During the initial Engine2 orientation meeting, Dani asked us to consider eating whole foods, as close their natural state as possible. “Here’s an example,” she said, “imagine a field of marshmallows.” The object is to look at a heavily processed food-like substance and imagine the distance it traveled to become the finished product. It’s silly to imagine a field of cheese on toothpicks, chocolate rivers, and cupcake trees, right?
It’s my guess that Dani has never been to the Fancy Foods Show.
I chose one of the worst weeks of the year to challenge myself against dairy, sugar, and meat. On Day 6 of the challenge, I arrived in San Francisco to walk the aisles of decadence. Now, it’s important to remember that food is not an enemy, and is meant to be enjoyed while it fuels our bodies. It is not meant to fill an emotional void, or to abuse, nor to take for granted. I am not ashamed to tell you that my first meal upon arriving in San Francisco was four delicious, well-appreciated pieces of sashimi. I live in Colorado now, and I struggle with eating sushi in land-locked states. When I lived in Santa Cruz, I took for granted how fresh the sashimi seems in comparison to, say, Idaho.
Even Dani instructed us to “be spontaneous”. We’re not supposed to hate this challenge. However, here are a few entries from my food journal while at Fancy Foods.
Day 6: Being spontaneous! Sushi, followed by a vegan lunch on the micro-roaster coffee tour. Drank coffee and espresso shots all day long, sans cream or sugar! Proud day.
Day 7: Walked the show floor and remained Plantstrong ™! However, I finished off the day with a glass of local Chardonnay with my mom.
Day 8: Thankfully I’m in San Francisco, where every restaurant has a Vegan menu on the ready. Traveling on this challenge is a challenge. Everyone uses processed oils for cooking and flavoring.
Day 9: I miss milk. I’m at the Sustainable Foods Summit, sitting next to Albert Straus. THE Albert Straus. I’ve eaten Straus organic maple yogurt every morning for nearly four years. I am ashamed of my non-dairy challenge right now and I don’t want to mention any of this to Mr. Straus. I am starving.
Day 10: [Illegible] (Although a few partially-deciphered words lead me to believe this might be a hate letter to myself)
Withdrawals are to be expected. I knew I was dependent on dairy and sugar, but I did not expect an emotional reaction by abstaining from either one. For the first time in my life I understand, fundamentally, what people like Michael Pollan mean when they describe “our relationship with food."
I just returned from our second Engine2 Challenge meet-up. The cooking demo this week is called “How do I live without meat?” Apparently tempeh saves the say, but to be honest I don’t crave meat the way I have always craved cream and sugar. When I was eleven years old, I declared myself a vegetarian on the basis that “it’s wrong to kill animals. Period.” But deep down, I just didn’t care for eating meat. My dad, fearing I was on a fast track to eco-terrorism, forced me to eat steak once a year.
This was no punishment; his broiled steaks are better than anyone’s. It wasn’t until I turned 26 that I made a conscious decision to commit myself to Organic. And it wasn’t for the usual reasons (health, taste, free-of, or trendy). I was living in Santa Cruz at the time, and it’s much harder to ignore farm workers on the Central Coast than anywhere I’ve seen in the United States. In Santa Cruz County, you will drive the highway and see farm workers harvesting only thirty feet from your vehicle. The vision of them coming home to their kids at the end of the day, covered in pesticides and chemicals, led me to a lifestyle of Organic, for the sake of humanity.
This vegan challenge is the first personal health-focused alteration to my diet. And while there are good days and not-as-good days, it’s not killing me.
Let me know if you’ve ever deliberately abstained from a food group or ingredient, and why. I’m beginning to see that everyone has a unique reason for evolving their relationship with food.