You know, it’s not every day that I broach the subject of our “family project” with a complete stranger only to have them respond, “Oh, me too!” but that’s exactly what happened to me the other day on the train.
We were traveling down to New York City for the purpose of celebrating our daughter Greta’s eleventh birthday and I ended up sitting next to and striking up a conversation with a lovely woman named Lori who didn’t respond at all the way people do when I start to tell them that our family isn’t eating sugar for a year.
Her eyes didn’t get wide with disbelief or narrow with suspicion; she didn’t pretend to get it and then ask lots of predictable questions like “oh, but you can have honey, right? Because that’s natural?” or shrug it all off with a “Oh I couldn’t ever do that! Never!” Instead, we ended up having a lengthy conversation comparing notes on cookies made with fruit, and debating the pros and cons of different kinds of sugar alcohols. It was uncanny: Lori had even made a big batch of oatmeal raisin cookies before she left for her trip, just like I had, except she used applesauce instead of dates for sweetening.
Turns out Lori had gained a lot of weight- some seventy-five pounds- following a sad event in her life three years ago and her recent abstinence from sugar is an effort to counteract that. She seemed most intrigued by our two girls’ participation in our Year of No Sugar, and seemed heartened by it.
“If they can do it- than I definitely think I can do it!” she said, adding that she would think of our family whenever her resolve was feeling wobbly.
I found the exchange entirely humbling. Us? Inspiring? I am happy to engage in a little false modesty here and there, but really, truly, no kidding at all, I find this concept hard to wrap my mind around. I just don’t feel that self-assuredness, that supreme radiating confidence that I see in some other writer’s similar projects (hello, Barbara Kingsolver!). For one thing, I’m no biochemistry teacher: I am going to win no awards for my precise-but-comprehensible explanations of what fructose does in (and to) your body.
For another, if you read this blog at all you’ll know that the amount of time I spend avoiding sugar is roughly equal to the amount of time I spend worrying about it: questioning why I’m doing it, trying to delineate the parameters of it, and rationalizing the fact that I am pulling the rest of the family through it with me, kicking and screaming included.
This is not to mention the ample brain-space devoted to grappling with logistics of groceries and restaurants, negotiating my husband’s wayward tendencies (hello Diet Dr. Pepper!), and worrying about my children’s future therapy bills. Some days, all I can see are the imperfections: the sugar-containing chewable vitamins, the necessity of relying on the word of a harried waitress, the discomfort of having to skip community events that involve food. Some days, the “project” that I have so cheerfully imposed on our family, feels more like a long tunnel that I am stubbornly trying to lead us all through, blindfolded. I volunteered for this, right?
And then something like the New York Times Magazine article “Is Sugar Toxic?” (April 17, 2011) comes out and validates the fact that just maybe, I might not be crazy after all. Or I get a wonderful supportive comment on one of my posts. Or I meet a woman on the train. So when Lori says she finds our family inspiring, I would have to say: the feeling is entirely mutual.