The Project

Buckle in for a long one, folks. This is all of the business that’s been going on in my life and has been very much on my mind over the last several months, but which I haven’t been writing about here. It seemed silly not to tell you all about it.

Last year all the election talk and excitement got me thinking about the issues that were most important to me and what I wanted to do or could to to make positive changes in my own life — changes that could also have an effect on the world around me. I decided at some point during all of the frenzied election-season thinking, doing, donating, and petition-signing that I wanted something to keep doing once it had all passed. I needed a Project. I love Projects.

After some thought, I eventually decided that The Project would be geared toward finding ways to be less wasteful and more environmentally sustainable at home. In a town that doesn’t even offer curbside pick up for recycling, this was going to be interesting. I wanted to do something more than just changing to a more efficient lightbulb and dragging my recyclables across town, though. The more I thought about what I had read in various sources, the more often one specific thought kept returning to my mind. I’d heard over and over that one of the simplest and most effective eco-friendly things a person can do is to eat less meat. I wanted to look into it.

Having been a vegetarian for several years when I was younger, I was already familiar with the business of vegetables (and a seedy business THAT is, oh ho ho HO), but I didn’t know or understand much about how it was connected to environmentalism. The day I ordered John Robbins’ books, Diet for a New America and The Food Revolution (that day was November 5th, I recall), I already knew that what I was about to do was going to change everything for me. By that day I had already cut meat out of my home kitchen and was toying with the idea of going completely vegetarian or even vegan, dependent on the results of my reading and my eating. I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to land (Eat less meat? Eat no meat? Eat no animal products at all? What would I be capable of, or even willing to do?). I did know I wanted to give myself the opportunity to be more thoughtful and deliberate in my choices rather than simply living off of whiskey and cheeseburgers because those things (at least in the moment) felt good. I had occasion to reevaluate who I was and who I was becoming. I had occasion to change things. As the late great MJ said, I had to start with the [wo]man in the mirror.

I haven’t written much about The Project here beyond brief mentions because it can be alienating to talk about. I don’t know why, but whenever a person mentions something like this (something new they are trying, a new regime of sorts, especially in the realm of diet or exercise), the people around them feel obliged to pipe up with unsolicited advice or challenges. It just is that way — I am guilty of it myself, as I am sure many of my friends can attest. Nonetheless, in my case, people have often responded with the polite but ultimately ignorant and condescending inquiry as to how I am getting any protein (seriously, have these people never heard of beans, grains, nuts?). Many other times I’ve fielded the faux-admiring declaration, “I don’t know how you do it! I could just NEVER give up CHEESE.” In that case, the reality is that a) such a person is not actually admiring my cheese-related stoicism but rather using this conversational moment as a place to voice a pro-cheese platform, emphasizing the degree of their cheese-love as a badge of honor and b) such a person just doesn’t WANT to give up cheese, not when they love it so much. And I certainly don’t care. If you determine for whatever reason that cheese is something you no longer want to eat, you can just stop eating it. If you want to eat cheese? If the reasons not to eat cheese are not compelling for you? Eat the cheese. It’s not about the cheese.

Ahem. Sorry. I have just been wanting to clear up the cheese situation for a while now.

I don’t want it to be alienating to talk about The Project, but it often is. I find myself struggling to keep the above cheese monologue internal; I find myself thinking bad, judgy thoughts about other people that I really oughtn’t be thinking, and at the same time suspecting that they’re thinking similarly bad and judgy thoughts about me. Sometimes people seem defensive, as if they’re worried that I think I’m on some ethical higher ground, and then it becomes important for me to say that The Project has been about me and my choices. I may be justified in feeling superior to Past Me, but certainly to no one else.

So anyway, I haven’t said much about it here because I just wasn’t sure it was a Zemblan Grammar kind of thing to write about. It requires me to be too earnest, and y’all KNOW how I feel about over-earnestness.

Nonetheless, I want to tell you about the changes I have been making in my diet because those changes have wound up affecting every other little hidden corner of my life. I’ve been eating and experiencing food in completely new ways, expanding my creativity and knowledge. (It’s true; I am a font of food and nutrition knowledge and you will have a very difficult time stopping me from sharing it all with you in what I’m sure must be excruciating detail.)

In the past nine months, I’ve not only been paying attention to where my food comes from but also what it does for my body. At the start of last school year, my friend Golightly and I started running regularly at the gym and we’ve kept it going all year. I’ve joined a yoga class and started doing Jillian Michaels’ incredibly grueling workout DVDs (if you think the 30-Day Shred is tough, No More Trouble Zones will kick your ass up one side and down the other and YOU WILL LIKE IT). I’m finally buying a bicycle this week to replace my old cruiser — I’ve surprised myself by choosing a sportier model and entertaining fantasies of someday biking a half century. I am finally reclaiming my health and fitness.

Alongside the near-vegan diet and the exercise, other things have naturally fallen into place. Without really thinking about it, I’ve cut back drastically on the amount of alcohol I’ve been drinking and have completely quit smoking. Don’t get me wrong here, I am not swearing off the booze completely. The whiskey references and occasional drunken/sentimental posts will surely still be a feature here, just less often and in limited amounts.

You would think all this virtous and healthy living would make a person instantly skinny and fit, but there you would be wrong. Vegans can still eat French fries, pizza, and burritos the size of their own legs, so it appears. Although I’ve been working out and avoiding animal products for nearly a year, I am still toting around most of the Dissertation Weight I picked up during those few rough years in grad school. I mean, if you spend enough time treating yourself like a brain in a jar (a jar filled with Bulleit Bourbon, French Fries, and cheese), it tends to add up. At this point The Project has expanded to focus on that problem: I’ve been watching how much I eat and stepping up the exercise. I have even planned to run in two upcoming 5Ks, a fact which shocks, terrifies, and excites me (not least because one of the races is in AUGUST in MISSISSIPPI — please tell me I am not insane).

That combination of emotions, though, is a nice encapsulation of what this whole experience has been like for me. I never thought I would be willing to give up cheese myself, let alone have any interest in soy milk, flax seeds, seitan, or any of the other new foods I’ve added to my kitchen. I never thought I would find myself signing up for actual running races, where you compete against other people (competition and other people being two of my life’s greatest turn-offs). I am surprising myself pretty frequently, and for once the surprise is not how many consecutive hours I can spend on the couch in front of a Buffy marathon.

Speaking of the couch, I have actually gotten to the place avid athletes always brag about — I have become addicted to exercise. When I don’t get enough physical activity, I feel restless. I can’t fall asleep easily (let alone nap! holy dogs!) without my daily workout, and I get antsy if I’ve been on the couch too long. I certainly never thought this would happen to me, a long-avowed disciple of The Couch, but I suppose when you launch a new Project, you can’t ever really say where it will take you. I think I like where I’m going so far.


  1. I will not say I’m *proud* of you (although I am) because that is sentimental in a way we are not sentimental, but being privy to many conversations about these changes you’ve made has me both impressed and glad to see the way they’ve positively effected you. I hope I wasn’t one of the ones who said “I could NEVER give up cheese,” but am sure I probably was, but I agree with you that if I really did want to, I just would.
    Your Project & talking about it with you has certainly made me rethink a lot of the ways I approach food and what I do (or don’t do (raising a fist in the general direction of Jillian Michaels and her DVDs)) to/with my body. You have certainly set a standard that I admire and would someday like to strive toward (even if I don’t give up cheese). AND, quite simply, you have motivated me to get my lazy ass up off the couch and start exercising again as well. Also, wanting to get fit motivated me to buy a Wii & Wii Fit, so I should thank you for that too.
    I’m glad I get to know all the gritty details about your Project, & mostly I’m glad I’ve gotten to see all the positive changes it’s meant for you. Oh, look, there I went and got a little bit sentimental. Here, I’ll bring it back down. I could NEVER give up bacon. NEVER. Heh.
    Keep on keeping on, lady. And don’t worry, those of us who invited you & are joining you in that 5k in MS in AUGUST are just as insane as you are.


  2. Well, I am downright jealous, because these are the things I need to do and yet always find a way to avoid. I am excellent at distracting myself with The Couch, and therefore feel bit of inspiration at what you have accomplished, simply because you wanted to.


  3. Aw, thanks, C. I am really glad you and Rubyverbena are going to be doing that 5k of insantiy with me. This way if we all perish of heat stroke, we will have each other to tell our last words to. On the toehr hand, it is entirely possible that we will all just ROCK IT.

    P – It took me almost a year to get this going – you have to start with one small thing (in my case it was running 3x a week – that happened way before the food thing, actually). Anyway, you will find your thing!


  4. S – Thanks. And are you sure you’re not actually a sock-puppet account created by my dad?

    On another note, HOLY WOW, look at the typos in my previous comment. I think I’ll leave them there to prove that even English profs do that shit from time to time. Or, you know, all the time.


  5. Good luck on your project! I’ve been enjoying following your exercise and diet updates on Twitter, and it’s motivating me to keep up with my own exercise regimen. Don’t worry too much about racing other people in those 5ks; it’s all about getting a good time for yourself and having fun. (Although running with other people does motivate you to run a little faster than you normally would!)


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