Tonight I volunteered at a PTO-hosted event at Jessica’s elementary school. I got to chatting with one of the other volunteers and discovered she, too, was in the process of turning her family’s path towards real whole foods. It was a thoroughly enjoyable conversation (although I might have talked her ear off – I’m nothing if not enthusiastic about the subject). She asked a few of the questions that I usually get (I posted about them here and here), and one of her most pressing ones was How? It’s a really good question, and it deserves a thorough answer.
In January 2012, after watching Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, Richard and I were inspired to juice fast. It was a radical idea for me but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. One big obstacle for us was the cost of juicing. It seemed exorbitant and wasteful to juice all these veggies and fruits and throw half of them (the pulp) away. However, we were convinced of the benefits, so we did the math. We justified the cost by what we’d be saving, which was my lunch expense every day, and eating out at restaurants once or twice a week.
Another obstacle was coffee. I wanted to quit caffeine before we started the juice fast. I knew I would go through both physical and mental withdrawal symptoms, and I didn’t want to have the joint misery of caffeine withdrawal and fasting for the first time ever. Two weeks before we started our fast, I gave up coffee and all drinks containing caffeine. I still allowed myself watered-down Minute Maid Lemonade at lunch or during the day. Boy, was I right in doing that step first. It was miserable. I had a terrible caffeine headache for two solid days, and about a week of mental slowness and fog. I made stupid mistakes. I was weary to my bones. My terribly stressed little adrenal glands, which had been working overtime with every sip of coffee and caffeinated soda, were finally getting a break. During the second week of caffeine abstention I finally started coming out of my fog. My mental clarity returned, and so did my energy. It was a relief not to have to figure out where to stop for coffee every day or budget in the time on my morning commute. By the end of the second week through current day, I have pretty much unlimited energy from when I get up in the morning to late at night, and I no longer have that mid-afternoon energy slump.
Once I was off caffeine, I ordered a juicer from Amazon. I bought a fairly cheap centrifugal juicer, the Hamilton Beach Big Mouth. We decided to start our fast on a Friday night. The night before we started, Richard and I bought carrots, celery, apples, kale, tomatoes, pineapples, oranges, grapefruits, ginger root, limes, lemons, and probably some other fruits and vegetables. We didn’t buy organic because we thought we couldn’t afford it. That Friday night we juiced fruits and veggies. We had no idea what combinations would taste good together so we tried all kinds of juices. Most were drinkable. Over the next four days, three to four times a day, we juiced. Some combinations were great. Some were very bad (celery and kale? Fuggedabadit.) No solid foods, just juice and water. At mealtimes we made a meal for the kids and then made our juice. Every time we made juice, we’d write down what went into it and what the cost of each item was, and tally it up. We came in well under budget.
During those four days, I played more in the kitchen than I had in the last few years combined. I was wracking my brain for what to make for the kids that would be whole, real food. Scrambled eggs, microwaved potatoes, cut up veggies, plain yogurt. I made Annie’s organic macaroni and cheese; I knew it was processed but our pantry was still cluttered with those foods, and I felt pressured to get dinner on the table. One night I made chicken cut up and sauteed with potatoes and broccoli and added eggs at the very end. I worked with what I knew and at night I read, read, read. I Googled for real food recipes, whole food recipes, organic food recipes, and came upon some really great sites like http://100daysofrealfood.com, http://deliciouslyorganic.net, and http://thehealthyfoodie.com. In my searches I stumbled on the idea of raw food, so I Googled raw food recipes, why is raw food good for you, and dozens of other questions. At night while I Googled, I watched documentaries on Netflix, like Food Matters, Food Inc., and The Future of Food. The more I learned about this hidden industrial food system, the more I wanted to learn how to get the hell out of it. Reading blogs (like this one, I hope) gave me the practical how-to and tools I needed to actually do it.
It seems like a small part of the story, but those four days of juice fasting allowed us to take a break from the overwhelming task of having to decide what to eat, and to focus on what we wanted to do about food for the rest of our lives. It allowed quiet and clarity to break through the noise and nutrition-fact clutter accumulated from a lifetime of deceptive food marketing. For the first time in decades, perhaps ever, we had time and opportunity to listen to what our bodies were communicating to us. Our bodies had a lot more to say than “I’m hungry”. During that period is when I came to appreciate water for the miracle that it is, and to enjoy drinking it. I craved salads and scrambled eggs and blueberries.
Four days into our juice fast, we both felt our bodies were telling us it was time to introduce food back in. We started slowly, with juices for both breakfast and lunch and a green salad for dinner. While I was still reading recipes and learning about food, we pretty much stuck to salads because it was easy. We ate green salads with veggies for dinner (with occasional organic chicken) for over a month while we figured out what our new menu would look like. Slowly we introduced lentils, quinoa, farro, raw nuts, seeds, and many other heretofore unfamiliar cooking foods into our diet. We bought organic when we could afford it and non-organic when finances were tight. There wasn’t a big dramatic pantry clean-out; we used up what was in the cupboard and simply replaced it with organic.
After reading about the damaging neurological effects of MSG and other excitotoxins such as yeast extracts, I got rid of the bouillions in the cupboard. After researching Genetically Modified crops (GM, or GMO), we cut out all non-organic soy and corn products. After reading about the alarming effects of soy (read about it here on Heather’s excellently researched and referenced post), we cut out almost all soy products. After seeing documentaries cataloguing the hidden costs of transportation on our health, environment, and small farmers, I sought out local produce, dairy, and meats. After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, I questioned the living conditions in which that “organic free-range chicken” was actually raised. I stopped being content with buying a clear conscience and sought the truth behind the labeling.
These changes in our family didn’t happen overnight, even though it seems to people that we just flipped a switch in January. It’s involved a lot of reading, watching documentaries, and being willing to look at how animals become food. The move toward industrial farming has changed our food system dramatically over the last 50 years, as well as deliberately created a distance between people and the source of their food. For our family, it was simply time to eliminate that distance and start making conscious and informed food choices. Our lives depend on it. Thanks for listening.
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