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cthulu cake

How I Eat

Hell Is Other People’s Diets

My friend eats meat. Only meat. As a child, he refused fruits, vegetables, candy, bread, etc. Seriously, he showed me a childhood photo of his birthday party – no cake, just a steak with a candle in it. He now celebrates events with more elaborate meat cakes (see his “cthulu cake” above). And yeah, he’s super healthy.

In contrast, I grew up near Loma Linda, that Blue Zone populated by vegetarians. They’re ridiculous – drive through their neighborhoods and you’ll spot four generations of the same family hiking together. People in that town refuse to die.

And so I’ve come to know equal proportions of healthy herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores. They’re all confident that their diet is the paragon of nutrition.

Keto, pescatarian, carnivore, vegan, gluten-free, garbage disposal, atkins – it all seems the same from afar. Sure, you can guess when friends trend towards more calories. But you cannot precisely predict somebody’s diet based on appearance or personality or demeanor. Even with modern nutrition research, one must cautiously ferret out first-hand correlations between diet and health.

I’m no dietitian, but I’ve been eating for quite a while. So here are my totally-scientific heuristics based on anecdotal evidence:

Dietary “Defaults”

Mystery meats give me anxiety. Some unhealthy foods are easy to avoid.

But it is cruel comedy that the gods generally make bad food taste so good. I could fill my coffin with Panda Express and Del Taco.

To avoid early graves, some self-impose dietary restrictions.

I decided on default foods. Whenever I cook for myself, I choose from my “lazy paleo” menu: veggies, fruits, eggs, nuts, beef, fish, poultry.

People only call their diets “diets” when they hate what they eat. My default foods effortlessly fit into my life:

In other words, I chose these defaults because they’re the (1) healthiest foods with (2) minimal effort that (3) match my palate. As long as there are no temptations in my pantry, I get plenty of sustainable nutrients on autopilot.

Sourcing My Food

I’ve only recently started thinking about the broader impact of my diet.

I guess that’s not true – I knew that my diet was making a negative impact on the world around me, but I didn’t know (1) how bad things were out there and (2) how easy it is to eat sustainably.

And so I tweaked my grocery habits recently. With no loss of convenience, I get better-tasting food at comparable prices. It’s probably more nutritious too.

Here’s what works for me in Southern California:

Using and Reusing

Waste is literally an uphill battle for me.

Our garbage service travels along the main road of our neighborhood, which is 0.25 miles up a steep hill from our bear-proof garage. After years of optimizations, it takes me 20 minutes to take out my trash cans on Tuesdays.

I first eliminated yard waste, because nature is heavy. Leaves go into compost piles. Branches go into woodchip piles. Weeds get tossed on top of dirt patches (to make soil).

Next, kitchen waste. Food scraps can be composted, but why do we have so many “food scraps”? Strawberry leaves are edible. Bones and viscera can make broth, and leftover broth fats are an excellent ingredient. Heck, even orange peels and watermelon rinds can be cooked. Don’t toss edible energy.

If you’ve got too much perishable food to eat or freeze, preserve via dehydration, canning, pickling, etc. You can transform practically anything into jerky.

With little effort, you’ll end up with bonus seeds and brown gold. And now you suddenly have a use for “reclyable” materials. Transform plastic containers into makeshift pots. Even cardboard boxes can become garden beds with some plastic lining.

Within weeks, your trash is food again. And that’s when you realize you’ve become a backyard alchemist and certified nutjob.

From the Ground to the Ground

Frankly, I don’t really care about The Economy™ or The Environment™. I can barely care for myself. I hate exercise and nutrition, but recently re-remembered I’m getting older and afraid to die.

But seeing that entire journey from seed to meal to soil again is giving me some peace. Seeing so many familiar hands and faces involved in my food makes my meals worth more gratitude.

I think it’s changing me. Earth suddenly seems like something worth protecting. Panda Express is losing its flavor. Is carrot jerky a thing? How much do chickens cost?