I sometimes forget, going about my normal routines, just how abnormal those routines truly are, primarily in relation to food. In the process of my losing weight and thinking more about it, I’ve become more and more focused on what I eat, not just from a caloric/nutritional perspective, but also from a societal/environmental/sustainable perspective. I’ve learned how to accommodate this quite well on my own, when I have access to my kitchen and known food sources. When I travel, though, I’m forced to realize just how difficult I make things for myself. It reminds me of Michael Pollan’s comment in In Defense of Food, that the question of what to eat for dinner has become exceedingly complicated.
One thing is that I’m picky in a moral/ethical way about the meat that I eat. I won’t eat commercially raised beef (thank Fast Food Nation for that one). When possible I also try to make sure that other meat or fish I eat has been sustainably raised, and not fed a nasty blend of antibiotics, hormones, corn, offal, and who knows what else. If in doubt, I tend to go vegetarian, but it can be difficult to find good vegetarian meals that aren’t full of cheese, cream, or milk, which I shouldn’t eat, or at least much of.
Additionally, I try to maintain a balance between carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, largely according to the Schwarzbein Diet. The funny thing is these days I try to make sure I have enough fat, as opposed to not having enough, providing, of course, that it’s the good type of fat. I also try to make sure that I have some fat whenever I have some carbs, since it’s easier to digest that way. But I don’t want to eat too many carbohydrates at once. When I do, I notice that I get sleepy a couple of hours later, and have a hard time focusing, whereas if I have just enough, I have consistent levels of energy. That’s probably also because I make sure to have enough protein – but that can be difficult to get without eating much meat or dairy.
On top of all that, I can only eat so much. These days I try to limit myself to about 1,200 calories per day, so around 400 calories/meal. It becomes a real high-wire act, trying to get enough of everything with that limited number of calories, and have it nicely balanced. Also, I can’t forget to mention getting in all my veggies, and for me, it does tend to be a lot.
Of course I don’t manage to do all of this when I’m traveling, although I do my best. I bring my own food for breakfast and snacks, I research restaurants ahead of time to find ones that focus on organic and locally/sustainably grown foods, I eat fish where possible (although having recently learned that farmed salmon are now being fed corn makes me wonder about that), and I exercise as much as I can to work off the excess calories I know I’ll be eating.
But it’s not easy, and I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it. It would be so much simpler to just eat whatever I wanted, when I wanted, and forget about the rest. Times that I do, though, I remember why it’s not a good plan. It makes me feel lousy. Physically, I feel over-full, my stomach complains at me, I don’t sleep well, and I struggle for days afterwards to get back on track. Morally, I know that if I only adhere to my principles when they’re easy, they don’t mean a thing.
The result is that I can’t bring myself to make it less challenging. My only consolation is knowing that other people are starting to think in similar ways, so that I can find restaurants that supply the types of foods I’m looking for, and some places are starting to publish their nutritional information. It’s still not easy, but it’s becoming slightly more so. I know we have a long way to go, but it gives me hope that in time it won’t be quite so difficult, and that it also means I’m not the only one thinking about these things.