Posted by: Stella Glass
In the past week I have not consumed a single dairy product with the exception of some chocolate that was probably made with milk. As someone with chronic sinus problems, when I was told that three weeks dairy-free might reveal that the sinus issue was dietary I decided it was worth a try. As someone enthusiastic about cheese, butter and Pinkberry, It’s a weird situation to be in. If I find out that dairy is not responsible for my problems, I can go back to enjoying those foods but I will be no closer to feeling better, and I’m pretty sure you can guess the upsides and downsides of the opposite situation. As I said, I likesome dairy products but I don’t encounter too much dairy in my day to day life, and with the exception of a battle of wills over a quesadilla the other day (I won), things weren’t too difficult this past week. But it’s the long term that’s depressing. Unlike virtually everything else I can think of, a sweeping dietary change is easier for me in practice than in theory. I can pretty easily choose to avoid dairy at work, for dinner and when Im out and about on the weekends. There are plenty of non-dairy items that I enjoy consuming and can choose those. It’s the long view that’s harder. It’s looking at the menu at my favorite restaurantand knowing that I may never get to taste one of their pasta dishes again. It’s knowing that I may never be able to eat Eggs Benedict from Balthazar, my number one hangover food ever. Day to day is manageable, but thinking about a Pinkberry-less summer, and cheese plate free-autumn leaves me a bit bleak. I don’t know how long it will last as I live with a chef who, while supportive cannot live a life where any kind of food at all is verboten. Combine that with the willpower of David Duchovny at a sorority house and we’ll see how long I can stick this thing out.
I quit smoking a couple of years ago. It was an activity I loved and I had a very devoted smoking practice which I indulged virtually every moment I was awake. I knew one day I would quit but I couldnt imagine how. Turns out it was gradual frustration which then became action. Eventually I got sick of feeling like shit and smelling like a pool hall and quit cold turkey. Now I can’t imagine still being a smoker and I have become one of those people who find the smoke from a passerby’s cigarette to be nauseating.
“I am a person who quit smoking,” is what I thought last week, when that quesadilla would not stop staring at me. “If I can quit smoking I can quit cheese.”
This would not be the first dietary metamorphosis of my life.
When I was a kid I refused to eat vegetables. All vegetables in fact, and most fruit too. This isn’t particularly unusual for a kid, but in most young people this aversion is something they get over by the age of thirteen. I however, did not place a vegetable in my mouth voluntarily until college.
I’m not sure if it was the texture, the smell, the fact that my mother was not a particularly good cook or some combination of the above, but virtually every type of food I truly enjoyed prior to my 21st birthday was what I know now to be called “processed food”. When I found out that my beloved (and sugar loaded) grapefruit juice was actually derived from a fruit, I gingerly introduced citrus fruits into my coterie of acceptable foods, bringing the grand total to a whopping 12.
There were a few attempts to convert me. One moment stands out in my memory as particularly significant. It was a summer day and my dad had come home from the farmer’s market with a bounty of fruits, berries and tomatoes. Tomatoes, somehow had passed into the glitterati of foods that I found acceptable, but I preferred them sandwiched between mounds of mozzarella cheese and drowned in balsamic vinegar. I watched disgustedly as my family bit into peaches and strawberries, foods whose softness, weird bumps, brown spots and smells seemed to me the equivalent of eating well, something that fell from a tree. My father caught my eye across the kitchen, and pulled from his potassium induced reverie, advanced on me, banana in hand. I backed across the kitchen using my then four-year old sister’s body as a shield, hoping perhaps that she would do something cute to distract my father. She only stood there, blinking mutely at me, in her Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls, peach juice dribbling down her chin like a farm child in a depression-era photograph.
My father, still wielding the treacherous banana managed to back mee into the dining room where there was no escape. With a knife he sliced off a sliver of the fruit and slowly held it out to me the way a police negotiator in the movies trepidatiously reaches for the lunatics gun.
“Just try it. One taste, and I’ll leave you alone forever, I swear.”
“Nuuuh-ohhhh” I whined
“If you don’t like it, you never have to eat another bite of fruit as long as you live. ”
Foolishly, I believed him, and in a moment of weakness, allowed the fruit to pass my lips. Moments later it reappeared, borne on what can only be described as a stream of projectile vomit that shot across the table and landed squarely on my legs of my father’s pants.
To this day, no one in my family eats banana’s when I am in the room. Despite both of my parents being in the medical profession, they took a rather relaxed attitude towards my refusal to consume anything that could be considered nutritionally valuable. After the banana incident and years of insisting that I would not leave the table until I finished my [insert the name of a green, leafy, overcooked vegetable here] I think they must have grown weary of watching vegetables congeal on my plate while I sat resolute and unyielding in my refusal to consume any of nature’s bounty.
Potato chips, popcorn, candy, soda, chicken fingers, pizza, fried chicken, fried rice, pasta, pixy stix, hamburgers, onion rings. Anything with a staggering sodium content, a slew of unpronounceable, chemically engineered ingredients or the ability to render white paper transparent through basic contact was my kind of meal. I savored candy like a sort of sugary oenophile, cataloguing my best pieces and saving them for special occasions. When I was ten I purchased a fist-sized Cry Baby candywhich I saved for weeks. The weekend Dick Tracy opened, my best friend and I got tickets and I decided it was finally time. As we sat in the dark theater I peeled back the sticky plastic wrapper and big into the giant ball of sourness. Immediately my eyes began to twitch as the first layer of skin on my tongue was seared off by the acid sour taste of the candy. I could feel my teeth begin to rot on the spot and took some big swigs of coca-cola to wash it all down. Delighted, I consumed the rest of the mammoth confection in minutes. I spent the rest of the evening in a sugar induced coma, tongue burning, and remember little about the film aside from Madonna’s song-and-dance and Warren Beatty’s profoundly ridiculous yellow coat that looked like a bunch of grade school kids had sewn it out of felt.
Surprisingly, given that all that was typically in my system was Coca-Cola, Sour Patch Kids and fast food chicken strips, I was a skinny kid. “You’re gonna get fat one of these days!” my mother warned me, watching me inhale pack after pack of Skittles, but I ignored her. I was the skinniest kid in my class–perhaps this was just my calling.
My seventh-grade best friend Mara, insisting that “boys liked girls with a little meat on them” took it upon herself to fatten me up by prescribing two bowls of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice-cream a day. The results were negligible. At the Royal Cliff’s Diner I would devour a cheeseburger and fries while my silently enraged female companions choked down dry, toasted bagels with butter on the side.
My family pediatrician more than once sent me back to my mother in the office waiting room with pamphlets about anorexia, bulimia and the dangers of the media’s portrayal of unrealistic body images. I would look at them, shrug and hand them to my mother who would look at them and roll her eyes as she watched me tear into a bag of Cheetos from the office’s vending machine.
Somewhere along the way things changed. My skinny frame which provoked concerned calls from guidance counselors started to retain some of what I was ingesting. The parts of my body that had previously seemed impervious to puberty, inviting comparisons to the topography of the Plain States by the boys in my class, changed so drastically one summer that I was told by a classmate’s old sister that “everybody thinks they’re fake.” And just like that my whole body changed. No longer could I ingest Shetland pony-sized quantities of sugar without seeing the results on my arms and stomach. I immediately stopped eating candy and figured out that tomato and lettuce tasted pretty okay.
A couple of years ago I stopped drinking soda. Just stopped cold, like with the cigarettes and began drinking oceanic quantities of water instead. I rarely eat candy (except to break up the torturous monotony of the work day), and with the exception of stoned french-fry ordering, fried foods are an increasingly scarce part of my food intake.I’m hoping that if I do find that life dairy-free is better for me, that I can make a similar shift and enjoy the results more than I miss the taste of cheese.
I’m proud to say that at twenty-eight I am on the road to the kind of nutritional and dietary responsibility that one would expect of a child of twelve.