When is Enough, Enough?

Every event in my family centered around food. Every birthday, holiday, baptism, funeral, and wedding. Our family reunions consisted of table after table of chickens and casseroles, desserts and salads. Food was the celebration of life, and the suffering of death.

As a young child, I didn’t know how to deal with death, so I attached food to those I lost. It was my comfort when nothing else could.

Food became entangled with my emotions, my comfort when I was sad, my friend when I was lonely, my savior from girlish pre-teen traumas, which stretched my skin to new-found weight, which disgusted the little girl inside me, and led to anorexia.

Even as an anorexic, I never stopped thinking about food. I’d stare at the open fridge, dream of bread turning mushy in my mouth, longing for a popsicle to drip down my chin.

In high school, I learned to eat again, and my love/hate relationship with food turned to an obsession. Crackers and candy were stuffed in my locker, devoured in my bedroom, and snuck in the middle of the night. I even worked at a grill where I could eat all the ice cream, burgers, and fries I wanted. Only by then, I had figured out how to exercise and burn off excess calories.

Food problems have followed me all my life, though today, I am a healthy eater. But I still have this horrible, incredible, addiction to food.

I gather food like a squirrel gathers nuts, hoarding like I’m preparing for a disaster. My kitchen holds seven kinds of beans, flours I will never use, and seasonings I know for a fact will turn old (or maybe already are).

I gave up the Big Box Store:

This is the reason I gave up the big box club, the reason I had to stop shopping at four stores. I over-buy, though I don’t overconsume. I spend too much, emotions tied to purchases I don’t need, and sometimes, seriously, don’t really want.

The Big Box Club sold packages of tomato juice in cans of twenty-four, which we never drank, which expired many months before I knew they still existed in our fridge. The large bags of rice produced little bugs that crawled beyond the bag, and the peas turned to freezer dust.

And the four stores I once shopped at? Well, they are now down to one main store, with an occasional stop at another for items the first one doesn’t sell.

It is an obsession, a sickness, an emotional attachment I can’t let go of. But I don’t think I am the only one.

Our society is dominated by food. Why else would we have so many restaurants and fast food joints popping up all over the cities?

Food is tied to our emotions. Fear of running out, doing without, having less than someone else. Food is happiness, sadness, anger, resentment, jealousy.

What can we do about this emotional entanglement with food? And when is enough, enough?

First, I think we need to see food for what it is – energy for our bodies. We eat it, burn it, then eat more when our power runs low. Food gives us the fuel we need to keep moving.

Second, shop less. I used to make multiple trips throughout the week. I now stretch my shopping outings to one per week, less when I can.

Shop only one store. I can’t believe how much time, money, and energy I spent shopping at four stores. When I cut out three, an incredible thing happened. My food bill decreased, as did my stress levels. I also gained more time in my day, and of course, purchased less food.

Know what you need before you go shopping. Make a menu, if that works for you. Write a list of only what you need. I don’t know about you, but stores make me loopy. I forget who I am and what I want when I walk through those big glass doors. Without a list, I purchase anything and everything. It’s funny how even foods I don’t usually like look delicious in a grocery store.

This one goes with the one above – Know what is in your cabinets and fridge before you leave. Make a mental note, write it down, or take a photo.

Use what you have. If you have chicken, eat it. If you have two kinds of meat already, why buy more? Use those veggies and fruits before purchasing fresh ones. Use up the old before bringing in the new.

Learn to substitute. I love this part! It brings out the creative side of me. Substitute one bean for another, rice for quinoa, play with spices, make tomato-less tomato sauce with carrots and beets. There are many foods one can substitute for another. If you need some ideas, Greatist.com is a good place to start. Which leads me to this –

You are never required to follow a recipe. Just because a recipe says you need a certain seasoning, or ingredient, doesn’t mean you must use it. Make your own version of a dish.

Create your own seasoning mixes. Taco seasoning is just a simple mix of chili powder, garlic and onion powders, red pepper, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper. I’ve made mine many times without the red pepper. I also make my own garam masala and curry mix.

Budget. Admittedly, this one is the most difficult for me, and yet the most important if I want to keep my food purchases under control. If you find budgeting difficult, use cash.

Purchase jars or canisters for dry goods – beans, grains, flours, cereal. Limit what you buy to how many jars you have on hand. For example, if you have four jars designated for beans, and only one is empty, only one type of bean can be purchased that week. If you have two cereal jars, and both are full, no cereal needs to be bought.

It’s easy to buy too much of anything, but with food, emotions run deep. Deeper, I think, than with any other purchase we make.

Maybe food is more than just energy. Maybe it is life. Our tie to the living, our link to the dead.

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Simple Summertime Meals

Who doesn’t love summertime and all the great-tasting food that goes with it? If there is anything bad to say about this warm season of the year, it is this – cooking can be a bear during those 90+ degree days. Which is why I’m always looking for simple recipes I can create in a hurry.

To make your life a little easier, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite recipes.

Enjoy!

Saveur. Sausage and Arugula Pasta Salad. Love pasta in the summer. Great site!

Wellness Mama. Chinese Chicken Stir Fry. A fantastic site with information on how to live a healthier life.

The Cookie Rookie. Skinny Chicken Salad Sliders. I’m new to this site, but I like it already. So many recipes, but I think I’ll start with this one.

Veggies Don’t Bite. Raw Zucchini Noodles and Veggies. Another new site for me. The name alone drew me in. Once you enter this site, you won’t want to leave.

The View from Great Island. Minimal Monday Lemon Thyme Lamb Chops. Don’t these sound amazing? They are easy, too.

Cooking Classy. Balsamic Glazed Salmon. The name of the site scared me. I thought I’d find recipes with dozens of ingredients, and a hundred steps. Not true! This salmon sounds wonderful.

Eat Yourself Skinny. 7 Layer Spicy Taco Dip. Anything taco, and I am in, especially in the summer. A new take on the old taco salad.

Damn Delicious. One Pan Mexican Quinoa. One-pot meals make me happy.

Some of my favorites. What are yours?

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The Minimal Refrigerator

I placed my containers of fruits and veggies in the fridge, barely able to fit them on the narrow shelves. Our fridge was stocked, filled from top to bottom, and there are only two of us in our home. We had more food than we needed. But our fridge was full, and I felt good.

It made me think about refrigerators from the past, and I wondered, when did they begin to change, and why?

In the 1950s, refrigerators were pretty pastels, round edges, and short in stature, much different than the boxy ones of the 1970s.

Refrigerators more than doubled in size since the 1950s, when a fridge in the typical American home was a mere 9 cubic feet. By 1980, refrigerators grew to 19.6 cubic feet, and in 2012, 22.5 (tested.com)

But let’s go back a bit. The first home refrigerators were in Indiana in 1911. In the 1920s, freezers were introduced. And by the 1940s, frozen food storage was popular. Refrigerators were small, not like the monsters of today.

Why, and how, did they become so big?

As our homes grew, nearly tripling in square footage since the 50s, so did our appliances. But there is more to it than that.

In the 50s, a larger percentage of moms stayed home and cooked for the family, making multiple trips to the store within a week, and placing whole foods on the table. Much of what was served was not what you see in today’s freezers and stocked on the grocery store shelves. (Though it did exist, and it was around this time frozen dinners came on the market.)

The Big Box Store

Today, in many families, both parents work. Time is short, convenience a necessity, shopping more than once a week is nearly impossible, and the desire (and thus perceived need) is for a larger refrigerator. But there is even more.

When families desired convenience, a few brilliant minds got into the game and created The Big Box Store.

The Big Box Store has everything, multiple boxes of tissues, dozens of batteries, packages with more flashlights than anyone knows what to do with, restaurant size mayonnaise containers, bags of beans larger than a small child, and almost anything one can imagine.

My husband and I have (more than once) fallen victim to the Big Box Store, purchasing large packages of tomatoes and sauce that went bad, and a huge bag of rice that ended up with bugs.

But this isn’t an article about the good, bad, or ugly of a big box store. This is about the size of our refrigerators.

With a large refrigerator comes a desire to fill it, much like the 2500 square foot home with empty space in the corner. Beverages are stuffed in the door, little pudding containers and multiple cheese sticks piled in drawers, and sauces and jams of every flavor are placed on the shelves.

All that food makes us feel rich, look prosperous and well-off, makes us well-fed, and ready for any type of disaster. But are these things true?

How Rich Are We?

Having a lot doesn’t mean richness. It might mean we’ve spent more than we needed to. According to feedingamerica.org and mercola.com, between 40 and 50 percent of food is thrown away. If all that food hadn’t been bought, think of the money that could have been saved. I think of that as I see all the food in my fridge, and wonder, did I need so much?

Looking Good

Prosperity is a goal many aspire to, the right clothes, the expensive car, great jewelry. Even a well-stocked fridge is a sign of being prosperous.

But trying to look good for others is deceitful and dishonest, if only to ourselves. We spend needless time and money impressing people. We often end up in debt because of it.

Well-Fed

As for being well-fed, sad to say, but stocked fridge and freezer is not necessarily the sign of a well-nourished family. Processed foods could mean malnourishment, disease, chemicals fed into growing bodies. Processed foods are not a healthier choice, and often, processed foods are expensive.

Being Prepared

If you want to be ready for a disaster, the fridge is not the way to go. Non-perishables, just the necessities, are your best bet. But be careful, because as I mentioned earlier, even non-perishables expire.

It’s hard to get away from an over-sized fridge. You’d be hard-pressed to find a small fridge in any new home today. But we can get away from the attitude associated with huge appliances. We don’t need to fill our fridge any more than we need to fill our home.

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The Healthy Hippie Diet

I guess you could say I have always had food issues. When I was little, I’d sneak into the kitchen after dinner, looking for something to satisfy my never-ending appetite, and anything that would curb my sweet tooth. Needless to say, I gained a few pounds and hated the way I looked. In my early teens I fixed that problem by becoming anorexic, surviving on only diet soda and oranges.

But in high school, in order to fit in with the crowd, I needed to eat. My eating took a turn to an extreme, and I devoured burgers and fries, shakes and Cokes, and anything with the name Hostess on it. I crammed umpteen pieces of bubblegum in my mouth, doused my baked potatoes in butter and sour cream, and ate anything and everything fried. And vegetables? If it wasn’t a potato, corn, or lettuce, it wasn’t on my plate (at least not by my choice).

Even with all the eating I did in high school, I barely gained weight. You see, I had found a way to beat the system. I figured out how many calories were in each item, and knew exactly how long I needed to exercise to eliminate the weight. Often that meant working-out three hours a day. I may have been eating and exercising, but I wasn’t truly healthy (and never really had been). I had just found a new way of being anorexic.

It was late in high school that I discovered a health food store and began experimenting with unique foods. It was a short phase, but one I would remember forever.

After I was married and pregnant with my first child, I began to realize the impact of my eating. With a new baby growing inside me, I knew my food choices were not for myself, but for him. And so it was, for the first time in my life, I began to eat better. (Other than that one late hot summer night when I ate a bag of potato chips by myself. But we won’t talk about that.) Still, I hadn’t included many vegetables. But even without those, I felt really good.

My new baby was welcomed into the world, and as he grew and began to eat, I knew I had to do something I had never done. If I ever wanted my children to eat vegetables, I knew I had to eat them too. So slowly, I introduced vegetables into my diet. That was the beginning of a grand love affair.

But love affairs often fall apart, and with a busy life and growing family, I usually didn’t find the time, or energy, to eat right. Maybe I thought eating healthy required too many steps, that I had to grind and slice foods, and make some great creation. Maybe I never realized that healthy eating could be easier than that. So instead of simple, healthy eating, I often found our meals being substituted with frozen pizzas and burritos. To top it off, I drank soda, lots of it, to stay awake during my busy nights of work.

Thirteen years ago our family moved to the Pacific Northwest. Once again, I discovered new foods on the grocery shelves, and once again began to eat a little healthier, and even lost a few pounds.

But all my efforts fell away when I endured a brain injury six years ago. It took away my ability and desire to eat. I would have to retrain myself in healthy eating.

Sometimes, I think things happen for a reason. Sometimes I think we need to feel the depth of despair before we can truly appreciate life. My health was its lowest after my brain injury. Pictures from that point show me as weak and frail with dull, limp hair. I had broken teeth and a malnourished body. I truly couldn’t get much worse.

It was through many avenues that I would find the key to a happy, healthy life, and through much, much trial and error.

If you are struggling with health issues, I encourage you to look towards your food. Food sustains and nourishes us, but also takes away the ability to live a full, healthy life.

As Hippocrates says, “Let food be they medicine and medicine thy food.”

Here is the diet of a simple hippie:

Meats – Minimal amount, and minimally processed-preferably not at all. Grass-fed and organic, when possible. Used more for flavoring than as a main attraction, though I do like the occasional bison burger.

Veggies – Lots and lots of veggies, a wide variety, and at every meal.

Fruits – Almost as many fruits as veggies, though veggies win out.

Nuts – I am nuts about having nuts. I try to eat them every day, in homemade nut milk, fudge, or just a small handful.

Extras – Ghee (clarified butter), Coconut, Cocoa, and Honey as a sweetener.

There aren’t a whole lot of other things in my diet, except for the few chips I eat with salsa and avocado. The diet is simple and minimal – it’s what we were given when we were first placed on this earth. Besides, what more do you really need?

(Watch for healthy recipes coming soon!)

One final note: As ridiculous as it sounds, I am grateful for all that has happened to me. I have finally found what true health really is.

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Let’s Talk About Diets

I love the smell of freshly baked bread, cinnamon cookies, and chicken roasting in the oven. I love the sight of bright red apples sitting in the center of my counter. I love the feel of chocolate melting slowly on my tongue. I love everything about food, the aromas, the texture, the appearance. Except lutefisk, I don’t love that.

Food is a necessary ingredient of life. It’s sustains us, gives us energy, keeps our minds alert. Without it we wither and die. Obviously, God gave us food for a reason.

As I ate my lunch today (salmon cakes with homemade pickles, and a blended drink of carrots, oranges, mango, and ginger), I began to think about the different foods in the world, how blessed we were to have them, and how some people have eliminated many of these foods from their lives.

That got my mind wandering further (as it often does) to the types of diets that have existed over the years. I got a little curious and began to do some searching.

There have been a lot of diets over the past decades: Paleo, grapefruit, vegan, vegetarian, detox, kosher, fruitarian, lacto-ovo, flexitarian, pescetarian, plant-based, gluten-free, SCD, plus a host of others, including those that are based on our blood-type, the area our ancestors lived, and diets of the rich and famous. (Makes me dizzy just thinking about it.)

Some diets are necessary, like one that keeps a celiac from gluten, or a diabetic away from sugar. Some diets are understandable, like foods prohibited in one’s religion, or those based on other personal beliefs. But some diets, they are just plain silly, like the junk food diet. Did you know there was such a thing? Don’t even get me started on that one.

The problem I see is this, we are often sucked in (by the grand media) to believe that a certain diet will make our lives better. We will: Feel Better, Look Better, Be More Appealing, Lose Weight (sometimes with no exercise!), and most importantly, Be Popular. Who doesn’t want that?

But I wonder, was eating meant to be that complicated? Were we meant to be on constant diets, always monitoring our calories and food intake? I don’t think so.

I’ve tried other diets. I’ve been vegan, and vegetarian. I am gluten-free (out of necessity), and eliminate other foods from my diet as well (gotta love allergies!) But as for any food my body willingly takes (without my throat closing-up, or my stomach going into a frenzy), I will gladly eat it.

Diets are difficult. It’s not hard when you eat at home, preparing your own meals (as long as it is from whole, unprocessed foods), but try going to a restaurant when you are a vegan, and I can guarantee you most restaurants don’t get it completely right. Mixed inside those ‘vegan’ meals are often things like casein (protein from milk), red dyes made from crushed-up beetles, and beef gelatin. Even miso soup (a vegan staple) may contain fish flakes.

I just don’t believe eating was supposed to be this hard. We were given whole foods, fresh, growing on trees and in the ground. We were given animals to treat responsibly and eat in moderation. God set our bodies up for that. Why do we insist on changing it? Oh yeah, it will us make us popular.

But I don’t care about popularity. I just like my life simple. So I will pull an apple off the tree, a tomato from the vine, and blueberries from a bush. I will eat a simple meal of fish and organic vegetables.

Diet really is simple. We just make it difficult.

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