National Nutrition Month Gives Chance to See How Interest In Healthy Eating Grows
The American Dietetic Association has announced that March is National Nutrition Month . The month’s theme, “Nutrition from the Ground Up,” has caused me to ponder when the desire to commit to a healthy diet really struck me. Instead, I’ve found that the idea of and commitment to a nutritional diet has ebbed and flowed throughout my life, not really catching on until my mid-30s.
While many in my generation may not have thought about what comprised a healthy diet, my maternal grandparents inherently understood it. They owned a plot of land next to their house in Independence, Missouri where they planted rows of produce. I have vivid memories of playing hide and seek among the corn stalks and the pole beans during the summers when I visited. I also remember helping my grandma pit fresh cherries for a pie – and popping quite a few into my mouth instead of the bowl. I also can still see the heaping platters of wonderful fresh vegetables that were consistently on the dining room table and the Mason jars loaded with Grandma’s fruit preserves and pickled cucumbers that were on the shelves in the cellar.
Fast forward to my teenage years when food was all about convenience. By that time both of my parents worked so meals were often cooked in the microwave or quickly concocted to get our four-member family fed and onto their next task. I don’t remember nutrition being a key focus in our dining choices; instead, our diets were based on convenience. I remember that my home economics class was focused on recipes such as chicken spaghetti and lasagna, but I don’t remember any discussion about how to prepare fresh produce. And when my family ate out, we had a choice of Tex-Mex, Italian, and Chinese restaurants as well as the typical Texas barbecue joints and steak houses. Like many restaurants during those times, the menus were designed to sate an appetite instead of offering a healthy meal.
In college, I remember meal choices being based on what was available at the commissary, although I often opted for the salad bar. I did take a kinesiology class which included some discussion about nutrition, but the course’s focus was more on calories than on nutrients. After graduation, I fell back into my family’s regular eating patterns since I was more focused on building my career than my health (which I was sure would last forever).
However, I started having a revelation about food by my early 30s. At that point I had started hanging out with “foodies” who liked to stretch my taste buds by dining at eclectic restaurants in Austin, Texas. However, it wasn’t until my mid-30s that the concept of eating healthily began to form, due to my introduction to Dr. Andrew Weil’s work in holistic medicine. He really made me stop and think about the possible effect that food could have on my body.
In 2000, I accepted a new job in a small city. Although there were many great things about the move (no rush hour, a chance to go to grad school, a slower pace of life), I was faced with the fact that the culinary choices were limited, especially for someone who had begun to enjoy the thrill of the next taste sensation when dining out. To satisfy my foodie ambitions, I began to cook more often, which forced me to really think about the ingredients I was using in each dish. Although my choices were more focused on flavors, I also began to learn more about what each menu component offered nutritionally. And as I became a caregiver for my mother who suffered Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Alzheimer’s disease, I found myself trying to be proactive in finding ways to limit my stress level. Eating a healthy meal that I took the time to prepare seemed to serve as a salve to the perpetual bombardment of the medical issues she faced until she died in 2007.
Fast forward to 2010 and I see how my nutritional choices have grown from my earlier experiences. I now am focused on eating a Mediterranean diet as a way to stave off the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease (which runs on Mom’s side of the family), although I still have fun playing with the international flavors that I first experienced in Austin. I read regularly about nutritional issues in a variety of publications and have added cookbooks that focus on healthy menus to my collection. And – in an ode to my grandparents – I planted my first garden last year. Although the output definitely did not meet my grandparents’ standards, we did cultivate a few tomatoes, chard, peppers, and a bunch of herbs. And we’re already planning the 2010 version that will be planted in the next few weeks.
Here’s to a growing focus on nutrition – and to learning about and experiencing great food! Happy March!