Forgive me for lingering between posts, but school is out, the house is blissfully overrun with teenagers and this introvert has been wallowing joyfully in the pleasures of the tribe. My children both go to school out of state, so summers are family time in the Farandwee household. Also cooking. A lot of cooking. My tightly-reined private dietary habits have given way to a free-for-all of varying schedules, opinionated palates and unpredictable appetites. I was anxious at first, but I’m here to report that it has gone surprisingly well. I added milk, eggs and cheese to the refrigerator, but continue to stock soymilk, flax meal and other vegan stand-bys. We’re eating legumes in salads, spreads and soups, demolishing mountains of fresh fruits and roasted veggies, stuffing our faces with salad. One day I made a broccoli and cheddar quiche, another fateful day I made a wilted spinach salad with hot BACON dressing…5 slices of bacon made a memorable taste sensation for 7 people and delivered only a modest jolt of animal wickedness. Oatmeal has been cooked in water, soymilk and dairy milk and drizzled with honey or maple syrup. Friday nights we get vegetarian pizza on whole wheat crust from the local pizza shrine and savor every cheesy delicious bite. I’ve simmered coconut/soymilk brown rice pudding on the stove until the whole house smelled sweet and delicious and the teenagers clamored to take turns stirring and stealing bites.
Yes, I’m taking in more animal protein than I do when I am alone in the house, but not much more. I still eat vegan for days on end, and nearly everything I cook myself is free of meat and dairy. My kids are being exposed to new flavors—Mexican pasta salad, anyone?—and still getting to have their favorite treats on occasion. Everyone is eating whole foods cooked from scratch, benefiting from their wealth of nutrients and flavors and blithely untouched by the nastinesses of packaged foods.
It’s a balancing act. I want my whole family to eat a healthy, balanced diet with the best possible effects on their bodies. But I also want family meals to be a time of joy, of aesthetic delight in flavors, textures and aromas. I want the kids to savor new foods but also to be comforted and nurtured by their favorites. So I weigh it out in my mind…what is the optimum balance for my own family in this exact place and time? Which days need homemade mac and cheese, creamy and savory with the pungent whiff of mustard and cheddar, and which days need homemade pita chips dusted with herbs dipped into luxuriously silky hummus with a salad of grated carrots and parsley on the side? This is Me-ganism at its finest, expanded to encompass the personalities and inclinations of a whole family. In this incarnation, it could be called We-ganism.
Food, the second most important necessity that we must voluntarily take into our bodies to survive (h/t to water, the first), is among the most powerful of cultural influences on a person. Certain foods accompany their prescribed celebrations…ham at Easter, turkey at Thanksgiving, lentils at the New Year in Italy, Hoppin’ John in the American South. Our palates become accustomed to the flavors our parents give us, as theirs did to our grandparents’ cooking a generation before. We learn what is too salty, what is too spicy or too sweet, and we take those views into our own kitchens and our own supermarkets in our turn. So the choices I make with my adolescents are likely to matter sooner rather than later as they head out into the world; if I repel them with too many unfamiliar ingredients or dishes, then I may be steering them away from experimentation and creativity in the kitchen or at the table. If I continue to feed them the rich, delicious animal-based foods of my childhood, then I am encouraging them to make their dietary choices based solely on flavor rather than on a holistic view of food as a medical, political, and environmental as well as an aesthetic force. And if I attempt to leverage my own dietary choices into a means of controlling them, then our family meals will devolve into pointless, grinding conflict. My duty as a parent is to convey my own convictions to my children while remaining mindful of my primary responsibility to them, which is to nurture their bodies and their minds in every way I can.
These summer months are an inspiration to me to seek and practice moderation, to recognize that eating well doesn’t mean the same thing to all people at the same time. While my house is full, I have the opportunity to share thoughts and recipes and meals with my children as well as to consider and reconsider my own dietary choices in the context of a shared life and shared kitchen. These are sweet times, these summers of our great content. They are about the basic principles of Me-ganism: joy, creativity, self-compassion and health. And this summer I’m rolling up both sleeves and leaping in with both hands. Eat well, my friends, and wring every last bite of happiness from every plate you meet.
©Mary Braden 2013