Year for a Planet is a personal challenge to be a better human for the planet for a whole year. This year, 2017, is where I deal with my food choices.
This week, I decided to fix the first thing that I encounter in the morning: breakfast.
I eat 4 to 5 times a day, so I might as well pick the first one on the list.
I am not a morning person, and it had always seemed very difficult to eat consciously since I’m always groggy when I wake up. I have insomnia and usually need a sleeping pill to knock me out. When I wake up in the morning, I usually stumble back into bed. I need at least two alarm clocks in the morning.
My breakfast is usually composed of bread. A lot of bread. With processed cheese. And about two cans of iced coffee. While this might not seem catastrophic for the planet, there is a lot of waste involved and these never filled me up so I would be nibbling on junk food all day.
And it was also bad for my health because hello, processed cheese. With a lot of hidden sugars and unpronounceable chemicals, it was a migraine in a box with an extra layer of aluminum foil because of course this toxic block of nothing was going to fall apart without it.
A game that sucked to play
Back when I was getting into martial arts the first time, I remember being indecisive during the day on whether I was going to attend the class at night. Will I or will I not make it to class? was the question I asked myself every half hour. A thousand and one excuses crept into my mind on why I shouldn’t go.
One day, I realized that the will-I-or-won’t-I was a game that sucked to play. I was stressing myself out for something I was not sure if I was committed to, which harmed myself in the long run. It was a game that I could not win, and only repeated itself the next day. When I did make it to class after a long day’s worth of thinking, only 50% of my energy was committed to the class. The other 50% had already been wasted on unnecessary thinking.
So one day, I simply decided I was going to train every day. Every single day, without even thinking about whether I wanted to or not. I treated taekwondo like taking a bath—I just did it, without having to write it down into my lengthy daily to-do lists.
This decision changed everything for me. It stopped the voice in my head that supplied me with many colorful excuses, and I was able to give more of myself to the classes. (It also meant that I was at the gym on Sundays, which the coach found rather odd. But that’s another story.) In grad school, where I spent long nights toiling at the computer, it meant that at 6 pm I automatically backed away from my desk and walk to my taekwondo school five blocks away. It just became part of my body’s default settings. The unintended benefit was that I progressed so quickly and efficiently that I went through several belt tests. My focus was not fragmented, and so I was able to make the most of my time.
Changing my default settings
It was with this mindset that I decided to fix my breakfast. My brain’s default was on an unhealthy setting, so I had to find another set of gears to shift into. I needed a plan that would make life so much easier that it added enough value and convenience to make me willing to commit to it. I’m also pretty minimalist in life; I’m not very fussy in the kitchen and like to keep most recipes down to six ingredients or less.
I despise fad diets. I’ve had people tell me to go Paleo, gluten-free, and a bunch of other diets over the years, only to have science debunk them one by one. These things usually require that you opt into buying a book, an app, special equipment, specific foods, an online community, or other things I do not have time for. I just wanted to eat healthy for myself and for the planet, not to join a cult. I always wondered what happened to these people who evangelized these disproven diets—do they lose a part of their identity? Or do they do ahead and believe it anyway, like astrology?
So. Ta-dah! I fixed my breakfast by being one of those people who make overnight oats in mason jars. I make enough for the whole week. Here is the recipe that has worked for me:
1/2 cup soy milk
1/2 cup oatmeal
1 Tablespoon unsweetened peanut butter
1 teaspoon chia seeds
I place them all in a mason jar, mix them well, and place them in the refrigerator overnight.
What I like about this is that it’s simple, easy to integrate in my routine, and most importantly, allows me to buy in bulk so I produce less waste. A plant-based meal that is inexpensive, healthy, packed full of nutrients, can be modified in case I get tired of the flavor, and can be scaled up or down depending on how much I fuel I need. Most importantly, it’s something I look forward to eating every morning. I also like the fact that I’m using glass. Good old reusable sturdy pretty glass! I only had one mason jar at home, so for the others I use recycled glass jars. A Google search for “overnight oats recipes” will give you dozens of results, so if peanuts end up extinct because of climate change, there will be other things I can eat.
So far, it’s been keeping me full until my next meal and it’s one less decision I have to make during a busy day. Overnight oats are the jeans-and-turtle-neck (or hoodie) of the breakfast world—it works, and you don’t waste precious time thinking about it. Prep time is less than five minutes. For the whole week.
If I were to rate this new practice, I would give it a 4 out of 5 stars. If only there was a way to source all of these ingredients locally, as some of them are imported from other countries. Later in the year, I will experiment on making some of these ingredients myself, or finding a local supplier. One thing at a time. But for now, mornings just became a lot easier.