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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Getting my act together

My friend Tira made a funny comment today: "Erin, you always eat healthy." It's especially funny if you've experienced one of my classic Chipotle-Coldstone dinner dates -- and if you haven't, be prepared for the greatest culinary experience of your life. Yummm.

She said that after witnessing my snacks over the past few days: an apple yesterday and today's winning trifecta of applesauce, crackers and carrot slices. (The applesauce was especially hilarious because Tira had never heard of it and thought it was baby food. So she asked if this was something adults it, too. I let her take a bite but she didn't like it -- maybe because it was the all-natural, sugar-free kind. The other Western teachers in the office had to convince her that applesauce is not just for babies!)

And yes, I bring a snack everyday. I get SO hungry by 3:30 that I need something to keep going, and I know that without packing a snack, 7-11 would make itself part of my daily routine. 

It's hard eating healthy in a country that more often than not doesn't have healthy options. People argue against this by saying, "Well, why are so many Koreans thin if the food is unhealthy?" Good question. In my mind, health isn't just about calories. It's also about what's IN the food. Or ON the food, as the case may be with produce. Fruits and veggies here are doused with harmful pesticides and I know of one Korean family that soaks all produce in water for 20 minutes to clean it. 

Since making the decision to go vegetarian, I've been doing a lot of reading about food in an effort to become more educated. I didn't give up meat for moral reasons, although those certainly bother me. But the more I read on this subject, the more convinced I become that I can never go back to eating non-organic meat and dairy. 

Scratch that. The more educated I become on food issues, the less I can imagine going back to America and buying traditional, non-organic groceries. I was always lucky to live in a family that did a lot of grocery shopping at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's (my dad is even shipping me a Trader Joe's care package this week!) so I'm excited to go back home and have these options again. Organics are available here but there's less variety and a much higher price tag. Produce is already more expensive here than at home, even at the market, so I just try to wash everything well and tell myself that a few more months of ingesting chemicals won't be too harmful. Ugh. 

(Side note #1: It could totally be a placebo effect, but since cutting out meat completely I have 10 times more energy. I wake up every morning and bounce out of bed. Even though I don't have to be at work until 1:30, "sleeping in" now means waking at 8 instead of 7 or 7:30. I was never a super-late sleeper but the difference is really incredible.)

As the cliche goes, knowledge is power. And with the help of the internet, it's never been easier to make informed shopping choices. There are websites like GoodGuide, which let you enter a product's name to find out its environmental and health statistics. Sites like this are gaining public attention as we become more concerned about what we're putting into our systems. 

I struggle a lot with eating healthy and certainly, it's not something that happens everyday. I LOVE food and that Chipotle-Coldstone combo sounds fantastic any day of the week. So does its Korean counterpart, Tomatillo-Baskin Robbins. And weekly curry is always a joy.

But I'm trying to be more conscious and listen to my gut instincts. When a plastic package of raspberries at the grocery store gives me a moment doubt, better to avoid buying them than purchase a container only to realize they were completely tasteless. 

(Side note #2: The best raspberries I ever ate were from the Rose Park Farmers Market in Georgetown last summer with Allie. It was my first time trying golden raspberries and they were sweeter than candy. So delish!)

It's not about counting calories or losing weight for me. I'm pretty comfortable with myself and my body. But learning about the harmful chemicals we're all unintentionally putting into our bodies certainly makes me question my food choices and make a conscious effort to do better.

Official countdown to Australia: 10 days


  1. Something I recently found out particularly relevant to vegetarians: the soy industry has become a source of massive deforestation! they clear cut forests to make room for agriculture fields. you cant win either way, meat or no meat! so we have to do some research to find the best brands of soy products

  2. Most traditional Korean foods (what people eat at home) are actually pretty healthy -- most of the soups and stews are fish or bean curd (miso) based and contain ample vegetables. Koreans eat a lot of seafood too, and a lot of side dishes have lots of veggies. More people are trying to incorporate grains and beans/peas into their white rice, too. You're right about the produce though -- I've heard there are lots of pesticides. And as delicious as they are, Korean street food are definitely NOT healthy snack options.