So in the first of my new posting schedule, today’s recipe is Pasta Italiano. It’s a dish inspired by my visits to Italy. It’s a fairly simple one, but perhaps it’s a good place to start:
(OBT) means Optional But Tasty.
You can substitute the pasta for broccoli or cauliflower in this, if you need to eat more veg, or if you’re totally off processed foods. With the exception of the actual pasta itself, none of my pasta recipes contain gluten, so if you’re gluten free, replace your pasta with gluten free pasta (or broccoli) and follow the rest of the recipe as normal.
1 cup per person (dependent on density of pasta): Your favourite pasta, gluten-free or otherwise,
Half a tin (or about 10-12) olives per person,
1/2 cup of whole almonds,
1 carton of tomato passata,
1 tbsp of your cooking oil of choice (I prefer coconut oil),
(OBT): A generous sprinkling of the following herbs: garlic, basil, oregano.
This meal is 2-3 of your 5 a day (depending on portion size), and serves 2.
Cook the pasta and drain. Put it aside.
Chop the onion in half, then chop it into thin strips, then cut each thin strip into 3 to make little rectangles.
Using the same pan or a fresh one, heat the oil and add the onion.
When the onion is sizzling along nicely, add the almonds, then once the onion starts to go transparent, add the tomato passata and the olives. I like to chop my olives in half but some people prefer to eat them whole. Stir in the herbs and simmer for about 3-5 minutes on a low heat.
Put the pasta in a bowl and pour the sauce over the top.
I’ve always been a big fan of eating whole, unharassed, clean vegetables. I really love the simplicity of it. I think it’s one of the things I love most about my rabbits – we can pretty much eat the same food. However, I didn’t always know how to eat. My biggest mistake when I first became vegan was that I tried looking for foods in the supermarket that were beyond the fruit and veg aisle. I found myself frustrated with the conventional foods and convenience foods in the parts of the supermarket that I’d always bought food from, the fact that dietary staples such as Packet Pasta (an example would be Kraft Macaroni), vegetarian frozen food, vegetarian chilled ready meals, curry sauces, snacks and even drinks were full of animal products. I had many a meltdown in the supermarket where I would just walk out of the shop and sit in my car and cry, because I didn’t know what to do, I was certain I wasn’t going to eat that crap, but I didn’t know what to eat.
Something my aunt told me recently, when I told her a vegan friend has found out she’s gluten intolerant, was “she’s going to have to learn to cook then.”
This is the big myth that keeps us all subjugated and enslaved to a world of shit food.
You don’t have to learn to cook. You don’t need to learn to cook.
You need to learn to eat.
A lot of “so you want to be vegan” type books (apologies if this book is real, I’m categorizing a type of book here) tell you that you need to eat more whole foods, that you can get “meaty” foods like tofu, Facon (fake bacon), scheeze (fake cheese) and so on, to replace the meat in your food.
Meat loss is not the problem.
All these eating books have built up the idea that you need to replace the meat with a solid, meat-textured object, that you only need to check the ingredients are animal free, and that if you do, POP! You’re vegan.
This type of eating is unsustainable, and really it undermines the fundamental principles of veganism. Instead of trying to find foods that you used to eat which happen to be vegan, and attempting to subsist off those (beans on toast anyone), or trying to “veganize” foods which are not vegan, or imitate foods, here’s a staggering thought:
How about try eating totally different foods, including lots of fruit and vegetables, and see where that takes you?
I’m only being slightly sarcastic here because it wasn’t until my mum died of cancer in December that I realised what I’d been doing wrong with my eating habits this entire time. We all do it. It’s so ingrained into us from birth that we must eat a particular way and when we question it we’re told it’s because of nutrition and when we get ill we’re told it’s because we’re not eating a particular way. On paper, I’ve always thought I understood this concept of “changing the way you eat” and thought it just meant, “stop eating animal products” and “move away from meat and two veg nonsense.” It’s so very much bigger than that.
What if the answer was to totally break free from all the things you think you know about cooking, all your kitchenware, all your dishes, steamers, microwave, etc etc? And then, once you’ve started listening to your body, identifying what it needs, and acting on it, you could maybe add some of those things back in?
After I got the news about my mum, I couldn’t eat anything other than raw vegetables for a week.
I didn’t understand why. My 22 year old sister, across the country, was spontaneously having the exact same problem. We both fundamentally knew, no matter what anyone told us was the cause of our mother’s death, that food was the key. In our house growing up, a meal would be chicken nuggets and chips, with maybe a tablespoon of tinned peas or sweetcorn. Snacks were crisps, biscuits and in summer, home-made ice lollies made from that stuff you dilute. We never had real fruit juice, fresh vegetables or fruit. Sometimes at Christmas there would be tangerines. When we went to clear her house, we found receipts for food shopping. Ready meals full of processed meat and other junk. I had changed the way I ate when I first left home at 18. Moving in with an Aunt while I finished school had been a culture shock. The idea of eating two freshly cooked vegetables with the evening meal literally astounded me. I felt so healthy. I didn’t even consider the possibility that this was only a moderately healthy meal. I still filled my face with chocolate and crisps, now adding biscuits and cakes to the list.
Sometimes, when I’m reading about nutrition and I come across some of the delicate balances of nutrients that we humans need, I wonder how it is that some people are still alive. I wonder how my sister and I didn’t grow up with some serious developmental disorders due to what we were eating.
I went to university. I became vegetarian. I felt like I’d never been healthier. I swapped sausages (which I’d always detested) for vegetarian sausages. Chicken nuggets became vegetarian nuggets. Chips (fries) were still chips. Pot noodles and spaghetti hoops were still the same too. Crisps (potato chips) were still a daily dietary staple. So was chocolate. I struggled with my weight, constantly fighting to get down to a 10 (US6). I exercised and didn’t understand why I was tired all the time. It literally didn’t occur to me that my poor diet was making me ill.
Fast forward two years. I became vegan. I took the “3 week vegan challenge” and, once the three weeks were up, I never really got round to eating eggs or dairy again. I felt healthier, stronger, happier, more outgoing, my grades soared and I was finally on track to get the degree classification I’d been obsessing over for the past two years. Never had I felt better. All my life, I’d been plagued by stomach pains, stomach cramps, trapped wind, bloating and a constant feeling of nausea. I had actually associated that nausea with feeling full. When I became vegan, after the first two weeks, all these problems went away. I realised that it wasn’t normal to feel like this, and that I had the power to avoid it. That was when I first started wondering if I was lactose intolerant. I had a few false starts in the first year; every time I slipped up, I felt the familiar nausea and pains in my stomach. It became a big decision-making factor in what I ate. And nothing vegan ever made me feel like that.
Two years later, I’d become quite ill. I’d been working at McDonalds and eating fries for lunch every day, or a hash brown if I was on the breakfast shift. Milkshakes started creeping their way in. And ice creams. Soon I was feeling sick all the time again, and I had forgotten why this happened. I thought it might be gluten, I was adamant that it couldn’t possibly be milk. After six months off gluten and feeling only slightly better (probably because my favourite food was pasta and cheese sauce), I had to concede that it was milk. I was being sick several times every day. I got very ill with a mobility problem and was in bed most days, with no money to buy good food. I finally cut out milk and, while some of my problems improved, others got worse.
I had cut out milk, but I hadn’t replaced it with anything. Yes, I was drinking soy milk instead of regular milk in my tea, but there was also the lasagna, mac and cheese, yoghurt; I had replaced them with totally different milk-free foods, but I hadn’t replaced the nutrients. Primarily, the protein.
I didn’t realise this until a fitness instructor was sat next to me at lunch one day and she looked at my food, tapped the plastic container and demanded “where is your protein?” in a particular tone that the written word cannot emulate. I looked at my food. I looked at her. Nettled at criticism of my food, I said, “I have protein with my evening meal.” She told me it wasn’t good enough. We never spoke much again, but in the back of my mind it got me thinking. Where was my protein?
I got wrapped up in other things such as teacher training, and my nutrient stores got even more depleted, until one day, early last year, I realised I couldn’t carry on. I was working 70 hours per week and not getting enough time to eat. I got diagnosed with anaemia and I knew it wasn’t the only problem. I looked at all my proteins in the cupboard and I could have cried. Quinoa, advertised as a complete protein, is one of the worst sources of protein of everything ever. White pasta has more protein. My Quorn, a vegetarian substitute for meat, which I was only eating for the protein because I hated the stuff, but it said on the label “good source of protein” was the second worst offender. In some cases, less than ten grams of protein per 100g. I believe, after years of false advertising, that they changed the labelling in the last 3 months because it’s a terrible source of protein. Nuts, textured vegetable protein and tofu all did a lot better. Nuts were the best. And lentils were really good as well. Mushrooms were another shocker, with hardly any protein in them. As a comparison, I looked at the meat that my boyfriend kept in a particular freezer drawer. The salmon, lamb, and chicken were all good sources of protein – but even the salmon was not as good as peanuts and pistachios.
I went around all the foods in my kitchen and I felt like my eyes had opened. I suddenly had a basis to found my dietary principles on. I was still eating a lot of processed and convenience foods, but I figured at the time that it was fine as long as I got my protein. However, I had noticed that I was struggling to get my five-a-day fruit and veg.
That was where I was at when my mum died.
Then my attitude to food was turned on its head even more.
Instead of eating for “taste” or “favourites” or “comfort” how about eating for nutrition? So, eat things that will enable you to get 45g of protein a day, eat enough things containing vitamins and minerals, get your 90g of carbs and 70g of fat. Ensure that the protein includes the right amounts of each amino acid, and that the fat contains essential fatty acids.
As long as you are doing that, it doesn’t matter how you eat. You can eat that as a meat eater, a vegetarian, a vegan, raw vegan, fruitarian or sproutarian (sorry, juicearians, if you even exist, it’s impossible to get all your nutrients from your specific diet).
When my mum died, and I was just eating vegetables, I began researching raw food diets because they have almost become fad diets. I did a series of articles on them, which explained what they all were and weighed up how easy it was to get each nutrient from each diet.
I then took that one step further and identified ten vegan sources for each nutrient, because I was sick of people saying that it was an unhealthy diet.
While I was researching all these different diets, I became very attracted to fruitarianism. I thought the ideals of the diet were beautiful, and reminded me of a renaissance garden of Eden type fantasy. Having researched it, though, I knew it wasn’t the healthiest diet to follow 100%. I know that some people do anyway, but on the other hand there are people who eat nothing but junk food – neither of these is optimal but it won’t kill you straight away, so people keep doing it. I felt myself changing inside. I felt that fruit was the answer. I had never really been interested in fruit before, so this was a revelation.
So at the moment, I’m a 60% fruitarian, 40% vegan (cooked). For this reason, I eat breakfasts and lunches that are fruit and nuts. Some days, like proper fruitarians, I will graze throughout the day. Other days, I feel the need for a “conventional meal” so I prepare all my fruit and nuts and put it in a bowl to eat. It makes me feel like I’ve actually eaten, and is easier to keep track of what I’ve eaten.
Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve felt like I’m functioning at a much higher intellectual level than before – no, I don’t mean it’s made me smarter, I mean, I was struggling with processing power, my brain wasn’t processing things very quickly and was struggling to take in new information. Not only that, but I was feeling very tired through the day, pretty much four hours of tiredness, followed by four hours of wakefulness. Since I’ve been eating fruit for my daytime meals, these problems seem to have disappeared.
I’ve started eating fruits I never would have considered before – I always used to worry about buying fruit, because like many people, I would constantly buy it, eat a small amount, then it would go off, then I would throw it away. I got so mad at my wastefulness that I stopped buying fruit for years after a particularly bad incident with a bunch of bananas. Making a commitment to eat fruit during the day eliminates this problem because the fruit just gets eaten. I’ve gone from having no fruit in a week (just veg) to having four to six pieces in a “meal.” I enjoy food shopping a lot more and I finally feel like I’m getting enough of everything. I’ve also stopped skipping meals since I’ve been seeing fruit as a viable alternative to regular meals – before, I would often skip breakfast and lunch on the basis that I would look in the cupboard and feel like I just didn’t have the food I wanted to eat – but I didn’t know what food I was craving.
Another thing I really like, for why I skipped the raw vegan step entirely, is that you don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment or cooking skills to be a fruitarian. Raw Vegans cheat a bit and use all sorts of weird and wonderful food processing techniques to make their food look and taste like “real food” whereas fruitarians just accept their food in the shape and size and flavour that it comes in, and eat it whole and unaltered. I really feel like it makes me connect with what I’m eating and where it came from in a way that raw veganism could never do for me. I’ve found myself drinking a lot more water since I’ve started eating fruit, too, which generally improves my wellbeing.
I don’t think I am never going to be a full-time long term fruitarian, because I feel that other foods also have value, but I do enjoy a good fruit fest and think that if you’re having the same problems that I was, the addition of fruit and nuts to your balanced diet could be your answer.