Natural Wasn't Easy
My eating evolution was an on-going battle. I grew up in the seventies and eighties, raised by Catholic parents who weren't much impressed by the hippie hi-jinks of the sixties. I hadn't even heard of granola until it came in the form of chewy bars with chocolate chips that became a lunch box staple, sometime in my teens.
Ours was a no-nonsense household where Mom worked full time and went to college part time. Dad occasionally cooked a dish of scrambled eggs, onions, ketchup, and hot dogs that no one else in the house would touch. Convenience foods were our staples, from frozen fish sticks and boxed macaroni and cheese on Lenten Fridays to cookies for breakfast to either a box of doughnuts or a trip to McDonald's on Sundays after church.
Never big on vegetables other than corn and potatoes, I spent many a childhood evening sitting alone at the table, waiting for my mother to realize that I would never finish a serving of green beans. I gave up the salad bar long before I saw a child lick pudding off the serving spoon at a local restaurant's buffet.
I gained more than the requisite fifteen pounds in college, which was easy once I added beer to the mix of junk foods I could buy using the university's expansive meal plan. No, I couldn't flash my school ID and charge McDonald's to my meal plan, but I could use it to have pizza brought to my door.
I lived near enough to a McDonald's after college that if traffic was with me, I could drive through for my ketchup and cheese Quarter-Pounder, super-size fries and Diet Coke during the long commercial break of "Seinfeld".
And speaking of Diet Coke, pop was a rarity in my house growing up. My mother bought convenience foods out of necessity, but denying us coveted two-liter bottles of pop seemed to assuage her guilt.
Pop was a magic elixir to my sister and me. She later developed a coffee habit, but I never did. I went through the gambit of brands and sweeteners, but pop remained a constant in my life.
Junk food—in addition to delicious and elaborate homemade Italian foods on holidays—was sort of my heritage. It's what I knew. Part of me still believed that Count Chocula really was part of a nutritious breakfast.
My brain, however, knew that junk food and processed foods were bad, evil even. Gastronomic Mephistopheles.
I read Fast Food Nation and My Year of Meats; I became probably the only vegetarian in the world who didn't like vegetables. Those books killed any love I had for Quarter-Pounders, bacon sandwiches, and pot roast. I could only read the word e-coli so many times before the commercial meat industry became the stuff of nightmares.
So I bought free-range eggs and organic milk and produce. I went out of my way to cleverly hide vegetables in dishes, so that I could eat my 5-9 servings per day without really noticing. I shopped at an organic foods store. There I felt alternately proud and ashamed when I realized I was wearing Birkenstocks while I was singing along to the Indigo Girls and was filling my cart with things like TVP and yeast flakes. I impressed the most skeptical of hockey fans with vegan nachos that made them feel like they're eating something filled with yummy fats and cholesterol.
I felt good about the food my family and I put into our bodies, and I felt good about the organizations we support with our money.
Deep down, though, I would have killed for a Susie-Q. I wept inside at the smell of those beloved McDonald's fries. I thought the hydrogenated fats from Oreos would have made a lovely perfume. I thought that elf, Ernie Keebler, was hot. I remembered how well Snickers really DID satisfy, and that Fritos really DID go with lunch.
The diet was supposed to be simple, but eating like an earth girl wasn't easy. At least not for me.