I started my day with a smoothie, as I have done for 23 days now. Mango plus papaya plus banana plus strawberry plus a scoop of Hawaiian Spirulina
. The fruit varies; the routine doesn’t.
The 23-day smoothie routine got its start last December on Maui when I naively attended 2011
, and opted to fall in line with the majority of Americans and vow, for the umpteenth time in my life, to eat healthier and exercise more.
I now have basil, cilantro, rosemary, arugula and parsley growing in my window garden to go along with the bananas and coconut, mango, lemon, lime and orange trees growing in the yard. The neighbor behind us provides avocados, and I am thinking about subscribing to a weekly box of veggies from the farmer-neighbor around the corner. Living in Hawaii, a year-round bounty of tasty treats is always available. It should make eating healthy easy. Right?
Eating a vegan (as in plant-based) diet is new for me but not too far removed from my natural diet. I grew up in the Midwest, the grandchild of farmer-grandparents on both branches of the family tree. Trouble was I didn’t eat like the granddaughter from farm stock. When I was an appropriate age, my mom scooped up a tiny bit of beef on a fork and slipped it into my mouth. I spit it out. She tried chicken. That came out, too. Pork. No way. I can’t explain it, other than to say I just don’t like meat. Not as a baby. Not as a child. Not as an adult. My distaste for meat didn’t make for pleasing memories around the dinner table. There would be commands (eat it) and instructions (you’re not leaving the table until you finish) and crying (but I don’t like it). Lots of crying.
One night, when I was maybe four or five, long after everyone else had finished eating, and I sat at the table, tears streaking my child face, someone—and in my memory it’s always one of my two older brothers—snapped a picture of me. It’s a black-and-white photograph, yet I can remember the blue in the striped shirt I was wearing. My tiny, child hands frame my face and my then blondish hair is mussed. It’s not a pretty picture, not the kind a mother frames; rather the kind brothers use to taunt their younger sister. Big brothers are like that.
Some people called me “vegetarian.” Yet, truth be told, I didn’t eat many vegetables, either. Potatoes? Sure, any way you made them. Corn? Yes, but only sweet white corn on the cob. Beans? No. Peas? No. Carrots? No. Asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower? Not then.
Most people called me picky. “She’s a picky eater,” I’d hear. And it’s quite true. I didn’t look forward to eating. I never understood the fascination for Thanksgiving. I don’t have memories of favorite foods—with the exception of sweets. Now, there, I have a long and unhealthy list. Mealtime wasn’t easy for me. (Or my poor mother.) But I couldn’t force anything down, and as willing as the dog was to help, I couldn’t slip her food, either, even though there were hours of opportunities to do so. I tried once or twice but the guilt was worse than sitting at the dinner table for three hours until bedtime. I realize now that here, in a nutshell, was insight into the kind of person I would grow into in all facets of my life, not just food.
You may wonder what I survived on, and here’s the answer: Dairy. As in, milk, cheese, eggs—scrambled only—cheese, cheese and cheese. When it came to cheese, I wasn’t picky. Oh, no. Not at all. Not for a second. Thankfully, my mom liked cheese, too, and indulged me.
“You’re going vegan?” a friend asked when I returned from Maui. “How are you going to give up cheese?”
“Good point,” I thought. Strangely, I don’t miss it. I’ve sprinkled some vegan cheese on a few dishes, but only because the recipes called for it. I don’t miss dairy. In fact, I don’t miss anything in my diet. But I do crave something these days, and that is dinner. I look forward to meal time. I make time to grocery shop and for food prep with my willing husband. I’ve never eaten better. I’ve never eaten more.
So, sit back and tighten your seatbelts, because we’re about to explore a plethora of Hawaii farmers and farmers’ markets in search of the best fruits and veggies that Hawaii has to offer. First up: A Hawaii chocolate farm! Stay tuned.
Let me be clear. I’m not proselytizing here. But I hope I encourage one or two of you to ponder something Hippocrates said a couple centuries ago. “Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food.”
Now, let’s answer a few questions you may have:
1. What the heck are you talking about? Vegan? What is vegan? This is definitely easier to explain than some are willing to tackle as an eating plan. A vegan diet is 100% plant-based and, thereby, excludes all animal products, including the obvious beef, pork and poultry but also dairy—eggs, milk and cheese. Even honey, if you want to take it to its purest form.
2. Where do you get your protein? I’ve heard this question my whole life. Our country just can’t seem to get its collective head around the fact that protein is found in more than just meat. Whereas, I used to respond to this question with, “Dairy,” I am now retorting, “The same place your protein gets its protein.” I admit that’s a little snide. So, I’ll simply say, “Nuts, grains, seeds and beans.”
3. Is it safe? Safe enough for the American Dietetic Association to declare a proper vegan diet meets all our nutritional needs. Some medical doctors say that a vegan diet is healthier than an animal-based diet. The health benefits include:
a. Lower cholesterol levels;
b. Lower blood pressure;
c. Decreased risk for heart disease;
d. Decreased risk for cancer; and
e. Better control and prevention of diabetes.
4. But I’m a carnivore. I need meat. Maybe. But how much protein do you really need? According to Mark, the World Health Organization recommends 5% of our diet come from protein. Major American medical associations suggest 10%. The average American diet consists of 20 to 30% protein.
5. Isn’t that some tree-hugging, animal-loving, “out-there,” hippie diet? At one time, it may have been, but there are a few well-known people (say what you will about them) who are eating a vegan diet now—from ex-presidents to endurance athletes to bodybuilders to rock stars. More and more Americans of a certain age are turning to a vegan diet for health reasons. If you want to know more, watch the documentary Forks over Knives. Recently, a couple mainstream media outlets ran these articles: No Meat, No Dairy, No Problem and The Mainstreaming of Vegan Diets and Sculptured by Weights and a Strict Vegan Diet.