Recently, I had to make small talk with a stranger. For about forty-five minutes. These sorts of social niceties are easy for some people; I find them exhausting. Fortunately for me, she did most of the talking.
It was one of those oh-my-goodness-I-don’t-live-in-Kansas-anymore kind of conversations.
I find I have these moments more and more, as my lifestyle shifts farther and farther from the mainstream. Not too long ago, some out-of-town guests paid an unannounced visit, with three kids–3, 7, and 10 years old–in tow. They live about 12 hours away, but called 15 minutes out. I’d just finished making a big skillet full of mujadara, with a side of lightly steamed green and golden zucchini. I looked at the food on the stove, then at the Man Friend. “We’re going to have to go out to dinner, aren’t we?” Yep.
When they arrived, the eldest immediately strode from the front of the house to the back, looking in every room, appraising the place in that matter-of-fact way kids have. His inspection finished, he looked puzzled: “Where’s the TV?” Hoo boy. After that, the visit was one curiosity after another. No soda or juice in the fridge. Bikes in the living room. Meditation cushions in one corner of the sleeping loft (“Is this where the dogs sleep?”). And we walked to dinner, twelve blocks away, where the mac & cheese disappointed for not being exactly like the mac & cheese they were used to.
None of this is meant to sound critical or demeaning of this particular family. What I do intend to criticize is our culture’s delineation of who’s normal and who’s not, and how we so fiercely enforce it–especially since normal is killing so many of us.
I started off ahead of the curve, thanks to my upbringing. An accident of geography and sheer economic necessity meant I was raised largely on food my mother grew or harvested on our land–raw goat’s milk, fresh vegetables, wild-picked berries. When, in my twenties, the hygienist at my dentist’s office couldn’t believe I didn’t grow up drinking fluoridated water, I had no explanation for my straight, cavity-free teeth. I hadn’t yet read about Dr. Weston Price and his theories regarding the poison that passes for modern “foods”.
At thirty, I had to start paying attention. Even with my “healthy” diet–loaded with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables–and regular exercise, I was getting sicker and fatter with each passing year. Seeing photos of myself at my brother’s wedding was such a shock that it brought tears to my eyes. Who was that overweight, ashy, puffy, tired-looking person? As bad as I sometimes felt, physically, I wasn’t prepared to see myself like that.
On the same trip home, I had what turned out to be a pivotal conversation with my aunt. She’s lived with her own health challenges, and has always been courageous and proactive in directing her own care. She told me about a visit she’d had with a kinesiologist, who diagnosed extensive food sensitivities. After a rigorous elimination diet, she was seeing dramatic improvement in her own health and well-being.
Back home, I asked my endocrinologist and polarity therapist (yep, you read that right–love her!) for a recommendation. She directed me to a Kinesiology practitioner at the local woowoo clinic, and it doesn’t feel to dramatic to say that my entire life changed after my first visit.
After giving up wheat and making some other dietary changes, my body started to change, and fast. My weight dropped like a stone. My gut was happier. My skin was healthier. My sleep improved. All from just changing my diet.
As a group, we modern humans aren’t stupid. Our wisdom is implicit in our simplest of proverbs: You are, indeed, what you eat. We know that food is medicine. The problem is, we’ve been lied to about how to use that wisdom. It is beyond the scope of this post to go into the range of all those lies, but the truth is out there, if only you are willing to look. It’s a topic I’ll be revisiting, but for now, click the logo at the top of this post to see some folks who have gotten a head start on me.
But back to my small-talking companion: She tells me she loves to cook, and thinks she’s pretty good at it. “What’s your specialty?” I ask her. She runs through a list of classic New Mexican dishes, making my mouth water: “Enchiladas–but with steak,” she emphasizes. “Posole. Green chile stew. Tamales–but they’re a lot of work.” Then she leans in closer and tells me a secret: “Anything is good with cheese. But I’ve learned that you have to pay for the good cheese.” Now we’re talking. I think about the brick of raw goat cheddar in my fridge, and my stomach rumbles. “That’s why I always buy the Kraft.”
In each of these not-in-Kansas-anymore moments, I have the same dilemma: how do I share what I’ve learned so someone else might benefit the way I have, without sounding condescending? How to indict normal without judging the person inside the normal? In this culture, we’ve made our bodies into manifestations of our every character flaw: too fat? Obviously, you’re lazy and you lack self-control. In this context, telling someone the truth about what they’re eating feels personal. How to share that we’ve all been duped?
My first step has been to simply chronicle my own journey, to write about what it means to let go of more and more “normal,” to answer questions when they come. People at work see my health improving, and they see what I eat and what I don’t. I don’t have to evangelize to communicate the great changes that are taking place for me–they’re self-evident. At this level, shouting it from the rooftops seems to put people off. I settle for small gestures, and save the shouting for the bigger picture.
My advice as a fellow traveller? Educate yourself. I’m still learning so much. Make small changes. Befriend a farmer. Eat greens. Listen to your body. Fight Back.