My grandfather fed me a miniature Mars bar when I was three months old.
He thought he was doing me some good.
Since I have grown to believe that what we put in our bodies—and in the bodies of the children we look after—is one of the most important decisions that we make, why do I think my grandfather was the most important role model for me?
I will explain.
He didn’t really understand vegetarian-ism. He probably thought that it would kill me, and so he fed me bacon and sausages when my mum wasn’t there.
I hope my mother won’t mind me saying this, but it was the early 1980’s and convenience food was a big deal. My mother worked more than full-time, with our father working away a lot. Most of our meals came from the freezer, packaging, or cans.
I also spent a lot of time with my paternal grandparents. My grandfather was my Irish, potatoes-with-every-meal eating, pipe-smoking, Buddha-idol. He was without doubt the greatest influence on my life. He was always there for me, always calm, unconditionally loving and he encouraged me until the end of his life. He never once raised his voice to me in my 15 years of having him around.
That really sticks with me as the best attribute of anyone I have ever known.
I stayed with my grandparents every Thursday. Grandad would collect me from school and take me to two different corner shops on the way home so that he could buy me the most discerning selection of sweets. After my dinner of omelet and chips, my grandparents would proudly present me with my favorite share-size chocolate bar from the fridge. I would then have cookies and milk before bed. The following morning, I ate fried bacon for breakfast .
Although Grandad smoked his pipe outside, my aunt chain-smoked cigarettes when she came in from work until bedtime. My grandma had a phobia of opening windows, so there was no fresh air in the house.
All this aside, time spent with them are the happiest memories I have.
Yes, my lunch box for school the next day was filled with crap. My clothes smelled of smoke and I recall I had trouble pooping the next day. But I went home happier than ever, because they loved me.
From reading this article about my family, it may be gleaned that I did not agree with everything my mother did. One of the things I am happy she did was send me to those grandparents as regularly as I asked her to. She didn’t prevent this due to the smoking and bad food (I told her about their vegetarian rule-breaking when I was 23. Until then, she had no idea!).
Their lack of education was why they thought ‘spoiling me’ in these ways was a good thing. But now, when I stress out now about the latest vitamin I believe I need to supplement my children with, I remember that stress is really the enemy of health and love.
Of course, I could have had the same relationship with my paternal extended family, and would have likely been better off for it, if fruits and vegetables (other than potatoes) had ever entered their home. But as far as my memories allow me to believe, the benefits of spending time with my Irish relatives far outweighed the damage of whatever it was I was eating.
I have had periods in my life where I have been extreme with my restrictive diet. No sugar, no white flour, no cooked foods. These have all been ‘forbidden’. But I was stressed.
This was even before I had kids and I was constantly anxious about getting caught at a beach with no fresh fruit around. There was an impossible danger of succumbing to my boyfriend’s chips and sauce that were loitering over my head. Food became a ‘thing’ and guilt over eating the ‘bad things’ was surely worse than the food.
Almost all food has some nutritional benefit.
The realization hit me one day that this stress and guilt would probably kill me before the odd chip would. So now, I make it a priority not to stress about food.
No food (except meat) is forbidden in my family. Meat is not eaten primarily for ethical reasons, so no food is banned on the grounds of ‘health’.
I made this decision as I had noticed the negative stress pattern in myself when I ate a food I had banned myself from. The stress itself felt horrible. I hated myself for being ill-disciplined and eating the forbidden.
I don’t want my children to grow up yearning for ‘forbidden’ foods.
I try to limit exposure to unhealthy foods as I don’t want to fund certain processed foods or welcome them into my home willingly, but I am aware that ‘healthy’ includes feeling the empowerment of choice, rather than creating cravings driven by guilt.
That is not an excuse for making poor food choices when I have the luxury of choosing well. I still prioritize healthy food choices, because they largely make us feel better and help prevent sickness.
I understand that were I to be impoverished in Africa, any food would nourish me and do me well.
I understand that I am lucky enough to have learned a thing or two about food, lucky I never got a taste for animal flesh, and lucky that I have healthy options available. I can therefore make sound choices.
If we are lucky enough to have been through some health challenges, or realizations that have brought us to a place of making better food choices, we need to care for those who have not been so fortunate and certainly not berate them, or label them ignorant or stupid.
As for bringing up healthy kids, I know full well, it can be difficult not to stress.
Recently, I took my children for a check-up and to meet our local doctor when we had to register for school.
As I left the doctor’s office I quipped “I hope to not see you soon!”. He agreed and then said “the most important thing you can do to keep them healthy is to love them”, which was surprising for an allopathic, mainstream doctor,
If we love our children, we will make the best choices we possibly can. And this doesn’t just apply to children. We can love everyone by showing that we care for them. We can empower and inspire them to make healthier lifestyle choices. If we love and care for ourselves, we will naturally be a healthy living example.
This isn’t an excuse not to educate ourselves, to not be open to change and willing to learn, but it is an excuse to turn off the blender and head out to the beach for the day.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editorial Assistant: Karissa Kneeland / Editor: Renee Picard