Did you make a New Year’s resolution to eat healthy food? Are you already slipping although it’s barely a week into 2015?
I don’t make resolutions because they always fail, but a healthy eating related promise I keep making for myself throughout the year is to give up dairy. Soya milk tastes great and the good ones have been fortified with calcium and vitamin B12, and soyghurt has the same probiotic benefits as the real thing; I really have no health related excuse to keep using dairy, and the weight loss potential and environmental benefits of cutting it are undeniable. My real reason to keep using dairy products is laziness – there’s cheese in every vegetarian meal, whether prepared or served in a café, and I don’t have the time or energy to make every meal from scratch. Well, maybe I do have the time, but not the energy.
Yesterday at lunch I decided to have a more mindful meal by reviving an old habit from my hippie teenager days: I said a mealtime prayer. Not out loud of course as I was in the university cafeteria, and not a prayer to God, but a word of thanks to the earth that had grown the food I was eating. I thanked the earth and the farmers for growing the lentils, beetroots and carrots in my salad. I thanked the apple tree for growing fruit and the spring that provided water. I felt a deep connection with the earth and this made the whole lunch feel more meaningful, almost a spiritually as much as a physically nourishing experience.
And then I came to the sandwich. It was a good sandwich all in all: seeded brown bread, spinach leaves – and a slice of cheddar. I couldn’t keep it up. Who would I thank? The cow trapped for life in a factory farm, injected with hormones to produce way more milk for mass consumption than its body is designed for? “Thank you for suffering terribly so I can have a nice cheddar slice in my sandwich” doesn’t sound like a fair bargain. What about the woman in the next table casually slicing meat off a chicken leg? “Thank you for dying for my lunch.” What if I’d had a chocolate bar for dessert instead of an apple? Could I have, without trouble, thanked the overworked and underpaid cocoa farmers, or the scientists in labs ruining this cocoa by adding low-quality milk and sugar and injecting the whole thing with synthetic emulsifiers? If you can’t be motivated to cutting down on unhealthy food for the health benefits, visualising its production to the point you feel nauseous is a pretty good way to put yourself off eating it.
I’ve always known how food is produced and how much of non-plant-based stuff is bad for me, but it’s easy to fall into habit and not think too much of it, rather the same way that I can have three beers in a pub and large chips on the night bus and then wonder why my size 12 skinny jeans no longer fit. I don’t need calorie charts or diet plans to know what to do; I only need to remain aware. We’re faced with endless choices at every turn and if there’s one promise I can make for myself regarding good choices, it is this: When I drink water, I shall remember the source.