One big aspect of mindful consumption is food and eating mindfully. This includes being aware of what goes into our bodies, being aware of where it comes from and making sure that my eating practices don’t cause unreasonable harm to animals and the environment. (By “unreasonable”, I mean that I understand animals are killed for food but I don’t want to contribute to the unnecessary pain and stress of their lives.)
There is a lot of damage, carnage and destruction in the food industry. We know that animals in factory farms live in horrific conditions, have their babies taken from them and live a life of stress and fear. We know that huge swathes of land around the world are clearcut to make room for more agriculture, decimating wildlife and biodiversity in the affected area. We know that the meat industry creates a hefty part of the greenhouse gases that are in our atmosphere. We know that working conditions are deplorable for workers in developing countries that harvest coffee and chocolate. We know that processed food is filled with chemicals, preservatives and artificial flavours. We know that the entire commercial food industry is ruled by only about 10 companies (Nestlé, General Mills, Coca-cola and Kellogg, to name just four) and they have an incredible influence on consumer choice, variety and supplier terms. The vast majority of the food our North American culture consumes is processed and filled with ingredients that shouldn’t be consumed or don’t naturally occur in food. But as long we are spending money, companies that produce and sell this garbage won’t change. We propagate all of these unhealthy practices by continuing to buy it. And we don’t do ourselves any favours by consuming it. When you really starting learning about it, it boggles the mind to realize how much the food industry hurts the planet.
But changing our practices sometimes seems like such a huge and insurmountable change. Like, we need to wait for the “right time” or when we’re feeling emotionally with-it or when there aren’t any other crises in our lives to deal with. Because re-evaluating everything that you put into your body is a major undertaking, especially if you work full-time and have little mouths to feed. I know a lot of people who understand the processes that their food undergoes and it horrifies them but at the end of the day, they still need to feed their family in a decent amount of time and today just wasn’t the day to find the recipe for that vegetarian meal and then go to the grocery store to get the ingredients. I get it. I do. There’s no judgement here.
Re-evaluating everything I put into my body used to be a huge undertaking for me. Eight years ago, I discovered that I had a gluten intolerance. This explained why I had been so sick and bloated and slothy for months on end (and I don’t just mean “feeling gross”, I mean I was lying in bed with stomach pains and sleeping at least ten hours a night with no energy to engage in sports or going out and hardly enough to get myself to work). Within days of eating only vegetables (because at first I didn’t know what it was but I assumed it was a food allergy), I started to feel better. A lot better. Like a million times better. And so began my life of looking at every ingredient, modifying every dish, confirming two or three times with servers that the food in front of me was definitely, absolutely gluten-free. (As a sidenote, I was not always gluten-intolerant. Gluten intolerances can be brought on by prolonged periods of profound stress.)
But other than being gluten-free, I hadn’t changed my diet too much. No more processed or fast foods (certainly not a bad thing), no more bread or delicious sweets (still breaks my heart), and no more beer (this was a big one for a country girl.) But I was still a carnivore, still looking for the best price in the grocery store, still a chocoholic and wine drinker and I still ate movie popcorn by the bucket.
Ever since we bought the cabin, we’ve talked about buying local. The cabin is located in farm country. Farms that have signs at the end of their driveway for eggs, berries, beef, maple syrup and garden vegetables. Yes, they are more expensive than grocery stores but the food is FRESH and we are putting money into the pockets of our neighbours, helping them continue to run their small, family farms. The taste of fresh vegetables can’t be beat and I know the animals are treated well because I see them in the pastures, happily munching on grass. (Plus, I grew up around farms and the farmers I know don’t mistreat their animals.)
But we never really made the leap to practice what we’d been discussing. We got busy in the city and the discount grocery store is only a block away. But we did take baby steps. We shopped far more frequently at local markets. We cut out a lot of processed foods (processed gluten-free is on the rise! Don’t be fooled! Just because it’s gluten-free/vegan/vegetarian doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy!). We tried to buy vegetables that were in season and products of Canada, if not local. And that’s the way it’s been for the last couple of years.
Then something happened. I don’t know what it was. Maybe it was the decadence of the Christmas season that drove us over the edge. But we decided to make a conscious effort to eat clean. We started juicing again, we used the compost in crackers and muffins, we dehydrated massive amounts of veggies into snacks (kale chips and sweet pepper sticks are my favourites!). We cleaned out the fridge, freezer and cupboards of all the food we were not going to eat again.
We stopped drinking (HOLY SHIT!) and Soldier Boy started finding and making these vegan recipes that were rock solid! (Because that’s another obstacle to eating clean – the perceived taste of said dishes – boring, tasteless, grainy, unfun and unfulfilling.) Soldier Boy made a quinoa tabbouleh salad, a BBQ cauliflower salad, a vegan faux tuna salad sandwich that actually could pass for a healthy tuna salad but was made out of chickpeas! Shut the front door! Now, we’re not strict vegans or anything but this month’s meals have shown us that eating clean can be fun and really tasty! Here are some other resources we’ve used for healthy yet delicious meals- Forks Over Knives, Reboot With Joe, Clean Food Dirty Girl, Italian Plantz Cookbook and Yummly.
We signed up to get a box of fresh fruits and vegetables every two weeks in the summer from a local farm called Enright Harvest Acres (and then found out it was the farm of an acquaintance – even better!). We can also buy chicken and beef from them as well as get a supply of garlic through them from a neighbouring farm. PERFECT! (And as a sidenote, the chickens on that farm were hatched and raised in my friend’s classroom. I love small worlds.)
We’ve been eating clean for almost six weeks now and it’s hard to describe the difference. It’s not that I feel a million times better but my body just seems to be working better. I’ve managed to stave off every illness that’s gone through work (knock on wood), I’ve lost six pounds (which means all my clothes are fitting better and I don’t need to go buy new ones – all kinds of awesome), I sleep through the night, I can make it through the day with enough energy leftover to get to the gym, I don’t even really get sweet cravings anymore. All of this accompanied with regular physical activity and I’m feeling pretty awesome.
This is not to say that we don’t have our moments of weakness. For example, the other day, the planned vegan meal didn’t turn out, so we ordered pizza. Because it was fast and we were hungry and after six weeks of clean eating, we figured it would be morally okay to order in and besides, we’re not poster children for any kind of diet or lifestyle. We’re just normal people trying to live our lives helping and not hurting. I mean, I had a glass of wine when I went out for dinner with a friend. I bought a chocolate bar last week but instead of inhaling it and then looking at the empty wrapper completely bewildered as to where it went, I snapped off ONE PIECE and then STOPPED! (Yeah, read that again if you have to. I hardly believe it myself.) I still have to have that buttery heart attack in a bag known as popcorn when I go to the movies. HAVE. TO. We’re not full-on crazy fanatic about our diet. But we have brought mindful eating to a whole new level in our house and I just don’t know how we could ever go back.
Change is happening. There are more and more people out there making these healthy choices, sharing their ideas and indirectly putting pressure on these big companies to change their ways. Eating mindfully in one house can help the whole world.