Wonderful responses, folks, to the high-raw, vegan manicotti! Tis the season for zucchini and tomato, so I hope you’ll all give the recipe a try. It’s worth mentioning that it’s a very easy one to make ahead of time: you can make each sauce/spread one by one, and you can assemble the day of. The only sauce that should sit around no longer than 48 hours is the red pepper marinara; the cheesy parsnip spread can stay fresh for 3-4 days in the fridge, and the cashew cream and pesto will last for at least a week.
I mentioned yesterday that my esteemed dinner guest on manicotti night was my friend Andrea, who has become one of my closes and most cherished confidantes here in D.C.. I love the range of our friendship: we can transition from conversations about anthropology and literature to gossiping about clothing and boys in a single sitting. Most of all, we both love to eat, and we love to cook, and we love to talk food.
Andrea and I share another connection, which is our recovery from disordered eating. We didn’t share the exact same patterns, but we do share memories of the pain of self-loathing, and we also share the strength that comes from finding good health and peace of mind after that particular kind of struggle. I asked Andrea to share her story some time ago, and she obliged me with this beautiful essay. I hope you all enjoy it; I think you’ll note some interesting echoes of Laura’s Green Recovery story, which I shared a few weeks ago. Hopefully, there will be plenty for us to talk about after you read.
Any way of eating can be used a tool for strengthening one’s connection with herself and fostering self-love or a as a tool for self-abnegation and violence towards herself. A plant-based diet has served both of these functions for me. Exercise has served both of these functions for me.
I began restricting my food intake from a very young age. Like many young girls, I accepted the tiny, mad idea that in order to be deserving of love and connection, I needed to be perfect. I forgot the fact that we are worthy of love and connection simply by virtue of the fact that we are human. I had a fairly short period of serious food restriction in my early teen years, which I left behind. But, I never left behind my need to look perfect. In the name of perfection, I followed almost every diet on the market, obsessively exercised, felt fat when I didn’t exercise, ate foods that I did not need or want to please dates. Several stabs at veganism were included in this quest for perfection and outward recognition. Not only was veganism touted by several celebrities I looked up to, it allowed me to reject food at family dinners and chalk it up to morals that I only half-heartedly espoused. My vegan diets lacked in nutrition and flavor, like all of my other diets. I took up raw foods, “detoxing” and “cleansing,” which, like all of my other weapons in the war against imperfection, I used as a weapon against myself. None of these things got me what I really wanted: a sense of belonging, safety and unshakeable knowledge that I am loved.
Although, I used plant-based diets and exercise to abuse myself over the years, I also received a lot of valuable information and guidance from them, and this guidance has ultimately lead me to what a really want: peace of mind. The euphoria of a good run has always helped me to solve problems and feel strong. When I run, I feel my entire body, I am completely present, and my mind shuts up. Yoga, which I originally took up so that I could look like Cristy Turlington, left me peaceful, calm and serene. (I’m not going to lie. It also gave me some killer guns.) Yoga also lead me to meditation, which allows me to quiet my mind to connect with my Self and my intuition. My mind is like a rambunctious, rottweiler puppy with a bone; I will chew on problems until there’s nothing left but a soggy mess. Meditation is like obedience school for my puppy.
A plant-based diet, high in raw vegetables makes me feel good, allows me to think clearly, and supports my physical health. Where, in the past, I have used food and exercise as tools to punish myself for not being perfect, I use them now to connect with being fully alive and fully present. Maya Angelou has said that her wish for women is that they “know they belong to themselves.” When I know that I belong to myself (sometimes we all forget that we do), I am more loving, more productive and I find what I was looking for through my pursuit of perfection. I feel loved and worthy of love. I feel connected with others. Part of belonging to myself is taking care of myself. Eating an abundant amount of plant foods, getting out for a run and spending time on my yoga mat are all integral parts of my self-care. They remind me every day of who I really am.
Even within the context of my history, I simply disagree with those in the recovery community who shun veganism based on its potential for abuse. The excess of animal products consumed in this country is the major factor in the degradation of our natural resources, our burgeoning obesity epidemic and the chronic diseases that are now afflicting children. Eating a diet that does not contribute to those problems lessens a lot of the guilt that I used to have around eating because I can approve and feel good about what I put on my plate. Also, let’s face it, eating a glut of meat and dairy is just not conducive to feeling good.
Caring about where my food comes from has been essential to my recovery. I want to minimize the suffering that my life causes. For me, that patronizing the farmer’s market for most of my food is a part of that consciousness. Every Saturday morning during the summer months, I feel deeply connected to a community of people that really care about food. Although I’m not personally comfortable with labeling my eating as vegan right now for various cultural and family reasons, eating a more plant-based diet has certainly helped me to feel good about food again. My way of eating is definitely still evolving, and I don’t discount the possibility that veganism is in my future. But, for right now, I’m more comfortable with the “plant-based” label.
The essence of my disordered eating was feeling disconnected and wanting approval from the outside. A plant-based diet and healthy exercise helped me reconnect to myself, forge new connections to a community of conscious eaters wherever I go and approve of myself because I am living in integrity with my values. Seeing what I eat purely as nourishment was not going to correct my relationship with my food. Falling in love with how I felt as a result of the right diet for me is key in my continued healing.
Thank you, Andrea!
So many interesting points to consider here, but let me highlight a few of the ones that struck me:
- I love that Andrea is honest about the fact that, at various moments, she abused a plant-based diet as a part of her disordered eating, but that she can also attest to and champion its place in the process of healing. Do any of you share these simultaneous sentiments? Veganism was never a restriction tool for me: it has only ever helped me to fall in love with the food I eat! But I recognize that it can sometimes be deployed unhealthily, just as any other way of eating can, and I think it’s important for us to confront this reality so that we can help each other champion and embrace the lifestyle without fear.
- I love that Andrea weaved exercise into this submission! I know that for many of us, exercise is a double edged sword: it carries the potential to make us appreciate our bodies in a profound way, but it can also turn into a chore, an obligation, or—worse—yet another form of self-control. How do you all manage to cast exercise in a healthy role in your lives, without allowing it to consume you?
- I love the Maya Angelou quote here—that women should “know they belong to themselves.” Of course, I also wonder why it’s so darn easy for us to forget that. Do you think it’s the fact that our physical bodies are more scrutinized, romanticized, idealized, and criticized than mens’? Is it the fact that we tend to take on more social and familial obligations? What else? How do you stay conscious of the fact that you belong to yourself?