Saturday, May 29, 2010

On the Road to Vegetarianism Pt. 2 + An Afternoon at Wrigley Field

A while back I posted about switching over to a mostly vegetarian diet, and now I'm nearing the 6-month mark (June 4, to be exact). I have, to my amazement, kept it up.  For some of these months, I've gone weeks without eating any meat, though I still do have some from time to time (this past week I don't think I had any). I also have almost completely given up all processed, prepared foods, unless I'm getting them at a cafe or restaurant (where I have little choice, though I've been trying to patronize restaurants, when I can afford to, that prepare whole foods on the premises). Since January perhaps the only processed, prepared foods I've bought would be oatmeal (and I do also buy the organic rolled oats from a nearby food coop), orange juice, and a few other items like wine.  I haven't bought any frozen dinners or anything else frozen and processed, though I do still sometimes pick up frozen fruits and vegetables, and fish. Other than chocolate, I've stopped buying any candy, and haven't bought any sorts of chips except tortilla chips from restaurants, or an occasional bag made locally. One of the most difficult things to maintain, particularly over the last month, during which I was involved in several very stressful committee assignments (similar versions of which over the past few years led to my having stopped cooking and ordering out food when I felt most under duress), has been the cooking, breadmaking, baking, and so on, but I'm glad to say that I've kept it up.  I note this not for a pat on the back, but just to acknowledge that it amazes me that I've been able to keep this going.

My diet now consists mostly of those hated carbs, and yet, as I noted before, almost as soon as started eating this way I immediately began losing weight (20 lbs, now close to 24 lbs--I've gone from 220 lbs. to about 196 or so, give or take the day) , and I've kept it off.  I had sworn off potatoes after C passed on an article about how bad they are for you (think heavily starchy root vegetable growing in toxic soils!), but I love potatoes, so I've started to reincorporate them into various dishes, where applicable. I have not, however, had French fries more than 1-2 times over the last 6 months. I eat a lot of bread, as any reader of this blog knows. Since the food coop I often shop at in Chicago has had a regular supply of organic sundried tomatoes, I've been regularly baking whole wheat sundried tomato bread, with a few detours, especially during the colder months, to rye bread (I will probably make a pumpernickel loaf again this summer, just because it was so good) or to French bread (which is one of the easiest breads you can make).

I can say that I eat a lot more squash (especially zucchini and yellow squash, which I loathed as a child), eggplant, and beets (which I also wasn't fond of, though I don't know why). I also regularly devour carrots, one of my favorite foods, as well as broccoli, brussel sprouts, and turnips. I eat grains, including couscous and quinoa, and legumes, like lentils and black beans, that I didn't used to eat so much. I don't, however, eat much salad, which I always associated in my mind with 1) healthier eating; 2) weight loss; and 3) vegetarianism. Occasionally I will have salads, and I'll probably eat more once the summer rolls around, but in general, they're not part of the mix. Another bonus of this approach has been that I spend far less money on a weekly basis on food. The coop's prices are decent, but I always end up paying less than I do at the supermarket, and the food usually comes from local (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, etc.) farms (or organic farms in California, Florida, etc.). Interestingly enough, the fruits often seem to last longer that supermarket fruits, which makes me wonder how long they've been sitting on trucks. When I add up how much I will spend at the coop and, say, at Trader Joe's, it's usually far less than I was spending when I primarily hit the supermarket. (Can anyone tell me how Trader Joe's keeps its food prices so low?)  Even when I factor in an occasional visit to Whole Foods, which I was boycotting for a while, my food expenses are still lower than before; and because the food I cook lasts, I spend far less (often nothing) on a daily basis buying lunch, etc., as I once did. (I also avoid the bleached, excess-gluten bread that's overtaken the US market, making many people sick. I often wonder, if more of us baked our own bread, how widespread would the gluten-related problems be that plague us?)

I haven't had my HDL and LDL levels checked since last summer, but I'd be surprised if they haven't gone down. I know that my blood pressure, which often rises during very stressful periods and which I was keeping down with medication, appears--feels--as if it's gone down. I FEEL better on a daily basis, and not just because I can just fit clothes that I'd pushed to the back of the closet. (I do go to the gym regularly and have for years, but that wasn't pulling any weight off or lowering my blood pressure, it seems.) One thing that becomes clearer from eating this way is that the amount of salt in my diet has gone down dramatically; eating fewer processed, prepared foods, I'm getting fewer foods that are drenched or pickled in salt. I check labels assiduously, but I've come to realize that the manufacturers may be underestimating the amount of salt they put into food, and even they aren't, as the New York Times article I link to above makes clear, the salt content of processed foods is dangerous highly for a great many of us. I still eat sugar (I use it in the scones, for example, in sugar cookies, and so on), but I know I'm getting far less sugar, especially of the refined kind, that is wreaking havoc on the people's pancreases. I still eat eggs and butter (I love them!), but I have far more control over both--and dairy products in general in my food--than before. I still do eat fish, and some meat, but as I've noted, in far smaller quantities than ever. Sometimes I miss it, and crave it, but usually I don't. I certainly don't miss fast food at all, and I was never a big consumer of it, but I alongside pizza (which I also make myself), I still occasionally will eat things along those lines, as when I dropped by Hot Doug's, one of Chicago's premier joints, and indulged a few weeks back. (And they handmake all their sausage, fries, and so forth, so....).

One thing I've striven not to do is prescribe my approach for anyone else, including C. I know friends and relatives who are struggling with health issues (diabetes, weight gain struggles, etc.), and I also realize that given all the terrible information we get daily about our diets, all the hectoring and condescension, all the misfocus on pecuniae and far too little on how simple, delicious and easy home cooking whole foods are, how extreme so much of the discussion is (you must eat "raw foods," you must "avoid carbs," you must you must you must), I want to avoid that approach, especially with those close to me, most especially because I feel that it's up to everyone to make personal choices that they feel are best for them. I'm glad that I've finally given up deli meats, one of my favorite lunchtime foods, especially now that I know how awful most of the commercial forms are for people's health, especially when it comes down to blood pressure and overall heart health (how many of us really do go to a butcher's shop and get fresh, locally smoked and prepared meats? I don't think I've had such food in the US since I was very small).

One consideration that presses me, though, when I stop by one of the local supermarkets to grab something or other, is what would happen if a majority of people said No to the industrialized food system we have in this country; what would happen, I think, to all the jobs associated with these businesses, all the workers who I know need these jobs, benefit from them, are hanging on because of them? As I mentioned, I can go weeks now without buying hardly anything at the main supermarkets I used to shop at all the time in Chicago (and Jersey City)--supermarkets which, sadly, send me coupons for bottled water, of all environmentally deleterious products!--and when I am in one, I think, why so much of this pre-packaged foodstuff, this quasi-food, which is wreaking havoc on our bodies and our society, in here? Of course I know the answers, or at least some of them, and they have do with capitalism, consumerism, convenience, and so much more. But if more of us just said enough of this--and, if we so decided, patronized restaurants that weren't part of this industrial system but actually prepared whole foods on the premises, as many do for very little money--what would the effect be on the supermarket world, the industrial food world, the health care industry, as we know them?

I know this is what some people are advocating, and I'm sympathetic to the larger notion of a shifting in food industry paradigms, in farming, in selling food, in how we integrate food into our lives in this country. But at the same time, I'm also worried about the effects these shifts might have on the people at the bottom of this system, the most vulnerable people who rely on the millions of jobs it creates. Given how little concern the federal and state governments, policymakers, and many corporations and their leaders have for the prospects and fortunes of working-class and poor people, let alone middle-class people, all of whom are being devastated by the system as it currently stands, I cannot but worry what will happen if we change the way we operate. And yet it's clear to me, based on the many articles and books (by Michael Pollan and others) I've read, on the many discussions I've had over the last few years, and on my own health experiences, that change is necessary. How to effect it so that it benefits those who most could benefit from it rather than disadvantaging them, as always, in favor of those who already have money, power, and everything else, is one of the questions I keep asking myself every day.

Now, can I keep it up through the summer and on through the end of the year?


Today I did something I haven't in years, which is go to a baseball game. As J's Theater readers know, I'm a huge baseball fan, and it so happened that one of my teams, the St. Louis Cardinals, were in town to play the Chicago Cubs. I hadn't gone to Wrigley Field since 2001, when I lived just around the corner from it, for various reasons, including its post-game drunken fans, who went so far as to douse my dreadlocks with a cup or more of beer, but I said what the hell, classes are (nearly) over, it's been a brutal quarter, it's the holiday weekend, it's been years since the drenching, it ought to be fun. It was. I scored a ticket right next the stadium (police were everywhere, so it was legal), for a seat just behind the Cubs' dugout, right beside third base. The sightlines were excellent. I found myself wedged between Cubs fans who, when they inquired about my not cheering for their team, were polite enough, and otherwise quite genial. The people booing the Cardinals, and in particular Albert Pujols, were sitting elsewhere. The fight that broke out--I couldn't tell whether it was Cubs fans brawling among themselves, or some Cardinals supporters in the mix--was well down the nearby foul line. My neighbors were mostly concerned with cheering on every single Cubs accomplishment that occurred, and sipping (or quaffing) their beers. And chatting about coworkers and friends.  The Cards had walloped the Cubs the night before behind ace pitcher Chris Carpenter, but today, it was all Chicago. Behind starter Carlos Silva, who'd come over from Seattle with a 5-13 record, the Cubs defeated the Cardinals 5-0. The Redbirds couldn't get a single rally started. And Silva, despite last year's problems, is now 7-0, the first Cubs pitcher to go undefeated that long since Ken Holtzman in 1967. Which is fine, since the Cardinals won the Series that year, over the New York Yankees. Cubs and Cubs fans, it was your day.


Starlin Castro checking his pantsleg at left, Cards coach Oquendo at right
Cubs second baseman Starlin Castro (isn't that a great name!?) checking the flyness of his pants, as Cardinals coach José Oquendo looks on
Cub Alfonso Soriano @ Cards vs. Cubs
Cub outfielder Alfonso Soriano leaving the field
Carlos Zambrano warming up
Cubs starter, now temporary reliever, Carlos Zambrano, warming up
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, on 3rd base, chatting up 3rd base coach José Oquendo
Cubs batter Derek Lee
Cubs first baseman Derek Lee
Cards pitcher Mitchell Boggs and Albert Pujols
Cardinals relief pitcher Mitchell Boggs, and first baseman Albert Pujols
Cubs pitcher Carlos Silva
Cubs pitcher Carlos Silva unleashing a Gibsonesque fastball
Cubs outfielder Keisuke Fukodome
Cubs outfielder Keisuke Fukudome, on 3rd base
Soriano batting
Alfonso Soriano batting
Alfonso Soriano
Alfonso Soriano, on 2nd base
1st baseman Albert Pujols in his crouch
Albert Pujols in his fielding crouch


  1. Reading about your food habits only highlights for me the need to change my food habits. I eat way too much processed junk. I am proud of you. Keep up the good work.

  2. Thanks, Anthony. It's not easy, though, as you know. Everything out there says eat the quickest, cheapest, saltiest, least healthy and satisfying food you can find.