Usually I have my routines. A fresh green juice in the morning, snacks packed for work, a fridge fully stocked with washed and prepped farmer-fresh fruit and vegetables. It’s how I function, it’s how I feel best and look best, and it’s not something I’ll say requires zero effort, because it doesn’t.
But it’s summer. Last-minute plans beg for caution to be hurled recklessly at the wind, plans are thwarted or made with the weather, road trips and weekends far far away render routines useless, and that’s totally an okay and awesome thing. A little deviation from the norm is fine, but sometimes it’s a little easy to get caught up in summertime (where have you been, blog?).
Until recently though, I kind of thought it was my fault that I literally couldn’t stomach long trips, or function at best without my morning glass of greens. That it threw me out of whack to eat meals laden with bread and dairy and other things found in restaurant chains and convenience stops. That I’m the only person my age I know who travels with superfood shake powders and emergency vitamin supplies. To be honest it makes me feel high-maintenance, difficult, unaccommodating and inasmuch I’ve tried to be as flexible as possible, eating more, and more things that I wouldn’t consider fair for food fare at home.
But lately I haven’t been harboring the guilt, taking the blame. Because it’s really not my fault.
Here I must step back and acknowledge the privileges I have; I live in a metropolis where organics are easily accessible. I live in an economy where I can afford to purchase said organics at will (albeit not without certain budgetary sacrifices elsewhere). I have the freedom and flexibility to prepare most of my meals myself, or even choose from a plethora of health-conscious, reasonably-priced restaurants or takeout haunts with just a few minutes on my bike. I’ve chosen to work in a fully-organic raw vegan restaurant where the lifestyle I love is encouraged, a constant topic of conversation, and a common bond, and for these things I am very, very grateful. I do spend a fair bit of time in prep work, reading other food blogs, and researching, but it is, as a friend described, my “passion project,” and I’d expect nothing less from someone dedicated to their parallel pursuit. Point of all this being, not everyone has the same access and privilege I do in terms of food security and I’d be doing a disservice to say that the lifestyle I’ve created is wholly, 100 per cent choice-driven.
So back to the problem, and the blame from which I’d like to remove myself.
Think about your own daily routine, or that of your close friends or family. How easy it is to grab a cup of crappy joe, yet time-consuming, expensive, inconvenient, perhaps even “fringe” to have a fresh-pressed organic green juice in the morning. How backwards is it, truly, that a meal that is highly processed—requiring many hours, chemicals, and machines to distort food stuffs away from the way they were found in nature—is more “simple” and certainly more available than a fresh meal made with whole, unprocessed ingredients? How little thought does it take to grab a snack full of preservatives with no expiry date within a comprehensible timespan, versus the careful and cognizant thought required to plan, prep, make, pack, and actually consume something made at home (especially without forgetting said meal on the kitchen counter!)?
The reasons are remarkably simple; processed foods have longer shelf lives and are more simple to stock. Their spots on grocery store shelves are paid for by the big companies who own them and all their their artificially-flavoured varieties. Processed, nutrient-depleted foods are easier than their unprocessed, whole ancestors to market. They make for better value-addition like that of shiny packaging and brand names (far more appealing to kids, too), better vehicles for “enhancements” like artificial and “natural” flavours or health claims like “high in antioxidants! because we can now chemically inject lab-engineered antioxidants into Twinkies!” or “lower in fat than our original! which was crap so we just replaced the crap with lower-fat crap that is even more artificial and will probably just make you sicker faster!” In short, it’s a lot more challenging to make a piece of broccoli appear sexy when you can be selling probiotic-enhanced yogurt product that’s proven in 3 trials sponsored and carried out by the same company to make you slimmer, and thus, of course, sexier. You can’t trademark a tomato but if you add enough chemicals, well sir, you’ve got yourself a product people can now dip their fries in and request by brand name. Sexy, right?
Until the coffee starts eroding the lining of your stomach, your digestive system is so accustomed to processed foods that it can’t handle fibre, and the sugar gives you type two diabetes before you hit thirty-five and suddenly there’s nothing sexy about it anymore. Nothing at all.
Look people. I’m not an activist, maybe a slacktivist at best, but this system is becoming my call to arms! Why can’t normal food stores be named “Health Food Stores,” because otherwise aren’t the normal grocery stores and other spots specifically catering to our sped-up deaths? Why do I have to go out of my way to be healthy when sickness and lethargy are served up in deep-fried, or worse, health-washed packages? Yes, I do believe that society is changing for the better, that people are beginning to take notice, organic sales have shot up in the last ten years, Whole Foods is having a heyday, “vegan” is no longer a word requiring a google and an explanation. But still, in a world where we have so many medical advancements, where science has progressed so much, we still have many, many people, even in our well-off western world, diagnosed with, dying of diseases caused by diet!
It’s not the individuals fault, though, who can blame them? When commercials decide what’s for dinner, when health claims on packages become nutritional guidelines, when fast-food logos are far more easily identifiable than garlic scapes or fiddleheads or jerusalem artichokes, it’s environment to which we are subjected. It’s simply the way our society is structured, and we’ll keep searching for the elusive cure, the next breakthrough, the next miracle drug, when the answers are growing beneath us.
So here’s my call to arms. You don’t have to throw out your entire kitchen cupboard. You don’t need to sign up for a juice fast. You don’t need to pack your bags and catch the next flight to Sedona and return with a kombucha scoby and Excalibur dehydrator. You can still have your wine with dinner (or lunch, if the occasion makes it so). But while you do so, add a few things: some greens, preferably organic; a big glass of water with freshly-squeezed lemon in the morning; whole grains, like quinoa, buckwheat, or brown rice. And slowly, little by little, you’ll find that the Oreos really don’t taste that good, that meals taste better after you’ve put in the effort to make them, and that maybe a green juice could be giving you a little bit more life than your morning coffee. It will certainly never, ever hurt you to try. And if you do, maybe someone else will too, and maybe companies will start taking notice and make changes so that being physically healthy isn’t such a challenge or thing of note, and then we won’t be the weird ones who are in this strange hippie cult of not wanting to live sickly and die soon.