The Bubble — In a junk-food society, planting the seeds of better nutrition

05/28/2013 12:30 PM

05/28/2013 12:31 PM

It’s not easy sharing a household with me.

It’s especially not easy if you don’t obsess over nutrition. That’s because I

do

, and like all people obsessed with anything health- or fitness-related, I cannot let it rest.

In fact, if I thought the field paid enough to make it worth going back to school for, I’d do a midlife career switch and become a dietitian. With America’s rates of diabetes and obesity, you really couldn’t go wrong there.

I became a near-vegan by accident, after noticing that roughly 100 percent of nutrition research concludes that our diets should consist mainly of whole, plant-based foods. I also noticed that I have not been getting any younger or thinner or less likely to become diabetic. My cholesterol is annoyingly high, and I have a family history of various cancers.

So I re-oriented my diet around fruits and vegetables. Once I switched from dairy milk to almond milk, it was easy to eliminate cheese. And I’ve never been crazy about meat, so saying goodbye to that was simple, too. I leave 10 percent of my diet open to anything, because ... chocolate. And sometimes chips.

It’s like I can’t get enough of thumbing my nose at Midwestern suburban culture. I’ve always been a socially liberal secular humanist, and now this? No barbecue? It’s almost as bad as not caring about the Royals or the Chiefs or the Jayhawks. (I perfected all that years ago.) I should probably be run out of the entire Kansas City region at knifepoint. Or baby-back rib-point.

I’m resilient, though. Everything would be fine in my so-close-to vegan world if I didn’t share a home with two people devoted to hamburgers, processed snack foods and frozen pizza. They aren’t about to change, so I’ve had no choice but to become insufferable.

They’re holding up pretty well, my husband and son. They ignore my rants about pesticides and hormones and E. coli and leave the room when I watch graphic documentaries on America’s agricultural-industrial complex. They smile politely when I impart nutritional wisdom from Internet memes: “If it can go bad, it’s good for you. If it stays ‘good,’ it’s bad for you.” They avoid preparing their disgusting frozen “entrees” when I am in the kitchen. When we go out, their sighs as I agonize over the menu are almost imperceptible. And I never, ever have to worry about them eating my leftovers.

I’ve learned a lot since making this dietary switch, and I’ve gained a bit of insight into why poverty and poor nutrition are so often linked. Eating well isn’t easy on a budget, no matter what those chirpy nutrition websites say. In some stores, boxed high-fructose corn syrup (marketed as “juice”) is actually cheaper, per ounce, than bottled water. Our nation’s systems for subsidizing, producing and transporting food make produce and high-quality unprocessed grains far more expensive than processed foods. My husband does nearly all our grocery shopping (yeah, he’s a keeper), and I finally had to give him this instruction: When I put rice on the list, buy the most expensive kind the store has. Because all the others are quick-cooking, low-nutrient junk food masquerading as something healthy.

The disconnect between what we should be eating and what is most affordable is why I was happy to read about the community garden being cultivated in Olathe — on the grounds of the Johnson County Health Department, appropriately. Several agencies are involved, and the garden will be tended by volunteers and by women who are part of the Kansas WIC (Women, Infants and Children) nutrition program. When the vegetables are harvested, they’ll go to people receiving aid.

Although a single community garden can’t meet the nutritional requirements of an entire needy population, it’s a start. I admire anyone who’s willing to get out there and dig in the dirt and actually make food — real food — happen. Our household just makes grocery store transactions happen.

I’m not willing to trade my role as a consumer for the role of producer, but I’m willing to be a little more careful about what I consume. I will try to be less insufferable, and nothing will be off my menu entirely. Except apathy.

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