Cheese Blues

Eating in a local vegetarian/vegan restaurant last evening, celebrating in absentia for a daughter’s birthday. Most of the patrons here are admirably thin, while some have a hint of carotenemia, which is a slight orange glow to their skin. I opted for the brahma burger, a sandwich made of tempeh–a soy product–rather than red meat. I’ve been eating mainly fresh fruit and vegetables now for eighteen months, so I find going to a place where others follow a similar regiment to be a source of inspiration for me. Maybe one day I will be as thin and as orange as them!

I’ve lost nearly all craving for meat and dairy. I mostly miss cheese, but find that if it is not in the house, is not in sight, that I can make my way through the day just fine. Hummus, made from garbanzo beans, works pretty good as a cheese substitute whenever I feel a craving coming on. The cravings seem to have dwindled to almost nothing. On occasion, when visiting with friends, or when going to one of those crazy-good Mexican restaurants in town, I somehow manage to get mixed up with the cheese. The grocery stores are now stocking all new different kinds of soy cheese, so I may buy a small block of that, but it just doesn’t have the same yang as the real thing.

My prompting to switch eating habits came when I earned that I had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and acid reflux, and when I began to feel unpredictable, arthritic aches and pains in my joints and muscles. Since then, the cholesterol and blood pressure have somewhat normalized, while the acid reflux and arthritic pain have disappeared, as promised by the doctor whose plan I have followed. It’s wonderful to sleep a whole night without nearly gagging to death from asphyxia.

Oh, sometimes I miss the smell that arises from barbecuing ribeye steaks in the summertime. I often get a whiff in the air of what people around me are cooking, but the sensation no longer causes my mouth to water. Thinking back now about all those meat-eating sessions in which I engaged, the ceremony of making the meat sizzle and smoke was perhaps more sublime than the actual eating. After I had a big piece of juicy, marbled, red meat cooked to medium rare, I would then heavily salt it and puddle it with melted butter. Of course, a baked potato on the side, with more butter, salt, and toss on a tall pile of sour cream.

I never would have thought I could walk away from that kind of eating. I began to see, however, that I was not taking in food to make my life healthy, to give my body strength and energy. I thought I was, but didn’t know any better. The meat and potatoes culture in which I had grown seemed so natural to me. Generations of my people had eaten this way. How healthy their diet might have made them is arguable. Strokes and heart attacks were pretty common. Those old timers also did not eat much processed food and were more physically active–both in work and pleasure–than what is in vogue now.

Eating gives me pleasure, especially when I’m hungry. Such satisfaction comes from filling my empty stomach, which is about the size of my fist when doubled. I had managed to equate eating with pleasure, rather than with sustenance. The change from carnivore to herbivore caused me to reflect on my reasons for eating the way I did. I had slowly gotten into a pattern of eating just for pleasure, but my body was enjoying the pleasure less and less all the time. The change to eating fresh, chunky vegetables that had been grown in the earth and had to be chopped, sliced, and slowly chewed, provided me with a new awareness of what eating should always have been for me.

Some nights after an early dinner of salad, I still go looking through the cupboards and refrigerator an hour or two later for pie and ice cream, cookies or cake–anything that contains fat, oil, salt, or sugar, but I don’t shop for such things, so the cupboards are only filled with memories of such food. Instead, I grab half a handful of raw, unsalted cashews and sunflower seeds, and munch on them slowly while enjoying the natural nutty savor of them, which is masked when other ingredients or processes are added. Eating slowly and with more deliberation has caused me to live more fully in the moment. I can’t say that I’m a master of the discipline, but now I better understand what I could have done differently during those many years of poor eating, and why the change has been good for me.

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