Raise your hand if you’re ever confused about what you’re supposed to eat and not eat.
Oh, everybody? Okay then!
I learned what I know about health food as an adult. When I grew up, grocery stores all had a predictable range of stuff, and most people had never heard of stuff like goji berries or hummus or bioflavonoids or whatever. We definitely didn’t have purple potatoes! In fact, when I started learning to cook as a little kid, standard cookbooks didn’t even have pasta recipes. That didn’t start showing up until like 1985.
From my perspective, you can see why learning more about new foods has felt progressively more awesome. More variety, more flavors, better quality, more recipes, even how-to videos! It also helps that I now have better quality kitchen hardware than I did as a young broke bachelorette. Learning to cook and learning more about nutrition has been an adventure, a tasty, tasty adventure.
I started learning about new foods because… because I didn’t have a car. The closest food source to my first apartment happened to be an organic member-owned co-op grocery. It was small, and they only sourced health foods, almost none of which I’d ever heard about before. I would go in there, totally hungry, and wander the aisles like a little ghost. What was all this stuff? How did you cook it? Where were the Froot Loops?
I quickly learned that there was very little overlap between what Food Front had on its shelves and what was available at, say, the convenience store where I worked my first real job. It was also readily apparent that the people shopping at the co-op were pretty different from the people shopping at the convenience store. Nobody was giving soda to a baby, for example. The people at the co-op kind of… looked healthy. Whereas, some of the people at the convenience store were impatiently waiting at 9:55 AM for the alcohol coolers to be unlocked so they could buy malt liquor. And cigarettes. Nobody at the co-op was buying anything with cheese that came out of a pump. Without necessarily even realizing it, I started to identify with the health-food eaters, even though I was an extreme picky eater who refused to eat vegetables.
I had no idea how to cook. I once blew up my stove while boiling water for hot dogs. I’m a legend in my family for burning instant mashed potatoes. I made an oatmeal volcano in the microwave at my work. I made cookies and put in a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon… of baking powder. I made brownies once, and all the salt wound up in a little glob in one brownie, which fortunately I ate, because I’d never wish that on a friend. I have started cooking something on one page of a cookbook, and then the pages got stuck together and I started cooking a completely different recipe. It’s safe to say that I was on the extreme low end of I Have No Idea What I’m Doing.
I just kept trying, though. I kept trying new foods, because I’d be on a date and the boy would suggest it, or because it was the only restaurant available within walking distance, or because I was too hungry to go to a different store. I kept reading through cookbooks at the bookstore and the library. I kept trying stuff, and it wouldn’t be great, but then I’d try something else, which also wouldn’t be great. Little by little, I started recognizing the names of weird new foods and learning what to expect on the menus of various ethnic restaurants and actually developing some taste preferences.
When I really got serious, it was because suddenly I was a mother. Well, a mother of sorts, more specifically a step-mom. All this vestigial tribal memory stuff bubbled up from the primordial ooze. Must Grow Child. I never knew before that deep inside me was this alien image of a Wife and Mother Cooking Proper Meals. Uh, who are you and what have you done with me? I threw myself into the project with about the same energy that I put into learning to write all three Japanese language systems in high school. In other words, an arcane, difficult subject only assimilable by the rare few who were willing to hit the books hard enough. Something totally foreign but possibly interesting.
Then the confirmations started happening. I started making stuff that tasted good. My prep work started going a lot faster. We had appetizing leftovers in the freezer. My new family started asking for more stuff with cabbage. Cabbage! I ask of you.
The food started to look pretty.
Then things got really interesting. I started learning about micronutrients and experimenting with trying to hit all my targets every day.
That was when my migraines and my night terrors “coincidentally” disappeared.
Learning about health food is like learning about anything else, whether that’s music or a language or a new friend. First it’s a total unknown, then you explore it uncertainly, then it gets kinda interesting, then you start to learn that wow, this is really fascinating actually! The more you know, the more familiar something is, the more you’re able to appreciate it. Then you start building up this case for why this new thing (or person) is awesome. Time goes by, and you’re so sold on this thing you formerly knew nothing about that you want to tell everyone else about it! It comes from direct experience, and experience comes from experimentation.
I had every reason to avoid “health food.” I hated vegetables, I was a terrible cook, the health food store seemed to keep putting eggplants where all the good stuff was supposed to be. I had no idea what anything was or what to do with it. Little by little, as I learned more and tried more, everything changed. As my food intake changed, my body changed and my experience of life changed. It started to become obvious that the more I learned about food, the better I felt and the stronger I got. I don’t even miss eating cheese out of a pump.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.