree with the author’s stance that grains are good for her to eat. Another commenter called out the author’s claim that cooked starches helped humans develop large brains, countering that it was more likely cooked meat that triggered this evolutionary progress. While this is one, narrow example, I am positive if you live anywhere besides under a rock, you have heard multitudinous discussions of the same ilk from the moment you could understand words.

I’d estimate that diet choices have been extra confusing for us United Statesians since around the Second Industrial Revolution. In the name of convenience, progress, and thrift, the Industrial Revolution brought mass-produced, shelf-stable food to the American home (e.g. packaged, soft white bread and canned fruits, vegetables, sauces, and meats). There was an immediate backlash. People like Sylvester Graham railed against “processed foods” and for him in particular, that evil white bread. In what was the beginning of the U.S. health food movement and possibly the start of diet-related mania, Graham crisscrossed the country yelling at people to only eat whole grains and his whole wheat “Graham” bread (this is the origin of Graham crackers, which were initially made with only coarse whole wheat flour and water).

And guess what? Graham was a Christian minister and his diet theory was infused with Christian morality. Remember that religious-like fervor I mentioned? Anyway, that’s a much longer discussion with books already written about it.

My point? Well, firstly, I find it interesting to observe how emotional and adamant people get about diet choices and how there is an equally emotional and adamant person in every corner of the diet-theory kingdom. Secondly, here is what I take away from all of it – dietary needs are as unique as every individual.

My diet theory? Eat what feels right for you. I call it the Snowflake Diet. This is arguably quite difficult in practice and all the differing, loudly debated, and constantly changing dietary advice can throw anyone into doubt and confusion. But if wheat makes your tummy swell and rumble, maybe cut back or lay off it, either completely or for a while. If dairy makes you feel yucky, don’t eat it or save eating it for when it’s really worth the consequences (like, say, visiting France or enjoying a much-needed ice cream). Sugar make you feel cuckoo? Don’t eat all that damn candy and dessert. If you feel fine all the time no matter what you eat, thank your lucky stars. You get my point, yes?

Maybe I’ve made this clear, but I am a proponent of balance and moderation. My diet credo is “everything in moderation, including moderation.” I personally ride a wave (or pendulum) of righteous (aka balanced, healthy, home-cooked, local, organic, fair) to lazy (aka pre-made, packaged, quick-cooking, take-out friendly) eating and I try to be OK with that. I say “I try” because, if I’m being completely honest, I too am concerned with my waistline. I honestly wish I weren’t, but, hey, I was born and raised in the good ol’ body- and youth-obsessed U.S. of A. and I did not escape its grip. That body and youth obsession is, if you didn’t know, also the source of a majority of the mania surrounding eating choices.

carrotComing back to balance, one piece of advice that does not seem to change in most diet theories is that we should all eat more fresh vegetables. Of course, there are arguments on whether we should be eating cooked or raw vegetables or only vegetables, but I’ll let you decide that for yourself. Personally, I like a mix.

So my advice is not to stop eating this or that or only eat such and such, but just to eat more fresh vegetables and fruits (yes, I know some will argue the fruit point). And, if you can, go for the locally-sourced and organic fruits and veggies, but let’s not get into that right now either. Unless, of course, fruits and veggies make you feel bad, then, well, don’t eat them.

You are a special and unique snowflake. Get to know your snowflake constitution and let your body tell you what to eat.

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A Response to John Metta’s ‘I, Racist’ and Ruminations on White Privilege

i-racist-fb

That was my post to Facebook, sharing this article (actually, this article) that resonated with me possibly more than any other article on the subject, of which I’ve been reading a lot recently. I read the article and thought, “Yes, I am a White person and I am complicit in the system of racism in this country.” This was not a new thought for me, but I had not been able to wrap my mind around it as succinctly as Metta set it out for us. I am “a northerner, a liberal, a good person” and I want to assert my “personal non-racism;” I cry (literally) for every atrocity inflicted on a Black person and the Black people that I learn about (and I know there are countless more I never hear about); I am tortured by my passive complicity in this systemic and embedded injustice (in response to my bouts of internal crisis over this, my loved ones counsel me that the best solution is to live your life as a good, caring, loving person – let love guide the way); I feel in my bones that posting good articles that eloquently explain the state of racism, with perfect pull quotes, or news stories that expose injustices and hypocrisy, is not enough (what do they call it – armchair activism?), but that’s what I do, that’s all I do.

I don’t know what do. I don’t see traveling to a protest in someone else’s community as the answer. Is it? I’ve seen the life of a devoted political activist and I don’t want it. Is that the best way to speak up? I’ve wondered if moving into a Black neighborhood would do anything on a small scale. Instead, I’m moving to a small university town in New England, full of mostly White people, with my husband who will be a professor at that university.

Maybe I should take this opportunity to introduce myself, in short form – I’m a 36-year-old White female. I have a master’s degree in food studies. I have a steady job, working from home on my laptop for a global organization that serves CEOs. I am married to a Jewish White man who just received his PhD in hospitality management. We’re in love. I do yoga, am obsessed with all aspects of food, went to art school, love to dance, like long walks on the beach… you get the point. My life is of course much more nuanced and complicated than these facts, but you knew that, because so is yours.

Back to my question – what do I do? How can I fix it? Can I fix it? Can anyone fix it? What I mean is, how can I counter my default complicity in our system of racism? How do I speak up? How do I leverage my position of power in this system that values White over Black? Tell me. No really, somebody tell me.

How do I help build that world “where it never gets to the point where the Samaritan has to see someone bloodied and broken”?

I want to know what action I can take that will feel genuine – to me, to a Black person and to the Black people – and be meaningful and effective. Is this it – writing this thing, sharing my thoughts (slightly) beyond Facebook?

One of the incredible parts of Metta’s article/sermon is his pointing to the core of White privilege – that we get to engage in the system, in this country, in our lives as free individuals because we are not chained to our skin color. The imagery here is mine and it’s purposeful, because you know why. There’s no point in kidding yourself, it’s not quantum physics, slavery is the root of these problems we face as a multi-colored, multi-cultured society today (‘today’ as in right now, Tuesday, Wednesday, whatever day it is today, not the vague “today”). And money, always money. Sorry, I mean greed.

“White people and Black people are not having a discussion about race,” says Metta, “Black people, thinking as a group, are talking about living in a racist system. White people, thinking as individuals, refuse to talk about ‘I, racist’ and instead protect their own individual and personal goodness. In doing so, they reject the existence of racism.”

I don’t want to reject the existence of racism. I don’t explicitly reject it, or rather, I explicitly recognize the awful existence of oppression and racism and I feel that I implicitly do so as well. I see it, not just in the news or on TV, but in real life. I feel it as a human being (obviously I don’t feel it as a Black person – how can I? I mean that I empathetically feel the pain caused by injustice and oppression), but do I, as Metta asserts, implicitly reject the reality of racism because I live as a White person and don’t renounce the privilege that inherently comes with that – like not being afraid for my life around police officers, like being able to be a “hippie” if I smoke pot instead of a “criminal” or a “thug”, like basically sliding through the gears of society that have been generously greased for me because I am never seen as a threat or dangerous? If so, how do I refuse that privilege? No really, how, exactly how?

Here’s an answer I’m afraid of: give up what I have gotten because of my White privilege, give up the comfortable life I live. That’s the sticky part, isn’t it? That’s where my armchair activism fits in nicely. I have to say putting these thoughts and questions out there scares me. If people read this, what will they say? Will anyone answer my questions and will I like the answers?

Regardless of response, I will continue to take the advice of my loved ones, and in keeping with the response of the Charleston Massacre’s survivors, and let love guide the way. Love is indeed the ultimate solution to hate, but I don’t want to hide behind the vagaries of ultimate truths. I want to enact love in real and concrete ways to counter to real and concrete hate and injustices.

Extremes, Balance and the Trials and Tribulations of Avoiding Added Sugar

sugarMy man and I decided to do a mini detox. I say mini because it isn’t anything too extreme and we’re not doing it for that long (5 days). Anyhow, it was a way to do a reset, if you will. Our plan was to go without dairy, alcohol and sweets. I say “sweets” because we have found it is very difficult to avoid sugar – and by that I mean added sugar, not naturally occurring sugar like that found in fruit.

So you want to have granola with almond milk; well, that has sugar, or honey at least. You want to add some dried cranberries to your salad? Oh look, the ingredients say “Sugar, cranberries.” You want to make a stir fry and use one of the Chinese sauces you got at the Asian market? Sugar. My man got a peanut butter and jam sandwich at his school dining hall. We can assume the peanut butter and the jam most likely had added sugar. It’s almost insidious this sugar thing (no wait, not almost – it is insidious). Is it a North American thing? I have heard our palate, on a national level, errs on the side of sweetness. Is it a processed food thing, since sugar can be a preservative and extend the shelf-life of products?

coffeeIn general, I’m not a huge sweets eater. I prefer savory and most desserts and candy are literal sugar-bombs that upset my internal balance in a number of ways (physically, emotionally and mentally). However, my palate still leans sweet, even if it is within the savory realm or, here’s the sneaky part, my beverages. The hardest part about this mini detox for me is my morning coffee. Usually I like it sweet and creamy as all get out. For you New Englanders, I like it Dunkin’ Donuts style. So black coffee? Ugh. It’s the fourth day of this five-day detox and the first sip of coffee is still bitter and painful, but I’ll admit the sips after that are becoming less so; I can almost detect a hint of caramely sweetness, set off of course by the biting bitterness at the back of my tongue. Ugh. More than the cheese, more than the booze, and certainly more than the desserts, I am most looking forward to my morning coffee with half and half and sugar. I can almost taste it.

While we’re not eating cookies or ice cream or chocolate, we pretty much gave up the idea of going completely sugar-free from the start. Yes, it was possible, but it just seemed too painful and it would have taken some serious vigilance and/or a diet entirely of homemade products, which takes ample time and planning. Again, not impossible, but we didn’t see the need to go this extreme.

So why is added sugar so inescapable? This in no small way relates directly to the so-called “obesity epidemic” in the U.S. By inescapable I mean unless you make absolutely everything you eat from scratch – from dried fruit to bread to sauces. Almost every manufactured food product has either sugar, salt, chemical preservatives or all of the above. (Don’t get me started on wheat.)

It’s my hypothesis that the over abundance of salt in the American diet (causing all kinds of crazy problems like hypertension, heart disease, etc.) is due in most part to the salt found in processed foods and restaurant food. I find that people get nervous about salting their food at home, but that’s not the culprit. It’s in the bread you bought from the store, the take-out four nights a week, the luncheon meat, the jarred sauces, and of course the junk food. I know it seems like I’m going off topic, but sugar, like, salt is snuck into all sorts of food items you wouldn’t assume contain added sugar. It is very often also in the bread you bought from the store, the take-out four nights a week, the luncheon meat, the jarred sauces, and of course the junk food and is most certainly also playing a huge role in the health problems, obesity included, plaguing our society.

This is why reading ingredient lists is important and, at times, frustrating, devastating even. My man picked up the carton of unsweetened almond milk I bought at Whole Foods and read down a list of maybe seven ingredients, most of which were sciencey sounding (something Michael Pollen warns against and I agree with).

Though, I did have a pleasant surprise on my jar of “French-style” marmalade – it was sweetened with white grape juice concentrate. Of course some nutritionists and food scientists will say sugar is sugar no matter the source, which is of course technically correct, but I prefer to err on the side of less processed as much as I can. So white grape juice concentrate is superior, in my book, to bleached white sugar.

Have I gotten off topic again? Well, sort of. Point is, damn it, sugar is everywhere and you have to work fairly hard to avoid any form of added processed sugar. So I ate some cranberries sweetened with sugar and some store-bought granola and some jarred sauces, so what? I grew up eating fruit-juice-sweetened cookies, and let me tell you, that was not awesome, which is why I ate Butterfingers and Oreos whenever I was not home.

In my opinion, extremes beget extremes and balance is the key.  The extremes of processed foods (and the industrial food system) have begotten the extremes of a wealthy nation with an unhealthy population. On the other hand, I had a good mini detox, which I stuck to because I wasn’t extreme about it, and I was able to give my body a break on some of the things it might have a hard time with (but are oh so tasty and enjoyable) like dairy, alcohol and excessive sugar.