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Dharma Kitchen


You Are What You Eat: An Ode to Gypsy Eating



I've been thinking lots about food lately. I know, that's nothing new. But now that the holidays are over and the nonstop crazy deadline carousel has slowed to a manageable pace—you can wave to me as I go by, rather than see me as a blur—I'm able to do some more deep thinking. There's more space for thoughts to creep in and serendipity to occur, and to acknowledge it. This anecdote illustrates a few things, one of which is that I seem to be manifesting at a surprising rate at the moment. People call themselves one thing or another to describe their eating preferences, but they're often loaded with qualifiers that make for some clunky language and explanations. We all start somewhere, whether it's omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, raw foodist. Those are the main categories that come to mind; maybe there are others I'm forgetting.

Beyond that, things become increasingly idiosyncratic, and fast. Fish-eating vegetarian. Former vegetarian turned locavore. Celiac omnivore. Celiac vegetarian. Celiac vegan. Omnivore who cuts out red meat. Omnivore who doesn't eat carbs. Vegan who eats eggs (is that vegan?). Paleo who eats some gluten and dairy (is that paleo?) And I haven't even touched upon people's alcoholic beverage preferences. White vs. red. Run-of-the-mill beer drinkers. Budding mixologists. The more I think about these labels, the less helpful they become, because there are too many qualifiers; yet much of one's identity gets wrapped up in what and how we eat. The language here is as exclusive as it is inclusive.

I don't fit into any of the big boxes—or the small ones—in any kind of neat fashion. I'm sort of homeless, uncategorized, a shapeshifter. I am a gypsy eater; self-sufficient by choice, not by necessity. Omnivorous by definition, but one who leans toward vegetarian fare and loves satisfying one-pot vegan meals. One who does not want to give up a good roasted local chicken or local bacon and who tries to avoid processed foods that contain refined flours and sugars. One who doesn't eat too many processed foods, and whose relationship with sugar and wheat often triggers psychological side effects that are less than desirable. One who tries to make a loose meal plan, but who mostly cooks from templates and tries to go with the flow. One who eats as many things that come out of the earth that I can find, often shopping several times a week. I try not to make a big fuss out of or overthink my choices. I cook in order to nourish myself and my family, and to sustain us through our activities. Gypsies are fluid, dynamic and resilient. Maybe I'm not caravanning to the next park or setting up camp, but food, food helps ground us in this flow called life. Perhaps that's partly what makes the ineffectual nature of these labels such a vexing proposition. If we can't come to terms, how can we come together? Have you tried planning a dinner party recently? Finding a statistical sample of 100 percent omnivores is a rarity.

(An aside: The term gypsy comes with some ancestral anecdotes, too. See also: Middle-European mutt heritage, with Irish and German thrown in. And oddly, I keep thinking of The Riches, that show with Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver, about Irish travelers, as I write this. Without the car crash and con artistry.)

A few hours after I had this brainwave, something else happened that confirmed this amorphous no-man's land I occupy.  I connected with someone on Facebook who, in trying to determine who I am based on FB posts and mutual friends, called me a "foodie." (This is a term that makes me cringe, but it's not his fault). He said he wasn't sure if I was an omnivore or a vegan. As if it were so easy, with no confusing chasm or vagaries in between. Maybe it's as simple as that, but I don't know. (And wouldn't an omnivore ALSO eat vegan foods? See, this is why labels are a problem.) I'm sure he didn't mean to be so dichotomized in his question or mean anything by it. It was simply a point of conversation. I told him I was a food writer, and that I typically eat a 75-80 percent vegetarian diet, but that I try everything, blah blah blah. I realized it was taking me way too long to articulate it, but it was too late. The seed of thought was planted before he even showed up, and here we are now.

I've been turning this idea over for a couple weeks, and it still resonates. I hope to pull this tiny, colorful thread and weave it into other aspects of my life, too. Western culture makes for a population of people who are overprogrammed, overscheduled, overburdened. I want to aim for free time and down time, which permits us some serendipity. We scheduled almost nothing for the weekends in January. If there's no space for anything new, magic cannot happen.

Another synchronicity dawned on me, shortly after drafting this post. My New Year's Day breakfast foretold all of this. I started the year eating Breakaway Farms' gypsy bacon, which is traditionally sliced in chunks and eaten over a campfire.