Should I eat this?
Or how I stopped worrying about looking good naked
Before we both forget, go ahead and join the community here at Get Real, Man. It won’t help you look better naked (I mean, maybe it could) but it will help you feel better.
For as long as I can remember, the highpoint of my health goals was to look good naked. I planned every meal around my daily macros. My weekly recipes had the perfect nutrient load. I devoted myself to my Levels app, guarding against any glycemic response. I didn’t count calories; I tracked protein, complex carbs, Vitamins A through Z, and fat levels down to the gram. On Saturday mornings I faithfully submitted to the scale and the measuring tape. Every number went into my digital database. Next to those numbers were pictures where I started to see the contours of my abs and the prominence of my pecs. And for the first time, I was proud of the way I looked. I liked who I was becoming.
My quest to look good naked took me around the globe in search of the perfect diet. One commanded raw vegetables, meat, and ghee. Another preached lots of olive oil, fish, and nuts. A third insisted I cut out nightshades (what is a nightshade and why can’t I eat it?) But none of those diets ever included bread. Being healthy required denying the joys of the baguette. Gluten was responsible for our increasing waist lines, brain fog, and heart disease.
From the deepest holes of the internet I moved on to every Whole Foods in California. I walked the cream stucco stores, all exactly the same, in search of some forgotten elixir. All I found was piles of precisely perfect produce sitting on the open shelf displays. I remember the plump Roma tomatoes and shiny Pink Lady apples as if they were a magazine spread. I remember the absence of any smell. There was no variation. They were barely real.
There’s no moment where I remember realizing that I wasn’t healthy. After all, I had abs. But I was still disturbed, still getting sick a few times a year. Something just didn’t quite fit.
Today my daughter and I are making bread. We’ve both donned our aprons: mine is blue denim and hers is sea-foam green adorned with cartoon lions and monkeys. The walnut butcher block reflects the morning light shining through the window and lights up our tools: two tubs for mixing, a digital food scale with a sticker of Mickey stuck to it, an analog thermometer to make sure the water is right, and a stone mill for grinding the flour.
She reaches her hand into the burlap sack on the counter. Inside, the wheat berries are an explosion of variations on tan, almost like the color of bamboo, with the occasional pea green berry catching our eyes. As she grabs with her hands, a smell of late summer grass after a thunderstorm escapes from the bag. “They call that terroir” I tell her. We both smile at each other, enjoying the smell and the way it holds back, waiting for us to celebrate it. As she fills the bowl with berries, they rustle as if they remember the sound of the wind blowing through high fields.
As we get started, my daughter grinds the wheat berries in the mill and we sift out the bran so the flour piles in the large bin. At least half as much covers her apron, and a bit painting her smile. We rhythmically pour water over the flour hill before we eagerly plunge our hands in. The slurry is warm and grainy, like hot sand, and sticks to our fingers and palm. She stirs with her whole arm for a minute, then she tells me it’s getting too hard. I take over. Later we’ll add salt and the sweet levain bubbling in the small container. The cherry trees out back are too young to offer us the tart fruit, but I’m already planning cherry almond sourdough bread.
Once everything is mixed, we cover it and let it sit. The last ingredient is patience. A lesson for both of us.
Eventually, even looking good wasn’t enough. I needed a new mission, one beyond myself, and I found it in the climate fight. So I set out to prove that I could look good naked AND save the planet, all through my daily meals. Cows were farting methane and CAFOs were polluting our waters. And I was convinced I had been part of the problem. Ready to be part of the solution, I stopped eating meat. Sure, my protein routine needed some adjusting, but I felt healthy – morally and physically.
I was so unhealthy.
Looking into the science behind the nutrition industry, I grew more confused. Is methane from cows a problem, or are cows necessary to solve the climate crisis? Scientists say both. Why are so many nutritional studies unreplicable? How much do we really understand about food and our body? Every time I asked another question, another startup tried to convince me of their newly engineered “better for me and the environment” food. I was so confused, I started to doubt if I knew what food was.
Maybe health isn’t about the food we eat. At least not like we were taught. We want a quick answer – eat this, not that – but I think that health is more history than science. Science classifies the species of broccoli, but ignores the wellness of the soil, the mycorrhizal network and the microbes and the other plants that contributed to the building blocks of this specific crown. We don’t have the computing power to model the relationships in the soil, nor the interest in understanding the relationships above it. I barely know if these are the right words to describe what’s little more than a feeling: something akin to confidence and humility and joy with a heaping of awe baked in.
No scientist could get funding to study my body’s reaction to the history of the soil. And what about the even weirder questions? Is a pepper given as a gift healthier than a pepper I bought? I don’t see anyone ever studying that. Imagine someone controlling my mood as I cook and studying the effects on my health. I’m giggling thinking about it. Those beliefs are way too “woo” for modern science. But I think they’re key.
I open the oven while my daughter sets the metal cooling rack on the counter. Notes of almonds, cranberries, and yeast fill the kitchen. I have to hold her back from grabbing the loaf. We both want to tear pieces off with our bare hands, to see the pockets of warm air and feel the crust’s crunch under our teeth. Maybe that lesson on patience didn’t stick.
Since I’ve started living this way, my waist isn’t quite as flat. I no longer marvel at my pecs in the mirror, and the scale isn’t going down at the same half pound a week. But I do have these memories with my daughter. I feel well enough to enjoy life again. And I know the fields and the yard as my friends.
Finally the bread is cool enough to taste. The loaf presses back against the knife, but it eventually succumbs. In that first bite, both of us drift off. I’m thinking about those cherry trees again. I wonder what she sees when her eyes are far off. And I wonder how I can teach her what health really means.
I’d love to know what health looks like for you. Both selfishly so I can teach my children and because it’s such a complex, confusing topic. If you’re open to sharing, leave a comment for us all to learn together.