This is the first of three posts that take a quick look at what I have been eating for the last 39.8 years. Many of the details are glossed over to allow for more compact posting. Hopefully this will help illustrate the long and twisted journey that led to my new vegan life.
During the rain soaked month of March in 1972 I made my first attempt at breathing air with lungs and ingesting food with my GI tract. It went really well and before long I’d mastered most of the ins and outs. In the beginning there was plenty of refinement needed for the elimination and disposal process, but the basics were all working well. It seems I was made for this Earth and began my time upon it like a champion.
From those promising beginnings in late March through the following eighteen years leading up to adulthood and independence, I learned to love food. I ate what was available and usually liked it. I see children today, my own included, who have a lot of input on what they will and will not eat. I think that’s cute.
Maybe it was because I was raised in the 70’s when children were not wrapped in bubble wrap before playing in the pillow fort. Instead, we were allowed to play barefoot in the abandoned landfill and if we missed a meal because we simply didn’t like what was being offered, parents knew their kids would probably survive to see the next day.
My Floridian father was educated as an art teacher but decided to go into plumbing like his father and grandfather before him. My Wisconsinian mother spent much of my childhood waiting tables at various restaurants. Together they managed to keep my younger sister and I fed and healthy until we left for college, independence, and adulthood. What I did after that was my own fault.
Gardens were always a big part of the family diet. My dad loved to tend our garden and my mom loved not spending money on food. During the 70’s our gardens were big and produced enough food to require canning. I still marvel at how adept my little four year old fingers were at manipulating the complex contraptions that kept the canning lids secure. It seems that the sweet pickles inside were enough motivation for me to do the fine motor skill equivalent of a kidney surgery.
It was also around this time that I got into an enormous amount of trouble because I was in the habit of wandering alone into the garden to pick green bell peppers. After picking a green pepper I would take a bite out of the side like a normal person bites an apple. Then, after eating my bite of pepper I would toss the rest aside and pick another. Later my parents would find a trail of peppers, each missing a bite. I don’t recall this incident, but I am told that I was given very clear instructions to stop picking the damn peppers and taking bites out of them. Being the good boy that was, I stopped picking the peppers immediately. Instead, I took bites out of the peppers without removing them from the plant, as my parents discovered the next time they visited the garden. My family wasn’t the spanking kind, but I often thought that it might be less painful than the lectures and talking that took its place.
During the 80’s our gardens became more of a hobby and less of a starvation solution. The canning stopped, but we always tried to eat or give away anything that happened to grow as a result of our hobby. We were living in rural Florida, surrounded by farms and fields. I played in corn fields that were planted to feed cattle. I took a job picking watermelons and cantaloupe until I realized that I’d rather die broke and penniless and immediately, so long as I never had to work that hard again. I literally grew up surrounded by fruits and vegetables.
The 80’s were also when I began having opinions about food. In my opinion, I wanted more food and ideally, it would not be what my mom was making.
We only had three channels on our television and if it was cloudy, only one and a half of them worked. This may sound barbaric, but keep in mind that ATM machines, cell phones, reality TV were all still just a twinkle in corporate America’s eye. What little I watched on our small cube of a TV showed me a world of two all beef patties, special sauce, french fries, pizza, and did I mention french fries!
At home we ate whatever mom was calling healthy food as often as possible, but it was punctuated with weekends of family splurging. I still have fond memories of going to rent a VHS player, five movies, and all the junk food at the local store. Brown rice and crisp vegetables are supremely good, but they lose a little of their glamor when you are coming off a weekend of frozen pizzas, ice cream floats, Coca-Cola, and Mel Brooks movies.
At school, I had whatever lunch was being served by the ladies in hairnets. When spending times with friends, distant family, and at summer camps I had more freedom to choose what I ate. This allowed me to build a solid foundation of gluttony and a lack of self control.
I was raised on a relatively healthy diet compared to the Standard American Diet that I craved so much. When left to my own devices I drank syrup out of the bottle and rode a bike for three miles to get to a store that sold potato chips and fountain drinks. However, for eighteen and a half years, I was limited in the amount of damage that I could do to myself. As you will see, this was definitely not an issue during the 20 years that followed.