In one of those TV show motifs that I often wish I could more efficiently do as a writer, I’ll begin by saying, “Previously on the Confluence Countdown…”
About six years ago, after suffering from mounting health problems I won’t go into because it’s tedious even for me to talk about, I tried (at the semi-desperate recommendation of my doctor) a raw diet. My sister recently visited from Texas, and I described it to her as “the craziest of crazy California diets.” I try not to eat anything cooked, or even heated over 118 degrees. She looked at me as if I said I was a cannibal.
It was a gradual process. I’ve stuck with it because the results were immediate, tangible, and in my blood work and bone density tests.
Because it’s a health and not a religious thing, it wasn’t one hundred percent and it wasn’t immediate. I still ate (and still eat) cooked foods on occasion, but I had a very hard time giving up wheat. Eventually, everything went except coffee (which I will not give up because I’m not that crazy). And the results were so undeniable, so visible, that Steve switched over to a mostly raw, wheat-free diet (yes, you have to say that: we don’t eat even sprouted wheat, for even more complicated reasons).
Although I still eat cooked food out with friends and with family, everybody knows about my diet, so it always threatens to take over the conversation. It’s an issue at times at work: Once at a long lunch meeting I took out a container of raw jalapeno, cherry tomatoes, basil, mint, and green beans and started eating along with everyone else. The meeting carried on, but all eyes were on my container. A colleague sitting next to me couldn’t take it anymore, put down his tuna sandwich, and said, “That looks so healthy it’s making me feel sick.” Similar things happen with students: In office hours once, gazing over my lunch, I was asked if my diet meant I was a “hippie.”
I’ve even had to offer defense for it to Tim Miller and Nancy Gilgoff. Tim thinks it’s too extreme and Nancy thinks it’s too vata.
So every once in a while I have these kinds of Waterloo moments where I realize just how far down the rabbit hole I’ve gone. (How’s that for mixing metaphors?) It’s a moment when I realize how interconnected my life, my practice, and my diet have become. I’ve just had one of those moments in a series of Facebook messages on, of all things, smoothies. In particular, the use of fruit and protein powder.
When a friend I haven’t seen in a very long time posted a simple, “Anyone know any healthy smoothie recipes?” in her status, like an idiot, I chimed in. Amidst the suggestions of bananas and berries, I was talking hot peppers and ginger. As the conversation got more detailed, I began to see what I was suggesting might seem a little…crazy.
The smoothies Steve and I eat are more like liquified salads. Heck, they’re not even really salads, since there’s no lettuce. If it’s green, purple, or leafy we put it in. Here’s a list: all kale varieties, spinach, mint, parsley, cilantro, dill, cabbage, celery (with top), whole carrots (with tops), tomatoes, cucumber, broccoli, water cress, bok choi, oregano, and in a pinch, brussels sprouts. For extra flavor we’ve used ginger, whole lemons or limes (with peels). The liquid is filtered water. I’m not saying all this goes in at the same time, but any given smoothie could have five or six of these things. I ask you, is that not crazy? Still say no? What if I told you we have a couple 24-ouncers every day? My friend described this as “wretched.” Ah. You’re probably right, I thought.
So immune has this made us to sugar craving that we hardly eat any fruit. Fruit in a smoothie? Why? That’s when I knew I’d gone over the edge: Bananas seem like high sugar fruit to me. Eat a red banana or a plantain and you’ll see just how hyper-engineered a seedless, yellow banana is. And that we don’t consume any of that other smoothie staple, protein powder.
The mere suggestion that protein powder might not be all that good for you can garner you a great deal of disdain in some circles. But one of the earliest and simplest lessons I learned on a raw food diet came from Michael Pollan, who pointed out that if it needs a package—no matter what kind—it’s processed somehow. Protein powders are simply processed whole foods, and many of them are mostly wheat. Even raw protein powders are mostly processed peas. We just eat the peas. Sometimes, they go in a smoothie.
But this brings me to the less tangible repercussions of the way we eat. While it has made enormous differences in our health and well-being—really, beyond price—and while it’s clarified the practice of Ashtanga and eased that path to a great degree, made the impossible possible, it has also made it hard to connect with others over the dinner table, out in the world. I get concerned when I see a little girl munching on a bag of Goldfish. And I want to tell my friend on Facebook to leave the banana and the protein powder out.
So deep are the roots of this change, though, that I’ve come to realize it’s hard to change one thing without changing everything…eventually. For me, Ashtanga was the wedge that opened a crack in the shell of my old life, and as it widened, more changed, and more, and is still changing–an exciting and frightening thought, really.
Perhaps for my friend, the wedge is leaving out the banana.
Posted by Bobbie