A tale of vegetarianism, plant-based eating, never saying no to dessert and sticking with seasonal produce
A while back, I wrote my inaugural food-themed blog post (A few thoughts on food and nutrition) and I loved putting it together. As an athlete with high energy demands as well as a woman recovered from years and years of disordered eating, the topic of food is close to my heart. But. It’s not close to my heart in an obsessive, over-controlling kind of way, anymore. It’s not close to my heart in a my-life-circles-around-what-I-eat kind of way. Food is my fuel. Food is satisfying. Food can heal you, warm you, create memories with you. Food is great. But boy, have we made it complicated. Diets left, right and center. New “superfoods” every week. It’s exhausting, just keeping up with it all. Those were some of the thoughts and themes I chose to write about in that first post. In this one, however, I’d like to share how we actually eat, Mike and I. What our food philosophy is, in other words, and how we ended up eating the way we do today. Now, does one really need to have a “food philosophy”? Of course not. In a way, one could argue sharing something like this is feeding into that food is complicated circus. But our thoughts aren’t so much about grams of sugar, detoxes and eating clean as they are about appreciating the resources we have on hand, treating this planet with great care and making sure our own bodies get enough fuel to take us wherever we want to be taken. Food is precious, yet human kind is treating it as… well, something not so precious, unfortunately.
To begin with, I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 13 years old. My reasoning back then was primarily based on animal welfare issues. I was a horse girl, and so deeply in love with my four-footed friends I had my walls in my room completely covered by posters of them. Thus, eating horse meat had never in a million years been an option for me (while to some, it is). But at the age of 12-13, I started pondering a lot of things. Climate change, chemical contamination in nature, the health of our planet. And of course, the ethical aspects of eating meat vs. not eating meat. If I wouldn’t eat a horse, how could I eat a cow? And if I’d remove beef from my diet, well, then what about pork? And so, I stopped eating all types of meat. It was pretty simple. I haven’t had a single piece since, and I feel pretty confident saying that I’ll stay away from it for the rest of my life. Initially, my diet was fairly boring. I relied heavily on so-called “mock meat” products, which were easy to prepare and just replace the meat with, making it simple to eat the same type of dish as the rest of my family did. (I should add, however, that my mom stopped eating meat at the same time as I did, which certainly helped a 13-year-old figure things out.) Because this was a staggering 18-19 years ago now, the concepts of vegetarianism, veganism and plant-based eating (was that even a term back then?) were still a little out there. Still a little hippie, so to speak. Today, it’s obviously a totally different story, but I can’t even tell you how many times I had to aggressively defend my choice to go green back then. “Humans are supposed to eat meat, just look at your teeth” was a common comment, and there were many times where teenage me felt completely inadequate in my attempts to explain, reason and stand up for my choices.
But our thoughts aren’t so much about grams of sugar, detoxes and eating clean as they are about appreciating the resources we have on hand, treating this planet with great care and making sure our own bodies get enough fuel to take us wherever we want to be taken.
I touched upon the topic of people’s almost obsessive interest in what and how those around them eat in that previous food-related blog post I mentioned, but it deserves a line or two here as well. The strong feelings surfacing in people when learning that someone eats this or that way are intimidating to me. It still blows my mind how so many adult men and women – whether carnivores, omnivores, vegans, you name it – take it upon themselves to comment on and lecture about others’ way of eating. The toxicity of some of the conversations out there (primarily in cyberspace) are mind-blowing, and certainly not something I believe anything good will ever come out of. A world defined by peace will never be achieved through shaming and hating, ok? Nowadays, if someone asks me about my choice to not eat animals, I have my answer perfectly prepared. It might sound a bit harsh to some, but this is truly how I feel: I believe that if you choose to eat meat, you should be able to face the reality of animal slaughter. If this means visiting a facility, doing it yourself or hunting for game doesn’t really matter, but I know for a fact that I could never, ever do any of those things. I just couldn’t. Hence, I don’t eat meat, and I rest peacefully in that decision. I also try to watch my tongue when it comes to selling my dietary choices to others. I believe that as long as you don’t know the full story of someone, it’s best to tread those waters carefully. Instead, I like to think that ‘leading by example’ is the way to go. If Mike and I can show others how great you can feel by going green, well, then they might follow. Whether for a few steps or all the way, doesn’t really matter. There’s no judgement.
I was happy sticking to a typical vegetarian diet up until few years ago, when I started throwing glances at an entirely plant-based way of eating. For the first 15 or so years of my vegetarianism, I ate both eggs and dairy without much hesitation. Dairy products have historically made up a significant part of Scandinavian food culture, and yogurt for breakfast almost every day has been standard more or less my whole life. Having an egg or bowl of Greek yogurt post running has seemed a convenient way of supplying certain nutrients, and pan fried halloumi has been a favorite for me for years. It might seem ignorant of me, but it wasn’t really until the climate impact of the dairy industry started to get exposed and talked about in media that I… well, started to reconsider some of my choices. As I’ve previously mentioned though, I have a history of disordered eating. There was a time not too long ago, when food restrictions and limitations forcefully pushed me to the brink of a complete mental and physical breakdown. For me, and for so many other people with a similar history, it’ll forever be crucial to maintain a relaxed relationship with food. A relationship defined by pleasure, joy, and “normalcy”. A relationship not defined by strict rules, nutrition label analyzing and counting x, y and z. I love food, nowadays, and it feels empowering to be able to say that I have for some years. Food brings me endless happiness, propels me through all the adventures of life and – heck – serves as a core aspect of this website and platform. But enforcing a long list of rules and eliminating more and more food groups, that’s dangerous territory for me. There’s a great chance I’d be completely fine, but the small risk of not scares… well, the crap out of me (pardon my French). When life has been hard – and so hard you didn’t think you would ever find your way out of there – it makes sense you’d want to stay in the light. And I do. So much.
Where does this lead, though? Well, I’d like to say I’m a very plant-based vegetarian. And Mike is too. We both have eggs every now and then, but much less these days than before. We’re finally getting the hang of flax seed eggs for baking (revolutionary!), but love quiche a little too much to opt out completely. We use oat milk instead of cow’s milk (which we didn’t do a year ago), but can’t resist sandwiches with butter and cheese when we go skiing. And if Mike gets offered a piece of fish or meat at, let’s say, a dinner party and he’s intrigued, he’ll have it. In general, Mike is refreshingly anti any dietary labels. Thus, he likes the “mostly” part of “mostly plant-based” – that’s the truest representation of how he eats, at the end of the day. Mike is also an excellent inspiration source for anyone with a desire (whether small or big) to reduce their animal product consumption and move towards a greener approach to food. When we first met, 6 years ago, his idea of a meal was a piece of animal protein and a vegetable on the side. He was by no means a novice in the kitchen (quite the contrary!), but definitely new to the concept of cooking more elaborate vegetarian and vegans meals. Together, we’ve since explored cooking green, and side by side, we’ve both learned so much about what works and what doesn’t, and what our bodies like and need and what they don’t. And sort of seamlessly, Mike has moved away from animal products step by step to where he is today: the most balanced person I know, with such a profound love for whipped cream that he’ll never let go of it all together, and just as profound of an affection for perfectly cooked beans. He also just got into iKaffe from Oatly for his coffee and is SOLD. No affiliation whatsoever – but if you add a milk-ish thing to your coffee and haven’t gotten on the iKaffe train yet… do it. It’s SO good.
The recipes that we share here on this website form a very accurate representation of how we eat on a day-to-day basis. Sure, the presentation of the food looks a whole lot prettier in those carefully styled pictures than on our plates at 6pm on a Wednesday evening, I’ll tell you that, but all the recipes showcase food the way we eat it. Staples around here are: beans, lentils, peas, nuts, seeds. Pasta, wheat berries, spelt berries, naked oats. Potatoes. More potatoes. Flours of different kinds. Oat milk, crushed tomatoes, peanut butter. Dried fruit. Oats and more oats. Jam (preferably homemade). And fruit and vegetables, but exactly what kinds will depend on the season. There’s also ketchup in our fridge. Chocolate most of the time. And regular sugar in our cabinets. Mike and I have been agreed since day 1: everything in moderation is the winner in the long-run. And speaking of running – throw that into the mix and the concept of “moderation” is immediately altered. What’s moderation to one person won’t be moderation to another. Hence, we better just focus on what’s on our own plate and not so much on others’, alright? The serving sizes that we list might therefore seem off to some – we eat a lot, and cook with an equally active audience in mind. We share food that will actually get you the energy and nutrients that you need to run, bike, hike, climb, swim etc. and nothing but – in other words, we’re done and done with recipes that list 200 g worth of pasta for 4 people, push for low-calorie this and that, or label potatoes as something we should only have for special occasions. We like to think we’ll be attracting people similar to us – people with a love for nature, people spending lots of time moving around, people craving a hearty, filling meal at the end of the day. So we cook for all of them (you!) and the two of us, and trust that whoever doesn’t need to shovel in a giant plate of food every night will save the leftovers for lunch the day after. It’s as simple as that.
We have a framed poster with a few lines of text in our kitchen. Mike made it, but we stole the words from a favorite restaurant of ours (Hearth, back in NYC). It goes: “FOOD. 1. Buy it with thought 2. Cook it with care 3. Serve just enough 4. Save what will keep 5. Eat what would spoil 6. Home grown is best”. These commandments have resonated with us ever since we first saw them printed on some fancy coasters in 2015. We didn’t have our own garden at the time so there wasn’t much to do about no. 6 initially, but growing (some of) our own food has certainly enriched our lives aplenty since we put the first seeds in the dirt a year ago. The poster in our kitchen tells the story of our general approach to food. It’s one heck of a precious resource, and something we care a lot about. We choose our ingredients with thought, we cook everything from scratch (because we choose to take the time to), and there’s no such thing as food waste in this household. While that might seem braggy of me to say, it’s true. We never let food go bad, hence we never throw away any. (Side note: this is one of those times in my writing where I stop myself. I get scared that I will be thought of as a preacher, a look-at-me-I-do-everything-right kind of person, someone with privilege, completely oblivious to others’ struggles and hardship. I find it difficult, often, to balance that fine line between being inspiring and being pretentious. Obviously, my intention is never to be pretentious (duh), but I’m so afraid that’s how I’ll come across. So know that, will you?)
Anyway, back to food, and the food we never throw away 🙂 Both Mike and I are very good at putting together a meal using up whatever needs to be used up. The more times you do it, the better you get at it. Practice doesn’t have to make perfect, but it can sure get you to good enough. And good enough, that’s exactly how all those random salads, soups and stews have turned out. Maybe not always 5-star culinary delights, but certainly good enough. To sum it up, taking care of the ingredients and resources we have on hand is a pillar in our food philosophy. And the more important that becomes to you, the less picky you get. Plus, the more fun you have in the kitchen!
There’s one last aspect of our food philosophy that I’d like to share, and this is one I’m endlessly proud of. I’m sure many of you have picked up on the fact that we eat with the seasons already, but I’d like to grab this opportunity to dive into the concept a little further. After both Mike and I read the book “Animal Vegetable Miracle” (by Barbara Kingsolver) a few years back, we found ourselves equally unable to buy imported, out-of-season produce and feel good about it. That book profoundly changed how we think of food, and we’ve stayed true to our seasonal commitment ever since. To us, this approach to fruit and vegetables goes far beyond the positive effects it undoubtedly has on the climate (although we’re of course aware of the fact that generally, food production is a nastier business, climate-wise, than transportation). We feel a million times closer to nature, eating like this, and we appreciate food in a completely new way. When you’ve lived off of root veggies and cabbage for months and months over the winter and you get to munch on baby greens or cook up the first asparagus spears of the season… I mean, there’s nothing that quite beats that. And we want to argue that joy is infinitely larger just because you’ve refrained from buying that poor imported asparagus from Chile and waited for the real deal. We don’t need to eat everything all the time, but we’ve been tricked into thinking it’s normal to have fruit and vegetables from all seasons and from the opposite side of the world at our disposal day in and day out. Missing and longing for your favorite kinds of produce, refraining first and enjoying later… those are all enriching things for the mind to experience.
When you’ve lived off of root veggies and cabbage for months and months over the winter and you get to munch on baby greens or cook up the first asparagus spears of the season… I mean, there’s nothing that quite beats that.
In reality, what does this “seasonal” commitment mean though, in our lives? It means that we only ever buy produce (whether fresh or frozen) that can be grown in Sweden without the help from a heated greenhouse. So from May until December, we have endless vegetable choices. During the winter and early spring, we rely on what’s available from storage and while maybe not as endless of a selection, that still means 20+ different veggies to choose from. With the help from a glorious farmer’s market back in NYC, which got us started, and now our own garden, we don’t struggle one bit. And for every year we do it, we get better at working with what’s on hand and turn more and more creative in the kitchen. For fruit and berries, we freeze as much as we possibly can from the summer and snack on apples (and pears, until usually around January) the rest of the time. When it comes to other products than fruit and vegetables, we always go for Swedish if available and try to make smart choices as far as those that aren’t. A tip to everyone living in Sweden is to support GoGreen (no affiliation) and buy their organic, Swedish-grown beans, and choose Kungsörnen’s (no affiliation) Gotland grown pasta. And grab a bag of Swedish frozen green peas next time you’re in the store, instead of something from far away 🙂 Better bang for you buck is hard to find! Oh, and we’re not crazy. We buy lemons every so often, because it’s such a useful ingredient in cooking. And canned tomatoes are allowed too.
When I started thinking about writing a piece about how we eat, I pictured a very dense text, maybe even just bullet points with the core concepts of our food philosophy listed. Well, that didn’t go as planned. But I’m still drawn towards something like that so, you know what they say: better late than never. If I’d take a stab at creating our own food commandments, resonating with the Live Slow Run Far platform, what would those look like? Well, something like this:
- mostly plant-based
- with the seasons, all year round
- a lot
- dessert as often as we can
- food cooked from scratch
- preferably homegrown
- with great joy
- mindfully, to the best of our ability
As I’ve been writing this, I’m also cooking a big batch of beans on the stove. We always buy dried legumes, and then we cook beans in big batches and freeze. A great money saver! A butternut squash bread is baking in the oven, and in about an hour or so, we’re heading out for today’s run. The afternoon will be spent outside, continuing to clean up after the storm that hit in January and the trees we’ve taken down since then. It’s cross training at its best, let me tell you. The weather forecast is even promising some sunshine and fairly mild temperatures, so we’ll most likely be accompanied by some bird chirp too. A pretty typical day for us, in other words. So. Time to get ready for that run, but first: a butternut squash bread sample. What was that again? Ah, everything in moderation. That’s right.