The restaurant name should’ve been the first giant red flag: Grandma’s. Actually, even better, Gramma’s. But heck, we’re in the middle of nowhere, on our way back from a camping trip north of our home in Boise, ID. Our vegan breakfast options are limited. Gramma’s is the best we can do. I hope Gramma was a vegan. This will be a true test of the power of making better choices when everyone around me is not.
Biscuits and Gravy. Hash browns and bacon. Do you want french toast and bacon or pancakes and bacon? I hear the server ask a little girl diner as she takes her order. Apparently, bacon comes with everything. The default breakfast meat.
I ponder the menu, and as I assumed, the vegan landscape is dry and barren. Tumbleweeds roll past. I peruse the menu repeatedly, the restaurant equivalent of standing at the open refrigerator door, hoping something new materializes.
The restaurant patrons around me are a slice of Americana. Mostly overweight, some severely so and others too young to be yet but the genetic lottery doesn’t look promising. Multiple generations are represented, each with a fork full of gravy and one foot teetering on the edge of an early grave by way of heart disease, high blood pressure or cancer. You pick.
As our name is called I get ready to follow the server and notice something in the corner of the restaurant, hidden by a small queue of people waiting patiently to wolf down a short stack of pancakes. With bacon, of course.
It’s a salad bar! Okay, calm down. It’s certainly not a Whole Foods Salad Bar. I’ll find no dolmades or organic arugula. But, since it’s only 11:15, it’s just been set up and everything is fresh and clean. Ranch dressing hasn’t sullied the pickled beets yet. Shredded cheddar cheese isn’t strewn across and into every container yet.
Sure, I can’t eat most of what is on there, (I’m talking to you, macaroni salad and cottage cheese), but I’m so excited to see there are still a few items that a raw vegan eats. Plus, it’s unlimited salad bar trips! Sorry, Gramma’s, you might lose money on your salad bar today.
I’m over filling my ubiquitous salad plate. It’s the glass one, kind of in the shape of a flower that is as 70’s as shag carpet and avocado appliances. Then I notice everyone in line is watching me as if I escaped from an exotic animal zoo. They seem amused and curious. I fill up my plate with mounds of lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and sunflower seeds under their watchful eye.
I realize that these people probably think it’s a bit strange to see someone eating salad at a time that for most of them, is time to eat greasy fried eggs, bacon and hash browns covered in gravy. All that food and she’s eating lettuce? Who eats salad as a meal? Who eats that much?
I sit enjoying my mound of salad amidst a restaurant full of overweight people inhaling high fat, high calorie foods that will likely make them feel terrible as soon as they take their last bite, and I realize something else.
Making the best choices, even when everyone else in the room is doing the opposite, satisfies me almost as much as the food. Sure, as I contemplated the menu, I considered going down the same rabbit hole. I could have ordered what, for me, was unhealthy. Although I’m always vegan, there were plenty of junk food choices on that menu that passed for vegan. I could have followed the crowd and made poor choices.
But I didn’t. I didn’t because watching people make poor choices somehow emboldens me to make better choices. I don’t want to follow that path. I want to be an example for people to follow. I want people to see me eating from the salad bar and consider ordering it themselves.
Maybe one unhealthy, overweight person standing in line will shock their entire family and order a salad bar today. Maybe the little girl I overheard ordering will choose salad over french toast or pancakes next time.
Admittedly, it’s a long shot. Most people that eat at Gramma’s on a regular basis may not even know they HAVE a salad bar. Perhaps they thought it was a condiment bar for the burgers.
But what if my choice motivated one person to make a better choice? Even just a single trip down salad bar lane. Maybe this would spark a small appreciation for the taste, texture and color of fresh vegetables. I challenge anyone to eat what I was eating and not thoroughly enjoy it.
Now, of course, eating at the salad bar can often be just as unhealthy as eating bacon. Load up on blue cheese or ranch dressing and you’re no better off. But for most of these people, eating pretty much any food from the salad bar would have been a gigantic leap in the right direction compared to what I saw them order and inhale.
I made a total of 3 trips to the salad bar and absolutely loved the iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, olives, sunflower seeds and a few other items I stacked on to that plate. Did I enjoy it as much as the kid across from me that inhaled 4 biscuits and a gallon of sausage gravy? Believe it or not, I think so. I may have enjoyed it more.
Of course I enjoyed if for the taste. But when I’ve made better choices I also get a lot of satisfaction out of doing just that…making better choices. So not only do I enjoy the healthy food I’ve selected, but I also enjoy it so much more knowing I’ve chosen well and properly nourished my body.
Here’s the key…
Making better choices when everyone else is not becomes easier every single time I do it. As they say, it’s just like building muscle. The more times I make better choices the stronger that decision muscle becomes. Every good decision I make and the happiness I feel after eating a healthy meal remains in my memory to be called up on next time I sit down at a restaurant and examine the menu.
People ask me all the time how I do it. How do I stick to a healthy diet? How do I have the discipline to make better choices? It starts with one choice and the next choice and the next one. You just keep accumulating better choice after better choice.
In 2011 I hired a triathlon coach to help me complete the Arizona Ironman. I needed a training plan. I needed heart rate zones. I needed detailed daily workouts to keep me on track.
The most valuable bit of information he bestowed upon me had nothing whatsoever to do with training plans. Or heart rate zones. Or daily workout details.
The week prior to the race, he held an informational meeting for all the athletes competing in the Ironman. He said something during that meeting that stuck with me all during the race and that I still think about often, even 5 years later.
During the run, you’ll see a lot of people stop running and start walking. A lot. You’ll want to stop running and start walking. It looks good to start walking. Your legs hurt. Your knees ache. Your feet are sore. Walking would be so easy. You can’t give in. Don’t do it. Keep running.
I managed to keep running during the Ironman. I did indeed see a lot of people stop running and start walking on the marathon route. It did look good. I wanted to stop more than I wanted to finish. My legs hurt. My knees ached. My feet were unbelievably sore. But I didn’t stop to walk. I kept running.
You’ll always be around people making less than optimal choices. Whether it’s choosing to walk when they should run or order fried chicken instead of salad. Rather than join the crowd, choose to raise the bar. Set an example for everyone. You’ll be glad you did.