Finding Nature in the City
I'm from Utah and I love Chicago. But for the past few years I've been yearning to live somewhere that has mountains instead of buildings, waterfalls instead of fountains, and hiking boots instead of stilletos.
Last year I spent a majority of my travel time in nature. I spent a weekend in January driving around Oregon and Washington.
In February I headed to Belize to hike the Mayan Ruins and snorkel with some sharks.
In July we went camping in Wisconsin.
In August we hopped on a fan boat and toured the Bayou right outside New Orleans.
In May, September, October, and November I spent time in Utah. I visited family, attended my grandpa's funeral, camped in Zion National Park, Moab, and Mesa Verde (Colorado). I spent Thanksgiving with my family for the first time since high school and hiked the trails of my home town of Logan, Utah. We scaled the bench that overlooked the valley and we climbed to the Wind Caves. We even dipped our toes in Crystal Hot Springs.
While I love my city and I love the diversity it offers, I miss being a 10 minute drive to spectacular nature. I know there are forest preserves. I know that Iowa and Indiana and Michigan all have beautiful areas. But I'm sorry. Have you not seen the photos of my hometown?? Just in case you need another visual, this is what I had to wake up to ever morning:
And while people keep saying "Then leave!" It's not that easy. My boyfriend is here. His family is here. Our jobs are here. I'd say our friends are here but they are all slowly moving to greener pastures, (quiet literally) one by one.
Last year when I was in Portland, we were talking with our Airbnb host. I expressed to her how much I loved Portland and wished I could move there. She asked why. I told her I love how much nature there is. How everyone is environmentally conscious. Everyone has garden planters in their front and back yard. There is care and craftsmanship in the way they live their lives. Her response was "Instead of moving here, bring those ideals to your town. Live those values in your life."
I've thought about that a lot this year. Instead of having a place define my lifestyle, I can define my lifestyle. I've taken that to heart and have adjusted many habits to be more sustainable. And even with all these changes, it's still hard to feel a connection with nature, the same way I felt it in Oregon and the same way I feel it when I visit my hometown.
However, I have found an unexpected coping mechanism for my longing for nature— food.
My boyfriend and I have been vegetarian for a year and a half and it has opened my eyes to not only my relationship with food, but humans' relationship with food. Learning more about plant based diets has allowed me to truly appreciate all the incredible things fresh food can do for our bodies. They really do have healing powers. There's something about going to the store or farmers market and hand picking these ingredients. You then take them home, cut them up, and mix them all together. There's nothing like the aroma of a soup or sauté made of fresh vegetables and herbs.
I've been inspired to start my own small indoor farm of herbs and small greens. Touching the dirt, trimming the plants, and harvesting your food feels so raw. So intimate. So privileged. You really start to understand how precious food is. The time it takes to grow. The care it takes to grow it. It makes me feel so guilty about any produce I ever let rot away in the fridge.
In addition to just feeling closer to nature, we've learned a lot of other things:
From trying different types of beans (high in protein) to other non-traditional protein sources like seitan, tempeh, and tofu, I have learned that it's fun and easy to experiment with new and different ingredients. I've also started experimenting with new flavors like curry, tahini, fresh ginger, tumeric, and cardamom. I've realized that my old meat heavy diet was actually rather bland. I can use new spices in addition to the flavor of the fresh vegetables and fruits.
I've also started understanding the science involved with cooking:
- Acid effects flavor
- Natural sweeteners
- Cut back on oil usage
- Create texture
Shopping at Different Stores
I use to buy my groceries at which ever grocery store was the closest or most convenient. Since going vegetarian, I've started following plant-based food bloggers and cook books. A lot of the ingredients in these recipes require unique grains, different types of oil, or even ethnic foods that can't be found at the traditional grocery store. Trader Joe's was definitely my gate-way grocery store. They carry things like nutritional yeast, affordable coconut oil and nut butters. They also have stuff like miso broth, tahini sauce, and Everything Bagel seasoning ;)
Then I started finding recipes that required super healthy stuff that were hard to find or things that cost a lot of money if I buy them in a large package. That's when I started visiting a healthier food store chain called Fresh Thyme. I'd hit up Whole Foods sometimes but I really can't afford that place. I realized that health food stores typically have large bulk aisles, meaning that if I needed a spice or flour that was like $10+ per bag, I could go to the bulk section and measure out exactly what I needed. I even started realizing that I could save money buying normal things in bulk. $.69/lb (that's 16 oz.) for Oatmeal... WHAT!? Yeah even at Target, a 18 oz. of generic oatmeal is $2.59... I literally bought this today and price compared. THAT'S NUTS!
I started visiting the farmers markets in order to support local farmers and get the freshest, most eco-friendly produce. I also found a local co-op grocery store that carries local goods, environmentally conscious products, and has a HUGE bulk section.
You'd be surprised how many restaurants have great vegetarian options. That being said, you'd also be surprised how awful some of these options are. Sure every place has a salad but when was the last time you got full off a salad that didn't have any protein in it?? So instead of relying on on-the-go food options, I need to plan my meals and cook at home. Which has also been very helpful in my weight-loss journey.
We also do a lot of traveling. While we can usually find vegetarian options, we always carry nuts, protein bars, protein powders, and other snacks that will help us if we're in a bind. We were the most nervous this past year when we went to Belize. We were totally fine and found so many vegetarian food options but at least we were prepared.
what am I putting in my body
I was raised Mormon and one of the biggest things in the church is the Word of Wisdom. It might be one of the most infamous things about the church to outsiders. It basically teaches that your body is a temple and you should respect it by not drinking alcohol, smoking, taking drugs, and even drinking caffeine. I don't drink alcoholic beverages a lot (my doctor thinks I'm lying on this one), I've never smoked, and I don't do drugs, but I do drink a cup of tea every day to make myself wake-up.
The Word of Wisdom has always interested me. As a kid it was one of the easy rules to follow— mostly because my parents gave me everything I ate/drank and it was easier than being nice to your siblings. After all, it helped me stay focused (and out of debt) through college.
My Hindu friend and I always compare our religious rules. While neither of us practice anymore, it's cool to compare and talk about why we think these rules were put into place. For example, in the Hindu religion, there is a period of time where you should not eat any fish. My friend says that it actually make ecological sense to not eat fish for a period of time so that the population can replenish.
So like many religious rules, The Word of Wisdom is one of those rules that actually is just common sense. Don't put things in your body that are bad for you.
As a vegetarian I have to question anything I eat, just to make sure it doesn't actually have meat in it. I've also started thinking about the chemicals that are put into my food. The added sugars. The oils that are needlessly added to my restaurant prepared meals. Buying fresh ingredients and prepping meals at home allows me to control what is put into my body. I can use less oil. Use healthier sweeteners. Since I am making meals fresh, there is no need to harsh chemicals or preservatives. And I don't have meat at home so there's no way that could accidentally end up in my food.
In return, my cholesterol has gone down, I have lost 18 pounds (My boyfriend has lost 24... not fair), and we're actually saving money! I feel closer to the food I eat and in turn, feel more in tune with nature as I learn more about it's incredible ability to heal and enrich our lives.