Sadly, this is not a joke.
My son who started out vegetarian about five years ago has gone vegan under the encouragement of his vegan best friend who is, by the way a (vegan) chef. My new friends in Toronto, Sarah and Suzanne also have food issues. Sarah is vegan, Suzanne is allergic to chickpeas and all stone fruit. My other friend Dorothy doesn’t eat red meat (although her husband, Keith is a carnivore poster boy), spicy foods or gluten. Yes, they’re all coming to one dinner.
So what’s with all the food issues? Most people have food allergies, sensitivities, ailments and a general malaise when it comes to the stuff they put in their mouth and as a natural reaction; it makes us fearful of foods.
There are very few people left who can eat just about everything and that includes me, I’m Paleo. My husband is a version of Paleo simply by default. So here we are at the place where the real story begins. Being Paleo is like being vegetarian, it’s not so much a diet as it is a way of eating.
Paleo people eat animals, plants, nuts and seeds. This means all meat and seafood are allowed as are as many vegetables and fruit you can eat with a moderate consumption of nuts and seeds. So there you have it, my cup is half full. But to talk about my cup half empty, you could say being Paleo means no processed foods at all and that includes flour, dairy, sugar, rice or starchy vegetables like potatoes.
You know, I can hear you gasp.
I get it, most people wouldn’t walk down this road but for me it was more a matter of where my journey brought me than a sudden choice. I’ve been a food writer for over 22 years and before that I worked a decade in the wine industry. Food and wine have always been my passion and fortunately for me, my career.
I’ve prided myself in eating healthy foods with even healthier indulgences of sinful creations, I can’t get enough of fully ripened, fresh foods straight from the gardens and orchards but of course, there’s always the quick snack foods that, like you, I never admit to eating. Honestly speaking, I suppose my diet was not as perfect as it could be but at the same time, far from a processed, junk food diet that is the norm with so many today.
In 1994, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I had plenty of symptoms, physical limitations and tests that showed abnormalities. After a few days of distress I picked myself up and walked into my naturopath’s office. I’ll never forget how calmly he sat there chuckling. “You don’t have MS,” he said. He put me on a strict diet and within three months I was symptom free and have been almost symptom-free ever since.
I say almost because when it comes to food, I love it all. But some of it just doesn’t love me. Processed foods like dairy, sugar, flour, bread, ice cream and pastries do horrible things to my body but that doesn’t stop me from loving them. The diet prescribed to me was too restrictive and narrow to be practical for very long and because I write about food, I kept falling off the wagon.
By the time I got really bad again my naturopath had moved to California (the good ones always do). I was clearly on my own journey to heal myself. I started an elimination diet but those never work for long – too much depravity. I tried eating a summer from the garden but clearly I was addicted to dairy, sugar and flour. I discovered the Suzanne Summers diet and after that Dr. Perricone’s diet. Both did wonders for me during the times I used them.
I pretty much stuck to these two eating philosophies based on a wide range of natural foods, indulging every now and then when I wanted, with slight reactions that served to remind me why I don’t eat them any longer.
Surprisingly, my journey of ups and downs wasn’t my biggest problem. No, my biggest problem was that I didn’t have a name, I wasn’t vegan or gluten-free. When I refused food from a gracious host, people often trivialized my explanations saying it bothers them too but they just put up with it, or life is too short, or food is too good or too much fun. I’d get the guilt trip with, “well if you’re not drinking then neither will I” or my favourite, “what’s wrong with a few extra pounds, your husband loves you”.
Sometimes I felt I upset them in some way, insulted them or made them feel bad. I was unintentionally made to feel ungrateful. I tried every rouse in the book to not eat the foods that didn’t sit well with me but what I learned is that when it comes to food and drink – it’s all personal. I needed a name for the way I eat.
Then I hit menopause and moved to the big city – Toronto (unrelated!). It took a year of bad eating and it all came crashing down on me again, physically and psychologically. Before I knew it my normal weight was 15 pounds heavier, I was depressed, moody, flashing, tired, unhappy and apathetic. I knew I had to do something but in my condition, I knew I could never figure it out on my own.
Then one night I watched, “Hungry For Change” (Netflix). It’s the documentary on our modern day foods. It scared the heck out of me.
The next day I dusted off my juicer, did a five-day juice detox and became Paleo. I feel 30-years younger, have an over abundance of positive energy, my thinking is clear, I naturally dropped the excess weight and all of my physical and psychological symptoms are gone – including those nasty hot flashes! The best part of it all is that I now have a name – I’m Paleo. When I say this to people they immediately switch gears and instead of arguing or trivializing, they respectfully offer up alternatives (if they have any or even know what Paleo is) and I make sure their generosity is greatly appreciated.
Under the guise of Paleo I’m free to make my own food choices and I’ve discovered that Paleo is a beautiful and healthy way of eating for me.
So here I am planning my Vegan, Paleo, Chickpea-free Thanksgiving dinner and I’m actually looking forward to it. To start with I’ll fill a large wooden board with tapenade, black olive paste, Teriyaki tofu, guacamole and charcuterie with a huge loaf of sourdough bread, raw vegetables and gluten-free crackers. In the oven will be a small turkey and a pan of gluten-free stuffing, a balsamic infused vegetable terrine, a huge truffle scented mushroom pot pie and a pan of herb roasted root vegetables. On the table will be a bowl of warm, mashed cauliflower and potatoes, a boat of onion gravy, a traditional kitchen-sink salad and a giant jug of pear, mint and lime water. For dessert my vegan chef is bringing a couple of vegan pumpkin pies and I’ve made an apple crisp with an almond meal topping. I’ve got it all under control.
From my kitchen to yours, be healthy and happy in this season of giving thanks.