I used to spend a really long time in the supermarket. This was when I began reading about food instead of just cooking with stuff I bought at the store. I was throwing a lot of dinner parties, drinking a lot of beer, and taking a lot of sociology classes. My understanding of the world around me and my place in it was increasing at an alarming rate. I was outraged, amazed, confused and didn’t know what I was supposed to do with any of it. My food choices were no longer purchases, but socio-political statements. Ingredient lists were full of things that were going to give me cancer. A mundane chore became rife with meaning.
I listened to Michael Pollan. I stayed out of the center aisles where the processed food lurked. I obsessed about the living conditions of cattle. I glared at tomatoes, hard and flavorless, in December, bred for fluorescent lights and squeezy supermarket fingers. I wandered stores in indecision. I’d come home empty-handed. The following week I would cave and buy all the food I needed from the local grocery store. I’d feel guilty that I betrayed my beliefs for convenience.
This was my cycle for the better part of three years. Sometimes I would have access to more ethically produced food. Other times I didn’t. Sometimes I was too spent from life to care about problems beyond my immediate needs. Other times I only ate vegetables from the farms I worked on. The one thing that remained constant was how I fretted about the way I was being perceived based on the food I bought.
I returned to school to study sustainable food and farming. I learned that a system cannot be considered sustainable if it is not realistic for the person maintaining it to care for themselves. Sustainability isn’t only about making the right choices for the environment and for your fellow humans, it is equally about following practices that are personally and economically sustainable.
I was still struggling to apply these principles to my personal life when I took a class called Herbal Approaches to Women’s Health on a whim. I wanted to explore alternative theories about health and wellness. I had vague impressions of what herbalism was and I figured there was a fifty-fifty chance I would drop the class.
The room was full on the first day. We needed to sit with someone on all sides of us. We discussed our feelings on food and nourishment. We discussed our concepts of integrity.
We shared openly, honestly, and safely about our experiences consuming food. We talked about the allowances we made and the grievances we carried about the way we ate. Many of us found something troublesome about the way we personally consumed food. There was so much thought about what we put in our bodies and how it got there. We were distrustful of or unhappy in our bodies. We were concerned about what others would think of our choices and our lunches.
We came back around to how our decisions are often rooted in our convictions about integrity. I grappled with indecision in the supermarket because of the high standards I held about being true to my beliefs. I was denying myself an essential permission: the permission to not be perfect in my practices. I had at some point decided that compromise was not allowed and as a result I was putting my health in jeopardy.
I now place myself at the center of my food decisions. I eat first to nourish myself. I am trusting myself to know when I should meet my own needs before someone else’s. When my nourishment is sustainably procured, my decision-making is able to process more variables. I shop for local and organic produce at the co-op. I buy humanely raised meat and eggs. I might need to eat some supermarket brand bagged spinach every once in awhile—and that’s OK.