Monday, March 16, 2009

On Food, Culture and Me

Writer's note: this turned into a bit of a manifesto - sorry about that. In lieu of this, I am posting portions, not the whole thing - so as not to overwhelm completely.

I've just finished reading two books that have really opened my eyes about a lot of things going on these days. As you know, I am the typical scientist, always looking for answers where there are none, trying to figure out the why and the how of everything I am involved in. Throughout my life, this has led me to bombard my parents with questions ranging in topic from cars, engines, airplanes, physics, mathematics, education, science, etc. If you ever meet me, I will bombard you with questions about what you do, where you live, what your life is like. I am the forever-three-year-old, wanting to know everything, and trying earnestly. In my life, this has led me to interesting and passionate discussions about topics I know a lot about (stem cells, evolution, education, etc.) as well as discussions about topics I know very little about, or are currently learning about (most recently, politics, economics, European "socialism", etc.). I am in an never ending quest for information; I want to be a life-long learner. More recently this quest has turned inward, to learning more about myself, why I do the things I do, how can I be a better person, when I am angry, what am I angry about?, etc, etc. I had never turned my ever expanding quest for knowledge on myself, and had never thought to, until quite recently. One thing that really provoked my inner searches was my move to 3000 miles away from home, leaving all that I knew behind and striking out on my own, in my search for my own life and my own path. Of course, this has turned into a massive learning experience, one which I would not trade for the world. Isolating myself from family problems and issues, ideals I had automatically adopted for myself, aspirations and my thoughts for my future, when surrounded by supportive family and friends quickly made me realize I couldn't do things on my own. Thankfully, I found supportive and interesting people to interact with here in Philly, and I leaned heavily on friends and family from home. I also turned to talk therapy, in the form of meeting with a social worker two to four times a month, to work out my feelings, emotions, ideals, etc. and to really get in touch with who I am and what I want to be and where I want to go. This therapy turned out to be for the best, as I opened "emotional" doors in myself that had never been opened. I began to realize who I really was, and I began to take myself a little bit more seriously. I realized that emotions to happen, and that I need to acknowledge them instead of ignoring them. I realized that I do have to take care of myself. I realized that I do have needs and I have to address them. I also realized that I am a pretty cool, unique individual, and that what might work out for me, might not work for somebody else. Most importantly, I realized that I could turn to myself for insight, help, conversation, ideas. That I am OK no matter what is going on around me.
However, I don't always feel great (not that I should, but just hear me out). I get tired easily. I have the ever expanding waistline that most of my peers have (hello, 30!). I don't get enough exercise and I don't eat enough fruits and vegetables. I am exposed to terrible, processed foods on most days of the week due to conferences, talks, etc that I attend on a regular basis. I work long hours, get home long past dark and have roaring hunger that is usually calmed by the "quick snack" of crackers and hummus and cheese (and not just one serving, either!). I have drawn the line in some places. I do not buy frozen dinners. We make most of our meals at home and try to include lots of fresh veggies and meats. We do not buy heavily processed foods, save for the triscuit like crackers from Trader Joes or the highest possible fiber bread from TJs as well. I bring my lunch most days, leftovers from last night, and I try to consume fruits and veggies most days. I belong to the gym at Penn, and usually sign up for two to three yoga classes a week (and generally DO attend them). I refuse to eat at McD's and most fast food places, although Qdoba might sneak in a few times a year. What I DO have is a sweet-tooth. I love anything sweet - anything at all, even if it's terrible. I sweeten my coffee in the morning, have to have sugar on my cereal, eat sugar-laden yogurt for lunch, buy Luna bars for the satisfying sweetness. I like fruit based on it's sugar content - pineapple is my absolute favorite. I love to bake: cakes for every birthday in my lab, cookies when I feel like it, candies if I'm feeling adventurous. I love to be in the kitchen without pressure: when I'm not starving and ready to collapse. I also know that my baking tastes a thousand times better than anything I could buy in a store or at a bakery. I'm not one to toot my own horn, but baking is born and bred in my family, no question about it.
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time with Grandma S. She was born in 1904, lived through the Depression, and was a fantastic cook. I have yet to reach her level of abilities, but I understand her philosophy: good food, eaten in moderation. She had a sweet tooth, too, and generally had candy, cookies, ice cream and Jell-o in her kitchen at all times. It was a little kid's carnival, let me tell you. Once I came along, Grandma had a well-established pattern of eating in moderation. Both her and my Grandpa were fairly thin, although some age-related diseases might attribute to that. Grandma would eat one piece of candy after dinner to satisfy her sweet tooth. A box of See's candy would last months in their household. Not in mine. A box of See's candy will be gone in days flat, with me eating several pieces at a time, not even thinking about it. Same goes for anything sweet in my house - what is the difference between me and my Grandma? Why do I feel the incessant need to consume a million calories at a time? Why do I act this way and am unable to control my impulses? What on earth is going on? It was time to turn the tables on myself, and begin to try to address these questions.
To be continued...

1 comment:

Randi said...

Dude, it must be something we think about in our 30s because I'm going through this very thing right now. Not only do I want to look good in my wedding pictures, but I just want to feel better. I smoked the last of my pot on Sunday and have prepared myself for 6 weeks of turning my lifestyle around. I bought chicken breasts, black beans and frozen veggies. I am limiting myself to a glass of wine with dinner. I'm planning a schedule of exercise. I don't think it always needs to be this hard. As for the sweet tooth? My answer to that is tineh Jell-O cups mixed with canned fruit and topped with sugar free Cool Whip... it's going to take a while to get used to but like you said, once the bad stuff is gone... I wonder how much I'll miss it.