My journey here has been a long and convoluted one. I could write pages and pages of why I have suddenly decided once and for all to embrace a raw vegan diet, but you, my lovely readers, would not find my life as fascinating as I do. So, I'll attempt to condense my story at least a bit...but it'll still be darn long (30 years takes a bit of explaining). So, I'll tell this story in several chapters and promise not to be quite so wordy in the future!
Chapter One: The Kernel of a Health Nut
The seeds were planted by my mother (and her mother, though we lived far away and I didn't get to know her much). They were apart of a small minority that believed a healthy diet was the most important medicine. My mother breastfed when almost nobody was doing it and believed in fruits and vegetables and whole grains and beans and meat and raw dairy.
When I was young, she tried very hard to protect me from the evils of sugar. In fact I remember being traumatized in kindergarten when she sent me with a bag of celery and carrot sticks and a note that I wasn't to partake of the party goodies.
My father believed in steak and ice cream. But he also ate a salad every night and certainly more fruit than most men his age. I remember being fascinated that he said "AHrange" rather than "Orange" (he was originally from the East Coast). He also worked up a sizeable portion of our backyard so that he and my mother could grow a large vegetable garden.
Fast forward into my early adolescence. My parents' healthy ideals were sliding away as the number of children in the family multiplied (at this point we were six and eventually grew to number eleven). My mother no longer gardened, baked bread from scratch, or tried to resist the overwhelming culture of junk food in the classroom. We ate school lunch, but still had a fairly healthy breakfast and homemade dinner. I had developed a significant sugar addiction and couldn't get enough. I snuck to the candy store with what tiny money I had to gorge myself.
A cross-country move, my father's subsequent unemployment, and a failed attempt at a home business left us all reeling. We started watching hours of television and eating processed garbage handed out at the food pantry. I ate pints of ice cream when I could get my hands on them.
I had a mild weight problem--probably about 20 pounds overweight--throughout junior high and high school. I was certainly worried about it, but not obsessed like many girls I knew.
During my freshman year of college, I continued my schizophrenic eating patterns. I ate tons of salad and fresh fruit, supplemented with high fat cafeteria fare, french fries, ice cream and other sugary treats.
I developed severe problems with my periods. They were 4-6 weeks long, heavy bleeding. The campus health clinic offered me birth control pills, which I turned down, and no explanation or alternative. I had no money or health insurance, so I suffered. I gained a few pounds that year, but not enough to notice much. I didn't have a scale anyway.
The next year, I discovered credit cards. Credit cards allowed me to eat out. I was in Chicago, surrounded by yummy ethnic foods (mostly high fat). There was also a fantastic place nearby to get a huge omelet. I went there often with friends. And of course, I discovered the joys of drinking. I wasn't a big drinker but every other week or so, enjoyed a pitcher or two of margaritas with my friends.
Food was a source of comfort for me and a wonderful entertainment. I was not much for partying, never could dance, and wasn't into any activities where socializing was about something besides food. Food was an adventure. Food was the centerpiece where my friends gathered to talk politics, literature, and discuss our personal lives. And food soothed the stresses of college life, my rocky family life, and my minor heartbreaks in the world of romance.
The summer after my sophomore year, I was a camp counselor at an overnight camp. For some reason, on a whim (I guess I was disgusted by the kitchen's main dish offerings), I told everyone there I was a vegetarian. I think I had started limiting meat before that, but I honestly can't remember why. I remember worrying about the hormones in meat--perhaps something to do with my period problems? Anyway, I ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly and salad that summer, along with lots of junky side dishes and sugary desserts. The vegetarianism stuck the next year for whatever reason. I was going through a bit of a personal transformation, asserting my independence and so on. I think it was a subconscious break from my father, who always insisted that my mother cook him a separate steak with carmelized onions, regardless of what the rest of us were eating.
Anyway, my consciousness was radicalizing in college. I was interested in environmentalism, socialism, feminism, etc. I became aware of how eating meat was harmful to the planet and very cruel to animals. This strengthened my resolve.
It did nothing for my waistline or my food issues. I still ate lots of eggs, cheese, icecream, and sugary foods.
I had also, unbeknownst to me, developed anemia. The combination of my poor diet and years of heavy bleeding left me unable to get through the day without 10 or more hours of sleep. I had trouble getting to early classes and had to take a nap midafternoon. I began chewing tray upon tray of ice. I looked forward to chewing the different shapes of ice at different restaurants. It was only several years later in my childbirth class, that I discovered that this was PICA, a classic sign of iron deficiency.