In 2013, I read David A. Kessler’s somewhat horrifying yet engrossing book The End of Overeating, in which he provides an inside look at how the food industry perpetually entices us to shove the ideal mix of sugar, fat, salt, and who knows what else down our throats.
After being shown how I was being taken for a ride by companies that say they prepare “food,” but want us to be loyal patrons of junk, I committed to making changes in my diet. I bought fewer prepared foods, read food labels more consistently, and ate more fruits and vegetables.
Doing these things helped me try out cooking a little more and expand my palate. I’m still not a good cook, but purchasing food in a purer state increased my awareness of the hidden ingredients in packaged foods and even restaurant fare.
And yet, I would not bring my lunch to work. For the past 20 years, I have been an idly aspiring, largely unsuccessful brown bagger. Instead, I have spent most lunch hours wandering downtown like a mangy coyote in search of the elusive and healthy five dollar meal. I still haven’t figured out if it exists in D.C.
I used my recent job shift as an opportunity to make a commitment to brown bagging it. I examined my excuses for not bringing my lunch:
- I don’t cook well.
- Preparing meals takes up too much time.
- There is a space shortage in my bags, especially when I run-commute.
I then pondered my reasons for wanting to prepare my own lunch:
- I prefer to spend my money on food I really desire, and not something I’m settling for at midday because I’m starving.
- I dislike waiting in line.
- I like more control over my eating schedule– what I eat when I want to eat it.
- I would know more about the food I’m eating, including where it came from, and how it is prepared and seasoned.
- I think I’d eat better in the long run if I brought my own lunch.
I thought about the time I spend walking to a lunch spot and waiting in line for service. How about applying that time to preparing food the evening or morning before work?
I considered the food going into my body– preservatives, sodium, fat. I really did not know the truth about the ingredients in my food. Even though I may not have a complete understanding of that in the grocery store either, at least I have a better idea of what I’m consuming.
I defeated all my excuses for not preparing my own meals, one by one. I don’t have to be a good cook to eat better. I don’t have to bake casseroles or spend lots of time on brown bag meal prep. I refused to accept that it was impossible for me to find a small space for my lunch in my work pack or pannier.
On December 1, New Job Day, I also kicked off a new habit. I brought my lunch in with me. Since then, I’ve only bought lunch out twice. Both instances were pre-planned treats.
I store my lunch in an insulated lunch bag that is soft, rather than rigid. That allows me more options for storing food in my panniers or running pack.
I’ve kept my brown bag lifestyle a simple one, founded primarily on fresh fruits and vegetables with a side of sardines or canned salmon and the occasional sweet potato. I am not adding salt or seasonings to my food. It’s sort of boring, but I think that many foods don’t need much to bring out their flavor.
This brown bag way may seem like no big deal to people, but to me it has been huge, in an overwhelmingly positive way. By having my lunch with me, I save time by not wondering where and what I’m going to eat each day.
I can exert more control over my diet. I eat before I’m at the point of hungry where my energy level plummets and I’m vulnerable to making poor eating choices. I’m less hungry throughout the day and my energy doesn’t elevate and sag like it did when I relied on outside eating. I don’t crave sweets as much during work hours, although I still like them a lot!
My food digests better. No more bread that doesn’t settle well, mystery marinades, and food that may be past its prime. And what a reduction in the amount of waste! I love using reusable food containers, and eating with real silverware and a cloth napkin.
I have also noticed a tangible difference in my bank account. I spend more money on groceries, but still come out ahead of the game overall. While saving money was not my primary reason for going the brown bag route, it’s nice to see it rewarded with a few extra pennies in my pocket. More for biking and running gear! Wait, I mean more for savings!
I’ve always been under the impression that people bring their lunch because they want to save money. Maybe some do, but I was a dope for thinking this was the only reason. This small lifestyle change has altered my work days for the better. I’m proud to be a member of the brown bag nation. Here’s hoping I stick with it.