My 24 years without eating (nearly) any vegetables | Food

My 24 years without eating (nearly) any vegetables | Food


September marks the end of summer and the start of a new school year. Parents and caregivers will soon begin packing school lunches or dispensing money into their children’s lunch accounts, leaving them at the mercy of the government for sustenance.

My parents decided to go with the latter. They tried meal prepping before the term was even coined, but a kid can only eat so many Lunchables and peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. It was therefore agreed that my siblings and I would eat the standard cafeteria food at our public school.

Maybe that’s where my problems began.

Fast forward 15 years. I am now 24. It’s 7pm and I’m starving. I pull myself up three flights of stairs to my apartment. The day has flown by, and I’m feeling a little faint.

My eyes scan the kitchen for something to eat. I open and close the cabinets and refrigerator door several times before deciding on … Cheetos. I eat about half the bag for dinner and watch season three of Stranger Things until I fall asleep on the couch. I wish Cheetos were carrots, I really do. I wish carrots tasted like Cheetos, but they taste like water and tree bark. And don’t even get me started on green vegetables.

To be clear, this is not a junk food propaganda piece. I agree that most fast food is artificial (and probably carcinogenic). I try to limit myself to eating absolute garbage to just once a week, but considering I hate vegetables, that can be tricky.

I suspect my hate affair with veggies can be traced to my Texas upbringing. I grew up in Houston, where we have the best tacos in the nation – not to mention the honey-butter chicken biscuit. The state-mandated fruit and vegetable requirement for public school cafeterias is three pieces of lettuce swimming in ranch dressing and a peach cobbler. And when I met up with friends after school, we’d go to Whataburger.

My mother was a high school English teacher who went to college at night to complete her PhD. My dad was a traditionalist who came home from work at 7.30pm every night. I still don’t know what his job was (Finance? Consulting? The mafia?) but I knew the time he came home, because that’s when my brother and I would turn off the TV and run to the kitchen to hide our tortilla chips and ramen noodles. The sound of a garage door opening still strikes fear into my soul.

My parents did not encourage junk food. In fact, when I would bring home Tastykakes or Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, I’d find them in the trash the next day. My mom was watching her weight and didn’t want to be tempted: she lost 60lb over the course of my middle school years. She never found my drawer of hidden snacks.

Dinner was whatever my mom had made the previous night and left in the freezer. Sometimes it was lasagne, sometimes biryani. She made spinach and eggplant dishes quite often, but with no one to look over my shoulder when I was eating, I left it untouched. My father would eat on his chair in the living room while watching soccer or The West Wing while I ate in the kitchen, hogging the phone line talking to Kelly or Nicole about Kyle or Chad. (I lived in a very white suburb.)

On the days my mom slaved over her dissertation on American syncretism, my dad would bring home McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A. Needless to say, I lived for those days. I felt like I would rather starve than eat another helping of rice, daal or cauliflower.

Lone Star-shaped breakfast waffles. Everything’s bigger in Texas.

Lone Star-shaped breakfast waffles. Everything’s bigger in Texas. Photograph: Erum Salam/The Guardian

College was another deterrent to living healthily. Though I worked out all the time with my fitness-crazed roommate, I lived above a Taco Bell and down the street from an establishment called the Potato Shack. A coffee, a beer or pretzels was considered a meal.

For many Americans, this isn’t out of the ordinary. Food deserts form the tapestry of American cuisine,and most suburbs have a McDonald’s or a Burger King lurking nearby. Drive-thrus serving burgers, fries and milkshakes are common, but drive-thrus serving salads are rare gems, if any exist at all. Time and accessibility are factors that determine what the average American family decides to eat for dinner.

You might envision me as a whale of a woman hunched over her laptop typing this with Cheeto-stained fingertips. While I’m not there (yet), my future is not bright if I continue on this path. No longer can I eat a family-size bag of Orville Redenbacher buttery popcorn and maintain my figure. I’m getting older and my hips don’t lie. Neither does my cholesterol.

I’ve decided I’m better than that. I’m a grown woman living in New York who needs to suck it up and chow down on a salad. I’ve been experimenting with tricking myself into eating healthier – yes, like a toddler – so I grow into the habit.

I’ve started eating zucchini noodles, which really do taste like spaghetti if you close your eyes and gulp them down. I discovered I love butternut squash soup. Granted, these are often preludes to a burger or ice cream, but I’m getting there. I’m also really into baba ganoush.

I still enjoy working out, but as my best friend reminds me, abs are (allegedly) made in the kitchen. I know it’s time to abandon the Texas way and adopt a new lifestyle. I’m also sick of my judgmental colleagues, who sound like paid spokespeople for Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign. They never fail to mention they grow vegetables on the window sills of their Brooklyn apartments and how delicious they find kale. (Liars!) I won’t lie – my new health kick is partially due to my desire to not feel sluggish, but it’s mostly to get these annoying colleagues off my back.

If you’re struggling to maintain a healthy lifestyle, just know you are not alone. Let’s make a pledge to stop eating monochromatic meals of brown and yellow starches and incorporate some color on to our plate. It won’t happen overnight. But I’ll be damned if one more person shames me for eating a cheesy gordita crunch for lunch again.


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