Bobbing Along In A Sea Of Nutritional Confusion: Why Are We So Comfortable With Food’s Infinite Gray Areas?

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Been a couple weeks since I checked in, but my absence can be somewhat explained by the above photograph taken at Hook Head Lighthouse in Co. Wexford just a few days ago. The goal was to keep my blog schedule on track while on holidays, but even with the best of intentions, it fell by the wayside. I was, however, keeping the old Instagram feed going – being a nice diversion when family conversations started to run dry! I had actually posted this picture shortly after we got home from the coast, and as we sat down to dinner that evening I realized the image couldn’t be more apt for this next installment.

I knew going home was going to be tough, from a food perspective that is. Not only had I to explain my whole-food plant-based leanings, I had to hope that my parents would be accepting enough to let me practice them. Now, while they had been forewarned, I think the reality was a little unsettling for them at first. But, I’m happy to say, after a couple of days, and good dose of sarcasm about my ability to maintain a pulse sans animal protein, they were actually very good about it. So, no fuss with my new dietary inclusions/exclusions at all, and totally fine with me making the necessary adjustments to my plate at mealtimes.

Happy days, you may say! But while the war I thought I’d be waging ended up being no battle at all, an unexpected struggle – and I think I was fated to be at home while this happened – instead reared its ugly head. Not wanting to impose my herbivorous lifestyle on the folks the first few days of the visit, I said nothing while the typical/traditional Irish diet they were enjoying was dished up before me. And, I can tell you, that after a while, it was unbelievably difficult to sit there and watch the veggies play second fiddle to whatever meat was on the menu that night – even if it was in the interests of having a conflict-free vacation!

But then a letter arrived about half-way through, and with the results of recent blood-work revealing my dad’s LDL, or “bad”, cholesterol being at 210 mg/dl, I knew it was time to stake a claim on no man’s land. Just for context here, 190 mg/dl is considered “very high” according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Although being informed that he was absolutely in line for a heart attack, stroke, or worse was beyond shocking, I think the most disturbing part of this communication was the laxity of its delivery. Simply told to check back in 3 months time, whereupon repeat tests would be carried out, the doctor was confident that with the help of the accompanying leaflet on how to amend diet and lifestyle accordingly, my dad’s cholesterol would lower considerably.  No argument there, but as this life-saving pamphlet wasn’t actually included with the mail, the report by itself, in being meaningless to its retiree recipients, was promptly shelved.

Until, (thank God!), I found it. And, then I knew it was time to unleash everything I had learned from The China Study, and through eCornell’s Plant-Based Nutrition course. The first conversation fell on deaf ears, the reason being, that as the doctor hadn’t followed up with a phonecall, they were of the opinion that the issue was not grave enough for them to be in any way concerned. It was infuriating, but on went the dialogue, and together with some intense Googling, they eventually accepted they had a situation that they not only needed to be worried about, but immediately address. And this is where the fun, quite literally, started. Oh yes – and in having seen their initial attempts to transition to a whole-food plant-based existence, the report’s disappearance began to make much more sense!

So, no, they may not have understood its technicalities, but on some level, I think they were cognizant of the practical changes that were going to have to be made. My mother’s a good cook, but not adventurous. My dad likes the basics, and therefore, you have a culinary prescription designed to stand the test of time – which it definitely has (42 years to be exact!). And, with that in mind, you can see why denial set in when told that it would be best advised to drop all meat and dairy, together with the extensive miscellany of processed foods stuffed into the kitchen cupboards. Life, in their eyes, was now going to be hell. But in trying to convince them otherwise, I came up with a simple plan – a list of all their favorite foods (minus the contraband), and what to do/how to easily prepare them. I also told them to keep a simple food diary, and to return to the doctor with it in about 4 weeks time, making a point to follow up with him, as opposed to being followed up with when it might be too late, and the unimaginable had already happened.

Here’s hoping they’ll implement last change. I gave them the tools, including a copy of The China Study, now it’s in their hands. If anything, it’s a lesson in how we end up in such murky waters, with the fear of change, the unknown, keeping us forever floating in life’s cosy gray areas. Now this is fine, until the time comes when you’re presented with a potential life/death scenario such as this, and you somehow know, that the glaring black and white of a situation is really your best guide, your only guide. And then you’re left with no option but to just follow the facts – which in this case, was/is to ditch the meat and be done with it. As human beings, we will doubtless falter from time to time in this quest – certainly, no one’s perfect. Testament to this was our first family effort in having the full-on whole-food plant-based experience on my last day together with them.

We were right on cue all day, with breakfast and lunch running smoothly, until dinner, when a planned rice and veggie stir-fry was mysteriously replaced with a couple of bags of french fries from our local chipper while I was busy packing. Insisting they were adhering to WFPB standards by going the potato route only (usually a burger and some battered sausages would be in tow), I let them off the hook, but at the same time leaving them under no illusion that this was suitable fare! There was discomfort, for sure, now that the chipper was firmly out of the equation as a take-out option. But I’d take that uneasiness any day of the week, if only to eliminate the convenient confusion that lies there in lieu. At the end of the day, no one ever really benefits when heads remain treacherously stuck in the sand. I’ll keep you posted on those LDL numbers!

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