My dad was an excellent provider. Each year, he joined a group of friends in Wyoming for a yearly hunt. My childhood was filled with images of dad armed with a hunting rifle, surrounded by friends in the brush and in barns filled with hanging meat. Trophies of past kills hung on dining and living room walls. Wild meat was showcased on the plate, most often venison simmered in Worchestershire sauce, surrounding by ample potatoes smothered in gravy. On the side, a minuscule serving of vegetables hid under mountains of gravy, usually canned peas with onions or French style green beans.
We did not eat out often, but the year I turned seventeen, dad decided to treat the family to a steak dinner at the Ponderosa steakhouse on the westside of Columbus. This came as no surprise. Bonanza was dad’s favorite TV show; we often had dinner on tray tables in front of the television set while we watched the latest episode. I knew that dad liked steak, but in hindsight, I suspect he was looking for Hoss, Ben or Little Joe.
That Friday night, we piled in the car and headed for the Ponderosa. Once inside, we were greeted by a cafeteria style lineup of choices.
Silverware? Triple check. Wait! I almost forgot the steak knife.
Next was a suspicious looking clump of greenery arranged in a bowl gingerly placed next to containers of some type of thick sauce.
I was first in line. “What’s that?” I asked mom, pointing to the bowl of green.
“I think it’s salad,” she said.
“Do people eat that?” I replied. “Isn’t that rabbit food?”
“Just slop some of that stuff on it,” she said, pointing to the sauce.
“Which one?” I pressed.
“Doesn’t matter,” she said. “Try the orange one.”
I scooped a generous serving of thousand island dressing from the container and drenched the salad until it looked like gravy on potatoes. Passable, I thought, but I really just wanted the steak and a baked potato loaded with butter.
It would be many years before salad would become a staple in my diet, much less consider that meals are possible without…gasp – meat.
John and I have followed a true Mediterranean diet for years with lots of fish, olive oil, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, with smaller amounts of dairy, primarily in the form of skim milk, low-fat/sugar yogurt and an occasional dusting of cheese. A substantial amount of our diet has been whole (defined as unprocessed and unrefined) and plant based foods for years, but no one was more surprised than me when we moved decisively away from meat, eggs, and dairy.
Which brings me to that word – vegan. The term has always conjured up images of bland overcooked broccoli on my plate or skinny bead-wearing people waving spears of asparagus in the wind.
My apologies, vegetable-loving friends. Please don’t write your senator or throw any tomatoes my way. As the good reporter once said, “There is more to the story than meets the eye or, perhaps, in this case, eyeballs.” Let’s be clear and fair. It is entirely possible to be a vegan or vegetarian and not follow a healthy eating plan. There are plenty of refined and processed foods that qualify as “animal-free,” but are completely stripped of any nutritional value. Yet, there is considerable wisdom and evidence in support of plant-based, whole food eating.
Ah…I already hear the naysayers chattering in the background. What about protein? Calcium? Vitamin B12? What about studies in support of fish, dairy, and other animal-based foods? Was the move away from meat, eggs, and dairy necessary? Weren’t you already including a substantial amount of plant-based, whole foods in your diet?
These are valid questions and ones that I have entertained and studied at length. Perhaps, these concerns are topics for additional posts, otherwise, my post becomes a book. For now, I invite you to a grand experiment. Let’s put the evidence to the test.
Despite my former and relatively healthy meal plan, and commitment to remain 27 years of age for life, I have not found a way to stop getting older. At age 61 (yes, I admit it), I am relatively healthy. My doctor says if it wasn’t for my snout, there would be nothing wrong with me. I would like to stay that way, but do feel and see the effects of age in the way I feel and in objective health measures that skirt the borders of “normal.” Then, there is the question of pesky genetics. I have watched too many family members struggle with heart disease, diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure, including my dad.
Frankly, I miss him. He would have loved all of the grandchildren and great grandchildren. There is a piece missing from life because he is not in it.
I know there will always be threats that could “get me” no matter what I do, but why resign oneself to a fate, whether real or imagined, when life is worth fighting for. I am worth it. Dad would have been worth it. You are worth it. Adding more whole and plant-based foods to your diet can only be healthful, no matter where you fall on the meat and/or potato spectrum.
Maybe, if we ask nicely, John will share some of his amazing new recipes. No bland, lifeless overcooked vegetables here. Maybe, we will invite Hoss, Ben and Little Joe for dinner – if we ever find them. Since the Ponderosa closed, they seem to have disappeared.