Health

The best food in town, and some reflections on vegetables and veganism

How has yet another month flown by?! I really can’t figure out where June went. Anyways, it’s my last week in the UK, and as I sit in my half-packed room littered with random sheets of paper, lonely single socks, and waaay too many dustbunnies, I find myself unable to acknowledge that soon I’ll have to say goodbye to some of the dearest people I’ve met and accept the end to one of the richest experiences of my life.

So of course, instead of dwelling on all that, I’m sitting here planning out how many meals I can squeeze in at my favorite Oxford lunch spot. Classic.

For real, though, I’m going to miss this food. Basically, there is lunch food served at a couple of places here that is just truly, honestly, delicious. (In case you are wondering, these spots include Alpha Bar in the Covered Market, the Vaults and Gardens café, Will’s deli, and my very own department, Queen Elizabeth House/Department of International Development. The same people supply the food to all of these places.) These places always have a selection of salads and hot dishes, amazing soup, as well as other foods that also look delicious but that I’ve never tried (like toast with rarebit sauce…) The food is always bursting with freshness and texture, and there are always plenty of gluten- and dairy-free options.

Some of my favorites? The lamb stew with apricots. And the carrot-fennel soup.

Another great choice? Carrot slaw, braised greens, and some smoked mackerel on a bed of shredded beets and seaweed. Especially when eaten outside on a rare sunny day.

In other news, beyond my use of gustatory pleasure to avoid impending realities, I have been thinking about vegetables. Vegetables and I… we have a complicated relationship. I’ve always loved them: I grew up in a household where my mother had a rule that there had to be at least two vegetables for dinner every day, and one of them had to be green. I really credit my mom for making me love vegetables, even just plain steamed green beans.

In college I continued this habit, to the max. But I also became a vegetarian and dabbled in veganism. While my daily dinner vegetable consumption was definitely a big benefit to my health in high school, when I regularly would eat a plate of French fries (plus ketchup!) for lunch, in college I think my love of vegetables was more of a crutch and a hindrance. Thinking I was being healthy, I would load up my cafeteria tray with big raw vegetable salads. While the vegetables weren’t necessarily the problem, I think they filled me up too fast to make sure I got other important macro nutrients into my diet: namely, fat. I was pretty good about getting adequate protein, but I really think that I overdid the ratios of vegetables to everything else, to the detriment of my health, for a few years there. Not too mention vegetables can be really hard to digest.

Later in college, my diet swung in a very different direction, and I fully gave up my vegetarian ways. This past year, my diet got really weird as I experimented with cutting way back on vegetables. There were many days when I had very meager servings of vegetables. There was a good month back in the fall where I ate just a bowl of rice and fish for every meal. Other times all I ate for dinner was a piece of meat and some broth, especially as I experimented with GAPS.

And yet now I’ve been finding myself craving vegetables — and raw vegetables. I’ve been making these massive massaged kale salads with every veggie I can my hands on, and eating them for multiple meals a day. Part of this is that I’ve discovered that if I eat vegetables low in FODMAPs, I can digest them a lot better. But part of this is also that I think I’ve come to recognize that, as nutrient powerhouses, vegetables ARE important. Just as I undervalued the advantages of meat and fat, especially animal fat, in college, I think I have spent part of this year, especially, ignoring the importance of vegetables.  And it’s got me thinking: while I don’t ever intend to become a vegan or even vegetarian again, many of my favorite dishes are vegan and vegetarian dishes. I love the way that so many of these use vegetables (and fruits) in exciting, flavorful, and extremely fresh ways. Isn’t it funny than everybody thinks that vegan and paleo diets are at opposite ends of the spectrum? (I don’t really belief in any sort of diet dogma, and I don’t really buy into the whole paleo label as it is touted by many people and products. But I DO buy into the idea of eating a plant-based diet that incorporates whole animals, and I think “paleo” is the most widely acknowledged version of this.) The difference between a plant-based diet that doesn’t include meat, versus one that does, is a lot smaller of a difference between either of these diets and the standard American diet.

Anyways, just some rambling thoughts. I’d love to hear if anybody has thoughts on whether they see similarities or spaces for overlap between vegan/vegetarian and paleo diets — especially ones like Joel Fuhrman’s that emphasize tons of vegetables. Are vegetables overrated? Underrated? What are things you’ve learned from past eating approaches that you’ve experimented with, even if they didn’t fully work out for you?

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