If given the choice – salad or candy – is there really a decision to be made? I mean, really.
I despise salad. All vegetables are gross. And salad is just a bunch of vegetables piled upon each other. My parents used to make me eat vegetables at dinner. Corn was okay. So were potatoes. But broccoli, carrots, spinach, and the rest? Yuck! I complained so much that my dad relented and said, “You may pick one vegetable that you like the least, and any time we serve it at dinner, you do not have to eat it.” I chose asparagus. It made me gag.
But I worried about being unhealthy. And I thought something was wrong with my taste buds. I saw friends happily eat greens. When I went to college and was no longer held accountable for my eating, I wondered if I would have a problem. I hoped that as I became an adult I would adapt to salads. But then I met a professor who confessed to hating anything green. I felt less abnormal, but I also felt concerned. Would I always be this way? I did not want to be impolite at friends’ houses by not eating the vegetables they served, but I also did not want them to see my pained face as I forced the ill-tasting stuff down my throat.
Then one summer during college, while browsing through the public library, I picked up a book called What to Eat: Ten Things You Really Need to Know to Eat Well and Be Healthy by Louise Light. I had met the man I wanted to marry, was feeling a little domestic, and was also concerned that I barely knew how to cook. My days of access to the college cafeteria were limited.
Dr. Light’s commentary on the problems of America’s food industry and the government’s complicity in it stunned me. As the former USDA Director of Dietary Guidance and Nutrition Education Research, she helped create the original Food Guide Pyramid… except that her version was suppressed and altered. The reason? “To keep the lid on the costs of the food stamp program. Fruits and vegetables were expensive, much more expensive than breads and cereals, and the added servings of grains would, to some extent, offset the loss of nutrients from fruits and vegetables.” She protested the alterations, but to no avail. The rest of her book gives details about how to eat well, how to makeover your pantry, and the other ways food affects our lives. Those were the reasons I picked up the book. In those early chapters, though, Dr. Light gave me my first hint that there is something terribly wrong with our food system, and since then I have learned many more alarming facts. But that should be a blog entry of its own…
I can trace the beginning of my food transformation to the reading of that book. It has been a slow process, but I now eat salads. Sometimes I even like them. I once heard that some of your taste buds die over time, and that is why you like foods differently through life. I don’t know if that is true. I do know that the way vegetables are prepared makes a big difference, and I am learning ways to cook some of them that make them enjoyable.
It is still a discipline. I have to force myself to eat a salad when a peanut butter and jelly sandwich sounds better and would take less time. But with each book I read and each podcast I listen to about nutrition, I am armed with more knowledge to help me make better decisions. I made it my goal to eat one salad a day, and I get off track a lot. Because I do not often struggle with weight, I have to remind myself that what goes on inside my body is important and makes a difference for my future health.
On this Halloween, I ate a salad for lunch. I know my husband is coming home from work with a bag of candy to hand out to kids, and I’m sure I will eat some. Salad or candy? I’ll have both. But I’ll make sure the amount of salad far outweighs the candy.