A Painful Change

January 24, 2004

With the recent reports of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or "mad cow disease" in the United States, Michele and I have been looking at our diet. Michele has been and continues to be largely vegetarian in her approach to food. I have always been a meat and potatoes man. She eats meat mostly because I do, and since I prepare a majority of our evening meals, there's meat on the table.

The recent focus on meat, and how it is produced, has brought our different lifestyles vis-a-vis food to the foreground. Not in a negative way, but in a "we need to look at what we are doing and understand it better" way.

Growing up I wasn't allowed control over my diet. Food was placed on my plate and I was expected to eat it. There were frequent battles between my mother and I over food. The specifics aren't important here, but the result, a stubborn resistance to new or different foods, is the crux of the matter today.

Giving up a diet that consists of chili, Salisbury steak, hamburgers, spaghetti with meat sauce, et-cetera, for one with Tofu, soy crumbles, and fish, augmented with vegetables is major for me. In the 7 years we have been living together I have broadened my eating horizons thanks largely to Michele's patience and understanding. But it has been at a slow pace. I tend to make one or two changes and live with them for a long time before adding more food to my recurring diet.

The abruptness of the mad cow scare was mirrored by an abrupt shift in our evening meal selections. It has been difficult not to feel like I'm being punished for some wrong. This week we've had only one evening meal with meat, the rest were meatless, used fish, shrimp, or tofu crumbles. Each meal has been good, the shrimp fried rice was excellent, but I have missed my meat and potatoes.

This afternoon we purchased a halibut fillet for dinner. I had been looking forward to spaghetti sauce (with tofu crumbles) so I was uncomfortable with the menu shift. We found an easy bake recipe using salsa, dijon mustard, and honey. As the time approached to make the meal I was increasingly upset and scared. I broke down and cried as I explained to Michele how scared I was about all the changes in our menu thanks to the meat industry's greed. She gave me a safe place to express the fears little Mark was having about all these different foods. Letting go of the build up of frustration and hurt at this whole situation helped me to feel more in control.

In control enough to make the fish and eat it. It wasn't the best meal I've ever made or eaten, but it wasn't bad either. Afterwards I again was overcome with emotion; this time relief at having faced my childhood fears about new food.

Knowing that I can express my childhood fears, however petty they may sound, safely allows me to grow and move past the places these fears have held me for so long. Thanks to my beautiful wife, Michele, I am able to comfort and heal the parts of me that were damaged or left uncompleted as I was growing up.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.