This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Denise Minger. In her own words:
“I’m not going to put my age on here anymore because I always forget to change it when I get older. So I’ll just let you guys know I was born on May 4th, 1987, at 6:11 PM Pacific Standard Time—you do the math. (Birthday emails are gleefully accepted.) Evicted from my mother’s womb in California, raised in Seattle, schooled in Flagstaff, enraptured by Oregon, illicitly in love with Los Angeles, former temporary resident of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, and currently back in Portland for a while. I like Scrabble, cats, thunderstorms, knee-high boots, mysterious things, mountains, really old houses, aspen trees, albino gorillas, and the color red.
I typically spend about seven hours a day reading and writing about nutrition—voluntarily. I may seem like a normal human being on the outside, but rest assured, I have enough nerd in me to make Steve Urkel look like the Fonz. I’m currently writing my first book, “Death By Food Pyramid,” to be published mid-2012 by Mark Sisson.
My interest in health started at age seven, when I first went vegetarian, and then resurged at the age of 11 when an undiagnosed wheat allergy turned me into a walking zombie for a year. Although cutting out wheat improved my health tremendously, that alone wasn’t enough to keep me feeling big-H Healthy, and over the years I cycled through various versions of cooked vegan, raw vegan, and then raw omnivore. Click here to see what I eat right now.
Although I’m still a raw foodist, I’m not the kind that that thinks cooked food is poison—quite the contrary. I eat this way because out of all my self-guinea-pigging dietary experiments, a raw food diet with small amounts of raw animal products is what brings me “peak performance” for both mind and body. I don’t want to feel good; I want to feel awesome.
I firmly believe we all have the right to be healthy, and that an understanding of nutrition isn’t a privilege reserved for the elite. Speaking of which…
Who do I think I am, running a health blog without a nutrition PhD? Shouldn’t I be flipping burgers at McDonalds like all those other English majors?
I get this question a lot. It speaks volumes about how we view learning, and why we’ve abandoned personal responsibility for using our own brains when it comes to health.“We can’t possibly understand nutrition if we haven’t paid for a degree! Let’s just trust someone with formal credentials instead of thinking for ourselves.”
First of all, if you believe valid education only happens in a classroom setting, I sure hope you aren’t reading this blog on a computer—since both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were college dropouts without any credentials to work with technology.
I guess I’ll start by explaining my perspective. I have deep respect for formal learning, and a touch of envy for those who thrive in a traditional school system. Most of my family works in higher education (my dad, a college vice president; my mom, a former biologist who did postgraduate immunology research), and my original aspiration was to teach at the university level. Some good stuff happens there.
But I also believe that—for people who are self-motivated, have the time and resources for independent study, and aren’t learning something like dentistry or surgery that requires hands-on training—that a college education can be wildly inefficient and sometimes a barrier to objective thinking. Teachers, after all, come equipped with their own set of biases—ones students must cater to or even adopt if they want a good grade. (My college Women’s History prof comes to mind. Don’t agree that men are the root of all things evil, fattening, and smelly? Then no “A” for you!) At least in my experience, college fostered an atmosphere where the rewards (high marks, scholarships, making the parents proud) were more pertinent than what was actually learned.
My post-college education strategy has been simple. I approach the field of nutrition like learning a new language: total immersion-style. You didn’t learn your native tongue by sitting in a classroom following grammar lessons; you learned it by jumping into an initially confusing world and feeling your way around until it all started making sense. Every day, I make a conscious effort to surround myself with learning opportunities. I read everything I can get my hands on—from statistics textbooks to scientific papers. I find curricula posted on university websites, copy the lesson plans that look relevant, and acquire the reading material from the library instead of paying thousands of dollars for classroom instruction. If I can’t grasp something on my own, I email or call smart people and ask them to help me. My goal is to understand. I don’t stop digging until I’ve plowed to the bottom and broken my shovel trying to go even deeper.
I believe anything can be learned. I believe passion is the best fuel for knowledge acquisition. I believe the subjects that have personal relevance are the most enticing, intriguing, and fulfilling ones to study. This is why I blog.
And because so many people ask, I’ll post my school bio. My educational history, no detail spared:
Elementary school: Was accepted into the “Highly Capable Program” (HiCap) north of Seattle, which is where my childhood effectively ended. Their website explains the program as creating an “academic setting that provides acceleration through curriculum compacting and advanced training in critical thinking and research skills required in academic areas.” In simpler terms, that means we had to start pulling all-nighters in fourth grade just to finish all our homework, spent recess in the library’s “Study Club” cramming for upcoming tests, and probably accrued permanent spinal damage from hauling around 40-pound backpacks filled with textbooks before we were even tall enough to ride on roller coasters. I can honestly say the curriculum in elementary school was more challenging than anything I encountered in college. (On the bright side, I think I learned more critical-thinking skills here than at any other point in my education.)
Middle school: Took honors math, science, and English, as well as advanced band. Felt stifled by the inability to choose what I wanted to study, and channeled my adolescent angst into writing bad poetry, taking pictures of gingko trees, and practicing my bassoon for two hours a day. After spending elementary school in a setting where you’d get eaten alive if you couldn’t keep up with the grueling pace, middle school was excruciatingly slow. Spent 5% of each day actually learning, and the other portion watching the teacher explain and re-explain simple concepts to the students who couldn’t be bothered to listen the first time. All my class notes from this era are defaced with elaborate margin-doodles, evidence of boredom and a tendency to daydream.
High school: Took honors math, science, English, and geography. My resentment towards school amplified freshman year: I knew what I wanted to study, and didn’t want to waste time doing busywork and sitting through classes I wasn’t truly interested in. The desire for mental freedom was almost crippling. Determined to get the heck out of there as soon as possible, I took extra courses, begged the principal for mercy, graduated early, and started college when I was 16. (From the second half of my sophomore year onward, I spent most of my after-school time reading about nutrition online, which is when I first got into raw veganism.)
College: Attended Northern Arizona University. Changed majors several times, bouncing between the sciences (to feed my brain) and the arts (to feed my soul). Eventually settled on English, because the common denominator in everything I loved to do involved writing. Enjoyed many of my classes, but felt they were more about regurgitating what the teachers wanted to hear than actually thinking critically. I found it difficult to spend any focused time studying things I wasn’t passionate about. Tried to take classes that culminated with 40-page research papers because I deeply enjoyed producing them. Walked in the December 2007 graduation with a 4.0, summa cum laude.
That about sums it up.
Lastly, I’m always happy to answer any questions or help other health seekers (current or aspiring) who are struggling, so please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or shoot me an email.”