I was in my early 20’s and completely lost. My childhood dreams of becoming a doctor were all but decimated thanks to my inabilities to understand organic chemistry. My student loan debt was climbing and my life plans were wavering.
Reminiscent of a Midwestern USA childhood that was marked by getting made fun of for the lunches I brought to school (salads and veggie-packed sandwiches) compared with the pizzas, burgers and hot pretzels of my peers, I had (until my binge-drinking, pizza-devouring days of college) always been relatively healthy.
With a renewed interest in what I ate (and forced by failing grades), I made a much-needed amendment to my pre-medicine university major and decided to devote my academic focus to nutrition.
I quickly fell in love with the valuing quantification of each ingredient, each meal. I found it simple and fascinating to attribute certain macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals to certain health outcomes. In theory, nutrition made a lot of sense to me. I began to incorporate my knowledge of whole grains and fiber into my own consumption. I ceased eating meat when I became sure that it was what caused my uncle’s heart attack. I began to thoughtfully consume, rather than mindlessly ingest what was on special at the grocery store or was contained in a fast-food combo.
My relationship with food had changed; little did I know that it would continue evolving over the next several years.
After graduating, I was pleased to land a job in the nutrition department of a university medical center. I had goals of becoming a dietitian and was thrilled to begin working in the field. However, my feelings of excitement and satisfaction were short-lived and I quickly came to a point at which all that I learned was questioned.
My days were filled with witnessing cardiac patients consume the hospital-approved meal of a cheeseburger and Diet Coke, watching them devour their Wendy’s meals (conveniently located in the lobby). Nutritional interventions and advice largely revolved around supplementation in the form of Ensure shakes and Nestle Boost drinks. Fresh fruit and vegetables were all but absent, replaced by microwaved concoctions and syrupy cups of peaches and pears.
I knew that the hospital was the last place someone addicted to fast-food could handle withdrawal, but thought it painfully ironic to be promoting health whilst providing the ingredients for disease.
Disillusioned: disappointed in someone or something that one discovers to be less good than one had believed.
My degree felt like a waste. I felt helpless in a time in which my childhood plans predicted that I would feel helpful.
Queue my first quarter-life crisis. After a year as an accomplice to the perpetuation of non-communicable diseases, I needed a major shift.
Contrary to my flawed conceptions of what a college-educated job would look like, I began my cashier career with an organic grocery store in 2013. As someone relatively new to the world of organics, I was quickly surprised by how little I knew the workings of the food system.
Seeing the differences in organic versus conventionally grown produce was eye-opening. Hearing stories of small farmers growing produce in line with what was provided by nature was inspiring. Through this career, I was able to tour ecological centers, obtain knowledge about the once alarming, now relatively ignored colony collapse disorder, talk with small producers, learn how to buy my own groceries in a more sustainable way, and learn about recycling and composting.
My comprehension of seemingly isolated nutrients was now supplemented by an understanding of the environmental and social systems that were working in concert with each bite that I took.
Fast-forward a few years and after several documentaries, recipe experiments, failed gardening efforts, WWOOFing trips, books read, and diet-related epiphanies, I ended up in my new home of Melbourne, Australia – having just obtained a Master of Environment degree with a specialization in sustainable food systems.
I’m by no means an expert when it comes to what to eat. In fact, I believe that none of us are. Human bodies are not homogenous, nor are the circumstances that drive us to make consumption decisions.
What I do know is that generally speaking, what we’re putting in our mouths is killing us – and the planet.
I’ve spent the past 8+ years thinking about practically nothing but food. Graduate school has afforded me a more nuanced understanding of how exactly the global food system impacts each of us, and the planet as a whole. I hope that my journal article synopses, crazy midnight realizations, and shower epiphanies can, at the very least, provide some insight as to how to live your life better – better for you and better for Mother Earth.