My body and I don’t always see eye to eye. This isn’t new to me; growing up, I often struggled with keeping up with my nutrient intake. It definitely didn’t help that I come from a family of strict vegetarians, further limiting my food options. Eating fruits and vegetables wasn’t enough, and I was always deficient in vitamins and minerals that are typically found in specific, nonvegetarian options.
Surprisingly, freshman year of college, I was relatively healthy, thanks to the dining halls. Even if there wasn’t delicious vegetarian food, there was always something that could sustain me. Whether it was an apple or a salad, I was still eating food with at least some nutritional value every day.
Fall semester of my sophomore year, however, is when the trouble began. My freshman habits of living off of Golden Bear Cafe’s Beyond Burger came to a sudden and complete halt when I moved into my apartment.
For the first time, there was no backup plan for my meals; I had to start cooking everyday. That was a challenge for me, seeing as I always forget to eat or drink water throughout the day.
My mother likes to ask me if I live on air, and, honestly, I think being a plant would be so much better than being a human with complex internal organs, especially ones that cannot sustain themselves. But I couldn’t even be a plant, since for most of my sophomore year, I didn’t even go outside.
I soon became deficient in just about every vitamin that exists. My iron levels were so low that I would faint constantly. My lack of sun contributed to a raging Vitamin D deficiency, one of many vitamin deficiencies I garnered. When I woke up most mornings, my muscles and bones would ache so much I couldn’t even get up. I became weaker and weaker, and my immune system started to falter. I was practically always sick for most of the fall semester. It felt like everything that could infect me did infect me.
Unfortunately, once you become deficient in something, it’s really hard to get back to normal, even with the awful medication I was prescribed. But out of pure fear, I forced myself to take the recommended medication and supplements. I knew I couldn’t rely on supplements forever, mostly because of the side effects. I was just holding out until the end of the school year, when I knew my mother’s cooking would rescue me.
I drove home the day after finals, and for three weeks, my mother’s cooking saved my life. I was filled with energy, and my mother made sure to send me back to Berkeley with boxes of her frozen meals. I moved back to Berkeley two weeks before my summer session. As a result, on a particularly uneventful day, I decided to take a walk around the city, something I would have never done just a few months prior.
I had always passed by the Trader Joe’s on University Avenue, but I never considered it to be a place that I would ever shop; my family and I have always relied on the local Indian grocery store for all of our cooking needs.
But I was bored and a little curious, so I decided to walk inside.
Never in my life have I been more excited by a grocery store. I’d never seen so many vegetarian options and at such affordable prices, too. Everything about the place — the packaging, the atmosphere, the variety of options — amazed me. Even their Indian food hit the mark.
I started going back to Trader Joe’s every week. I’d try something new every time, and it became an adventure to me. I started to eat more, and I began to physically feel better. I don’t wake up feeling exhausted anymore.
For once, I’m excited about eating, instead of dreading the fact that I have to cook. Cooking has instead become a stress reliever, and the better I’ve been getting at it, the better I feel.
Without even realizing it, this grocery store has changed my life. Trader Joe’s has now become part of my Sunday routine. Once a week, I spend an hour walking down every aisle, looking for new things to try.
I make grocery lists now, and I plan my meals around what is available at this place. It may sound absolutely crazy, but it’s encouraged me to think of other new things I want to try in life.
Two weeks ago, I signed up for a half marathon — something that would have been absolutely unthinkable just four months ago. This is, at least, partially because I never previously had the energy to think about anything but school and work. Any free time I had was spent sleeping, and my health was so poor that I physically could not try new things.
Everyone deserves to find high-quality food that is also enjoyable to eat. I realize now that I wasn’t eating right sophomore year because I struggled to find those affordable and tasty items. My solution was to avoid eating, which was a completely unsustainable approach.
Learning to discover what I love to eat and making sure I get what I need nutritionally was the biggest obstacle I’ve faced in college. It’s amazing how small barriers can have such large consequences on an individual’s overall quality of life.