Food Journey

January 14, 2018

If you are reading this, most likely you, like me, are on a food journey. I wanted to start from the beginning, to understand how I got to where I am on my food journey. I was that kid in middle school that came home telling my family we needed to recycle, admonishing them if they left the sink running while brushing their teeth, and announcing that I would no longer eat meat. I became a champion for cows. This is no joke.


I found this old picture in an album - of some shelves in my bedroom in middle school. There is not a single functional item on that shelf, it is all COWS. Some things I made myself, some things we found in vintage shops, or items we found at craft fairs. It is ALL cows. I was obsessed.


Boys at school caught wind of my very energetic love of cows, an animal most people didn't consider cute like bunnies or puppies. They created a club called the Cow Killers Of America - CKOA. And they loved to talk to me about how they ate steak for dinner the night before. Sometimes pushing the topic until it made me cry. Yes, I tried to not eat meat at home. My family was not on board. I don't recall how long that phase lasted - my supposed vegetarianism. In time, I found the humor in the CKOA - but as you can see, 30-some years later, I still remember it!


By high school, I became serious about sports, and did need to eat meat to provide the protein to assist in growing, and performing. My love for sports continues today, but I was an athlete all through high school and college. Chicken was a huge part of my diet as a swimmer back in those days. Meat was important to me. (Someone should have warned this swimmer about how to reduce caloric intake when swimming was no longer on the menu)


I never really thought about NOT eating meat again. But along the way, I started seeing injustices against animals. It lead me to become a volunteer and foster parent at my local humane society. I started taking care of dogs, it was something I was good at and capable of. It was part of my animal journey. I hadn't really started that part of my food journey. Animals have always been important for me. Having not really been allowed to have pets as a child, in my 20s, I was making up for lost time. I wanted to speak for the animals that couldn't speak for themselves. When it came to food, I just didn't know what I could do to change the industry or make things different.


I had always been on a food journey. I just didn't know it. I grew up with female family members that were obese. It was part of our family. I was told growing up that I was fat (I was not). So this is the beginning of my food journey. The joy of swimming in high school meant I could eat ANYTHING, and I needed to eat a lot to keep up with the caloric needs of swim practice twice a day. But I also needed to fuel myself with good food. My older brothers and I were both on the swim team, Coach gave us some strict food rules. We got to bring those home. It was a huge reduction in fried foods, we got to eat a lot of pasta, but he wanted a lot of good veggies and good, lean meat in our diets too. Pasta was for swim meats. My father became a diabetic when I was only 8, which meant our house was full of fresh veggies to munch on, like radishes and carrots. Our swim team diet was not hard for us to follow. My mother acquiesced and cooked what we needed to eat.


As I passed college and playing sports came down to rec league games like volleyball, rugby, and my training for charity cycling events - I was still active, but not 10,000 yards-a-day active. With my family background, I struggled hard with my weight. But cooking had not been part of my food journey - only eating was! Food came from boxes and cans, and things that were convenient.  I actually hated cooking chicken, as I could not stand handling raw chicken. I was not a good cook. Often, after working long hours in an engine plant, by the time I got home, I was so hungry, I could barely wait to cook. This became what I called the "beer and ice cream diet". I would often either eat some ice cream or drink a beer to decide what to cook for dinner. Often, by the end of the beer or ice cream, I was no longer hungry and would crash for the next day.  I lost 10 pounds on the beer and ice cream diet!


Eventually I started a diet program that gave me recipes, and a shopping list every week. This was when I actually started to learn how to cook. Prior to that, I might be eating canned soup, or using canned soup to cook meat, or finding a fajita kit in a box. I can't even remember what I ate back in my 20s. I suspect there was a lot of boxed macaroni and cheese involved. Cooking was not my thing. This diet program taught me to stop dousing all of my food in butter or sauces (most of which are mostly sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup). This program taught me how to cook using spices instead of sauces to flavor things. It was helpful. 


It was part of my food journey. But somewhere, back there, it was still niggling at me that cows were not always treated kind, and chickens were squished into cages. I moved to Colorado in my 30s and saw my first feed lot in Greeley. My beloved cows were standing on their own piles of poop. They had no place to go. No where nice to lay down. Limited cover. Just a big yard of poop. 


So by the time we bought the farm, I had started learning more and more about how animals are raised for meat. We had 6 acres, I thought I could finally grow my own veggies - that way I didn't have to worry about what was on them - what chemicals were sprayed on them, or what else may have happened to them along the way. Our place had these nice raised beds - we planted peas, corn, beans, radishes, carrots. The garden was a limited success, but food came out of it. But Larry ran out and bought egg laying chickens. And thus it began.


At the time, I still didn't know how to cook - but he sure did. And food, for him, did  not come from a box. He didn't use meal kits or spice packs, he ground his own spice mixes and used all fresh ingredients. FOOD. Actual food. That diet plan in my 20s got me started in that direction - eating actual food, not processed stuff from a box. 


And now we had fresh eggs right from our yard. And a few fresh veggies. Back then, it was relatively easy to find good veggies in season - farmer's markets, buying into CSA shares, you could find veggies (you still can!). But how do I find meat from a cow that isn't eating corn in a feed lot, or chickens that got to go outside in the sunshine. We had no way of finding this. Whole Foods was not giving "grades" to their meat on how ethically it was raised back then. So we decided to raise our own. Chicken and lamb. We thought if we can't find it, we can raise it. 


So for me, my food journey has been partly influenced by my former athleticism, by battling my weight and perceptions about my weight, and about my love for animals and how they are cared for.  It goes a little deeper, so stay tuned... next time we talk about being an ethical omnivore. I just wanted to lay a little ground work on how I got here. It started young for me - it started even younger for my daughter! When you really think about it, we all need to eat, and we are all on a food journey.

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