#BelligerentlyHydrated

They say that if you want to lose weight, drink water. They say you should drink eight glasses a day. They even say hokey things like “Water is Life” and “This Is Water.” But how does this play into everyday nutrition? And if it is true that water has restorative and healing powers (in addition to helping your diet goals), how can you consume more of it?

That’s something I thought about after I graduated high school and was bored out of my mind still living with my parents. I had an affinity for drinking out of glass containers (albeit my beverage of choice was typically Mt. Dew), and I wanted to find large containers that would easily allow me to meet (and exceed) the eight-glass recommendation.

One day I realized the vases my mom had around the house would suit my needs, and there were enough to cycle through so I could wash them as needed. Little did I know that these “vases” were actually meant for drinks, though decanters/carafes/etc. are typically meant for pouring into other containers rather than directly into your mouth.


<source: https://www.tradesy.com/i/glass-set-of-6-vintage-wine-carafe-clear-decanters-centerpiece-bottle-jar-reception-decoration/1160561/>

Still, whether I drank from these open glass implements or seal-able bottles, I made sure I was #BelligerentlyHydrated by priming my habits with full containers. When I still hadn’t started consuming alcohol, I posted a status on Facebook that just said, “Drinking tonight.” And then people were like, “WHA–?” And I was like, “-TER.” Now that I do consume alcohol, I still drink water first.

If this sounds like a beneficial habit to you, it is. Psychologists, nutritionists, and other theorists suggest the mindless habits we engage in can set us up for success or failure (see the book on Mindless Eating I previously mentioned here). Here are a few that I think have helped me consume more—and stay hydrated:

  • #BottleItUp – Early on, I started engaging in a trend of keeping around large containers that I would fill with water. Because we can prime ourselves to feel the sunk cost of commitment, by setting up my environment with bottles I could easily drink from, my first consumption was not a bag of chips or candy (though I certainly used to have plenty) but a significant amount of water. Whether or not what they say about mistaking thirst for hunger is true, drinking water does start to fill you up. So even to this day, as I begin my day and before I enter a space with food, I like to #GetHydrated with an appetizer of water.
  • Flavored – According to Mindless Eating, psychology research shows that flavoring water—particularly fruit and other nature-based flavors—triggers our minds to actually want to drink water. That’s why companies offer all different kinds of flavored water. I even see brands like Giant now trying to get people to think about their #Flavorite non-water beverages in order to try their “spiked-inspired creations“. (Note: they’re careful to disclaim the non-alcoholic nature of these beverages). Whether you buy flavored water, spike it yourself with flavoring liquids, or infuse it with things like chopped fruit, herbs, or other types of flavoring, drinking any water is more hydrating than none at all.
  • Cucumbers – In a previous post, I shared my reverence for the power of cucumbers and their nutritional benefits, but even Macka B admits that a cucumber’s “95% water” makes it a “great hydrator.” And that’s not nothing. More to the point, you don’t have to drink water straight or even spike to hydrate: you can consume hydrating substances like celery, watermelon, and berries to ensure you’re getting #WateredUp. In fact, living in DC has taught me to be careful about consuming too much water before wandering far from a bathroom. So instead of drinking liquid (which is more likely to flow through me), I eat a cucumber. This habit is so common that the cashier in the health food store at the midpoint of my commute to the GWU started calling me “cucumber,” and I suppose there are worse things to be known for…

So whether you drink it straight, infused it with other substances, or osmose it into your body from subtle sources, I recommend getting #BelligerentlyHydrated on a daily basis. I’m not saying that it’s definitely magical, but I drink water every time I’ve had a sickness, and so far I recovered every time.

To listen to David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CrOL-ydFMI
To  read more about sunk costs: https://www.behavioraleconomics.com/mini-encyclopedia-of-be/sunk-cost-fallacy/
To check out Giant’s Spiked Inspired Creations: https://www.facebook.com/giantfoodstores/videos/10215155208023757To groove again to the coo-cumber song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRGlon_ezvU

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#Flavorites

Wherever I go to eat, I most always carry a grinder with my own personal “all-purpose seasoning” that’s crafted to my tastes. Growing up in a household with a fresh herb garden and a yia yia who utilized many flavors in her Greek cooking, food was never allowed to be bland. This cultivated an early enjoyment of flavorful foods, but I didn’t truly realize the deep implications of this until I read Mark Schatzker’s The Dorito Effect and learned how to hack my taste buds and cravings to my benefit. The effects of this way of thinking is perhaps most poignantly evident from the story of my Munchies epiphany.

The morning after a savage game night at my apartment, I awoke with a craving for a tasty snack. But since I didn’t have a hangover as an excuse to binge on fried food, I wanted to make a healthy choice. And yet there, in the middle of the kitchen counter, was a bag of Frito Lay’s Munchies.

Munchies <source: https://target.scene7.com/is/image/Target/14885837?wid=520&hei=520&fmt=pjpeg>

Opening the bag, I soon discovered there was no more than a handful left. Yet my appetite had been whet, and I was determined to finish them off. So to extend the flavor enjoyment and to hack my hungry head, I grabbed some matchstick carrots to sop up the residual seasonings left in the bag. Not only did that increase the volume of food I was eating to a satisfying amount, it also allowed me to savor the flavor in every bite—as if vegetables were the junk food I was craving all along. Since then, I have identified several ways to trick my mind into eating more  of what’s good for me while still satisfying my cravings. Here’s some things I do:

  1. Add the Herbs – Though I’ve never tried weed and really got the munchies, Michael Pollan’s account of why it’s so desirable gave me enough evidence to suspect that my jonesing for things like oregano and rosemary is at least similar. Whether I’m cooking with fresh herbs, pairing them base on pop culture phrases (eg. “Parsley, sage, rosemary, and time“), or sprinkling a savory herb blend on top of a dish, I use herbs to curb less flavorful things like cauliflower and tofu. I’ve also noted my flavor preferences so I can order food that tastes good from the base to the topping
  2. Nutritional Yeast – If you don’t yet know about this stuff, you’re in for a treat. This low-calorie, high-protein, vegan-friendly sprinkler provides a cheesy, nutty taste when added to foods (try popcorn) or mixed into a spread like mayonnaise or yogurt (including dairy-free alternatives) to make a home-crafted sauce. Not only does it provide great flavor: its nutritional profile is sure to supplement your healthy diet.
  3. All-purpose Seasoning – I balk at the suggestion of seasoning mixes thoughtlessly added to foods; especially if they claim to be intended for specific types of cooking, like grilling or preparing specific meats (and not everything is improved by adding salt and pepper). However, I know personally which flavors I enjoy if a dish isn’t up to my sniff or snuff, so I keep my grinder handy. Packed with flavors that meet me general or current tastes, I can make food more garlicky, hickory, peppery or otherwise—the important part being that I can change the flavors to meet my own preferences rather than conforming to simple marketing suggestions.
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    <source: https://www.amazon.com/Trader-Joes-Everyday-Seasoning-Grinder/dp/B007SR8IP2>

So what are some of your flavorites? And how do you ensure you’ll like the foods you eat? Also, please let me know if you have similar habits so we can continue to dine together in #Saladarity.

For #Basic, all-purpose seasonings (and instructions on how to make your own): https://food-hacks.wonderhowto.com/how-to/make-copycat-trader-joes-spices-home-0168876/
For Mark Schatzker’s book: https://www.amazon.com/Dorito-Effect-Surprising-Truth-Flavor/dp/1476724237
For Michael Pollan’s book: https://www.amazon.com/Botany-Desire-Plants-Eye-View-World/dp/0375760393
To watch a performance of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ccgk8PXz64
To order some yeast, look in your nearest organic market or check here: https://www.amazon.com/Bragg-Organic-Yeast-Seasoning-4-5-oz/dp/B002863BIW?th=1

#Basic

I’d like to think my culinary skills were developed from a young age, cooking with my mom and Nana—and later on my own with an Easy Bake Oven. But I have to credit the basis of my current food prep with self-tracking via food journaling my meals that started in response to a medical diagnosis. Many people have documented origin stories like this, such as Richard MacManus in his personal narrative of engaging with health trackers and tracking culture, as well as countless others I have spoken with directly. Though diet management is often pigeonholed as a desire to lose or control one’s weight, there’s a premise to my personal, conscious dietary habits that is even more foundational to the reason I keep making salads: their bases.

What follows are the three elements I almost always consider when assembling a meal:

  1. Greens – Even if I have pasta or rice or something not so leafy, I almost always ensure I have an ample amount of nutrient-rich veggies—often incorporated directly into my base. My habits have made staple foods out of avocados and spinach mixes—sources of healthy fat and power greens—but more recently I’ve been working in plenty of fiber with shredded Brussel’s sprouts or broccoli. And if I want to make a dish more hydrating and juicy, I like to add cucumber—which truly is magical. But when I say “dish,” that really depends on the second element of the base.
  2. Scenes – By this, I mean how I will be eating. Will it be at home out of one of my favorite large bowls? Will it be on the go out of a Rubbermaid container? Or if I eat out at a restaurant or private residence, what does my place setting look like? Author Brian Wansink reminds readers that mindful eating involves the contexts of how food is presented as much as the food itself. If you fill a large plate or bowl with heaping portions of potatoes, it may not provide the nutrition you intend to consume. But if you start with a gratuitous helping of greens as a base and then move onto other foods, even Thanksgiving spreads can be less ominous and more NOMinous. But that doesn’t mean you should abandon the third element.

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  3. ‘teins – Okay, so I’m not authority or expert on macronutrient consumption. However, I know from experience that fats and carbs often come easy in Western diets, but proteins can be harder to balance. I grew up in a community of hunters and farmers where the typical source of protein was a slab of meat—and that was usually the focus of the entrée. But if you work more protein into the basic elements of a dish, you can enjoy a more moderate portion of meat without feeling the pressure to finish an entire 12 oz steak. Some of my favorite sneaky proteins include brown rice, beans (or lentils), yogurt, and nutritional yeast. In fact, the last two combined can form a version of vegan sauce that is cheesy, nutty, and modifiable to different diets and tastes. It’s also somewhat less threatening to digestion than most cheese sauces, and since there are many forms of yogurt (including whole fat and lactose-free), mixing this tasty homemade dressing can pull a base together without sacrificing moderation of nutrition or sabotaging dietary restrictions.
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That last element taps into something essential as you think about how to balance the rest of your meal, but I’ll discuss that in more detail next week. Until then, let me know in the comments what elements of these suggestions resonate with you, and if you have similar or supplementary habits.

You can also check out some of the media I referenced here:
Health Trackers:  How Technology Is Helping Us Monitor and Improve Our Health: https://www.amazon.com/Health-Trackers-Technology-Helping-Monitor/dp/144225355X
Brian Wansink’s Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Thinkhttps://www.amazon.com/Mindless-Eating-More-Than-Think/dp/0345526880
And certainly listen to this musical celebration of cucumbers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRGlon_ezvU

 

#Saladarity

Last week, I listened to the audiobook version of Jim Gaffigan’s memoir, Food: A Love Story—which reads (or sounds) like the self-promoting rant of a man famous for parroting the name of a consumer product in a feminized voice. But before I bite off more criticism than I can chew, I want to praise his commentary as both a trend and exemplary narrative of consumer attitudes—namely in anti-health options and in defense of eating poorly.

Not that there’s not good reason to indulge in desires—even food scholar Michael Pollan (whose book and show title I just punned) admits to enjoying less nutritious foods in moderation. My gripe is the poorly reasoned aversion to nutrition that resorts to oversimplification.

Since my grandmother told me to treat myself to better meals, I started posting the things I make from my kitchen fairly regularly. I sometimes share them broadly on Instagram and Facebook, but I have an almost daily habit of sharing on Snapchat with my family and friends as a way of saying, “Look, I’m still taking care of myself, even as I struggle through work and school.” Also, it allows me to not eat so… alone.

However, since much of what I eat involves some amount of nutrient-rich leafy greens, they can usually be categorized as salads:

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I’m not sure whether its our romantic narratives of dinner dates, our parenting practices of forcing vegetables on children, or the ubiquity of tart, iceberg lettuce as a base, but in Western culture, the word ‘salad’ seems to evoke disgust in a large segment of consumers—some of whom are vocal in my communities with mantra like, “All you eat is salad” and “Do you want to join us for dinner, or are you just going to have a salad?”

As if a salad is just the base.

Just, y’know… leaves.

Jim Gaffigan even acknowledge this reduction saying that he thinks of the term as a synonym for lettuce—which would be the equivalent of referring to burgers, sandwiches, and other sandwich-y foods as “bread.”

As in, “Do you want me to order you something, or are you just going to have a bun?”

But perhaps the most ironic part of Gaffigan’s commentary is that his premise (“Nobody actually wants to eat a salad”) is followed by praise of things like meat, cheese, and sauce—all elements that are necessary to turn a bed of greens into a salad.

Furthermore, while he talks of the joy of tasting these things, he conveniently ignores their flavors are far less muffled by “leaves” than by their carb-based counterparts. It’s as if salads are the social equivalent of admitting to purposefully taking public transportation while people complain about the pains of driving in heavy traffic.

And their response is, “Nobody wants to ride with strangers.”

But I do want to ride with strangers. And I want to eat salads.

And because I know how to tailor my meals to my preferences and the preferences of others, I know the delicious potential that a bed of leafy greens can support.

From here on out, this blog will be dedicated to food beyond my own tastes. By sharing my experiences cooking with others, eating in and out (and sometimes even in the wild), I hope to inspire new ways of thinking about food. Even if that doesn’t mean giving up fast food or whatever foods others might demonize, I hope the stories I share help you to rethink the menu available to your eating habits.

And if you start to work more veggies onto your plate, please share your experiences with me so we can form #Saladarity

You can also check out Jim Gaffigan’s book, Food, here: http://www.jimgaffigan.com/books/food-a-love-story
And if you must peep my Insta, you can find it here: https://www.instagram.com/pensiveprotege/?hl=en

Wealth of Relations – Moonlighting

Blood Moon
(Photo Credit: Christian Ronnel)

“Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” Jonathon Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal

While playing a round of The Game of Things, I was tasked to name “Things you think about as you are falling asleep.” Players are supposed to secretly contribute a response, and then take turns trying to correctly match the responses of other players. The game can be adapted to the people and the mood of the group, so I was torn between being cheeky, transgressive, or honest. Though I ended up writing something strategic that I expected people not to match with me, any real answers would cast a beam on something that is important to my life—namely, nightly reflections.

When I prepare for bed, I don’t deceive myself into thinking that I’m being taken away from my best state—as if full consciousness is the only opportunity for value and productivity. Instead, I have made ritual my mindful transition into dreams. Whether this means reflecting on my day and affirming its successes, remembering the things that have constituted my life thus far, or preparing my mind for sleep and the day beyond, I engage in a conscious effort to spend my subconscious time better than merely “crashing” into sheets and hoping for the best.

Just as the moon is a reflection of the sun that shines in the day time, so too should our minds be at night, casting the same brilliance. We tend to think of nightlife and nocturnal states as the dark sides of our lives, but the reality is that they are more connected than we admit. Not only does the day affect the night, but what shines at night also affects the day. We often talk of the “full moon rising” as bringing lunatics to their prime, but it doesn’t take an oceanographer to convince people who live near the sea that the moon shares its tidings even when it can’t be seen. The natural component of Earth’s orbit represents an image of our mind—full or less.

full moon madness
(Photo Credit: mstollenwerk)

Aside from punny connections within nature, the moon is as important in symbolizing my nightly routines as the parenthetical sun is to my day. Even Biblical accounts considered the moon a great light, and though it is regarded as a lesser one, it is still intended to “separate light from darkness.” (Genesis 1:16).  In whatever phase or visibility the moon is currently represented, it often serves as a reminder that tangential thoughts constantly orbit in the margins of visibility, and they hold a certain importance when illuminated.

As a personal practice, I have found relief in knowing that all the thoughts I exhale during the day have a place on my nightstand, right next to the tangible objects I pull out of my pocket at the end of my day. Here is my take on the significance of the moon in its various phases. Just as they reflect light, each phase illuminates the practice of setting aside thoughts in preparation for sleep:

  • Full – Illuminated in its full glory, this phase of the moon is a classic symbol of reflecting fully on the thoughts of the day. With the greatest amount of the moon in view—omitting the dark side that faces away, of course—the moon is presented for inspection and analysis. Every crater, face, and changing blemish becomes visible for anyone willing to notice, and this phase represents the ability to perceive a maximal consciousness of the iceberg mind. It represents our reflections in the clearest view.
  • Crescent – Either waxing or waning, the crescent is an admission that there is something missing; something present, but not quite perceivable; something that would complete the concept that is more clearly in view. While there is a plentitude of scholarship on the ancient symbolism of the crescent—even shoddy sources acknowledge this—its currency establishes a certain curiosity: that beyond what can be seen, there is more to be filled in. Just as partial thoughts are carried throughout the day, the sleeping mind can fill the rest with imagination, even if we fall asleep with thoughts incomplete.
  • New – When the sky is clear and the moon is nowhere to be found, what cannot be seen can still be recalled. Just as aftertaste can recollect the amore that was formed when that pizza pie first came into view, the acknowledgement of a moon out of sight is still effective in knowing there is something in the darkness that has pull on the present. Though no thoughts may come into view as we fall asleep, the practice of recalling allows the image to return another night as the thought comes ‘round again.

Harvest – Cast in an ochre hue like the image of the god of war, a harvest moon is a popular image in photographs and pastoral myths alike. Just as the sun rising through the misty horizon can create a beautiful image as it rises or sets, the harvest moon demonstrates the effect of framing an idea in the dust of the day. Whether perceived as a symbol of plentitude or as a scientific phenomenon of sight, the harvest moon demonstrates the power of putting thoughts into perspective. So long as it doesn’t morph into anxiety and rumination, the act of recalling and releasing memories is a practice that prepares the active mind of the day to transform into the Gottschall’s storyboarding mind of the night. The process of re-collecting ideas at night may seem like a second job—the least desirable task after a long day’s work—but I find that moonlighting all that has been, is, and could be, allows me to harness the power or subvert the forces of what is presently orbiting my mind.

By perceiving the big cheese and deconstructing the significance of parts of my life, I have found that reflection is a valuable habit to enter at night. In addition to allowing my mind to orbit on, it gives me time to unwind so that my sleep can be restful. I recommend a similar practice as a space-clearing mechanism to allow your mind to rest, rejuvenate, and conclude all of the sentences you’ve left running on in the light of the sun.

This is the second phase of my reflections in the Wealth of Relations series: taking images from daily life to show how I make my days a little less banal, and how you can, too. Let me know if any of these ideas resonate with you in the comments below so we can be wealthy together.

To reflect on last week’s ideas about the sun, look here.

Wealth of Relations – Crepesculum

Better is everything from this point forward.

I’ve made a habit of taking morning walks. Stepping into the morning air in any weather (with the air growing increasingly frigid as winter comes in for a big hug), I always have to acknowledge the reality of what hangs above me: not only the sky but also my thoughts, cloudy or clear.

One of the most resonant natural images of mythic meaning shines in the rays of light that reach from behind horizons and clouds. Weather stretching up or down, these crepuscular rays have been endowed with varied and contrasting meanings: Led Zeppelin paints them as a heavenly stairway while Connor Oberst regards them with cyclical cynicism; Christians point to them as proof of the divine while scientists use them to demonstrate the value of empirical inquiry. Whatever these rays mean in the prism of representation, they always provide me with substance in their brilliant displays.

The importance of perceiving these rays has held a particular significance for me as I’ve turned waking into a habitual activity. Deciding to keep my alarm set at 6am every day was in part inspired by secondhand mentoring, but it’s a benchmark I’ve continually exceeded—to my own satisfaction. I often wake before my alarm, disable it, and reset it as I head out the door. Part and parcel of my morning wake is my morning walk into the lightness of a new dawn. The sunlight itself is not only symbolic, but also a key factor in directing my day as I often feel connected to changes in the climate.

One of the main struggles of working at home is being too sedentary—especially when my job requires me to be at the mercy of long-winded students—I purpose my mornings with a walk to a nearby shopping center. In addition to the active engagement of my body; the re-spiration of my body that fills me with breath again; exposure to the outside world and a sample of the weather; and adherence to my commitments; this process allows me sufficient time to reflect on my relationship with myself.

The symbolic ray of light that provides the image of this clearer sense of self may only be a metaphor, but the relationship it offers reminds me that the sun is always there: we make it significant. Depending on the exact time I leave, this often allows the perspective of the sunrise, the clouds in the way, or the recognition that I’ve left too late to catch it all. These elements of my settings speak to me personally as the backdrop of a reality: that I make meaning with the day. Whether you consider a sunrise as a beautiful act of God or a natural phenomenon that may also highlight a copious amount of pollution, the act of acknowledging it brings you into yourself—back into a relationship with your conscious mind.

Having risen to plenty of mornings that highlighted my own loathing or allowed me to release my breath back into the world, I know from experience that a ray of light is as dull or sharp as we want it to be. But by committing into our own agency, the ways we constitute the world determine if our sun is rising towards opportunity, falling from expectations, or just a sedentary object we ignore.

My challenge to myself that I invite you to consider is to walk with that decision every morning, and to bring to light the consequences. During many morning walks, I have intervened in the inner dialogue of my worst critic to look directly into the sky fire; to burn up all the passive intentions my disappointments might hold me to—weighted with fatigue or lack of accomplishment—in order to make room for my rays to shine. Because each new day is bound to take us somewhere, I try to remind myself that the way forward is clear, and it is up to me to participate in that .

Every morning when I head towards the shopping center—my legs either happy to be in motion or my body angry about enduring the cold—I return to the ray of light that I hold onto: that I am able to rise with morning to become more than a fixed object in the universe. By a conscious act of waking and taking a moment to look up, I become ready to engage with whatever the day may hold. And if that means enduring the burden of a beautiful sunrise, so be it.

The first phase of my reflections will be on the Wealth of Relations: taking images from daily life to show how I make my day a little less banal, and how you can, too. Continuing next week with the sun’s counterpart, the moon, I will complement this forward thinking with backwards reflection. I hope you will join me.