When I was 12, I lived for a year on an Israeli kibbutz with an onsite slaughterhouse. I'll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that the farm's lambs and piglets were my best friends. One fine afternoon, the cafeteria served lamb and pig sausages. And I never ate meat again -- that I know of. As the years went by, more animal products started grossing me out. Fish was the next to go. Then, for the most part, dairy and eggs.
People always ask me what I eat, bewildered. I tell them it's not what you don't eat but what you do eat. I love to eat! Usually, flavorful, healthy, natural food (generally consumed in small amounts, four or five times a day during daylight hours.) I love fresh salads, curries, stir fries, sweet potatoes, beets, coconut, avocado; whole grains like rice, quinoa, couscous and flax; legumes like lentils and chickpeas. Any cuisine with Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian or Mediterranean inspiration is great for me. I love the pleasure, sensuality and miraculous properties -- both nutritional and medicinal -- of different ingredients. Yes, it takes work to do it right, and at times it's a pain in the butt. Gluten or no gluten? Soy or no soy? Am I getting enough protein? Potassium? Iron? C to absorb the iron? Magnesium? Omegas? B12? Are they being absorbed? Is it organic? Local? Madness! And try finding proper vegan sustenance in the Australian outback or even a Parisian bistro. As such, I sometimes make the "convenient" choice: use my common sense and do what will make me feel the best with the least amount of effort.
But it's all worth it. I feel pretty amazing most of the time. And I worked hard to get here -- a decade of learning about nutrition, yoga, holistic wellness and my body, while implementing lifestyle adjustments like tons of exercise and fresh air. I'm told it shows on my outsides but more importantly, I feel young, alive, energetic. Clean on the inside, you know? And I still have a ways to go...
A brief disclaimer: I know many will disagree with my treatise, and that's fine. I accept that going veg isn't for everyone, and I'm neither nutritionist nor fitness expert. I don't want to preach. This is personal. So, I admit, I have many bad habits -- hey, I'm a writer and actor living in the big city! I'm not a true vegan. I own leather boots, and there's bee pollen in my Greens+. (I know, I'm such a sinner! Call the vegan police.) I adore cupcakes. I probably drink too much booze. I definitely worry too much. I hate to cook and don't forsee that changing anytime soon. I'm also a bit flexible on the dairy tip. Dairy creeps into my favorite desserts, like chocolate. But I avoid it, and notice how much better I feel when I skip it altogether.
You see, the traditional Western diet of massive portions, animal products, refined sugar and processed grains never agreed with me. When I was growing up, vegetarian in North America meant Domino's pizza and spaghetti with Ragu sauce. My parents, Jewish intellectuals with hearts of gold, didn't cook. We could quote Catch 22 like nobody's business and perform The Sound of Music from beginning to end, but when it came to cuisine, microwave take-out and and peanut butter sandwiches were the extent of our talents. My mother, bless her artist heart, banned junk food, replacing it with diabolical concoctions like "spagheggi," eggs scrambled with tomato sauce. It was pink, like another house favorite, "pink panther soup," canned tomato rice soup with milk. Instead of cookies, our lunch bags rocked frookies.
Ew. Not to mention embarrassing in the schoolyard. Being the sole vegetarian among an extended tribe of carnivores didn't help my outcast issues. Even though I liked being the black sheep, part of me desperately wanted to fit in -- I was enough of a weirdo already. "You don't eat," my critics would scoff, rolling discolored eyeballs over sallow skin while shoveling cartloads of meaty, creamy, heaviness down their gullets at 11 p.m. (No judgment.) But I just couldn't stomach anything that had walked the earth.
In my family of Eastern European Jews, food meant not only love, guilt and security, but the breath of life itself. I won't delve into the whole Jewish-food issue, the brilliant Jonathan Safran Foer said it better than I could. Obviously, though, our immigrant background added a healthy spritz of angst and guilt to all matters gastronomic: food as love. Food as security. Food as control. Food became linked to fear. Somewhere inside me lurked a whisper of inadequacy and the resulting fear of being alone. It flared up only on occasion, but it was there. Hate to admit it, but it still kind of is.
During my early 20s, my fridge contained: Lettuce in a bag. Vodka. Olives. Canned tuna. (I still ate fish back then.) I was working in bars to put myself through university, falling for bad boys and generally seeing how far I could go. Until something clicked: What the hell was I doing? I knew my half-ass vegetarian regime wasn't cutting it, along with other, darker, pursuits. There had to be another way.
So, I traded in rock stars for lentils and started educating myself.
I got into yoga, read books, and have been lucky to cross paths with various experts: doctors of Eastern medicine, acupuncturists, trainers and holistic nutritionists. When they all tell you the same thing about your system -- its unique strengths and weaknesses -- you start to listen. Learning about the link between specific moods, emotions and thoughts and corresponding organs was another revelation -- I learned to rebalance myself with certain foods. I also learned about vitamins, and which complement my system and lifestyle.
And, exercise! The human body was not made to sit ass-in-chair for 16 hours a day, we were made to move. I discovered that despite my fat ballerina phase (another happy tale), I'm actually very sporty. Now, let's be realistic, I'm no pro athlete and not about to model bikinis in this lifetime. (The chocolate and vodka don't help.) Still, I can jog 7K on a good day, hold my own in advanced yoga class, and dance the night away with Brazilians 10 years my junior no problemo.
A delicious effect of this whole journey is body awareness, truly living in my physical self. It's fun and sensual to have a body that can move, dance, jump, tingle, sweat, connect with others. To trust my body's wisdom and hopefully be aware (not obsessed) of subtle signs and shifts that could become problems, or perceive how my system is responding to a new variable. I've also become conscious that food is just one of many forms of energy we consume, which we, in turn, put back out into the world. I see how stress has the same effect on my body as the toxic foods I avoid.
Most of all, I know now that just because my eating habits differ from the North American norm doesn't mean I'm unhealthy or a freak. Contrary to the beliefs one ex-boyfriend with whom I briefly co-habitated just as I was starting to learn to eat right for my system, vegan isn't an eating disorder! Neither is opting for a big lunch and light dinner.
Which brings us back to the that fear, a darker animal that lurks around even now.
However it manifests, the big question is, what is this fear about? Is it a fear of being fat, skinny, sick, or unhealthy? Perhaps it's the fear of loss of control. The fear of being unlovable if less than perfect and ultimately alone. Or the fear of death -- that's always a good one. As if we could somehow outsmart our bodies into immortality through a daily blueberry smoothie.
As my mother says, humanity is a terminal condition.
Accepting that brings freedom: Freedom of the fear of being judged if I am simply myself, even if different than the norm in whatever ways.
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