It has been a long time since my last post. Quite frankly, I let myself get too busy and too distracted. However, a series of events have conspired to bring me towards a renewed commitment to food, writing, and my blog (where the two get a chance to meet up). So, without any promises regarding the specific frequency with which I will be making posts (I do best when I am able to be gentle and adapt to life as it comes), I will definitely be on here more than I have been!
So, here’s the thing: I’ve recently embraced the Paleo diet. This may come as a surprise to some of you, given the frequency with which I have posted vegetarian and vegan recipes in the past, some changes that have occurred within my ever-growing understanding of nutrition and food philosophy, and some misconceptions about the Paleo diet.
But, surprising or not, it’s Paleo for me, one day at a time, hopefully for long into the future. Because the truth is, I feel better than I have ever felt before: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
For a long time, my basic philosophy of food has been that the more mindful I am of eating locally available foods that are in season and minimizing processed foods, the better my health will be… and, by extension, the better my energy will be as I move through the world, and therefore the greater my chances will be of behaving skillfully, responsively, and compassionately as I encounter situations in my life. And the truth is, this already had me a good ways towards a Paleo-esque diet, which is “is based upon eating wholesome, contemporary foods from the food groups our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have thrived on during the Paleolithic era, the time period from about 2.6 million years ago to the beginning of the agricultural revolution, about 10,000 years ago” (quotation from http://thepaleodiet.com/getting-started-with-the-paleo-diet/). So, yeah: when you eat foods that are available where you live and eschew boxed crap, nitrites, and nitrates, you’re not too far off.
However, my diet definitely had some shortcomings when it came to eating in a way that my ancestors would have: first and foremost, I ate a lot of sugar and grains. A LOT. It was so east to justify: my diet was so good in other ways, why shouldn’t I have a bag of gummy candy, or an irrational amount of cake, or three slices of garlic bread, or a plate full of pasta, or… or… or.. The list goes on and on.
And dairy. Oh, goodness, can I ever down some dairy products with reckless abandonment. Moderation was not invited when cheese and I would get together.
And let’s not even mention cheesecake, where dairy and sugar get together for a crazy delicious dance party of flavor! Oh, the stories I could tell about cheesecake… (Confession time)… like the multiple times that I made two-layer carrot cakes and put an entire cheesecake in between the layers, and covered it all in cream cheese frosting…
You could say I had a problem with my attachment to sugar and dairy. You could have, but I certainly wouldn’t have admitted it. In fact, several times in the past couple of years I’ve overheard conversations about the Paleo diet (after all, I work in a health food store… conversations about different approaches to diet are a common thing there), and thought to myself “Ugh. What extremists. I would never do that. Give up wheat? And cheese? And SUGAR? No way!!”
But, as is often said, many people simply have to reach bottom before they’re willing to accept help. Or, another way to put it… we stay the same until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.
So what changed that made me willing to make a shift? As is often the case, many things shifted at once (or, more accurately, within a very short period of time).
One thing is that I have been going to a sweat lodge almost every month for most of the last year or so. On the night of the new moon, I gather with several like-spirited people for several hours of prayers, surrender, and purification. And some of the people who attend the lodge are hunters. Now, I grew up in rural Indiana, so I’m no stranger to hunters… but the way these individuals approached their hunting was something entirely new to me. There was such an obvious respect… even love… between these people and the animals who offered their lives for food. I was particularly touched by the man who said that a part of his morning prayers was to the animals in the area, that he sent out prayers to them to let them know that a hunter lived there, and for them to please stay away unless they wished to offer themselves for the nourishment of others… and then offered further prayers of thanks whenever he made a kill.
After the lodge ceremony concludes, we all gather for a potluck dinner, and a frequent offering at these dinners is venison stew made from the flesh of the animals who offered their lives to the above-mentioned hunter. I cannot put into words the experience of eating this stew… it is like eating pure, loving light. And I became aware of how deeply alive, healthy, and flourishing I felt after eating it.
So that planted one seed.
Then there has been the fact that I have had chronic sleep problems throughout my life… previously, it was dream-disturbed sleep, but that hasn’t been nearly as much of a problem the last several years as it used to be. More recently, it’s been my body waking me up in the middle of the night, wanting a snack. Seriously. Usually something sugary. This was something new for me, and I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it. In fact, I was downright bothered. It reminded me of the way I used to behave back when I still drank alcohol… if I got up in the night and couldn’t get back to sleep, I’d just go to the substance of my addiction and use it as an unskillful tool to lull me back to sleep. And here I was, doing the same exact behavior… but with sugar.
Really acknowledging the truth of this helped me reach a moment of clarity that something had to change. And there was the second seed.
So, while I’m busy processing the information that was growing from these seeds, one of our customers where I work inquired why we don’t carry any Paleo food items… after all, we specialize in offering foods for people with dietary allergies and restricted diets. My knee-jerk reaction was that we are a meat-free kitchen, which would make Paleo foods hard. But then I thought, why not do some more research? After all, we offer an extensive line of gluten-free baked goods, so why not see if I can rise to the challenge of developing some meat-free Paleo options?
The result was that I dove into some research to see what this whole Paleo thing was really about, and whether or not I could make it happen at work… still with absolutely no plans on taking it on as a part of my own life. And what I found surprised and inspired me.
First, I learned that Paleo foods would definitely be something that I could integrate into what we make at work. Although we won’t be offering a full Paleo diet from a vegetarian kitchen, there is still a lot that I can do. I have since made some incredible salads, sides, cakes, cookies, and muffins that use only Paleo-approved ingredients. So, yes: if any of you kind readers are in the Rochester, NY area, please swing in to Lori’s Natural Foods and check out what we have available, or make some requests! And of course this realization meant that I could be Paleo without having to eat meat in every meal, something which I had incorrectly assumed wasn’t an option.
Second, I realized something that I alluded to in the previous paragraph: a Paleo diet CAN include things like cakes, muffins, and cookies! I love to bake and eat such tasty treats, and do not expect that I will ever want to fully sacrifice the joys that come from making and tasting such delights. No, a cakeless existence is not for me. So it was a pleasant surprise that (with plenty of almond meal, coconut flour, eggs, and coconut oil, all of which are things I love) I could continue to indulge in baked goods.
Third, while I feel strongly about refusing meat from factory farm sources, I have come to believe (and no, you don’t have to agree) that it is entirely possible to be a spiritual meat-eater… it just takes the willingness to spend some extra time researching where my meat comes from and to set aside some extra money in my budget for it. I am at this point in my life decidedly omnivorous, and it’s working for me. (Don’t worry, dear vegetarian and vegan followers… there will still be recipes for you that will be posted! Although I do eat meat, I certainly don’t feel it’s a necessary component of all recipes or meals!)
And finally, I realized that the information that I was reading made a lot of sense to me, and I got that deep-down feeling in my hara that said “Yes, this.” Something just… shifted. And I realized I was willing.
So, I’m a complete newby. Today is only my fifth day, so all of you Paleo old-timers can scoff if you must. But here’s the thing: I’m a hard and fast convert. The food I have been eating is so delicious and so satisfying that I haven’t even suffered anything more than an incidental craving for anything else. And, while this wouldn’t be true for most people, I’ve found I’ve actually been spending less time preparing my Paleo meals than I spent preparing my non-Paleo meals. Check out this list of just some of the things I’ve made this week for my gustatory enjoyment:
- Roasted Free-Range Chicken with Kale, Fennel, Carrots, Celery, and Fresh Herbs
- Braised Salmon with a Cashew “Cream” Sauce
- Poached Egg on Roasted Vegetables
- Coconut Coffee Cake
- Pumpkin-Apple-Carrot Spice Muffins
- Bison Meatloaf stuffed with kale, onions, pickles, tomatoes, and jalepenos
- Kale Salad with Citrus, Pear, Currents, and Honey-Roasted Almonds with an Herb Viniagrette
- Honey-Roasted Sweet Potatoes
- Paleo Quiche
- Apple Spice Cookies
- …and more!!
Not only have I been won over by the deliciousness of the foods, but I’ve also rapidly noticed improvements in how I feel bodily and mentally. It’s like a fog has been lifted: I cannot believe what a difference letting go of refined sugars has made on my energy levels, my ability to be present and equanimous, AND my ability to sleep soundly. Seriously, I have just had the four best nights of sleep in my entire life. If this is the difference I feel in less than a week, I’m excited to see what will follow!
For those of you who have been following my blog but who have little to no interest in Paleo eating: no worries! I had no interest at all, either, until I did. Whether you are Paleo or not, I can guarantee that I will only post recipes that are delicious, and I encourage you to give them a try!
It is late, and I have rambled on. I am going to go ahead and post this, and I’m sure that further explorations of Paleo eating will follow in later posts… Posts which will also include recipes! 🙂
Before I finalize this post, though, I am going to include a helpful image that details the basics of what foods are and are not considered Paleo-friendly. I hope you’re all as excited as I am to see what comes next!