Food and the Unique Self: Humility and Curiosity

Double Helix

Last April I made the move from vegetarian (which I had been for about a year) to vegan. I also gave up processed sugars and modern grains (e.g., wheat and corn). 

I haven't felt this good in decades. I'm the slimmest I've been in 30 years and, at 60, feel younger than I did at 40 or 50. 

Now, of course there are downsides. Many restaurants are utterly puzzled or, worse, helpless in the face of my food requests. I'm not the easiest dinner guest. However, by and large, there's little struggle with this move. My bride and I eat diverse, delicious food. I eat as much as I want of just about anything that is within my dietary world (except cashews and cashew butter, for which I have a profound passion and apparently no upper limit). 

So, is this blog post a pitch for becoming a vegan?


This blog post is about the intimately particular dietary needs of each of us. Even my health coach, Vaughn Gray, did not recommend (nor does he discourage) a vegan diet. That was my choice, for me.

My work with Vaughn did educate me enormously about food, exercise, gene expression, and a philosophy of human identity that guides my eating choices every day. I'm deeply grateful for his guidance.

However, I'm absolutely, positively not saying that you, or anyone, should eat as I eat. What I want to stress today is that, while there are some good general guidelines that apply across most humans, none of them is universally applicable and are, at best, simply general guidelines. 

Increasingly, science is teaching us that the perfect diet for me is almost certainly not the perfect diet for you. In a recent blog post in the New York Times, Kate Murphy notes that "each of us is unique in the way we absorb and metabolize nutrients." And it's not just our genetic differences that make this so. Our diverse body types, gut bacteria, and chemical exposures also contribute to the huge diversity among humans in processing food. 

So, does this mean that I can eat whatever I want and be healthy, because no set of national guidelines can possible capture my uniqueness? 

Um, no again. These guidelines that apply to most people (e.g., avoid processed sugar), probably apply to you, too.

What it does mean that each of us could stand to have a blend of humility and curiosity about our food choices: "humility" in the sense that each of us is on a one-person journey about our health, and "curiosity" in the sense that a researcher brings an open, curious mind to his/her experiments, collecting data along the way and then revising the experiment to gain more useful data. 

Humility and curiosity. Actually, these mindsets are not only a pretty good approach to food, but a pretty good approach to life, in general.