Ok, I ate my way through the standard 1950s and 1960s foods for average teenage American boys from Long Island. It's the late 1960s, I'm in college in the midwest and hippies are taking over the left wing counterculture. Not wanting to be left out, I soon join up with the hippies on campus having already done some minor experimentation with pot the summer before I left for school. Since it's a campus school and I'm living in the dorms, I'm limited to what they serve us and the food is ok. Mostly the same stuff I've been eating all my life. Since I only lasted a year at this school, I won't go into the dietary details other than to say it's the first time I'm totally on my own and I eat all kinds of junk food. Lots of Mountain Dew soda, chips, chocolate, cookies, etc. How else can you get through all night bridge games and exam cram sesssions?
Fast forward through a couple of hippie years and I'm back on Long Island, living in my own apartment and starting to become aware of what I eat. I'm back in school parttime at the local community college and working at a local factory. I'm returning to my love for biological studies (it never really left, just kinda got sublimated while I did a little personal psychostimulatory experimentation) and really feeling like I should make some dietary changes. I'm also living with a young woman and she is interested in eating well also. We start exploring some of the recipes in Zen Macrobiotic Cooking and find the food not only palatable but quite tasty. Neither one of us is ready to make the committment to vegetarianism but we start to rely more on whole grains and fresh vegetables and legumes for a larger portion of our diet. And of course, there is still meat loaf and hot dogs and chicken and beef and potatoes, just not as often. Did I experience any difference in my sense of well being or physical health? Not really but we know we are living ever so much more lightly on the planet and that is a good thing, emotionally and spiritually. There is a new magazine called the Mother Earth News for back to the land types and even though I'm essentially a city boy, I subscribe and try to adhere to a lot of the principles of organic living and self-reliance that it proscribes. Plus, it's just a fun great read and an excellent source of ideas for living on the cheap, which I definitely am doing! Stewart Brand has also come out with the Whole Earth Catalog which is another great resource and Francis Moore Lappe has come out with her book Diet for a Small Planet. People are starting to talk about the carrying capacity of the earth for humans and think about how much it takes to feed people using meat vs grains, hence the DFSP book as a response to ensuring that in folks zeal to go vegetarian, they don't lose sight of some basic dietary needs. It was sometime during this phase that I started to eat brown rice and rely heavily on a whole grain breakfast that at first experimented with granolas and other things but finally settled down to oatmeal. Boy did I love oatmeal. That was my breakfast almost every day except for the weekends when I would have some eggs and the occasional toast and peanut butter. Another emergency meal was hard roll with butter and coffee in the car on the way to school. So now the diet looks like this:
There is movement here and some serious changes starting to take place as I become more aware of the different possibilities and options even though on the surface of it, there don't seem to be many changes.
It's now 1971 and I decide to go back to school full time and move up to Syracuse, NY to attend the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Somehow, I got connected with another Long Islander who was also moving up to attend the school and we decided to become roommates. Mark found an apartment on the West side of Syracuse and with the help of a couple of friends, I carted all my stuff up to start my new life at ESF. What a crazy time that was. The diet above wasn't exactly thrown out the window but it was hard to see it. With our school schedules and our limited financial resources, Mark and I ate a lot of junk food and burgers. We also ate the occasional good meal and our packed lunch sandwiches were usually pretty good but breakfast started to degenerate back to some of the old ways and dinner was pretty much meat of some kind. I only lived with Mark for a year because sometime that spring, my folks dropped in to tell me that they had just bought a farm about an hour outside of Syracuse for when my dad retired in 5 years and would I like to live in it starting next fall? Mark had decided to live with his girlfriend and fiance, Marcy and moved down to Cortland to set up house with her. I often went down there to visit them as we had become very good buddies. I moved in with some folks for the summer and recruited one of them, Jim, to become my housemate on the farm for the next year.
That was some year. We both had cars and so we alternated which one we used for our commutes into Syracuse. I learned how to drive on snow covered back country roads and we had a great time out on the farm. We heated with wood, played our guitars alot and drank a fair bit of wine on the weekends. We also raised a veal calf in the barn and had a butcher come over to slaughter and butcher it for us. We wrapped up all the meat and stuck it in the freezer so we had lots of veal that year. Mark and Marcy came and helped with the packaging so they got a fair bit of it for their troubles, too. We also got a fair bit of venison from our neighbors down the road. After they killed a deer during hunting season, they had some extra that wouldn't fit in their freezer and offered it to us. Needless to say, we gladly accepted it. So we had a freezer full of veal and venison. For some reason, I started having english muffins with ricotta cheese and jam for breakfast a lot and when I got into school, the Biology department always had a box of donuts that they sold for cost so I'd eat one or two of those with a mug of coffee. Just turned back into a typical college student except I had exceptional meat for dinner. I got really excellent at making a great veal stew that Jim and I and our friends raved about. I had always made beef stew so it was no big deal to make the switch, just better meat to eat. Well, after a year of living out there and commuting into school or back into town to spend the weekend evenings with our friends, we both decided we'd rather spend our time in town with friends than driving a couple of hours every day to and from the farm. It was a tough decision because I really loved being out there. It ultimately became my true home but I digress. This is supposed to be about my diet. Of course, you can't really separate your eating from the rest of your life, can you?
Now I'm living back in town and over the course of the next couple of years, the diet really starts to undergo some serious changes. One of the households I lived in joined the Syracuse Real Food-Coop and that's when my diet is altered. Great hunks of cheese are readily available as well as organic vegetables, tofu, organically grown bulk grains, organic yogurt, fresh spices, organic teas and coffees and whole grain breads from a local organic bakery. I'm in food heaven and start to incorporate more and more of the foods into my diet as I learn how to eat them. This is not an overnight upheaval but a gradual, hey let's try this stuff guys and it seeps into the diet.
I need to step back a bit and tell about some other conditions I had because they ultimately play a very large part in how my diet evolves. Ever since I was a young child, I had an asthmatic condition. I went through all kinds of skin tests to identify the specific allergens that were the causative agents. I also had pretty bad case of hayfever during the pollen seasons. I was allergic to cat and dog dander but since I loved cats, I always had a cat as a pet. Even brought them up to Syracuse from the Island with me and took one of them out to the farm. The asthmatic episodes were only occasional and the hayfever seemed to be mostly seasonal, although I never went anywhere without my inhaler or my handkerchiefs. Talk about a snotty kid!! I was one, literally, not figuratively. So I avoid the foods that I know give me asthma and I take lots of over the counter medications for hayfever. Basically, a lot of sudafeds and generic copycats. When I move back to the city from the farm, my cat, Happy Paws has become a feral cat and lives out in the woods and fields so he stays out on the farm and for the first time since I can remember, I'm living without an animal in the house. Lo and behold, the frequency of my asthma attacks go way down and although I'm still pretty stuffed up much of the time, it doesn't seem to be as bad as it was. That was my first lesson and strong impression that maybe I didn't have to always be that way if I could find out what else might be causing my allergic reactions. I was avoiding all the foods I knew I was allergic to but since I couldn't avoid the pollen from goldenrod and ragweed I thought I was just doomed to bad periods during the hayfever seasons. At some point during all this I had fallen back into eating a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast as my default. With all the new foods from the Food Co-op my diet is starting to look more like this:
This pretty much defined my diet for the rest of my 20's. The next event that resulted in a major dietary change was my dad's first heart attack. Continue to Page 3 or return to page 1 or Home