Week 6: Putting It All Together

Outrageous experiments in sensible eating.
Feb. 7 2011 7:52 AM

Week 6: Putting It All Together

When I started Clean Plate on Jan. 1 to try to improve my eating habits, I had a question in mind: Could someone like me--a busy urban professional--eat healthfully without it ruining her life? I had hoped the answer would be yes and that it would be easier than I'd anticipated: that it wouldn't take all my money, time, energy, and brain power. I identified what I thought to be the five largest obstacles to eating sensibly-- confusion , money , time , outside influences , and inertia --and set out to conquer one each week with an experiment related to that obstacle. During Week 1 focused on getting the nutrients my body needs. In Week 2 I attempted to spend as little money as possible. In Week 3 I slowed down the act of eating itself by performing eating meditation. In Week 4 I monitored the outside influences that affect my eating and tried not be sidetracked by temptation or pressure. And in Week 5, last week, I tried to expand my palate by trying new foods. By isolating each obstacle, I'd hoped to discover they weren't as obstructive as I thought or, if they were, to find ways around them.

Ellen Tarlin Ellen Tarlin

Ellen Tarlin is a former Slate copy chief and writer of the "Clean Plate" blog. Her essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Boston PhoenixBrooklyn Bridge, Bark, and  the RISK storytelling podcast. Follow her on Twitter.

Focusing on one obstacle a week was the easy part. In this, the final week, it gets difficult: I have to put all my goals together. What I'm seeking is balance. I'm looking for the perfect formula for eating nutritiously, spending as little money as possible, taking time to eat slowly yet not taking up all my time, buying and preparing all my own food, planning ahead, fulfilling my needs and wants, and eating in the best way for the environment.


But I already know this formula doesn't exist. These goals come into conflict with one another all the time. You can't spend as little money as possible and buy everything organic. You can't buy and prepare all your own food without putting some time into it. You can't plan ahead and be spontaneous. You can't eat only nutrients and fulfill every eating desire. You can't always find or afford organic or locally grown foods.

And so I will have to decide what my priority is going to be. Should my main food concern be health, money, time, satisfaction, or the planet? And once I choose my main priority, what else will go down the trash compactor?

Experiment No. 6: Putting It All Together


The goals for this week are manifold: to continue to eat healthfully, to make smart shopping decisions, to eat slowly and mindfully, to eat foods that satisfy me, and to make the best eating choices for the environment.

I will keep track of which of these come into conflict when and report on it at the end of each day. When I'm standing in the supermarket trying to decide whether to buy conventional or organic bananas, which should I choose: lower cost or planetary health? When I know I should eat a piece of fruit for dessert but I want chocolate, which should I choose: health or satisfaction? When I'm late for work, should I be even later by making my own lunch or pick up something on the way? Should I choose time or money or health?

In the last five weeks, I didn't fully succeed at the experiments. I was particularly bad at spending as little money as possible. For me, desire trumps money: I gotta have my pineapple. On the other hand, there's only so much I'm willing to spend when it comes to organics. It's impossible for me to justify spending $7.49 for 6 ounces of dried organic cranberries when the non-organic ones are only $2.99. But why eat dried cranberries, which are sweetened, at all? For me, desire still comes into conflict with health constantly. When it's time to eat, I still tend to ask myself What do I want? instead of What does my body need? I still have difficulty eating my vegetables when I'm not in the mood. And I continue to struggle with time: I resent having to spend so much of it planning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning up. Other things in my life I care about have fallen by the wayside, so how will I cope when­ I have to face all of these issues at once?

There's little doubt I'll need your input and advice this week. What is your priority when it comes to eating? What do you think mine should be? In what order should I prioritize these goals?

I look forward to reading your comments.


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