Permission To Eat - Part 1


Oldways: Health Through Heritage

I'm consider myself to be a foodist. A flexitarian foodist to be exact. I love good food. I love to prepare good food. I believe in the power of breaking bread together and that sharing a meal is an act of love. I can throw down on ribs, and roasts with the best of them. I have also had some toe-curling vegetarian and vegan food that made me question if I ever had to have another burger. My eating habits have changed over a course of many years and I am still learning ways to love myself through the food choices I make. But let's just get real honest here. 

"Eating healthy" is no easy task! 

Everywhere I look there are fatty, sugary, salty options. BUT they are quick! and cheap! Just what the mainstream narrative says we need more of right? time and money. Because time


money. But I'm not sure its value outweighs my nutrition needs and possibly my lifespan in the process!  At the other end of the spectrum are the restricted diets. Which one are we all going on now? Raw? Paleo? Gluten-Free? Vegan? I can't keep up. I know that some folks are finally able to address long time discomfort and illness by revamping their diet, so its not that I'm against any of these options. I don't know enough about them for that. I'm just illustrating a small cross sections of variables at play when we talk about what we eat and why.

Sometimes, honestly, it depends on what side of town I'm on, which crew I'm hanging out with. Two of my closest friends are vegetarian (uhm...pescatarian to be exact). My beloved is a straight up carnivore. He always looks amazed when I go on and on about some veg-deliciousness and asks every few minutes, "and there was no meat? Like, none?" I swear his voice catches as he utters the phrase.

And then there is the political side of food. Who grows it? Where does it come from? Who picks it? Who processes it? Where can I get it? 

I know about the environmental strains of factory farming and big agriculture.  I'm afraid of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their creator, Monsanto.  

I recently worked a food justice event for

Our Kitchen Table

, a grassroots social justice organization in Grand Rapids, MI, where they invited 

celebrity vegan chef and food justice activist Bryant Terry to talk about his journey to food justice and demonstrate a healthy dish from his latest book,


. As I was designing the event flyer and talking with my honey about the event (remember Mr. Incredulous? "and there was no meat? Like, none?"), I began to wonder about these food labels and how they affect our attitudes, values and beliefs about food.  Will people see the "V word" on the flyer and be turned off or on? 

A short Facebook poll produced the following responses to the question, 


What is it about the term "vegan" or the practice that makes folks resistant? And, have you experienced or witnessed specific cultural pushback around adopting a vegan (or even vegetarian) lifestyle?"

           "I don't know why, but I think people feel judged indirectly. Like your diet is an indictment of theirs in

some way. They know they should eat better, maybe not vegan, but because they're not ready to make those changes in their life, they feel the need to defend their diet" --E.R.

            "How do you know if someone is vegan? Don't worry, they'll tell you." Not sure if that's exactly how the joke goes, but you get the gist. The problem with vegans (or paleos, or Weston Pricers) is that in the excitement over finding what works for them they can come off as a bit preachy and judgmental. I mean, I get it because I manage my lupus with diet and acupuncture, rather than traditional medicine. But it means I have to be extra careful when discussing it so I don't sound like my way is the only way. I think we have to respect where people are on their own journey with health and food."--B.H.P

            "I tend not to seek identification. I find it limiting. It only becomes important if I have to inform about dietary preference in group eating settings" -- K.L.U.

           "Labels kill movements..." P.J.

            "For some, it seems more of a cultural movement rather than just personal preference for diet/health control. Historically, food has been a system of symbols for family and community relationships that define value and belief systems. There are many religious doctrines that include sacraments that may not accept anything other than what is ordered by a particular sect. In other words, be led by your own Spirit, rather than a cultural "movement" that may not agree with your own lifestyle." --A.K.

            "I was a veg for 10 years. Then i became so anemic that i had to get iron fast and they told me i needed a transfusion but i had no insurance so i could not get the blood i needed to raise my hemoglobin from 3 to 14 fast. They told me to eat red meat. Shortly after that, i attended a friend's dad's funeral and the Mexican restaurant served every single person the same thing- beef enchiladas and i felt like i had been standing in the doorways for years without realizing it and i ate the same as everyone else and have never looked back. Culture is real. I respect peoples' choices completely, but i seriously was out in the margins. And one restaurant menu named a vegetarian plate " La Gringa." Fuck that/. i had enough." --E. H.

            "I am not against VEGAN at all and have seen people benefit from eliminating animal products from their diet. It just seems like a lot of work for people who are not kitchen goddesses..." --D.G.W.

What a rich dialogue!  I really value this kind of input in order to respectfully work with food and community. Thank you to all who gave of their time to create this post!! (Feel free to add to the conversation.)

So, as you can see,  trying to figure out what to put in one's pie hole that is affordable AND is nutritious for AND tastes good AND won't cause that "this person is out of their mind" eyebrow raise, and so much more than a label....and so much less.

My own thoughts are, I am really striving for authenticity. Many folks I love and respect have made great points about no meat, no dairy, no eggs AND the need for animal fats. I think it is what makes you feel optimally healthy and resonates with your values and beliefs. I know that, as a consumer, my dollars have power and I choose to support food choices that I believe most benefit our community as much as possible. My awareness of "possible" is evolving each day. 

We should be careful of extremes. I'm finding more and more that there is danger lurking in the extremities. And we should be wary of quagmires. Those wading pools that will have you stuck and starving because there is no "perfect answer" or "right solution", don't paddle around forever in a quagmire. 

Right now, I am just trying the get more fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet because I am extreme over in meat, dairy, and grain land. I am also working on cooking from scratch to build by skills in the kitchen.  One strategy that worked for me was to try something new on each shopping trip. This opened the door to brussels sprouts, broccoli rabe, rainbow chard, and dandelion greens!! But I digest...

Bryant Terry with a few of our younger food folks! 

Back to the flyer for the event! I opted to add some friendly language to inspire curiosity: 

"Wait! Does that say "vegan"? I'm not vegan! No worries! 

Good cooking (and good eating!) involve many different preparation methods. What can we learn about through vegetarian and vegan cuisine that can help us make healthier meals for ourselves and our families?"

Happy to say, we had a great turn out! And, I'm excited to learn more about veganism and cook up some wonderful eats from the book "Afro-Vegan".  Mr. Incredulous has agree to cook some of the dishes with me, provided he can lay a steak over on the other side of the plate. :-/ 

Learn with me.