18 September 2012

thinking about food. and truth. and such.

"Alice did not quite know what to say to this: so she helped herself to some tea and bread-and-butter."
-from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Disclaimer: this ramble of a post is just me splashing both recent and long-percolating thoughts onto the computer screen, in hopes of organizing them and resolving a few mental tensions for myself. You may or may not find it useful. I hope you do.



There are so many truth claims related to diet and health floating around in the world. Often contradictory. But the interesting thing is, contradict as they may, most have compelling evidence behind them! I don't just mean scientific evidence, which can get fudged and misinterpreted anyway. (Annoying.) I'm thinking of the undeniable, living proof of human beings who thrive.

Some thrive as vegans, slurping down a green smoothie every morning and concocting cashew cheese. If you only listen to that group, you'd probably believe their claims that milk is evil and bacon will give you heart disease. Others thrive as neo-cavemen, eating half a dozen eggs every day and shunning grains as if their life depended on it (and for a number of them, it does). If you only listen to that group, you'd quickly come to believe their claims that gluten is the devil and we all need to eat more coconut oil. Still others thrive on the Weston A. Price guidelines, happily munching sourdough bread with a thick slice of raw cheddar. If you only listen to that group, you'll find yourself believing their claims that everyone should have a batch of sauerkraut fermenting on the counter, lest we DIE.

Even more interestingly, in every group you can find people who have tried a different way of eating and felt terrible doing it! The former vegetarians who now chow down on steak. The former grain-eaters who now have a bag of almond flour in the fridge. The former cheese-lovers who now stick with tofu. They each say, "I was so sick until I started to eat like I do now! You should do this too!"

All those healthy, happy people make it difficult for me to choose one "method" over another. (Well, I've also discovered that I hate "methods" in general. They stress me out and fail to recognize human complexity. That's a post for another day.) If you healed your hypothyroidism with a raw food diet, good for you. If your son's autism has improved since dropping dairy and tomatoes from his diet, hurray! I believe you. I do.

But it's not going to work for everybody.

There are some things I think we all should implement. Ditch the refined grains and sugars. Make sure you can pronounce the ingredients in your food. Get rid of toxins, maximize the nutrient-dense foods. Eat fresh. Pay attention to your body and how it reacts to certain foods! That goes for everybody, from vegan to low-carber.

And then, there are certain commonly held "healthy ideas" I fully disagree with: I believe that we need saturated fat and cholesterol, that we are designed to eat meat, and that grains have some nutritional value, though they are not the healthful shining star we've been told. I don't like that lame phrase "everything in moderation," either. Moderation is a vague term and I think that mantra is too often used as an excuse to eat cake and avoid veggies.

Finally, there are things I have discovered to be true for me personally: gluten is a troublemaker, I should eat far more vegetables than fruit, and a meal without animal protein is unsatisfactory.

So I do have some firm across-the-board dietary convictions. My children will be eating and avoiding certain foods, whether they like it or not (I hope they will . . . I mean, we have pretty good food around here, if I do say so). I just get leery of those who want to impose their extremely detailed dogma method on the rest of the world. Mostly, I dislike the scorn hurled at anyone who disagrees with them. I've got my opinions too, but I try hard not to sound as if I despise those who hold different convictions. If you ask me what I think, and I see you eating too much sugar and not enough protein, well then, I'll say so. But if you don't ask, I will probably keep my trap shut. And I will trust that you are using your brain just like I'm using mine.

I am not sure why different eating patterns work for different people. I just know that they do. That knowledge liberates me from feeling as if I need to find the perfect diet. It simply does not exist; people aren't made with cookie cutters. Thus, I don't care to label myself with anything more specific than "Real Foodie." :)

(Of course, there are probably a hundred explanations for human variation, including ancestry, blood type, and personal medical history. Plus, I suspect that some of the disagreement comes because of people's goals. A lot of strict Paleo-ers are CrossFit enthusiasts aiming for ultra-low body fat. I am . . . not aiming for that.)

I figure it's my job to take care of myself and my family, not to worry about what the rest of the world is doing. So I need to stay informed. I need to try different things and keep my mind open. And in the end, I just need to cook us some real good food.

What do you think?


This post on The Nourished Life, not to mention many of the comments, echoes my current stance on the topic. This one on Passionate Homemaking addresses the spiritual side. And this from Northwest Edible says it all in a much funnier way. :) Basically, I think that food matters a lot . . . but it's not God. The end.

Posted on Simple Lives Thursday.


  1. Here here!!!!! My personal feeling is that ten years ago, everyone was dieting (ie, MY CHOICE to refrain from certain foods). Now everyone has food intolerances (ie, YOUR FAULT for not catering to my special diet). In reality, we all just need to eat healthy: less bad stuff more good stuff. And though we argue about what is the bad stuff, most people can at least agree on the good stuff: veggies, fruits, simple foods, things that came from the earth or the field, not the factory.

    I did the primal thing last spring as my pre-wedding diet and LOVED it, but I also took to heart their suggestion to only "diet" 80% of the time. The other 20, go to a restaurant. Eat the cake. LIVE AND ENJOY. And I lost 10 pounds, felt great, had clear skin, and was happy.


  2. I think you sound delightfully sane. Thankfully there are some other sane folk out there.

    Question which I shall ask of you before asking the Internet generally: is there some reason that food-based allergies are (seemingly) on the rise? It's a bit peculiar to me how many people are deathly allergic to peanuts or gluten in the past 5 years.

    1. My three guesses:

      One, that people had those allergies before, but they were undiagnosed. (I felt crappy for a long time before I figured out that it was because of gluten.)

      Two, that the food supply has changed. "Wheat Belly" (http://tinyurl.com/8edmwko) is an interesting take on this. The author points out how drastically wheat has been altered in recent years and blames those alterations for our increased problems with it. Other people finger GMOs and pesticides as causes for allergies/intolerance.

      Third, weak immune systems. This is big, in my mind. Overuse of antibiotics, a crazy vaccine schedule, and poor nutrition-- we're destroying our own defenses.

      Cheers to sanity!

  3. Amen sista!! I have long thought these exact things, but failed to say so...at least in a widespread way. Having friends in every group you mentioned, we have come to appreciate the diversity, the convictions behind each group, and have personally enjoyed some of the foods represented by these peeps. I have yet to try cashew cheese, but I have a friend here in Nassau who makes it and has promised me a taste. People here in Nassau swing from "only fish" to KFC or "Bamboo Shack" chicken on a religious level. We land in the middle, as my husband detests most seafood and strangely, it is VERY expensive here on an island where you'd think it'd be cheap. Go figure. I do miss the inexpensive-ness of the fruits and veggies in the U.S.. Here, you're looking at 2.39 a pound for nectarines. 70 cents for one orange, 69 cents a piece for apples and 99 cents a pound for bananas. Veggies aren' any cheaper, with red peppers (my favorite) a whopping 4.69 a pound. My belief is that the vegan/raw crzze of the U.S. has found it's way here in the form of unbelievably high prices which the ex-pats will pay to maintain their "healthy" lifestyle. The rest of us, who just want to feed ourselves and our children well, must pay the price.

  4. Good post, and I'm so glad you also enjoy Northwest Edible. That blog is a gem.

  5. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. It's so easy, especially when there are real health issues involved or you have moral/ethical reasons for eating the way you do, to think that correct eating is somehow the path to Nirvana. I mean, really, will go to hell if we have a Twinkie occasionally? I've been thinking also about the dangers of thinking of food as medicine or even "food as fuel"...entirely joyless and inhumane. While that doesn't stop me from eating raw or grass-fed or fermented foods (what do you *mean* I won't die if I don't eat saurkraut?!?!?), it does help me to realize that humans eat for more than fueling purposes...we also cook to create art, we eat to celebrate, and Christians even have the wonderful privilege of eating in order to worship in the Eucharist. Which raises a query: is it immoral to have gluten-y communion bread? :-) Great post, Rebekah!

  6. I really agree, and not just about food, but also about things like education and child-rearing. There are some basic boundaries--no swearing at the kids, say--but after that a lot is style: cloth diaper vs. paper, nursing for 3 years vs. switching them to cow's milk at 1 (or whatever), et cetera.

    I like the idea of approaching these topics as "I'm sharing what I have found to work for me in case it also works for you. If it doesn't, don't worry about it!"

  7. I heard this somewhere and it is an incredibly applicable rule of thumb:

    "Eat no food that is pronounced the same in a foreign land as it is pronounced in English in the USA" (i.e. big mac, cok-a-cola, etc...)