Saturday, September 8, 2012

I Just Want To Be Normal

Sometimes it's hard to be different.

Lois Lowry is the author of one of my all time favorite novels, "The Giver."

Within it's pages you find Jonas, an 11 year-old-boy who lives in a future and far-distant community that is solely dedicated to "sameness." There is no suffering, hunger, or war, and yet there is also no color, music, or love. Jonas' journey convinces us of the terrible tragedy it would be if we were truly all the same.

Every time I read this book it breaks my heart -- it reaches into every part of who I am and completely grabs my emotions. Why? Because I find myself falling into that same trap - the trap of sameness. The Giver forces me to look inside myself and recognize that I need to rejoice in the differences around me, and yes, even rejoice in what makes me different. Sadly, as time passes that rejoicing slowly wears off and I get lost in the chaos of trying to be like everybody else.

This need for "sameness" carries over into my food choices. Not only am I an intense person, I am an intense perfectionist with a high need to please others. Put these characteristics together in the kitchen with whole foods cooking, and I turn into a mess.

Take that mess and magnify it ten times when I am hosting guests. Isa Chandra Maskowitz writes, in one of her cookbooks, "Don't ever apologize for your food." I break that rule about 20 times during the course of a social event. "I'm sorry I put too much salt in that, oh I'm sorry there is not enough milk in this, and oh I am so sorry, sorry, sorry..."

During Samuel's birthday party today my intense perfectionism, I am sure, showed through. Looking at our serving table of food I wondered if it looked "normal." What is "normally" served at a party? Would a stranger that walked into my kitchen consider me, "normal?"

I hope you don't mind if I share your comment, Carly, but it exemplifies exactly how I feel:

"I love that you are sticking with [whole foods] even with big events. I would love to know what some of the recipes you use when cooking for other people. I have a hard time finding something that is somewhat "normal" when people come over."

Although I am still very much struggling with the desire to be "normal" (what is normal, anyway?) when it comes to social situations, there are a few things that I have, and am still learning.

Nine Ideas That Have Helped Me:

1.) Focus on serving the food YOU love. Think about your very favorite dinner, and serve it.

2.) Don't attempt a new recipe before planned guests arrive. Or at least make a tried-and-true main dish!

3.) Provide a lot of "normal" side dishes. I like to make home-made bread, mashed potatoes, a green or grain salad with good dressing, cut up fruit, and some good drinks. It doesn't hurt to have a really good dessert, either! I usually compromise with guests' desserts and make them with oil instead of oil replacements.

4.) Avoid serving tofu, tofu dishes, or meat analogues. We have been taught repeatedly through school nutrition programs and through the media that meat is healthy, even necessary. Our omnivorous friends and family do not understand the need to replace meat.

5.) A great vegetable soup is usually well received. Especially if it contains starchy vegetables and beans to provide a deeper satiation. Again, only make it if it's a tried-and-true.

6.) Recognize that the way you eat IS different. We don't have to call attention to it or even talk about it with guests, but allowing your guests to have different taste buds is essential to being happy in social situations. And this isn't even a vegan issue, right? People in general have preferences, and foods that they are used to. Paul pointed out to me that he and I often refuse foods in social situations that are not plant-based, and expect to be accepted. We need to allow others the same privilege.

7.) Reach out and interact with others who make the same food choices as you. It aids in the ability to inhale and exhale. It also increases confidence and provides reassurance. (See number 9!).

8.) Bring food to outside social events. It's not realistic that you remain happy on a whole foods eating plan if you exclude yourself from all social events. How miserable. Everyone welcomes contributors, so bring something to share, get outside, and have some fun with the people you love.

9.) Practice confidence in who you are and the choices you have made. Own it. Sell it. Be happy about it, and maybe even be proud of it. (Just don't be preachy or self-righteous about it; big turn-off!) If your choices do come up, talk about the things you love about it. Focus on the positive points and have confidence in your choices. People around you generally reflect whatever emotions you convey, and you can teach them how to feel about your choices by your attitude.

I am always trying to learn what works best. I don't have this "being different" thing down completely.

Our 1st Whole Foods Anniversary

Being that this is September, it has now officially been a year since Paul and I switched to a whole foods, plant-based diet. Observing some of Paul's family members, I KNOW they don't think of me as normal. And yet, I feel normal. I feel very much the same girl I was over a year ago. I may choose to eat a little differently than I used to, but when it comes right down to it I am still me.

No, wait. I am better than that girl over a year ago. I am 20 pounds lighter, I have longer hair, clearer skin, more energy, and I am happier. I feel healthier.

Additionally, there is a certain joy that comes from watching my children eat healthy foods. It is a true fulfillment in my heart to know that I am nourishing their little bodies with the best that this earth has to offer. I love watching that nourishment fuel their thinking, their playing, creativity, imaginations, and yes, even all that excess energy!

Don't the pros outweigh the cons here?

It's About Perception

There are moments, however, (usually when my food is being seemingly scrutinized by dinner guests) when I want to scream, "I'm a freak! I just want to be normal!" This is usually the moment I have to go find Paul and get some reassurance.

Gently he reminds me that in the end, most of the frustration I feel is within myself. People have rarely ever been critical toward me, and often those who did view my choices as extreme have eventually come around and even asked for recipes or book references. At the very least they have come to accept the choice that I have made. Overall my experiences and interactions with others over this past year have been very positive.

If I remember that most of the negativity I experience is within myself, then I can recognize that Samuel's birthday party today was a great success. Although one of Paul's family members chose not to even try the Cauliflower Bechamel, they ate a lot of the sides that I provided. We had chocolate chip cookies, a veggie tray, chips, a fruit tray, juice boxes, and cut up watermelon. The lemon cake with strawberry topping was delish.

We then played games, sang happy birthday, opened presents, danced to loud, obnoxious music while playing musical chairs, and talked and laughed. We had a great time. We successfully kept a few "normal" traditions while simultaneously creating some newer, healthier ones.

Accepting Myself & The Choice I Have Made

The most healing thing I can do is accept myself and the choices I have made concerning food. If I am happy with the lifestyle I have chosen to live then all I need is to let that feeling stay with me even in times of social stress.

I really want to be more concerned with doing what's right for my family instead of living in fear of others and what (I think) they think of me. I also want to relax and let go, and just enjoy the people that mean the world to me.

It will take practice. I can't pretend that what others think of me doesn't matter to me at all. Now if only I could remember Jonas and The Giver's powerful message when I feel pressure to be "normal." The pressure of sameness.


  1. Amen sister. We're on a gluten free, dairy free, plant based whole foods diet. No junk in this house. Hard as I try I cannot grocery shop for my in laws without guilt at buying what they want me to because they eat "normal" and there are fake colors and preservatives. Its tough. We're 2 years into the plant based and 3 and 4 years into the dairy free and gluten free life. There are times when I'm so frustrated at how it "limits" my life socially. But then I'm filled with peace and reminded how it was my journey back to health. It saved my life and I'm a fantastically capable mom now instead of unable to care for my husband and family. But yes, I still have to remind myself of our favorite dishes and then I realize oh yeah there are a dozen "normal" eaters will love. Sure enough, when the situations come up I get raves and requests for recipes. I also get to enjoy the jokes to friends husbands that they ate like Angela tonight and didn't even realize it!

  2. I know, that's totally how it feels, right? Everyone else is "normal" and we are the weirdos. SO backwards! And there are frustrations that are very real. That's why I feel like it is so important to talk about it with others who make the same food choices. The best feeling is when people ask for recipes and want to make it in their own homes, even if they have an overall different eating plan. I LOVE that. I really have to hold on to those amazingly rewarding moments and remember them when I am feeling that pressure. Thanks for commenting, Angela, you sound like an amazing person.


  3. I really love that book. I remember reading it when I was in Jr. High and it made a hudge differnce in the way I viewed myself. I think the principle of not apologizing for yourself is big, really BIG. In the scriptures it states, "What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away." This is a very powerful principle. Not that we have the authority of God, but that when we know without a doubt that somthing is good or makes us truly happy, don't apologize for it.

    1. "When we know without a doubt that something is good or makes us truly happy, don't apologize for it." Hear, hear!

      I am just learning the principle that people often reflect whatever your exude. If you exude confidence -- people will respond and treat you with better respect. And people are attracted to confidence, no matter what your choices are.

      I think the whole fam loves that book -- it is so amazing. I want to be better at not apologizing, or even feeling negative about my food or my differences when others are around. It takes practice, and I am working on it. I don't want to be sorry anymore for doing something that I know is right, and that I love.

  4. I can totally relate to this. I have told Ryan countless times that I wish I could go back in time and be normal. Ah well, I am getting more comfortable with it each day. I haven't been brave enough to host any sort of gathering with food involved...but someday I am sure I can take that on. If we are confident and act like it's totally normal, then people typically follow suit. I remember admiring people who I have met in the past who had very specific diets or were trying to be really healthy.