I remember vividly my first day in English class as an undergraduate student, so many decades ago. The professor was lecturing about Samuel Beckett, and remarked that Beckett was “an enigma.” With that comment, I felt a little faint: here I was, an upstart 17 year-old already in her second year of university (courtesy of advanced credits from having attended CEGEP in Quebec), and I had no idea what “enigma” meant. I immediately scribbled the word down at the top of my notepage, and as soon as class was over, dashed home to look it up. Thus started my lifelong practise of vocabulary-expanding via writing things down. Needless to say, as soon as this new word was on my linguistic radar, I began to see it everywhere.
The same pattern persisted with basically all the new words I learned along the way (okay, maybe not with “hermeneutic”), but the one that stuck in my mind and won a singular place in my heart was oxymoron. You know, the kind of paradox that contains the opposite of itself, yet is essentially true: to wit, George Carlin’s famous “jumbo shrimp” or the now-ancient (and no longer true, anyway) “Canadian literature.” So when I say that I myself am an oxymoronic kind of eater, I say it with a modicum of affection. But with a heavy stress on “moronic.”
Tofu and Twinkies, Collards and Caramels, Chard and Chocolate, Brewer’s Yeast and Brownies–take any of these diametrically opposed pairs of foodstuffs, and I love each individual part–and love them equally. I can munch on millet with sauteed garlic, onion, tamari and walnuts, then an hour later, go out and chomp on some chocolate-covered raisins. I can eat a delicious meal of raw kale salad with avocado, baked sweet potato wedges with sesame seeds and Thai Peanut Dipping Sauce (I must post that recipe–fab!), then later in the afternoon, suck back some Betty Crocker Cream Cheese “Flavor” Frosting, straight from the can. And, just as with my Girls, I recognize that each one is totally different from the other, yet can adore each with the same degree of passion.
I got to thinking about this paradox today after spending a lovely morning at the Whole Life Expo with my friend Michelle. I’d previously enjoyed a great week of eating totally healthfully (yes, I’ve been indulging in my Mock-Chocolate Pudding, but hey, it’s tofu and agave nectar!) and looked forward to seeing a plethora of new health-foodie products at the show.
After a long drive downtown during which our chatter became so animated that I, the driver, nearly hit a streetcar at one point, we began our tour of the place. Aisles and aisles of alternative-health products to gaze upon and sample. It was like Disneyland for hippies! As it turned out, we started our tour in the food section, and viewed some amazing products. All with abundant free samples. All delicious. All good for me. Until the chocolate.
First up was goji berries, the latest berry to join the antioxidant roster. If you haven’t tasted gojis yet, I’d highly recommend it. Higher in Vitamin C than oranges, higher in Beta Carotene than carrots, higher in protein than whole wheat, and higher in most other vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients than pretty much any other berry, these little crimson gems are both tart and sweet, with a whif of bitterness as a nearly undetectable afterthought. One of my favorite alternative health gurus, Dr. Ben Kim, describes them as a cross between “sweet cherries and plums.” I’m a regular consumer of them, and so was highly intrigued by their latest incarnation, enrobed in pomegranate-flavored yogurt coating. Yum! After a couple of samples, I found myself dishing out $10 for one small bag.
[The yogurt-covered variety]
We also saw (and sampled) a wide range of shakes, smoothies, greens powders, supplements, juicers, oils, all-natural soaps, and more before happening upon the Xocai healthy chocolate booth. Now, I’m not even a fan of dark chocolate, but these nuggets contain both blueberries and acai berries for the ultimate in antioxidant benefits. The perfect combination of decadence and desirability at the same time. Of course, we just had to sample it. Both flavors. More than once.
What happened then was something that’s occurred probably thousands of times in my life: one bite of chocolate and all my previous willpower just dissolved–poof!–like that. Suddenly, I was overcome by the urge to eat every piece of chocolate, and anything else, in sight. (Unfortunately, that also included a spoonful of concentrated maca liquid, very nearly causing that chocolate to re-visit me on its way back up.)
Shortly thereafter, we came upon yet another chocolate-touting booth and I bought not one, but two 100-gram bars. Quite enjoyed the cappuccino one on the way home (though I did save some for C.). Now, I feel quite confident that Michelle did not go home and do the same, considering her stable, and very slim, physique.
By the time I arrived home, I’d eaten the other bar, too. Reflecting on this behavior, I had somewhat of a revelation regarding my bingeing habit. Seems I run on something very much like a binary code: my compulsion for sweets is either “on” or “off,” but there’s no in between. (Ergo, I seem incapable of moderation in that area). Eating that one initial piece of chocolate flicked the toggle switch to the “on” position, and I was off and running (toward chocolate). So I’m beginning to see that one of my strategies must be to simply not go therein the first place–no initial taste, so no overweening desire to eat the entire bar, cake, package, can, bag, jar, or whatever.
By dinnertime, I’d reverted to eating from the healthy side of the spectrum, a la Stacy Halprin’s advice (ie, just soldier on as if it never happened). So I whipped up some of my very favorite vegan Mac and “Cheese” (or “Cheeze,” as the original recipe calls it) from the Fat Free Vegan’s blog (I used rice pasta, though). Filled with the aforementioned brewer’s yeast and its cheesy goodness, miso, tahini, and a whack of delish herbs and spices, this is true comfort food that’s also incredibly nutrient-dense and good for you. Given that I had only rice milk (albeit unflavored) in the house, I was afraid it would ruin the flavor, but it turned out just as delicious as usual.
[Elsie polishing off the sauce, enjoying her share of B12 for the day]
And now, at least, I can feel as if I’ve eaten something that will nourish my body and help me recover from the chocolate overload today. Not quite as bad as Tofu with Twinkies, but chocolate (and chocolate, and chocolate) with vegan mac and cheeze–still pretty contradictory.
This evening, remembering something Michelle said as we drove home (no near-fender bender that time), sparked another mini-epiphany for me. Apparently, she used to be one of those “Type A” personalities, always rushing to fill her time as much as possible, to accomplish seventy tasks a day, running from one pre-planned event to another. Now, having met her in her current incarnation, I can only say that imagining her behaving in that manner seems virtually impossible.
Once she started yoga, she said, she’d effortlessly lost five pounds and found that she had a new perspective, one which allowed her to relax, take things as they come, and enjoy the moments in her life. It was a deliberate choice, she said, but now she makes a point of not letting the “little things” get to her, and trying to slow down and enjoy each day.
I felt a little bit of squishy nostalgia for my own year at nutrition school (oh so far away, now), when I was able to focus on health in all its myriad aspects–physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. During that time, I ate really, really well, and spent time preparing and appreciating the fantastic food I was learning about and cooking with; I took time to appreciate my dog and my honey (oops, yes, I think it was in that order, actually), enjoyed relaxing and meditating and reading and listening to music; enjoyed breathing in the sharp air in the autumn mornings, meandering walks along the trail with The Girls, an occasional glass of red with my honey over dinner–heck, I even enjoyed the plush feel of the carpet under me each morning as I struggled through my sit-ups.
During that year, I enjoyed all the daily pleasures and even some of the more mundane tasks–all the things that were a regular part of my existence. It really does make a difference, I realized, if you take even a few minutes to exhale away the stress and anxiety that can so easily accumulate.
Thinking about it, I realized a paradox extends to the rest of my life, as well, not just my eating habits. I have the credentials of a holistic practitioner (nutritionist), yet am regularly afflicted by the same pressures and unhealthy habits of so many other middle class, overworked white-collar workers. I resolved, immediately, to meditate tonight.
But I’d just better make it quick, because I only have ten minutes to de-stress before I have to get back to work.