Yesterday, in class, our teacher introduced a section of the lecture covering several different popular diets and food philosophies by saying, in essence, people can get very stuck in their beliefs around food. That the heart of healthy sustainable eating is to tune into our own bodies, what they need and what they, individually, feel best eating. So simple, but profound too. A similar sentiment is echoed by the author of one of my favorite food blogs:
A lot of people want to know “what I am” – vegetarian, vegan, raw foodist, fruitarian, macrobiotic…guess what? I am a person who eats!
My food philosophy is this: I hate labels. They stink. They force a person to define themselves in very rigid terms, beat themselves up if they suddenly eat something that doesn’t fit that definition, and I know I never want to have to label what “kind” of diet I subscribe to. Being dogmatic about anything, for me, just doesn’t work. Being flexible does.
I like this idea. And, in reality, I don’t know a single person who subscribes to any specific way of eating 100% of the time. I often identify myself as a vegan, but that doesn’t stop me from having a slice of birthday cake, on occasion, or even a little fish from time to time. And yet, by using this term, which is defined objectively, I expose myself to feeling of guilt or inadequacy when I do diverge from the party line… and somehow I know that’s not part of achieving an optimal, healthy relationship with food and nutrition.
In class, we dismissed one diet after another on the basis of not accounting for bio-individuality. By nature, any diet or food philosophy simple enough to write a book on is going to be pretty basic and is formulated to be applied universally. While it is probably inarguable that everyone these days needs to eat more whole, unprocessed foods and especially vegetables, just about anything else in diet is up for grabs. Some people need far more protein that others, some people have trouble digesting grains, others have problems with dairy or soy. Some people thrive on higher fat diets than others, or higher in raw foods or greater concentration of certain vitamins or minerals. It’s mind boggling the set of conditions that influence each of us: our ancestry, lifestyle, routine, metabolism, food we grew up with, food we like or dislike, and so on. There is no one answer and no one prescription that will lead us to health, happiness and nourishment.
This is so absurdly obvious and yet so difficult to really accept – for me, certainly, and I would imagine, for most people. It’s near impossibly not to feel judgmental of others that don’t seem to making the “right choice” like you – buying convention produce/eating meat/eating fast food… the list could be endless. I know this is going to be a major hurdle for me to succeed in this field, though my super-high metabolizing boyfriend has already helped me learn a lot about bio-individuality (a meal that leaves me feeling satisfied is not likely to work for him and visa versa). I hope to start the process by being less rigid in my own diet choices, especially as I learn all this new, fascinating information on how food reacts in the body, I want to use myself as a guinea pig without feeling trapped by the vegan dogma.
That having been said, one of the aspects of diet that we didn’t touch upon in class, and is extremely important, in my opinion, is ethics. Even in a world where we all were perfectly in touch with our bodies and their needs and what they felt best eating – what happens when you discover that you feel really top-notch when you’re eating nothing but steak? What about happens to the rest of the cow? What about the happiness of the cows? They certainly aren’t living optimally happy, healthy lives, if you’re plucking them daily to munch on their rumps. I would argue the goal here is not necessarily just about achieving your own optimal health, but also achieving a sustainable symbiosis with the world, which, in turn, increases your overall sense of wellbeing. Say you do feel better eating meat, but you also don’t feel so good about the ethics of it. Perhaps you choose only to eat meat that you have personally witness is humanely grown? Or perhaps you only eat wild game, that was allowed to live their lives naturally until they were shot? Or perhaps, you notice that on a high-protein plant-based diet you feel pretty darn good and it’s just not worth it to you to compromise your ethics to gain that little bit of extra oomph you get from eating meet? We are not simply physiological being, who, when are belly’s are full and our nutrition needs are met, will automatically exist happily and healthfully in our world.
I don’t have the “answer” to any of this—just plenty of food for thought. But, I do notice that mulling over things always goes better with a snack at hand—thus, I introduce you to Power Brownies! Don’t freak when you see the ingredients. These little morsels are chocolaty, fudgy and delicious. They also just so happen to be quite high in protein and fiber and free of flour, refined sugar, eggs and dairy.
Power Brownies (makes 9 large or 12 small brownies)
1 large Japanese Sweet Potato (baked or steamed until soft)
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (1 15 oz. can, drained and well-rinsed)
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup almond milk
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. finely ground espresso (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Don’t put the cocoa powder on the top – or you’ll end up with a cocoa cloud. Whizz until mostly smooth and well-combined. Stir in:
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
Pour into a well-greased 9″x9″ pan and bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes, until the edges firm up and begin to pull away from the sides. They will be quite gooey when you take them out of the oven, but will solidify as they cool.