My Food Journey

My Food Journey from Vegan to Omnivore by Completely Golden Tess Palma-Martinez breakfast platter avocado honey and fruit.jpg

I grew up in an unconscious relationship with food, and often used it as a coping mechanism to deal with the struggles of my childhood. I went through college without ever really connecting to, or thinking about the food I ate. My diet consisted of anything and everything- McD’s nuggets, pasta, a can of chickpeas, 3am servings of cheese fries, lots of cheese doodles, and an occasional veggie. The first vegetarian I met only ate grilled cheese. I had no idea about the power of food, let alone how our bodies responded to it.

After college, in 2009, I flew to LA and it my changed life. I went to drum circles and yoga classes and met my first Vegan. I capitalize the V because the concept was otherworldly. It wasn’t until returning to NYC when I began working at a vegan restaurant named Peacefood Cafe and adopted the lifestyle.

Peacefood and the community of staff and customers alike, transformed my idea about the world. I was so engrossed in the vegan lifestyle that sometimes I forgot there were other ways of living. I even convinced my mom and grandmother to give up meat. Aside from the identity that often comes along with being vegan, I learned a lot about food- different kinds of vegetables and fruits, how to use them as ingredients in place of animal products, and so many kinds of diets- raw, macrobiotic, fruitarian. A world was blown open for me to explore, and it included all kinds of “alternative” lifestyles. I committed to veganism for 5 years.

At the end of those 5 years, I started to have a recurring dream. I would be in someone else’s kitchen, open their refrigerator, take out a carton of eggs, cook the eggs and then eat them. These dreams created so much internal struggle- what did it mean and why was it happening? I told my acupuncturist/herbal practitioner and she said very calmly- “you should start eating eggs.” I was aghast. How could I eat something I had stood against for so many years? How could I change my identity?

I should mention that there were two other elements that aided in my transition away from veganism- and this is completely personal.

  1. I started to annoy myself. When I was eating with other people- either out to dinner or at their homes, I found myself annoying. It was as if I was watching myself from above, rolling my eyes, every time I asked “can I look at the list of ingredients?” I was creating a disconnect in my life with my restrictions and was becoming uncomfortable.

  2. I wasn’t healthy. Yes, I was vegan and there is an implied healthiness there- but in reality, I was eating fried food, cakes, pizza, and fake nuggets. When I compare this diet to my earlier “unconscious” way of eating- the only difference was the lack of animal products. AND in most cases- instead of animal products, I was eating super processed ingredients like fake cheese, soy meats, and filler/binders to keep things together.

YES, you can be healthy and be vegan! I connect my diet choices at that point in my life to my lack of knowledge or interest in plants (aka vegetables, fruits and herbs) and how they worked with my body.

So back to the eggs- I ate one, and I loved it. Cheese also entered my diet and I slid into the category of Vegetarian, for 3 years. I started exploring my relationship with food and a natural lifestyle a teeny bit more by cooking and working at a natural food store, but from where I stand now in my journey- I was still not making good (for me) food decisions.

Then, I began dreaming about eating fish. Internally, I was at odds. Was my desire for fish worthy of taking that fish’s life? What if I eat fish and get food poisoning? What if I eat fish and my body can’t handle it and I get sick? What will other people from my vegan and vegetarian communities think of me?

On my dear friend Jenya’s 30th birthday, our other dear friend and amazing private chef, Jenn Lee, made her famous Nobu Miso Black Cod dish. Of all the meals to take the leap, I couldn’t have chosen better. I knew she had sourced the best fish and prepared it with love and expertise. It was incredibly satiating and nourishing. I was now officially pescatarian. I didn’t go on to eat fish at every meal, or every day, or every week. It was a mild addition to my diet- when it felt right. I was pescatarian for one year.

Then, came the meat phase. I became curious about meat and realized it was for real after buying the Sunday Suppers cookbook solely based on their buttermilk chicken recipe. It still took some time to take that first bite, and it took me completely by surprise when it happened. I had met my then-boyfriend on his lunch break and watched closely as he ate a turkey sandwich. Suddenly, I leaned forward and took a bite of his sandwich from the back. It shocked us both, but that was a moment that shifted everything. I started eating as much meat as I could for the first few months- always from local and humane farms!

Here is the simplest way I have come to describe it: Going vegan made me really light and eating meat grounded me. I felt a noticeable shift in my energy and vitality- I became stable, sturdy, and connected. I call this phase- plant based omnivore. Now, I eat mostly vegetables with meat once or twice a month.

I have adopted something from each phase of my food journey- living primarily vegan, or as I like to say “plant-based” and utilizing animal products as a condiment. About 90% of my diet would be considered vegan, and more than half of that is raw (uncooked).

I love cooking. I love experimenting with recipes and substitutions and have made my fair share of bad bakes that ended in the compost. Most of all- I feel connected to the food I eat. I eat certain foods to align with my hormonal cycles and have healed my body, mind and spirit in so many ways. When I gave up identifying as one specific thing, I was able to expand. Now I know I will never stop expanding or changing, and I have many more phases of my life left to live.

Tell me about your food journey- the twists and turns and what you’ve found to work for your body, in this phase.

XO, tess