The night before Jeff's mom arrived for a two week visit, I had a teeny-tiny moment of doubt. Did I need to go buy a loaf of bread? A box of cereal? Maybe some tortilla chips? I considered it briefly, then decided that there was no compelling reason to throw my beliefs about good nutrition and delicious eating out the door. I decided I would feed her the way I feed all the other people I love, and if she needed something different, I would loan her the car and give her a map to Trader Joe's. After her arrival, I ended up buying her a small container of milk for her morning coffee, and beyond that she ate up our Paleo goodness every day she was with us (she had some breads, etc. when we were out and about, but the point to me was I didn't drop our principles to feed her, and at the same time I was able to nourish her and celebrate her visit with delicious meals - the most important principle of all!).
The longer we eat Paleo, the longer we feel the clarity of good health and the ease in eating this way, the less inclined I am to worry too much if someone staying in my house needs a bread fix.
We are a family of four, Jeff and I and our two babes, and everyday we are eating Paleo. We have our own tweaks to the general concept of Paleo eating, but what we are not doing is making one meal for the kids and another for us, or serving our meat and vegetables with a side of pasta, or stocking the pantry with crackers for the guests, or bringing along processed foods to the gym or park for snacks out of the plea of convenience, or ease. But it is important for me to say that at points in our journey we have done all of these things!
I'm not good at deprivation (is anyone, really?). Rather than focus on what my diet lacks, it's easier - and more inspiring- for me to think about this in terms of what we do eat: delicious, locally raised meats, wild-caught fish, seasonal organic produce, amazing fats (probably my favorite part of being Paleo, after three decades of fearing fat, being neurotic about my body, and loving the thing I was supposed to avoid - fat) and a couple of "special foods" - nuts and seeds, coconuts, dark chocolate, the occasional sweet indulgence. Every person I know who eats Paleo has their own motivations and experiences, so diets look a little different. We go with what feels good, and we aren't unwilling to experiment and consider well-thought out suggestions. The pleasure of eating a very "clean" diet is that we have become very awake to what works and doesn't work for our own bodies. We are rarely tempted to "cheat", primarily because, on a very real level, we feel like dirt physically when we do.
Honestly, it was a slow process for me to really let go of my fondness for certain foods: roasted baby potatoes, almond brioche, udon noodles, a very tall, cold glass of beer on a hot day. As my palate has changed, I love these foods more as ideas than I do as actual items going into my mouth. I have allowed myself these things when and if I really wanted them, and the thing I have learned about them, over the course of the last three years, is that I don't really want them, and I really don't want the way they leave me feeling, physically and otherwise.
I've mentioned before that Paleo nutrition has released me from chronic, and sometimes debilitating, anxiety and depression. When I met my husband he was taking at least four medications, including chemotherapy, (in his late twenties!) to manage incredibly painful rheumatoid arthritis. We are both drug free these days and our "chronic conditions", which conventional wisdom would treat as unfortunate but unavoidable side affects of modern living and which conventional medicine would prescribe medication to alleviate symptoms for, are more or less nonexistent. Our five year old, Benen, has severe and chronic congestion that returns with a vengeance whenever he eats grains; we also have noticed significant behavioral changes (of the very best kind) when he's eating well with us. As individuals and as a family, we aren't unique at all. The internet is crammed with the stories of people, of all ages, who have recovered their health with a thoughtful middle finger to conventional wisdom and a deep commitment to Paleo lifestyles.
Paleo makes intuitive sense to me. It honors my body on a physiologic level, but it also nurtures me in a soulful way, because I know our diet honors my personal values and our family's values. Paleo eating resonates with us not just because we feel good physically - but because the way we "do" Paleo, we're living out our beliefs about ecology, strong local economies, spending time with each other, and taking responsibility for our own wellness, rather than abdicating it to a bag of Wheat Thins and a pill. There's an impressive body of science that supports the tenets of our way of eating: grain-free, local, grass-fed, wild-caught and biodynamic have a lot of heft, physiologically, ecologically, economically. But the biggest proving ground for me has been my own wellness, and that of my family. It gets me in the kitchen, where I really like to be,and it connects us with local farmers and producers, and it really is a family affair to eat this way. It slows us down, grounds us in the reality of our own bodies, and opens to us traditional foodways to remind us of our collective heritage. A real and virtual community of inspired and very smart people illuminate the complexities of our chosen lifestyle, and we have found a way of living that links us to something much bigger than us.There isn't much not to like.
For us, Paleo nutrition means we cook, a lot. Every day. There is no getting around it, and I fear for the success of those who want to eat Paleo long-term and don't want to spend some time in the kitchen (unless they are ready to spend some money). We are eating nutrient dense foods and they shine with fresh preparation. We are also pretty active people (and so we are pretty hungry), and live frugally, so even when we plan for extras they get eaten quickly or used for a meal while out and about. But I can whip up a delicious and nourishing dinner in under 20 minutes, which outclasses take-out in economy, nutrition, waste and time together as a family in all regards - so usually, even when I am not inspired or planned poorly - we cook.
That said, the simple fact that I like to cook, and that we both have cooking skills, has helped us enormously. At the time we went Paleo we rarely ate meat in this house; we were primarily vegetarian - I'm not a fan of CAFO meat, didn't know how to cook meat, and had spent almost 10 years learning how to cook grains, legumes, and other plant-based foods. We cultivated yeast starters and brewed kombucha and had four ways to cook rice. On the "whole foods" spectrum, we were on one end of the rainbow. Simply, we moved to the other end.
We had a steep learning curve (and I have fodder for future posts). We needed to relearn how to plan meals, write a grocery list, pack a lunch, source our food, and eat out. We had to learn a lot of new cooking skills - I rarely cooked meat before but now I can braise, stew, grill, brine, roast, sear and marinate with the best of them. Planning ahead, being willing to work a little to make sure that we have lots of good options available for ourselves and our kids, creating lots of "yes" opportunities for us and the kids so we can enjoy our food, enjoy socializing and being with extended family, and still not sell ourselves up the river has been a great lesson in itself. Sometimes just looking a little bit like a fanatical food purist, maybe a bit of an asshole, is in order. There are moments, like when my five year old is coming unglued because I'm not o.k. with the 10 a.m. chocolate graham cracker that his friend offered him, that I just put on my blinkers and keep my eyes on the prize (which in this case is loving this little boy with great energy and the truth of my convictions, and getting him home and feeding him a big, Paleo lunch). There are other times, like when our Nana, who we see only every two years or so, is in town, that we relax a little and go to the local ice cream joint and all enjoy a sundae. This is a lifestyle, and it has a rhythm to it, and it needs to be fun and delicious (at least it does for me) to really benefit from it on a soul level.
How does your food philosophy fit with your hopes and dreams and beliefs?