Today is the big round-up: America’s grocery shopping day before the main event coming to your dinner table this Thursday. Whether you’re celebrating with family or friends, or having a season of solitude where you’ll be cooking and entertaining only yourself, this week marks a time of year where we are all invited to reflect on our traditions, cultural and family recipes, and ultimately decide what it is we want to eat.
“What’s for Dinner?” Answering the Age-old Inquiry
If you’re like me, your dietary preferences and restrictions are always changing. Sometimes, I like to do a mini-fast or cleanse leading up to the holidays, where I know I’ll be eating heavy and slowing down my digestion and immune system. This year, I felt very called for a time period to stop eating meat. With Thanksgiving day fast approaching, I took the month of November to go veg and primary plant based.
What I noticed almost immediately was a dramatic absence of heartburn. Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) run in my family, and have been a constant battle since my early twenties. Through diet, I have learned to manage, but travel, overindulging, and changing my routine present a challenge. Stress also causes the condition to worsen, which creates a perfect storm during the holidays.
In addition to the almost non-existent reflux symptoms, after 2–3 weeks, I observed an overall reduction in inflammation (including reduced redness and histamine response), and noticeable weight loss around my face and chin. My neckline appears elongated and I’ve started observing thinning around my abdomen. My skin appears tight and clear, and my eyes shine brighter. Energy levels are up and anxiety levels are down overall. It is worth noting that I recently left my career in the food industry and have not worked this month, which has also been dramatically decreasing stress levels. The lack of income has been a motivating factor to save money and eat less, especially take-out or indulgences that I can live without (i.e. should I get fries and a shake, or just the Veggie Burger?).
Things were going pretty well for me as I opted to eat clean and vegetarian. Noticing how much better I felt and the increased quality of living made me consider committing to give up the meat for good. However, I was tempted at brunch Sunday to have a few slices of bacon, which I enjoyed immensely on a thickly layered B.L.T. on sourdough, making for a beautifully runny egg sandwich. My friend Max and I laughed as the yolks ran down my fingers and onto the plate of potatoes, as we talked about balance and doing all things in moderation. While I’ll probably stick to a primarily plant-based diet for a time, I still plan to enjoy roasting a Thanksgiving bird this Thursday.
Planning out the menu, I decided on a mix of traditional and modern dishes, skipping a lot of the heavy items that make my immune system & body feel sluggish. I’m cooking for myself and another couple this year, and I’m filled with gratitude to have friends to share the holiday with. My local grocery store offered a coupon for a Free Signature Turkey with any $150 purchase. Checking the price tag and seeing it was valued at $50, I decided to take advantage. Staring at the frozen package, I read the label claims: “15% saline added”, “No additional growth hormones or antibiotics.”, “thermometer included”, “20.04 lbs”.
Looking across the case at the much more expensive organic options, I couldn’t help but notice how much smaller the breasts were. It got me thinking about the welfare of this animal. Is it normal for a turkey to be 20 lbs? How many fillers and additives are in this conventional turkey? What does it mean no additional antibiotics?
Lugging it into the cart, my mind continued to race. “Do I even want to flip it over and read the ingredients, or am I better not knowing? How “worth it” is it for me to get this free bird? I gazed back at the organic case once again. Could I afford the organic option and significant impacts of inflation, even if I wanted to? Deciding against it, I walked off towards the bakery aisle to search for pumpkin pie and bread.
My thoughts trailing, a new and seemingly more daunting question arose in mind, where it still persists: “Do I think honoring this holiday tradition is really the best thing for my body?” Haunted by the immediacy of my internal response, I said aloud, “No. I don’t.”
Reflecting on the prices, the junk, the way I feel, and the chaos of other holiday shoppers all around me, I took a pause. “I want to find a balance of sharing in the flavors and dishes with people that I love, but as for the dance of the modern U.S. food system and food supply, I really don’t want to keep doing this.”
Cost-of-Living: Food Inflation, Fear, and Insecurity
Seattle is a beautiful food scene that makes it fairly easy to opt for vegan or vegetarian. With the abundance of health food and natural groceries, we certainly are blessed to have options. At the same time, there is a cost to these options, and they certainly don’t seem equally afforded.
Recently returning to the area from New York City, my impression is that Seattle is a very expensive city. Cost of living is high here, as are groceries, gasoline (close to double what I paid in NYC), and yes — food. New York is known for being expensive, but the diverse population and economy demands affordable 24-hour options served up mainly through street food, bodegas, delis, and the ever-present $0.99 pizza stores. Grabbing a slice and a drink for $2 seems a distant memory here, and I paid $11 at a Capitol Hill Bagel shop/sandwich window for a poor substitute of my go-to Brooklyn breakfast — a $4 bacon egg and cheese (if you know you know).
I typically make coffee at home to save money, but my last outing for an Iced Oatmilk Latte with a pump of syrup ran me $8.75 pre-tip, and I had to hold myself back from an emotional outburst at the barista (I mean, it wasn’t her fault). Despite all of this, I have tried to keep myself buoyed up about where I’m at in life, and feel a deep gratitude to have enough savings and provision to be here, and to be able to survive without income for a time period. One thing I have observed in Seattle is the presence of a greater sliding scale economy, and I’ve witnessed more pay-what-you-can models and communities focused on environmental sustainability.
As I navigate building a life here, and finding a “new normal”, the single-most effective thing that helps me is focusing on how much I actually have to give. Our mindset is such a powerful thing. As I was leaving the grocery store, bitterly complaining to myself about paying $15 for a jar of better-for-you mayonnaise, I looked up and saw the reality of my brothers and sisters who had less. I realized that money is a paltry thing. Having money isn’t all that much, really. It’s what we do with it that counts.
Gratitude and humility are how I fight the fear in my nervous system of never having enough. My desire to be of service and to trust is greater than my ego and instinct to self-protect. I can’t appropriately explain the difference in resonance of a protective thought vs. a productive one, but I can tell you that I’m starting to understand what Jesus meant when he said “better is it to give.” You feel that kind of light pass through your eyes as clarity and let it ripple through your full body. Blink twice, and you are living in a completely different reality.
I drove far to help a friend today. She bought me a cup of tea, and offered me assistance in return. The warmth of the cup and her connection sustained me the whole way home.
What we focus on is important. Every time I start feeling lonely, unprotected, unprovided for,
something breaks through that helps me remember exactly how opposite I actually am.
The secrets I can share here are this:
- When you feel like you are scarce, look for what you can give.
- When you give, give with a glad heart.
- When you give more than you intended to, forgive easily.
- When it is your turn to receive, receive willingly.
- Let life also take care of you.
The secret to life is living it. We are here and we get to experience all of it.
Do not be afraid to go gently, softly, and open yourself up to the vulnerable parts of being in community and deep relationships (that is called being in Love, actually). There will be hard moments. There will be many beautiful moments, too. In the end, all of them will have been worth it.
We are all just planting seeds in each other’s fields, and waiting for them to come up.
If ever you look down and notice your hands are empty, remember: It is okay, already. It just means that your field has been fully planted.
Spring will come in due season.