In Food

Food retrospective: Chronicling my dietary evolution

Posted by: on Apr 2, 2012 | 8 Comments

I was raised on whole grains and vegetables from our garden and the local co-op. We ate brown rice and wheat bread. My favorite treats were dried pineapple and apple slices. We ate meat but not at every meal. Despite these relatively healthy beginnings, by the time I finished high school, I consumed my fair share of white bread, white rice, candy, and soda. I even gained a significant amount of weight eating too much cake at school lunches in 2nd grade.


My sophomore year of college I switched to organic milk. I didn’t switch because I was suddenly very aware of the environmental and health impacts of conventional versus organic practices. I just noticed organic milk had a longer shelf life than conventional milk. At the time, I rarely used milk. I usually used it for baking and sometimes cereal. I never drank it straight. In the winter, I sometimes made hot chocolate. I couldn’t use a full half-gallon before it went bad. So, I figured it would be more cost-effective to buy milk that wouldn’t spoil before I had time to use it all. Even though my decision was not based on ethical consumerism or my own dietary health, I still consider this decision the first of many that would ultimately change the way I view food and what I choose to eat.

Although I started consuming organic milk, I continued to eat Hot Pockets (ew), fast food (Taco Bell and Wendy’s…gag), and various other quick, convenient, and ridiculously unhealthy options. But I didn’t know they were unhealthy. I wasn’t aware of what I was putting into my body. Not to mention the next organic food item I started buying wasn’t really what I would call a healthy option–Annie’s Mac and Cheese (okay, for boxed mac and cheese, it’s tasty…yum). To my credit, I did eat vegetables and I did know how to cook a few basic things from scratch.

Anyway, the point is the initial changes I made were to replace dairy and animal products with organic, free-range, hormone free options. I bought organic or cage free eggs, organic ground beef, free-range chicken, and organic milk. I did this slowly and on a college budget. Increasingly, my decisions were based on the way the food was produced. At some point along the way, I also began trying to purchase organic produce when possible. I wanted fruits and vegetables that weren’t coated in pesticides.


By the time I graduated college, I had discovered the local farmers’ market. I knew of it before but had never frequented it. I started making an effort to talk to the farmers and purchase fruits and vegetables in season. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know exactly where my food came from and how it was produced. As an added bonus, the produce tasted so much better! I also started making a conscious effort to not eat fast food (McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s), mostly due to watching Supersize Me, a documentary about the health effects of eating fast food. As a result, I began to lose weight. I have never been overweight. I’m petite. But I gained at least 20 pounds in college. When I stopped eating fast food, I saw an almost immediate difference.

May 2008

September 2011, Photo by Chelsea Greemore


My efforts, up until this point, were small and only when I was at home with full control over what I cooked and ate. At restaurants and other people’s houses, I continued to eat as I always had. But five years after I first bought organic milk and two years after graduation, I made an even bigger and more life changing decision—not to eat factory farmed meat. The decision took months. I didn’t wake up one Wednesday morning and decide on a whim to never eat factory farmed meat again. I also didn’t immediately stop once I made the decision. I gave myself an adjustment period to figure out how to make the right choices at mealtime and when shopping.

Documentaries, books, and online research spurred my decision. I watched Food, Inc., an influential documentary that takes a look at the current production practices of Big Ag. I read books by Michael Pollan, Botany of Desire, Omnivore’s Dilemma, and In Defense of Food.  I researched what food labels mean: what is “all natural,” “organic,” “free range,” etc.? The more questions I asked and the more information I had, the more convinced I was that conventionally raised meat was bad for both my health, the health of the animal, and the environment.

I spent the month of January 2010 toying with the idea of eating only local, grass-fed, pasture raised meat. I tried ordering consciously at restaurants, asking where the meat came from or eating vegetarian options. I looked for local meat at the market and researched the farms it came from. Have you seen Portlandia? I wasn’t quite that ridiculous. But I was asking questions. By experimenting in this way, I realized it wasn’t that difficult to eat consciously. So, I made the firm decision to no longer eat factory-farmed meat.


For a year, I purchased and consumed local, pasture-raised meat. When restaurants didn’t offer that, I ate vegetarian. If I dined at a friend’s house, I didn’t make a big deal out of it and ate what I was served. However, local, pasture-raised meat is more expensive (as it should be). It’s a higher quality product because more care, time, effort, and higher quality inputs go into its production. Because it cost more, I found I ate less. Instead of eating meat every day, I ate it maybe once a week or twice a month. As a result, I was eating more vegetables and fruits.

However, in the beginning of 2011 my now fiancé and I began to pay more attention to our diet for health reasons. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2010. She had a mastectomy in January of 2011 and then a severe reaction to chemotherapy that put her in the ICU and the hospital for more than a month. Partially because of these events and partially because we were already on this path, we began to ask how our diet affects our health. Is there a dietary connection to cancer? Are there alternatives to chemotherapy that could help my mom get healthy? I remembered watching a documentary (I really like documentaries if you can’t tell) about a year before talking about the Gerson diet and it’s relation to healing cancer patients. We used this as our starting point and delved into the connection between diet and health.

Through our research, we discovered juicing and the healing power of raw foods. We started experimenting with juicing and smoothies. We both lost weight (but not too much) and felt more energetic, alert, and alive. We noticed our skin clearing up. And we started to feel our bodies more acutely. I could tell when a food did or did not agree with me. Increasingly, the foods not agreeing with me were animal products. I noticed eating meat made me feel exhausted, mentally clouded, and sometimes nauseated.

Once again, it took me a few months to make the final decision. But in the summer of 2011, I stopped eating meat completely. I still eat seafood on occasion (but not very often). I have no problem getting enough iron, protein, and B vitamins. I no longer crave or want meat the way I used to. I used to crave hamburgers when low in iron; I don’t anymore. I believe this is because I consume high quantities of green leafy vegetables and others that are a significant source of iron. For protein, I eat beans, quinoa (full protein profile!), and nuts. I also take a B supplement every day. B12 is the only thing you have to get from animal products and even people who eat meat everyday can be deficient in it.

It’s been a long journey and it’s taken me quite a few years to get here. However, I’ve realized that diet is an evolutionary process. We are constantly reassessing what we eat. We should be forgiving of ourselves, allow for time to adjust to new foods or not eating certain foods, and we should enjoy what we are eating. I love food. I love eating. I try to make the healthiest and best decision I can. I still want it to taste good. Because I look healthier and I feel healthier, my friends and family are often asking me what I eat. That’s part of my motivation for posting recipes on this blog. I want to share so others can make their own food discoveries.


  1. Diane
    April 2, 2012

    Hey, Hali,

    Great memoir on your “food evolution”. I think it was similar for me, although I’ve still not given up meat altogether. We focus on whole grains (except wheat, of which too much can be a problem), lots of vegetables and fruits, and more “in season” stuff than I used to buy. If/when I can, I buy organic (we are so lucky to have a great co-op here) and next best is “locally grown”. As you know it is really expensive for the small farmer to get an organic certification, and particularly difficult for those raising eggs, poultry and meat. So, lots of times I cave in to the supermarket and never feel really good either physically or emotionally when I do. You are such a great example of how, by keeping oneself healthy you can inspire others and keep the planet healthier, too! PS your Mom shared her juice with us when they were here and I’m persuaded to get a juicer!

    • Hali
      April 2, 2012

      Thank you, Diane! You and Grandpa have definitely been an inspiration. I’ve always loved eating with you. The food is so delicious. :) I am planning on posting about local soon. Hopefully, I will do it justice. I’m very excited to hear that you want a juicer. I love our juicer. And I’m so happy that mom loves hers. I strain my juice through a cheese cloth to get out the excess pulp. Mom likes the pulp. I hope you will enjoy yours. And I cannot wait to see you in May.

  2. Lyn Burnstine
    April 2, 2012

    I’m enjoying your blogs, since I am a foodie that eats mostly healthy foods, except for too much chocolate. I appreciate your good writing, too. I am a bit of a punctuation and grammar freak, so I like when someone knows the rules and edits carefully. To me it’s just common courtesy to do so, but a courtesy that I don’t often see being used. Thanks.

    • Hali
      April 2, 2012

      Thank you! I’m so glad you noticed. I believe grammar is very important for clear communication. And I’m so glad you think my writing is up to par. :) That means a lot. You have made my evening.

  3. wearmanyhats
    April 20, 2012

    Fascinating! Why do you think that organic milk lasts longer? I am not shocked by what you have learned.

    I was informed some years ago at how much our fruits are nutritionally deficient compared to those some 100 years earlier. I think that it’s not enough that we get pesticides and the like from our food, but that we figure how to get better from our soil as well. This will be the next big food challenge.

    Thanks for posting. Quite interesting.

    • Hali
      April 25, 2012

      I’m not sure why organic milk has a longer shelf life. I should try and figure that out.

      If the nutrients aren’t in the soil, they won’t be in the fruits and vegetables. We definitely need to take better care of our resources (soil, water, etc.).

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Hali
    May 2, 2012

    If you want more information about the connection between cancer and diet, check out this blog post: Maybe I will write a post on this topic soon. :)

  5. Eat the Leaves » Got Veg?: Transitioning to Vegetarianism
    June 29, 2012

    […] I’ve mentioned before, I took my sweet time becoming vegetarian. I thought about it a lot. Taking the time to think it […]


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