superfoods

world gone wellness

Are we still spending all our money to fill a void?

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Let me begin by saying I am totally of this world; totally of the world of ancient ayurvedic adaptogenic herbs and the food-as-medicine / listen-to-your-body mantra-touting alternative subculture.  I drink the koolaid just to see if it will have a positive effect.  But I’m also totally relieved by articles like this one in Man Repeller, and this one in the New York Times.  They bring the “spiritually transcendent” and “pure” wellness initiatives under the microscope, much like I’ve always done with religious tradition and what I call “old school-ism” (i.e. doing something just because it’s always been done).  I’m in a stage of my life where I am nothing if not searching searching searching; for the right career, for the right city, for the best fuel for my body, for happiness and adventure.  Part of that searching includes health and wellness, and as I’ve always tapped into the new and up-and-coming and trending health scene in the way that some people know what’s coming down the runway before NYFW.  It’s classic VATA nature to always be searching, going where the wind blows, evaluating and re-evaluating and moving on to the next thing.  I like it; it’s fun and ever-new and matches my eternal desire to not be bored.  But it’s totally possible to be unhealthy in it.  Unhealthy in health?  Yes ma’am.

While it’s true that foods / herbs have qualities in their own respects that affect us in some way, the aspiration towards elite foods and lifestyles can be more damaging than not eating organic.

If we’re breaking the bank for seven jars of powdered mushrooms to make a morning herbal latte, there’s less money for spinach and avocados and pastured eggs to really fill us up.  If we’re untouchable because we can’t go out for brunch with friends, does it really matter how pure our systems are?  Summer at SheLivesWholly.com talks about how soul food is more important than actual food, and I totally agree with her.  I mean, I’d rather eat vegetables at brunch than chicken & waffles, but I’d rather eat meat and pastries with friends than eat vegetables at home alone.

The health scene has been blamed for being another eating disorder in disguise.  We are totally capable of using wellness regimes and a desperate search for self to control or numb out, much like we might use partying to escape our woes.  But more than anything, I can’t get beyond the use of healing and powerful plants in pure capitalism schemes.  It’s one thing to deal herbs in a small shop stall, or hawk vegetables at the farmers market.  But paying for your mansion by selling juices and magic potions with daring promises?  Seems a little fish-hooky to me.  But then I’ve always had a particular hostility toward consumerism.

I have fallen in love with wellness and living a lifestyle that suits me best many times over in my life.  And some of those times have been to numb out or try to grasp at any last tempting branches as I tumbled over the edge of the cliff of my life.  Most of all, it fit my budget and priorities: I didn’t want to have to buy and keep buying cleaning products, clothes, body care, and expensive specialty foods to have the life of my dreams.  Freedom meant being able to come up with something entirely homemade at a fraction of the cost, flexing my creative fingers and being able to stand back and be proud of what I accomplished.  I love to support someone else’s craft if it’s entirely evident they’re sharing their love and superpowers in a product (like a handmade card or cutting board at a craft fair).  I’m still drawn into minimalist product labeling and things that offer to change my life, but every time I spot something on the Chalkboard Mag, Well + Good, GOOP or MindBodyGreen, I immediately examine the basis of my infatuation.  Those platforms SELL a lifestyle that costs money I don’t have for rewards I’ll likely only see by squinting through deeply tinted designer glasses and reciting a mantra in an effort to convince myself everything is perfect.  I’m over it.

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EIGHT WAYS TO RESIST:
Fight back against wellness-shaming and lifestyle consumerism,
for your health!

I’ve got some things for you to keep in mind as you navigate this worldly obsession, because a) I think it is entirely okay for the world to want to be well, and I don’t think it should be cast as hippie-dippy, and b) I think it can be really easy for us to shell out all our money to companies claiming to help us do just that, when in fact we’re still just trying to fill a void.
  1. DO YOU and hold fast your non-negotiables: first and foremost, trust your gut.  If you want a matcha latte, by god, have one.  If you don’t want to make space on your supplements shelf for any supplements, totally fine.  Unless you have something in hand that totally works for you and you know it, you’ll likely just find yourself in another battle of will – wondering why you’re trying to be so pure anyway… You also (hopefully) know yourself best; you know if you’re willing to pay for water, if you eat animal products, if you are capable of skipping a workout without getting off track, if you want to suffer through food intolerance.  Babe, it all matters.
  2. Don’t get sucked into fear-based wellness regimes: you are not mentally unwell because you do not meditate.  You are not unhealthy because you do not “hit the gym.”  You are not too poor to be healthy because you cannot afford a juicer.  You do not need Beauty Dust to be radiant.  You do not need visible abdominal muscles to be attractive.  When you learn about what worked for someone else, take it with a grain of salt.  If you want to try it, by all means…give it a go.  But this idea that we have to be all things all the time is impractical at best, and senseless beyond that.  I’m constantly telling myself, Pick one: Go for a walk, play with the dog, have a bowspring session, call a friend, cook an elaborate meal, read a book.  I cannot possibly – nor do I care to try to – fit it all in one day.
  3. Consider your budget, honestly: societies lived for centuries without juicers and Vitamixes.  I could stop there, because you probably get my point.  Basically, my fear is that many of us resign to unhealthy habits because we think we can’t afford to be healthy, because much of the media world is telling us that we can’t be healthy without fancy tools and ingredients.  The honest truth is that in our modern world of e-commerce and having our wants and needs met instantly, we are grossly unhealthy and unhappy.  If you didn’t have it when you were a kid and you got along just fine, you’ll probably be okay without it now.  iPhone included.
  4. Examine your WHY: No, self-care in and of itself is not self-indulgent.  But it’s important to check in on what self-care is really about for you.  If you require a weekly massage or an hour-long soak in an epsom salt bath every night to cope with the stress of your life, maybe you’re still not getting to the root of the issue.  Maybe it’s not that you don’t allow yourself enough personal time; maybe you hate your job or aren’t being honest about toxic relationships in your life.  Personal experience: yoga and nutrition helped sustain me during a particularly hard time, but they didn’t cure me of my woes.  I still had to make huge life changes to find some semblance of happiness and positive cell vibration.
  5. Don’t give up!  We hurt ourselves the most when we believe we are not worthy of true health.  We hurt others when we are not our best selves for them.  And being our best selves does not mean always oozing sunshine and pooping rainbows.  PLEASE.  Our best selves are loving and inspiring and supportive, and we can do all those things even if we have a bad day once in awhile, or if our sense of humor errs on the side of cynical.  We are totally worthy of love, including self-love.
  6. Adapt adapt adapt.  Life is so ungodly messy.  If it’s not you, it’s someone close to you.  Then it’s you again.  Then it’s your pet.  We’re constantly bowled over by forseen and unforseen events and research shows that the key to winning life is RESILIENCE.  This is also something I love about the teachings of Ayurveda – that where we are today is not likely where we’ll be tomorrow, and there’s always an opportunity to come back from that or to move in a different direction.  We’re never too far gone and we won’t always be in the exact right place.  We can use what we know about ourselves and a willingness to break out of any sense of rigidity in order to claw our way back.
  7. Don’t eat the same thing every day: this is a recipe for food intolerances, boredom, settling for mediocrity, OR overindulging.  No need for ice cream every day.  No need for bananas every day.  Your body wants so many things, and personally I find it hard to eat 30 different vegetables in a day, so I spread it out 🙂
  8. Do the thing that gives you warm fuzzies: this is a mental health thing, and it’s totally important.  Many health gurus eschew watching TV, but I grew up watching FRIENDS and it holds more meaning to me than a way to disengage with my current situation.  I also love to talk to my mom.  You know what your thing is.  Call upon it when you need it.
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unicorn me, captain

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At the risk of this small space becoming a place where I eschew mainstream nutrition practices (oh wait, this is a kitchen for the bad kids after all…), let’s bring up another topic that I haven’t quite wrapped my head around.

On trendy food, let me be clear: I came to the dark side of avocado toast lovers frighteningly quick. I use gobs of coconut oil and make my own staple foods, and one year I ate so many bananas I literally developed a food sensitivity. I own a Vitamix, and convinced my mom she needed one, too. I’ve tried countless superfoods and techniques to make one food look like another and made things from scratch I didn’t know I was capable of (like ghee and salt). There’s a lot I’ve done to jump on the bandwagon, and sometimes the wagon is headed to a field of wildflowers. But there’s plenty I haven’t tried. If I lived in New York or even sunny LA, I might have encountered this new movement in person. Alas, I’ve only seen it floating around the insta-sphere.

Unicorn food.

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When it comes to health foods, buzz words like “whole foods”, “plant-based”, “gluten-free”, “seasonal”, “organic”, “non-GMO”, “superfoods” are oft used to describe a diet wrapped in a wholesome rainbow of wellness. I drool over well-arranged plates of colorful and bountiful harvest: plump and round tomatoes, rustic string beans, gleaming watermelon, whole-roasted carrots, fluffy red lettuce. As a home cook I often stress myself out over not being creative enough with my weeknight meals, but the truth is that I prefer easy preparation where the foods are mostly in their original form.

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That idealistic dinner table is what is known in my town as “too healthy.” But there’s another picture: elite superfoods that still come pre-packaged, which means they are sold at a higher cost and at a disconnect from the grower / producer. Think about the theory behind teaching kids to garden, which is that if they can understand what makes a carrot, they’re more likely to eat it. That’s lost with packaged superfoods. We don’t readily understand maca or moringa or chaga or even collagen. I argue that unless you’re already stretching your SAB (standard american budget) because you prioritize, or – let’s face it – are prone to grocery shopping sprees, you are not likely to purchase a $15 eight ounce bag of this unidentifiable food you’ve never heard of just to try it. We health foodie nutritionists do that because it is our passion, and because likely we’ve read research studies about and can apply the health benefits of these foods. But someone shopping the market who isn’t constantly researching how the body works (and not in a gimicky, Dr. Oz, new fangled fad sort of way) isn’t likely to enter that world unaccompanied. Thus, making it elite. Which is not to say it’s bad. I participate in this world. I love my elixirs and I do my food research and I keep up with the trends enough that things aren’t as new to me as they are to others.

If you haven’t seen the unicorn food movement, this is my take on the very basics:

  • Somewhat exotic superfoods which provide dazzlingly unfoodlike pastel coloration to a dish
  • Complex structuring of a dish with layered coloring, such as a parfait or rainbow toast
  • A moment sprinkled in magical energy

Unicorn health food vs. just plain unicorn food

  • Many a take on unicorn food showcases the vibrant (or decidedly not-so-vibrant pastel) colors found in nature. Things like beet or raspberry powder, spirulina or chlorella, and any combination thereof, bring to life a regular, black-and-white chia pudding parfait and provide a canvas for other cheerful foods like blueberries and kiwi. You won’t find additives or even dairy or gluten in any of Hippie Lane’s recipes.
  • Other interpretations have included the processed colorations of sprinkles and food coloring and more sprinkles wrapped up in chemical-laden dairy products and unidentifiable forms of sugar. And no one has capitalized on this more than Starbucks.

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I understand that not everyone is in support of a plant-based lifestyle. Some have a steady intake of dairy and even cane sugar, and just as I have looked at them sideways for not buying into the research that questions those elements as a standard in our diet, so too have I been given the side eye for losing my tastebuds to the bird food movement.

It is also true that not everyone believes in the same type of magic. For some, it’s an electrical current through our very woke, very alive nervous system. For others, maybe it’s a quieter moment of just being in control. It’s not an even playing field. There’s no rule book for the good life – no bible or scroll or stoner movie script can honestly encompass the best life for all of humankind, as perhaps our best humanity is found in our inherent individuality. It is – though, truthfully, it should not have to be so – a consequential luxury to boil in our own self-awareness and self-care until we are refined to the core of who we are, so as to add a burst of flavor to the melting pot of life. Those who live to survive; those who live at the mercy of others; those who do not know of the thrill of knowing one’s true self and serving one’s true self – they may not have an opportunity to access the earth-bound afterlife.

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That’s what I think of as “thriving”; that you can go beyond the beyond, because you have achieved earthly satisfaction. When your physical and social worlds are well-massaged and oiled up, your mental and emotional worlds can soar. And I see health as a key part of that. But it’s not the only part. The perfect foods won’t solve all our problems, but they will solve many of them, like depression and anxiety and autoimmune issues and ADHD and autism and obesity. They make healthier bodies and subsequently healthier brains and then individuals and families and communities and maybe, if we didn’t have a Big Mac-loving toupee for president, the world wouldn’t need so many bombs or seats around the news desk. But that’s another story.

Trendy superfoods are not the enemy, though.  Unicorn food: not the enemy.  Starbucks is the enemy.   Freshly-grown food – however that may be encapsulated in your diet – is the cornerstone of good health.  First, we must put these OG foods on our plates, ideally through a home-cooked meal using package-free ingredients.  Then we can worry about our superfood intake.  Superfoods are not the measure of health; they are the beyond.  We can strive toward them, but we must first ensure our access to local, seasonal foods.  Like every movement, it must start at home; in the body; in the self; and then – only then – move beyond.