Editor’s note: Sheree Clark first told this story on stage at the Des Moines Storytellers Project: On Second Thought event. The Des Moines Storytellers Project is a series of storytelling events in which community members work with Register journalists to tell true, first-person stories live on stage. An edited version appears below.
Today for lunch I had a salad as big as your head. It had arugula, chard, romaine, spinach, potatoes, tomatoes, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers — and that’s just the first half of the alphabet.
I eat a vegetarian — sometimes even vegan — and mostly healthy diet.
My dad died of a heart attack in 1979. He was 42, and I was 23. Turns out he had high cholesterol.
His passing didn’t change my lifestyle right away, though. Throughout my 20s, I consumed pretty much what a lot of 20-somethings eat: whatever was cheap, fast, easy … or sold in a liquor store.
But once I entered my 30s, when I became an entrepreneur and had a reason to buy life insurance, I actually got my own numbers checked.
If my total cholesterol had been a bowling score, I’ve have pursued that sport as a career.
Instead, on New Year’s Eve 1992, I made the quiet decision that I would no longer eat meat. And when I say quiet, I literally didn’t tell anyone, including the man I was living with at the time.
I kept quiet because I didn’t want it to be a “thing” in the relationship and frankly because I wasn’t really sure I could even stick to it. And it would be another 6 months before I owned out loud to others that I was “dabbling in vegetarianism.”
And I stuck with it. I didn’t miss the meat — I had never really liked it much anyway.
Around 2002, I gave up dairy. And then, in 2006, I really went bonkers. I decided my diet would be mostly raw vegan, meaning not only no animal products but also nothing heated to over 105 degrees. That translates to no baking, grilling, stir-frying or steaming … although I do have a dehydrator, so I am not a total freak!
I wanted to learn more about how to prepare tasty raw vegan dishes, so in 2007 I went to a raw vegan culinary school. Yes, it’s in California.
Then I started teaching classes right here in Des Moines, and they were really well-received. I gave them fun names like “Chips and Dips that Won’t Go to Your Hips,” “Cakes and Pies that Won’t Go to Your Thighs” and “Skinny in a Glass That won’t go to Your A–.”
In 2012 and 2013, I even hosted an event called Des Moines Raw Food Week that drew hundreds, and for the last five years I have done a TV segment on KCWI where we spent a lot of time talking about healthy food.
It’s not hard for me to keep a diet others would find restrictive. The benefits are amazing: better sleep, nicer skin, more energy, and to me all that outweighs the extra effort required.
But it’s not the easiest way to live, meaning to have a life, especially here in the Pork Belt. You have to be resourceful and plan ahead, and be willing to answer peoples’ questions — the same questions — over and over and over again.
So if in the back of your mind you’re wondering, “I wonder where she gets her protein?” I got you … just, not right now.
Now, I hope you’re not sitting there in judgment of my choices up to this point, but just in case you are, can I tell you that raw vegan isn’t the oddest diet trend you’ll ever hear of. There are fruitarians whose diets are almost exclusively fruit, other people only eat foraged foods and there are even breatharians who insist they need no food because they live purely off prana, which they call living on air.
Sounds a little far-fetched to me, but I then again I kind of understand it.
Because, here’s what happens when I discover things that really work: I just keep setting the bar higher and higher.
For example, when I discovered the benefits of juicing, I decided to go on a juice FEAST and consumed nothing but fresh raw juice for 92 straight days. And when I read about WATER fasting, I checked myself into a facility and did a medically supervised water-fast for 14 days. (Yeah, that was in California, too.)
And at one point on my raw food journey, I decided I wanted to see if I could go an ENTIRE YEAR being 100% raw vegan, eating absolutely nothing cooked and nothing processed. I even gave up my beloved coffee because the beans are roasted.
Thankfully, the juice of fermented grapes is raw. Bring on the pinot.
One Saturday — 50 weeks into my year of 100% raw vegan challenge — I met some friends for brunch. Now, to navigate meeting friends in a restaurant I usually did one of two things: 1) I ate before I went and just had something to drink (Remember the raw pinot?) or 2). I looked up the menu online and decided ahead of time what I might have to bring along.
So on this day I ordered the arugula salad. Substitute avocado for the cheese, please. No dressing (I brought my own) and no pine nuts (I brought those too because theirs are toasted).
The food came. We dug in, and the conversation continued. With my two friends involved in an animated debate, I took a big bite of salad and I realized …
There was roasted red pepper. In. My. Mouth. The salad came with roasted red pepper. HOW could I have missed that?
I froze, mid-chew as my options passed through my mind: flee from the table into the bathroom; spit it into my napkin for a more discrete disposal.
My friends would have been fine no matter what I did — they were used to my ways and probably wouldn’t have noticed anyway. Ultimately, I swallowed it, and said nothing to my companions.
Once I got home, I started thinking maybe I had found the envelopes edge, that place where I’d reached “far enough.” I wanted my diet choices to benefit me, but my own reaction to accidentally eating something admittedly benign made me realize — I had ventured into the perilous waters of militancy.
And what I could also see in that moment was that my militancy had become a sort of prison of my own making. My food choices had practically become my identity. People associated me with healthy eating and specifically with raw foods. I talked about it on TV for Pete’s sake.
So why would I be surprised to have someone I don’t know come up to me and ask for a recipe, or want to talk about protein. How could I not understand why friends didn’t think to include me when they made reservations at the steakhouse? In fact, when I was meeting with my Storytellers coach for this talk, a mutual friend walked up to our table in the coffee shop and said “do they serve RAW FOOD here?”
But the fact is, I have changed. While I love eating raw foods and honestly, I physically feel at my best when I eat 100% raw, it’s not the easiest lifestyle — especially in the winter — or if you also want to have a social life.
Cooked food isn’t the anti-Christ. And raw food isn’t who I am. The truth is, I only have one remaining line in the sand: I don’t eat meat.
So watch carefully when I am on KCWI, and you’ll note a little shift in my messaging. The segment I do now covers all aspects of living your best life … getting better sleep, managing holiday stress, handling the challenges that come with aging.
Here’s the thing: Sometimes the problem isn’t really “The Problem.” If I thought that telling the man I was living with I didn’t eat meat would create a “thing” between us, maybe there was already an issue in the relationship, and it wasn’t whether to add pepperoni to the pizza.
Maybe you’re seeking perfection in one area to make up for another area that you feel you can’t control. Like you’re obsessed with keeping an immaculate house, or working 24/7 when the real problem is a marriage you’re not happy in, or a job that sucks.
But what you’re doing is the equivalent of turning up the car radio in order to drown out the noise of the engine knocking. And that doesn’t fix the car.
So yes, of course, I still talk about food. And I am still a vegetarian — with a special place in her heart for roasted red pepper.
ABOUT THE STORYTELLER: Sheree Clark is a midlife courage coach, TV show host, speaker and author. She has written and spoken on everything from creating your life vision to overcoming career burnout. She appears in a weekly segment on KCWI Channel 23, while maintaining a coaching practice called Fork in the Road, where she helps clients to attain and create authentically fulfilling lives.
The 2019 Storytellers season
During our fourth season, there will be only one show per evening starting at 7 p.m. Your ticket will include a reserved seat, so no more saving spots or rushing to arrive early.
Tickets, which start at $12, are on sale now at DesMoinesRegister.com/Storytellers; by phone at 1-800-745-3000; or at the Hoyt Sherman Place box office, 1501 Woodland Ave., Des Moines.
The 2019 themes:
- My First Time: The awkward enlightenment of coming of age (Aug. 20)
- True Tall Tales: Stories so bizarre and mysterious they have to be true (Oct. 29)
- Holiday Spectacular: Family, faith and reasons we gather at the end of the year (Dec. 17)
Become a teller
The Des Moines Storytellers Project strongly believes that everyone HAS a story and everyone CAN tell it. None of the storytellers who take our stage are professionals. They are your neighbors, friends or co-workers, and they are coached to tell by Register journalists.
Want to tell your story at one of our upcoming Storytellers Project events? Read our guidelines and submit a story by clicking “Tell” at DesMoinesRegister.com/Storytellers.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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Hear past storytellers
WATCH: Mediacom rebroadcasts stories from the most recent show on MC22 periodically; check local listings for times.
LISTEN: Check out the Des Moines Storytellers podcast, which is available on iTunes and Stitcher.
ONLINE: Videos from this and other Storytellers events can be found at DesMoinesRegister.com/Storytellers under “Watch & Listen.”