Traffic Jam

I know, it’s been a little quiet in this space.

Sometimes it’s like my head is an interstate freeway, where my thoughts are speeding cars, and my hands are exit ramps, and this blog is a small town at the end of the ramp where the cars travel slowly and sometimes come to a stop.

(That’s a weird metaphor, isn’t it? Oh well. I’m going to run with it for the rest of this post even though it’s not the best one I’ve ever written.)

Although my life seems–no, is–slower than it’s been since 1977 or so, my head traffic has increased. There are so many more cars on the road. Just the ones about food alone have kept me from getting here in a while.

We don’t grow much food, but I want to grow more, which means I need to learn how to grow more. In the last month we’ve had a bounty of home-grown tomatoes (3 kinds) and basil and cucumbers. We also have a few other herbs (oregano, thyme, and parsley) we’ve grown for a long time, and we tried some onions but they never did much. Cane grew a plant full of hot peppers that were beautiful, but I can’t eat them because of my geographic tongue. (Yeah, it’s a thing. Who knew?)

(We have a little pear tree, too.)

Truly, there is nothing quite like the sharp, earthy scent of the tomato plants when I go out in the morning to pick some for our breakfast.

(Taken this morning. We still have fruit ripening. In October.)

I’m sad to see our bounty winding down (much as I am also relieved that somewhat cooler temperatures have finally arrived) because the food we grow has so much more taste than the produce I buy. The other night I made a salad with our tomatoes and basil and some fresh mozzarella and it caused a traffic jam in my head with thoughts about time and health and money and sustainability and simplicity and leisure and privilege and gratitude and nourishment.

That salad nourished not only my body, but also the parts of me that crave beauty and art and purpose. Lately, nothing fills me up more than working in my kitchen in the late afternoon with sun streaming through the windows as I assemble pleasing tableaux of shape, color, and texture on both our cutting boards and our plates, preparing food to feed people I love.

cutting board with chopped tomatoes, onion, and parsely

I’m not saying anything new here, even to myself. But I’m knowing something in a different way–the way we know things from living them rather than from reading about them.

But speaking of reading, I’ve been reading lately about anti-inflammatory diets, something I have time to do now that I’m mostly not working. When I had my big episode of back pain this summer, the only thing that brought me relief was a strong course of steroids. It relieved not just my back, but my knee, my feet, and the psoriasis that plagues my ears and scalp. Usually, any kind of medical mishap sends me right into migraine, but I didn’t have any around that event. One of the many medical people I’ve spoken with suggested adopting an anti-inflammatory diet.

This week I started Googling “inflammation and ____,” filling in the names for the various diagnoses I’ve gotten over the years (endometriosis, PCOS, migraine, fibromyalgia, geographic tongue, psoriasis, vulvar vestibulitis and vulvodynia, thyroid nodules, plantar fasciitis) and one I haven’t been given but is in my family and I sure do recognize in myself (autism, as it manifests in women)–and damn if inflammation isn’t connected to just about every single one of them–as well as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, common by-products of long-term inflammation. (It’s not connected to fibromyalgia, a condition we know very little about, and which I’ve always considered to be a diagnosis given when doctors don’t really know what the hell is wrong with you but want to acknowledge that your pain is real.)

This reading/Googling/learning took me to a place where the traffic gets all snarled up with vehicles carrying all kinds of things–memory, trauma, work, achievement, health care, anger, grief, regret–but I’m going to let all those cars stay on the freeway for now. Back to food:

I found a book recently, The Lazy Genius Kitchen by Kendra Adachi, and while there are very few self-help books (any?) that have changed my life in lasting ways–especially those in what I think of as the “life hack” sub-genre–this one might be the rare book that does. Adachi takes a set of principles (that I guess she developed?) and applies them to our ways of being with food and food preparation. (She previously wrote a general book about how to be a lazy genius in general, and it appears to be a whole thing.)

I have struggled with food ever since I left my parents’ home and became responsible for feeding myself. (In college, if the Domino’s pizza guy was at the door and didn’t have a name for the order, it was assumed he was there for me.) As a child of the 70’s, I grew up eating a lot of processed/packaged food and never learned how to cook. (The latter is more about being a child of my mother than of the 70’s; it was always clear to me that cooking was a chore for her, and I was grateful that she didn’t require me to participate in it.) When I was married to my children’s father, he did all of the food prep, including shopping. I didn’t have to be truly responsible for food until I got divorced in my mid-40’s–and then I had to feed not only myself, but my children.

I felt kind of like a guerrilla fighter in the kitchen during those years. I was definitely an irregular soldier with limited resources fighting small-scale battles, doing whatever I could to meet my objective (end everyone’s hunger with as little complaint as possible while spending as little money as possible). I never had time to think deeply about food or figure out what I didn’t know about how to feed a family or manage a kitchen.

In spite of a kind of shiny, glib cleverness in the Lazy Genius book that might usually put me off, I really like it because its approach is all about figuring out what your values and priorities are and making decisions from there. (Again, not anything new, but somehow hitting me in a new way.) AND it has some really useful hacks I’ve already put to good use.

(Detour: Years and years ago, I was sitting in a teacher inservice about some [likely now-debunked] theory of learning styles, where I was told that learners could be divided into those who need to know why, those who need to know what, and those who need to know how. And one other that I can’t remember–but it was probably connected to another one of the 5 W’s. I immediately recognized myself as a why learner [bummer, as the majority of people apparently are what learners–the quadrant I cared least about–which meant I needed to tone down my deep teaching dives into the why of everything because I was losing my students who didn’t care about/need to know why] and if you are someone who both struggles in the kitchen and needs to have a good why for doing what you do, this might be the book for you.)

Adachi talks a lot about aligning our priorities with the season of life we’re living, something I much appreciate. During the season in which I was a financially-struggling full-time educator and single mom of two tweens (and later, blended-family mom of three particular-eater teens), I could not do food the way I’ve been doing it lately. Just. could. not. No self-help book in the world could have given me the resources I needed to feed my family an anti-inflammatory diet with mostly whole foods and few preservatives.

I am grateful that I now can, but I am also angry, sad, and regretful on behalf of my younger self (and my last-year self) and all of those who currently don’t have what they need to nourish themselves, in all meanings of that word. (Oh, look, here come the speeding capitalism trucks that look like they’re going to plow right into all the other cars on this freeway and flatten/scatter them. Let’s just pull over and let them go by us right now, shall we?)

Oh, hell. I seem to have lost anything resembling a path. But it’s been kind of nice to wander around blog town for a while again.

In conclusion, I have no real conclusions–yet–which is why I’ve been mostly staying in the traffic and not taking any exits. And this is just what’s been going on around food–or most of what’s been going on–but the more I think/write about it, the more I think that food is about everything. Food connects to all the big problems confronting us right now, and a lot of the littler ones, too. I have this feeling that if I could just figure out how to do food–or, at least, figure it out better–I’d know how to do a lot of other things as well. (And maybe use fewer dashes and parentheses while writing about it. Maybe.)

At any rate, thanks for being here. I’d love to know any of your thoughts/tips/wonderings/challenges about food. It’s nice to take a road trip with friends.

(Hummus, local tomato, and avocado on Dave’s [whole grain] Killer Bread]–sandwich inspired by a recipe for a chickpea salad sandwich. And yes, I even shelled the chickpeas as recommended in the hummus recipe. Because I could. Because that’s the season of life I’m–gratefully, amazingly–in, apparently.)

8 thoughts on “Traffic Jam

  1. Marian says:

    Love the traffic metaphor, Rita. I’m glad you finally have the time (and the inclination) to be making nourishing food for yourself and your family, and I really hope it makes a difference in your health. I grew up in a similar environment—in the 70s with a mother who hated to cook—and this definitely coloured my views on food. It’s because of her that I’ve always looked upon household food prep (and the growing of vegetables) as work. That was actually the thing that I used to justify my existence as a SAHM when circumstances prevented me from going back to my career. (“Well, I can’t ‘go back to work’ but I AM working by cooking and baking and sewing.”) It seems ridiculous and naive to admit to that thought process now, in 2022, because the whole societal conversation around work in the home has shifted so drastically. Still, I can’t help but wonder how much healthier we would be as both individuals and as a society if we actually did value (and recognized as work) those things that are done in the home, such as cooking.

    • Rita says:

      Well, maybe I’m ridiculous and naive right now, because I’m having some struggle with similar thoughts. For the first time in my life, I’m not making as much (or more than) my partner, and even though I know/believe all kinds of things intellectually about the value of different kinds of work and how we are conditioned to equate money with value I still don’t feel very comfortable with my new status. I find myself telling Cane all the domestic chores I did all day, because I want him to know that I’m contributing. (I’ve realized how much domestic work can be invisible; it’s only noticed when it doesn’t get done.) I see all of this play out with food. Preparing healthy, nourishing meals is so much work. Even if there’s pleasure in it (and there is some, for me) it’s still work. I feel lucky that I am getting to do work now that is as rewarding and far less draining than the work I did for decades for money, but it’s still work, you know? (I know you know.) I think we would all be much more healthy if we valued all work more equally. For a brief moment I thought the pandemic would make that happen, but we have short memories.

  2. Ally Bean says:

    I like the idea of you, all of us, being in traffic as we go through life. Drive on the interstate then take an exit, follow a country lane that turns out to be a dead end, or drive across town on surface streets… that’s life alright.

    As for eating healthier, and learning more about proper nutrition, I go through phases when I’m into eating foods to relieve medical aliments, then I drift out of those phases. Your photos show some delicious meals and food prep, which might be how I actually go about eating. I like pretty, so if the plate looks pretty I’m happy.
    Ally Bean recently posted…Unexpected Good News Regarding Our Bathroom Remodeling ProjectsMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I like pretty, too! One of the helpful things in the Adachi book is that she provides lists of things that might be important with regard to various aspects of kitchen life, and aesthetics are on some of those lists. My first thought was: How can that be a priority? But the more I’ve let those ideas marinate, the more I think it can be. For some of us (who care about that) should be. I’m quite pleased when I make a pretty plate.

  3. Kari says:

    I am moving this book to the TOP of my reading list. 😉
    On Wednesday, I have a consultation scheduled with a dietitian.
    To make a long story short, I also need to eat in a way that reduces inflammation. On  Friday I got my period again…two years after menopause started. In addition to that, I believe that I have autism and ADHD. There is too much to discuss in this comment section; let’s message each other on Instagram. However, this post resonated with me, and it made me feel like we are so closely connected. I have the impression that we are traveling along quite comparable pathways right now. Please be assured, friend, that I see you. I love your garden and the fact that it is helping you in every way that it can. ❤️
    Kari recently posted…SearchingMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Gosh, I hope it’s worth moving to the top of that weighty list! 🙂

      I am so sorry to hear that you got another period. I know that would not be a welcome development for you at all. I think ADHD is in the mix for me, too. At this point, I don’t know that there is much point in pursuing diagnoses; I have enough appointments with the things that I already have them for. What I will say is that they are things that help make sense of a lot of experience, and there’s some comfort in that. (Grief and anger, too–but mostly comfort.) I see you, too. I’ll message you.

    • Kate says:

      Well, I wrote a whole comment but I must have done something wrong because it doesn’t appear to have posted!

      We are in the process of an inflammation caused diet overhaul here as well. I have three cookbooks that I’ve been using – The 4 Phase Histamine Reset Plan (Becky Campbell), The Complete Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Beginners (Dorothy Calimers and Lulu Cook) and The AntiInflammatory Kitchen Cookbook (Leslie Langevin)

      The last one is the prettiest and so I tend to reach for it the most often. We’ve recently become completely dairy free and I am moving toward (baby steps) being gluten free because it’s definitely a trigger for me.

      And there is something satisfying about eating food grown from your own labor.

      • Rita says:

        Thank you so much for persisting! I am looking for some good cookbooks. There are so many, and the comments on Amazon left me feeling confused as to which I could trust. I’ve been relying on lists of which foods are less inflammatory than others. I am a sucker for a pretty cookbook, so I’ll probably look for the last one on your list first. 🙂

        I don’t think I can handle becoming dairy-free at the same time, and I’m struggling to shift to whole grain bread–so, kudos to you. That’s a lot. If you find dishes/meals you really like, I’m hoping you’ll share them in some way. Maybe we can both do that?

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