Saturday, May 8, 2010


When I was growing up, my mom made all our meals.  She is an amazing cook who has perfected everything from meat loaf, to chicken soup, to lasagna, to home-made breads (no machine here people, just her two hands).  We always had the perfect presentation: the meat, the veggie, and the side.   I was required to have my homework completed by dinnertime, so I spent a lot of time sitting at our counter in the kitchen working on school assignments while I watched my mom prepare the evening's meal.  She would quiz me on spelling words, math problems, etc. as she moved through the kitchen; adding a touch of spice here, stirring a pot there.

Meals were ALWAYS eaten together.  Frequently, the three of us would sit at the bar in our kitchen and watch Jeopardy as we ate.  These small moments with my parents are my foundation.  When I think back to those times, the sensations of love, warmth, kindness, and nourishment (both physical and mental) are so strong it brings me to tears.  It was the icing on the cake when my mom would help me with particularly tricky schoolwork after our meal.  I loved it when she would write up practice tests for me in whatever subject I was struggling with, and I was always amazed that she just knew EVERYTHING.  It didn't matter if it was math, or spelling, or science, she knew how to do it all.  Looking back, I see now that everything was incredibly simple for her as an adult, of course, but my memories live in the headspace of a grade-schooler and she will remain magical there forever.

Perhaps the upcoming Mother's Day celebrations are causing me to wax nostalgic and digress a bit but it felt good to share those memories.  Back to the matter at mom grew up in Montana eating red meats, biscuits and gravy, sausage, products from the local creamery (which makes some delicious food, or at least does if it is still open), fresh laid eggs, etc.  You know, the usual country fare.  The food she ate then was home-grown and harvested/butchered.  The cattle fed on grass and roamed free in those days.  While her diet was not incredibly healthy then, as the years progressed, the same foods became increasingly less healthy.  Store-bought beef, for one example, is now grain-fed, a horribly unnatural cost-saving measure which makes the meat simultaneously more caloric and fatty (not to mention what this diet does to the guts of the cows who are forced to consume foods entirely unnatural for them).

My mom's blood tests recently have not been good.  She is pre-diabetic and that is terrifying both for her and me.  Her desire to reclaim her heath has been inspiring.  She read the book Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes and has taken it to heart.  Over the last 6 1/2 weeks, she has been completely vegan (ok there was that one morning with that small omelette, but I'll forgive her that).  She has a lot of lost weight and, since she has never been overweight by any degree, this means she now looks fantastic!  She has yet to have another blood test since she started the program so we will have to see if it has made as much of a difference for her inside as out.

This change has not been small for her.  She has always enjoyed healthy foods (lots of grains, veggies, fruits, etc) but for those foods to now be her whole diet, not just a part, is a serious commitment.  In my own culinary life, I struggle with the battle between my desire to eat well (I really do love it and feel so much better when I am eating good things) and the stress of finding meals to make, taking the time to cook, and figuring out how to make it less financially stressful.  Growing up with my mom's cooking did make me a snob about avoiding processed foods.  They taste like garbage to me.  That is great because as I don't have any desire to eat those things, cutting them out is not very difficult.  The hard part for me is in the foundation of my meals.  I LOVE CHEESE more than most things in life.  I eat yogurt daily.  Eggs are my most common source of protein.  I cook a lot of food myself but, unfortunately, putting together ingredients at home does not necessarily make the output nutritional.  This, combined with the fact that my current job is the most unhealthy in my history (in terms of physical exertion, mental peace, and emotional steadiness), has allowed me to see the highest number on the scale I have ever seen and feel the worst about myself I have ever felt.

This August, my life will change significantly.  I will move overseas, on my own, to study.  I am incredibly excited/scared!  Since I was accepted to school last fall, I have seen this move as an opportunity to reshape my life;  revamp my diet, up my fitness, and generally focus on everything healthy I can.  I also want to spend my time there learning as much as I can about my field, exploring the city, traveling to the continent, etc.  I tend to get overly ambitious about what I can do in a given amount of time and therefore ended up overwhelming myself with goals: be this weight by this time, ride a century bike ride, lift weights this many times a week, read this stack of interesting books about England, catch up on current events across the globe and read about the history behind the most key points of tension (my most overwhelming and impossible goal.  Set because my subject of study is international relations and I feel desperately out of the loop having studied finance for the last four years), write a research paper about Rwanda, and many many more.  All of these goals are great but to spend time doing one, I am neglecting another.  And each time I let one goal slack, I punish myself for having failed all of them (if the ultimate goal is to do all these things, then by not doing one you haven't met your goal and have therefore failed.  Not a nice way to motivate yourself).  I came to the realization that, for me right here and right now, the most important thing I need to focus on is my health.

So, with an eye toward my mom's wellness and my own determination to make a serious and committed change, I am taking on the challenge of going through this experience with her.  I spent the morning stocking up on reading material about the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle both to get a sense that it does not doom me to rice cakes for eternity, and to find some good sources of recipes.

Several of my bookmarks are great vegetarian sites I already frequent so I will be spending even more time there.  Some sites are new and quite exciting.  I also have a reading list of books I will work my way through over the next couple months that focus on the natural diet from many perspectives (scientific, humanitarian, kindness to animals, and just plain tastiness).  I will not distract myself with my list of other goals until I achieve this one.  My goal is two-fold (I couldn't get it down to just one but two is manageable):  1. Between Mother's Day and the day I leave for England, I will have followed the rules of the program every day.  2.  I will work out at the gym five days a week (bike rides, playing at the park, walks with Alex... these do not count as workouts.  They are great and fun and healthy but they do not count toward my goal).

The thought of not eating meat is not too scary.  I don't eat it much anyway.  Bacon and burgers (and bacon burgers...yuuummm!) are my two weaknesses.  The hard part for me is the dairy and eggs.  My mom and I have talked about it and since I am not in the worrisome state of health she is, I feel ok about modifying the program slightly and allowing myself to eat those things once a week.  This does not mean a binge one day a week.  Just a small amount of dairy, and one egg.

So there are the facts and the goals.  I will use this blog to keep myself on track.  I will let you know what I am reading and what I learn from it.  I'll share any amazing recipes I find.  And I will complain about it when it sucks.

I read a quote today that said, "the most important step of any goal is to know why you want to achieve it."  I want to achieve this goal because I have a horrible self image and want to see myself succeed and be proud in an area I have consistently struggled with.  I want to achieve this goal because I want to have the energy and stamina to get the most out of my time in England.  I want to achieve this goal because I want to support my mom and her desire to be healthier so she can be around longer.  She may not make me practice tests anymore, but she still knows how to do the things I don't and I I don't know what I would do without her.