Last night I crashed at my family home in Mississauga. I like crashing at my parent’s place from time to time because the only two morning people in the house are my Dad and myself. My Dad leaves for work around 5 am and I usually wake up around 7:30 am if I’m not training any early morning clients. Since my Mom and my sister are not morning people at all, I get the entire house to myself. It’s great! The fridge is stocked, free coffee, and all the quiet in the world to get my work done early. This morning, I decided to have my breakfast and coffee outside on the deck while listening to my new favourite podcast Dissect. Just as I started to eat my breakfast, I noticed a male cardinal (red cardinal) fly out from one of the trees in our backyard to the roof of the house directly behind ours. You might be wondering, why is this important? Well, if you weren’t already aware, a cardinal is known to be a spiritual messenger. My Mom used to tell us that a cardinal is a symbol of a loved one who has passed away coming to visit you. Both my Mom and sister have noticed a male cardinal coming to our backyard on several occasions, and we believe that it is a symbol from God letting us know that Nonna Battaglia is still watching over us. This morning, the cardinal stayed there for a while making its own bird call. Because I’m aware of its meaning I was immediately moved, and I thanked God for sending me this sign. I was already planning on writing this piece, but that symbol was just further confirmation of the things that I already know to be true. To me, it further confirms the importance of my heritage, and the things that I believe. These are the things that give me strength and courage. These are the things that keep me grounded, especially when life can feel overwhelming. I can’t lie and say that I don’t currently feel overwhelmed. That’s not to say that good things aren’t happening for me, they are. In fact, a lot of things are changing for the better, and to be honest it does feel like it’s happening all at once. But seeing the cardinal today gave me comfort in knowing that I’m on the right path and I’m protected. I’m being watched over, and that everything is going to be okay.
If you don’t know much about the symbolism or meaning behind Cardinals, then I highly suggest you look it up, and you will have a better sense of their meaning. Cardinals are very important to me and my family because in a lot of ways they symbolize our own values. It’s funny how a cardinal showed up when I’m writing about exactly that, God or the Universe works in mysterious ways, but they are always listening. In fact, if I’m going to be completely honest, I was asking God for protection and guidance over the past few days because I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed. The universe answered my prayers by giving me signs like the cardinal. However, this piece is not about the cardinal. In Part One of this series I talked a lot about the importance of honesty and speaking my truth. I also talked a lot about the importance of having a strong tribe of family and friends. These are two fundamental values for me. Family has always been at the centre of who I am as a person. If you’ve read my letter to Nonna Battaglia that I wrote earlier this year, you will know that for me family isn’t just the people you are related to by blood. Family is bigger than that. Family are the people who lift you up, the people who help you to become the highest version of yourself. Nonna Battaglia taught me that, and I am forever grateful. It is that core belief that has given me the support network that I have today so that I can speak openly and freely about my depression and experiences on a platform like this.
My Family has also given me many other gifts. Today I want to talk about the power of food. I know a lot of people talk about how much they LOVE food, and how much they eat, and maybe they do. But for me, food has been at the forefront my entire life. Food is probably second to family in the scale of importance in my family’s upbringing. For us, food is love. Feeding your family and friends is how you express your love for them, and as an Italian Canadian, you wouldn’t just feed your loved ones just anything. No! You feed your loved ones the best. Only the best will suffice. My family takes a lot of pride in our food. To my family our food is a direct reflection of us. Growing up, I used to always joke that my Mom was “crazy.” In fact, I still joke that she’s a bit crazy! Especially when people come to visit, my Mom will make an exorbitant amount of food. She would always say “we need options in case someone doesn’t like one thing, they can have another.” To which I would reply, “okay Ma, but they don’t need to have three other choices!” My Mom would go out of her way to make sure that her guests were well fed and taken care of, just like she would for her own family. I was definitely spoiled growing up, and I knew it. Especially as I grew older, I began to realize that not everyone lived the way my family did. Not many families had grandparents on both sides who had extensive gardens, or who would make their own tomato sauce, wine, homemade sausage, fresh pasta, pizza, pizzelle, waffles, cookies, I can go on and on. Now that I think about it, we could have fed armies of people with the amount of home cooked meals we’ve made as a collective. Both sides of my family would stress how their food was “the best,” and I was obliged to agree even if I didn’t fully believe it, because food is so personal to us.
I’m very proud of being an Italian Canadian, and I’m very proud of my upbringing. I’m so grateful to have been given the gift of food. I have been trained since birth to be a cook, because food was everywhere in my life. I couldn’t escape it! But to be honest, it was love at first sight. I loved helping in the kitchen growing up. I would help both my Nonna Battaglia and my Mom make anything and everything that they would allow me to. My Nonna Battaglia passed away just before I turned eight years old, however, her recipes and traditions still live on because of my Mom. I know that one day these recipes will be passed down to me. In a lot of ways they already have.
Food is so powerful, to me it is love. It has the power to heal. We know this to be true. Keeping on with this family tradition of feeding your loved ones “only the best,” I have now done my best to adopt this notion towards myself. For the vast majority of my life I was cooking and baking to show my love for others. Recently, I’ve directed that love towards myself, doing my best to feed myself “only the best.” When I was bodybuilding I was “eating clean,” I was cooking for myself but it was very repetitive and boring. I was cooking out of necessity, not out of love. I needed to prepare my diet food, and make sure that I always had food ready so that I would win my shows. I guess there was love there, I did love how the sport challenged me, and how it made me feel at the time. Bodybuilding definitely kept my love for fitness alive during a time where I was very unhappy with my career in fitness, but I didn’t love the food I was eating. Now, I eat food I enjoy eating, and food that I enjoy making. I’ve been slowly converting myself into a vegetarian. Something that I’ve always wanted to do. I remember in my second year of university when I really got into fitness and eating healthy I told my boyfriend at the time that I wanted to be a vegetarian and he told me not to because it was annoying. So I didn’t, and I never revisited it until now. Right now being a vegetarian and maybe even one day being completely vegan, makes sense to me because I want to feed myself only the best. I personally cannot afford to eat meat that is hormone and antibiotic free, that is free range and organic etc. I’m not choosing to be a vegetarian because I don’t like the taste of meat, I do. I also can’t say that I want to be a vegan completely for moral reasons, even though I am deeply affected by animal abuse. I just know that if I want to be a healthy person inside and out, in a way that makes sense to me, vegetarian is the way to go. I also do believe that the meat industry, particularly beef is not only unhealthy for me, but for the planet as a whole.
Vegetarianism and Veganism has opened up my creativity. It has challenged me in the kitchen in new ways and it’s very exciting! I feel inspired. I’m healing myself through food. Not just by eating a plant-based diet, but through the act of cooking and feeding myself the way my family used to feed me. I’m feeding myself love everyday. I deserve to eat only the best because I love myself, and I share that love online through sharing my recipes. I take pride in my food, I know I’m a good cook, I know that my food is good. I used to joke that I’m “wifey material,” that “I’m a chef.” I never really thought of my cooking as something that was valuable outside of the context of domestic life and family. Therefore, I didn’t really think it could do much for me other than being able to take care of loved ones. Now I realize that my skills in the kitchen have value outside of the home, and that has been a powerful realization for me. I now value myself more because of this knowledge. I share my gifts in the kitchen with you because I love you, and I love myself.