Last week, three separate people I love confronted health issues. Serious ones. The kind that made their doctors give them the come to Jesus talk. All these conditions are manageable, even reversable, with diet. Bet you can guess what the diet involves -- fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, the meatless triumvirate. These people know these foods are healthy and even delicious. But that's not what they eat. They eat processed food, meat and dairy.
Oh, they've known they need to change what they eat, but in an abstract kind of way, as though it was something affecting another person. On another planet. In another galaxy. Even now, after their respective health wakeup calls, they have not fallen on their knees and embraced broccoli. They're still toggling between anger and denial.
"It's not like I eat meat every day," they tell me. "It's not I eat all that much cheese or soooo much processed food," they say.
But they do.
"You don't understand how difficult it is to change," they say.
But I do.
Suddenly, their home turf has turned hostile environment. Supermarkets and restaurants have morphed into houses of horrors. Only a fraction of food is deemed safe to consume, and it's not even the food they like. They're so crazed from reexamining and rethinking every single thing to cross their lips, eating has become a chore. They're miserable. So am I. I love them and I'm worried.
I'm a vegan. That's been fine for them as long as it doesn't interfere with their lives. I've been like a droning fly in the background. I'm okay being a fly, if you don't swat me. I don't believe in pushing my choices on anyone, be it what to eat, who to vote for or what to wear. Shouting at people doesn't work. True, deep, integrated change is only possible when we're ready for it. For the three people I care about, though, now seems like it would be a good time.
It would certainly be a good time for me. My normal attempts to be zen about these things are failing. I have to resist plying them with meatless meals they're not ready for yet. I feel for these people. I also feel for Mayor Bloomburg, who wants to impose a soda ban on New York. The thing is, I don't agree policing portion control is the role of government and I don't believe personal change can be legislated.
I do believe individual choices, actions -- and inactions -- have consequences. Say your behavior results in you getting sick -- we're not talking about a cold, we're talking about a lifestyle-curtailing condition requiring medical intervention, be it pills or surgery. It's your choice, it should be your problem. But it becomes everybody's problem. It puts stress on your workplace and it's no fun for your family and your friends, either. Taking you for medical tests or visiting you in the hospital is not our idea of quality time.
These three people I care about aren't alone in facing health issues. Over a third of Americans are clinically obese, and that number is forecast to increase.
I can't force broccoli on the people I love any more than I can force them -- or you -- to eat less meat. But consider your food choices aren't just about you. They affect the whole world. It's a better place with you in it.
Quick and Easy Singapore Noodles
This popular Asian street food is traditionally made with broad, chewy rice noodles. Use linguine noodles, if they're easier to come by. It is also traditionally made with seafood and pork. Trade up with this vegetable-intense version. Swap or add other vegetables and plant-based foods like peas, tofu, cabbage, whatever you like.
8 ounces broad Asian rice noodles (or linguine)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons sriracha or, if you like it hot, sambal oelek **
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1 large onion, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, chopped or cut into matchsticks
1 carrot, chopped or cut into matchsticks
1 celery stalk, chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 cup broccoli, cut into florets
chopped scallions and/or cilantro to garnish (optional)
Prepare pasta according to package directions until just tender. Drain in a colander or strainer.
In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, brown sugar, sriracha or sambal oelek, sesame oil and ketchup. Stir until sugar dissolves and mixture thickens a little bit. Set aside.
Heat canola or peanut oil in a large pot over medium high-heat. Halve onion and slice thin. Add to oil. Stir and cook until onion softens, about 3 to 4 minutes. Mince garlic and add to onion.
Chop carrot, broccoli, celery, pepper and mushrooms, add to pot and saute, stirring frequently, for 7 to 10 minutes.
Pour soy sauce mixture over all. Toss to coat. Add noodles, stirring to heat through, about five minutes.
Garnish with scallions or cilantro if desired.
** Asian hot sauce, available in Asian markets, most natural food stores and many supermarkets.