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Awake at the Whisk: Surviving the Potluck Unprocessed?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Surviving the Potluck Unprocessed?

Potluck: Unprocessed?
I blame it on the unlucky number 13 that marks today’s date. In the middle of my unprocessed October, I ate pie. I attended a potluck. And it did me in.

This is the trickery of the potluck. You just don’t know what you’re eating. There are no labels to turn over—just rows and rows of unmarked, Tupperware'd food.

Potlucks are always tricky for me to begin with. As a vegetarian, I never know what veggie-coated casserole has ground beef lurking beneath, or which rice was made from chicken stock. I often find myself loading my plate heavily with desserts at these affairs. Hey, at least I get some calories.

Recently, I attended a potluck at which iceberg lettuce and melted Velveeta were featured. These dishes were meant to have a Frito-dipped tongue-in-cheek reference to the horrific foods of our past. Thankfully, not everyone had a beer-battered past. Amid the homemade chicken nuggets and crumbled beef bake there was a clean spinach salad and freshly baked corn tortillas. A bit of pale eggplant poked its shiny skin through some noodles. The noodles might not have been whole wheat, but they were bobbing alongside a real vegetable.

On a normal day, these dishes would have made an adequate lunch. But this was a potluck! The entire point of these affairs is to dine on a wide variety of your fellow diners’ dishes. It’s the focal point of potluck conversation: “Oh, this pasta salad is delicious! Who made it? What do you use in your dressing?” Then a story ensues, and eaters learn about Great Aunt Mable’s famous sponge cake. Perhaps even a recipe or two is shared. Potlucks are about sharing and interaction—not a large helping of salad and a side of bread.

So, as with most potlucks, I found myself easing my way down to the dessert end of the buffet table. Cookies oozing jelly filings, swirly-topped cheesecakes, and pudgy brownies. I tried to resist. I really did! I thought of my dear readers fighting courageously to back away from the donut in the deli and turn a blind eye to the bright orange bag of chips at the checkout counter. And as I dutifully passed by the cakes and cookies, I saw a glowing halo of meringue glistening in the fluorescent lights.

Delicious meringue? Or processed sugar?
I love meringue.

At the age of 16, I lived in Denmark for a year. My host brother and I would whip egg whites and sugar until it fluffed and pillowed. Then we would gobble it up by the spoonfuls while listening to The Beatles and giggling.

Delicious meringue!

I could not resist. We all have our weaknesses. 

During a month of unprocessed, it is easy to walk quickly through the pastry aisle of the supermarket, or avoid entering the restaurants where you know you can’t win. It’s easy to replace your bag of white flour with a bag of whole wheat flour in your home kitchen.

But attend a potluck and stand in front of the dessert table, and suddenly you find your free will slipping. I have commitment of steel. Normally, if I make a decision, I stick to it. When I gave up meat at the age of 16, I quit cold turkey and never looked back. When I decided to ban baking mixes from my life in my 20’s and make every dessert from scratch, it stuck. I have never since visited the pre-baked shelves of any grocery store. In the last 13 days, I have pulled my hand back when I saw it reaching for a mini chocolate bar on my co-worker’s desk. Strong as nails.

But today, the meringue did me in. I sliced into that pillowy top with my plastic potluck knife, and I plunked a luscious slice of gooey processed-sugary lemony evil right onto my plate. I felt my pulse rise in anticipation, and my mouth willingly participated in the pie's sweet consumption.

It’s funny how sugar works. For nearly two weeks, I have been dining healthfully on soups and salads for lunch. Light. Fresh. Clean. I have felt fully awake and productive. Yet, when that yellow pie hit my veins, it actually didn’t feel good. I crawled back to my desk and tried to focus on work. I was distracted. I tried to explain something to my colleague. I forgot my train of thought. And then I got very sleepy.

Evil meringue!

Thankfully, this pie incident has reaffirmed my commitment to eating unprocessed. I have no interest in repeating that sugar-crash feeling.

Just as I suspected, this experiment is waking me up. On most days, I believe I am a healthy eater. Yet, I’ve never resisted a delicious sugar high. Sugar is happiness, right? Well, boy was I wrong.

I promise! I’m back on the unprocessed wagon. I’m back to my local honey and coconut sugar. I have a feeling I won’t be falling off again.

How has your month of unprocessed gone so far? Any trigger foods that have done you in? Any social affairs that are making an unprocessed life more difficult? Do tell!

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I've had a few temptations mid-month, mostly weird sugar cravings (I usually hate sweets) -- but the worst slip was eating the best off the menu on a day my office ordered in for us. Let's just say that the fast food restaurant's definition of veggie sandwich on wheat and mine have departed pretty radically. One terrible sandwich and headache later, I had no urge to stray again. ;-)
Gardenatrix--Group eating is so difficult. I think it's amazing how our bodies are telling us how much they prefer unprocessed! Thanks for sharing this.
Thanks for stopping by my blog! Love the name of yours. I am not as 100% committed to the unprocessed bandwagon as you are. I can barely get food on the table for my family daily, let alone find the ingredients I would need in our dearth of grocery stores to provide a wholly unprocessed experience. But I am using the month as an opportunity to think about the ingredients I am using and see where I can improve them, even if it is incremental. I take solace in the fact that compared to the average grocery cart I look at in the store, we are doing pretty well in our household. But there is always room for creativity and improvement.

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