A Breakfast Routine
and its implications.
Listen to your body is a truism, but sometimes it’s all we can do. For years, I ate oatmeal every weekday morning. I wrote, in 2022, how returning to an oatmeal routine for breakfast was how I was able to finish my first book. I thought, from then on, that I’d be eating oatmeal every day for the rest of my life. I figured I might as well tattoo a rolled oat on my knuckle, next to the martini: my staples. My angel and my devil.
Then, in the middle of last year, I stopped wanting the oats. I would make them, look at them, eat a spoonful, and then take hours to finish a small bowl. Sometimes, I would just skip breakfast because I didn’t want oats, and around 10:30 or 11 a.m., I’d go to the kitchen to dip dates in peanut butter to sate myself till lunch. I told myself that perhaps I was just in a phase: Soon, I’d be back on my oatmeal train.
I was worried about this, as one might worry when a change is happening to them beyond their control. Not wanting to eat oatmeal isn’t exactly like turning into a werewolf under the light of a full moon, but it did feel significant. The oatmeal had become a routine, yes, and a ritual, and also I guess felt like a facet of my personality. Like my taste for martinis, I assumed it would always be there. Why would I suddenly change? I like to imagine myself to be a person who really goes with the flow. I am not, by a long shot. I am a person who writes down every shift in her personal tide. Switching up my breakfast meant something to me, and it wasn’t hard to figure out why.
Drinking a smoothie for breakfast was something I did in my early days of being vegan, when I wasn’t eating enough and also exercising extensively. (To clarify for anyone new, I’m now a bivalve-eating vegetarian [there’s no better way to put it] who gave up meat in 2011.) It was a brief part of my life, but it’s still a headspace I fear returning to, and smoothies became a symbol of it. Oatmeal became my breakfast when I knew I needed to eat more in the mornings: It was a symbol of me taking my nourishment seriously, to the point that I historicized it as the breakfast of my early vegan days. I erased the smoothies altogether, except when I wanted to talk about deprivation.
But now, more than a decade later, it feels really good to start the day with blended banana or dates, soy milk, and peanut butter (and hemp hearts, if I have them). It goes down easy and quick, so I’m not sitting staring at it for hours as I had been with the oats. There’s protein, fat, and carbs. It’s a perfectly reasonable breakfast, yet being a smoothie person? I’m trying to own it.
I’ve long been curious about the sort of strange disconnect between nutrition and food writing: I feel it’s verboten to really talk about why I might start the day with a smoothie, or eat a salad for lunch. I love to drink little shots of ginger and lemon juice, spiked with oil of oregano. I’m not exactly Jim Harrison, but I’m not not him either, in the right conditions. I assume my search for balance will be taken the wrong way: as an endorsement of diet culture rather than a personal preference that’s evolved over time, in accordance with my nutritional needs, or as totally out-of-touch with most people’s lives, despite the relative affordability and accessibility of the minimal number of ingredients I use.
Because I am a plant-based food writer (a designation I wouldn’t give to myself, but a perception I understand), to ever make it not about pure indulgent pleasure means feeling like I’m doing a disservice—even if I’ve long found it eye-rollingly cringy when vegans focus on a very specific idea of American comfort food as the pinnacle of culinary possibility for its potential appeal to omnivores. Though I do love a tempeh Buffalo wing! (That’s been changing as vegan fine dining becomes more interesting—a story for another time.)
There’s a disconnect that I’ve seen Mikala Jamison of “Body Type” write about, where people are taken to task or subject to rumors online for behaviors such as exercise or diet change that lead to body changes (an overcorrection in online culture to mainstream culture’s uncritical rejoicing in small bodies, unless of course too small), that also gets to the tension I feel as a food writer: At what point might I be dishonest about how I eat in order to project against the notion that considering nutrition isn’t of actual importance? (It’s obvious I’ve not actually taken this very seriously: I have recently interviewed dietician Desiree Nielsen about coconut vs. soy when it comes to non-dairy dairy, because of my own concerns around the former’s actual nutritional makeup. I’m concerned about cashews in non-dairy dairy for human rights’ reasons—it’s all intertwined for me, and it’s all complex.)
It’s a similar disconnect that I feel when I read people railing against the notion of the Gregorian calendar’s New Year as a time to change things: Both the imperative to change things and the notion that that’s silly create different demands on people, enforcing this kind of binary thinking that you’re either on the side of capitalism’s demands for endless optimization by taking a new calendar year as a time to adjust a behavior that’s no longer serving you or you’re as righteous as Antonio Gramsci—similar to how messages of either endless culinary indulgence or deprivation can cause stress and anxiety.
The truth is somewhere in the mix. Our concerns about productivity and nutrition, food access and food production, would be best served by bigger systemic changes. Claiming our agency in the face of that to do what we need to do despite wildly varied cultural demands is a significant aspect of moving toward those changes. We can recognize and name big issues that make it difficult or impossible for so many people to live the life they want to live until we’re blue in the face: What do we actually do about it? What changes do we make that are within our power? Because sometimes we do need to change our behavior—sometimes the body says “I don’t want this oatmeal anymore”; sometimes we’re wildly unhappy with how things are going for us; sometimes we no longer want to eat in a way that exploits land, labor, and animals. So we change.
I get very frustrated by the knots empire, capitalism, and colonialism force people into attempting to untangle that often conclude at binaries like the above, either perfect or fucked, by whichever standard of behavior we’re holding ourselves to: These knots leave us at a standstill, infantalized. Personal choice isn’t the pinnacle of action by a long shot, but that doesn’t render it meaningless in a market-based system in which it’s (quite frustratingly!) our most consistent avenue for demonstrating a commitment to political change and the most convenient for explaining to those who are feeling helpless (see: BDS). Being stuck in “capitalism” isn’t a result of personal choices; capitalism is a type of economy that one lives within. How one responds to and interacts with that economy is where there’s a bit of individual and collective control to be harnessed for desired outcomes. (Again, not the only avenue, but a significant one—who does it serve to deny that?)
For me, the food that tastes good and feels good is pleasurable. It’s just another facet of caring about where food comes from, and it’s something I want to be in less denial of. It’s an acceptance not just of big lofty ideas, but of my body and its needs shifting, too, and being okay with that. Bottoms up, cheers, sláinte—whether smoothie or martini.
Do you have a breakfast routine? What is it?
This Friday’s post for paid subscribers will be the December Monthly Menu, chronicling my dining, food shopping, and cooking in San Juan and New York. Next Monday, I’ll be publishing the first Desk Dispatch by a contributor.
Remember you can change your settings in “manage subscriptions” to receive only one email per month, The Desk Digest, a roundup of links to all six posts per month.
From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Next Monday, I’ll be speaking on the significance of joy in conversations around food justice, virtually at Bates College. I’ll publish the presentation here in the newsletter next month.
A Lifestyle Note
Rachael Compton, the founder of By Ren jewelry, with whom I collaborated on a small capsule collection last year, is opening a shop in Philadelphia called Aiyah. She sent me a surprise gift of the most gorgeous gold and silver trivets for the dining table—knowing my interest in organic shaping and mixed metals, of course. I love something that’s functional and also beautiful enough to always be out. They’re made by the Collective and you can see them at her online shop.