A few years ago part of my job included the supervising of a soup kitchen near Washington DC. I worked for a non profit, and a large part of my job was in helping the homeless community. It is something I am extremely passionate about. Each week I’d go and walk around handing out bagged lunches to people sleeping in alley ways, on cardboard boxes, underneath bridge overpasses. Around the same time I was part of a lobby group in Washington to protect underserved children across the United States, to make sure they received basic nutrition needs. I also worked to bring awareness to a food-stamp budge, and encouraged people to attempt living on a food-stamp budget.
Last spring I was able to help an organization called “Meals For Health” which helped underserved people in the Oakland, CA community to eat healthy, while providing free health-care. People who were uninsured, and many who had a hard time surviving on a food-stamp budget.
People ask me why I’m so passionate about the issue of poverty and the underserved community. The reason is simple, my parents never could make ends meet when I was growing up with my 2 brothers, we spent a lot of time homeless, often we didn’t know where the next meal was coming from. I remember buying the cheapest food available, because that is what we could afford.
But even at that, we were still fortunate. We had a Church family that helped when they could, we had food banks available to us and assistance from the government.
Others are not so fortunate. Millions of kids go without food every single day around the world, and in the United States. There are parents who cry themselves to sleep because they couldn’t feed their child dinner that night.
I often talk about the simplicity of my life and the way I eat. We have a unique issue in most of our American society, a loss of perspective, and an issue of over abundance.
In many parts of the world (and in many communities in the United States) people would feel overwhelmingly blessed for the amount of food that most of us have access to. Not special food, not easy packaged food, just plain, food.
The availability of vegetables, whole grains, beans, starches and fruits for most of us is more than abundant. Most of us can walk into any grocery store in the country and buy the staples we need.
Yet, every day we get e-mails saying that eating plant-strong is hard, that there are not enough options, that it is too difficult to eat out, that there are not enough (fill in the blank – salad dressing, pizza sauce, eating out choices, frozen food, substitutes for butter, milk, ice-cream, you get the point)
In (most) of our American society people complain about the lack of options when there are millions who would love our “lack of options”.
A lot of my life has given me a lot of perspective when it comes to reality. When I started eating this way I was tempted to complain about the “lack of options”. I was angry that I couldn’t easily get my food through a window at a drive-thru, or that there was just no good butter substitute for popcorn. I was angry that all of these foods were being “taken away”. I couldn’t have meat, dairy, eggs, oil, I couldn’t have excess fatty foods, I couldn’t have caffeine. I wanted desperately for people to see the sacrifice I was making by eating plant-strong.
I was giving up so much.
When I first started, as I’ve written about before, I had a good friend of mine who lived in a remote village in Uganda give me some much needed perspective. She grew up and thrived eating a diet of “mostly yams” as she told me over and over. And not only that, she was thankful for all of it, thankful for the food she had access to, she did not complain about her past and her lack of options in her previous living situation. Not once.
I asked her if it was hard, she told me she didn’t know anything else, why would it be hard?
Yet here we are in the United States with copious amounts of food (the right kind of food) available without having to harvest or grow it, without the need to worry about building an oven, or having clean water to wash vegetables, and yet we (collectively) complain that there are not enough healthy options.
There is an art of simplicity when it comes to my plant-strong life, one that I strive to work toward. My desire is to live simply, eat simply, to be thankful for the abundance that is readily available to me. I have access to every single thing I need, 24/7.
A few days ago I was tempted to to go down the pity party. I was invited to a party (a vegan party) but I knew it would be a lot of junk food. I knew I could make my own dish of course, but was finding myself angry that I’d be at this party with lack of options.
I thought to myself in that moment – other people would feel blessed by the “lack of options” that I had. I could bring my own food, I could eat before and after the event, I could go into any grocery store and buy new food if I wanted. I could stop on my way and get a banana at the gas station. I did not have lack of options, what I had was an issue with perspective.
Our issue in most of the United States is not an issue of lack of options when it comes to plant-strong living, the issue is the abundance of calorie rich and processed foods that has permeated our society has deceived us to believe that we need ALL of it. And that when we go plant-strong we need alternatives to all of it.
The best thing (I believe) we can do for our health, and the health of our society is a return to simplicity. There is an art to simplicity, a rhythm, something uniquely beautiful about it.
I’d encourage you, if you are feeling like there are too many things being “taken away” or that there are not enough options or substitutes to get back to basics. I’d encourage you to be thankful for the abundance that is available.
Do not focus on what you can’t have. Focus on how fortunate you are that there is such a simple answer to good health that does not involve all that much effort. Be thankful that you can walk into any grocery store and get the staples you need. Be thankful that you have a way to clean and cook food. When you are tempted to go down the path of feeling bad, stop for a moment to reflect on all that you do have.
This week, as you start your challenges I want to encourage you to try working toward more simplicity. Maybe that’s a meal of just potatoes, greens and beans. Maybe it’s putting back the expensive “substitute” , maybe it’s walking somewhere instead of getting in your car.
We are so fortunate to have what we do, as you move forward in your plant-strong journey be sure to keep what you do have in focus. More importantly, keep in focus what you WILL have as a result of eating this way