Healthy Kitchens Healthy Lives

What our Veterans have taught me and what I’ve observed

From my work as nutritionist and chef with a group of Veterans these past months, boy have I learned a lot! Some of what I have learned is from conversations with the Veterans and some is from observation. I wonder if you’re always in the Service even after you’ve served. I’m pretty sure that many of their habits were drilled into them and are still part of their daily routines.


They always polish their shoes.  Clean shoes are a theme. I now rub my shoes a little with a wet towel before I show up so I don’t feel like such a slob, shoe-wise. I’ve seen them purchase shoes for a dollar or two at a garage sale or thrift store and shine them up so they practically look new!

They walk quietly. I have been sneaked up on a lot….(all in good fun). Of course in a war zone you can’t go, as one Veteran put it, “…tromping around. We learn to walk quietly.”

There are lots of yes ma’ams and yes sirs. Knick names are used a lot. I’m Suzy (as in Suzy homemaker) or Sunshine or Beautiful. They call each other less sweet names….

Many times they feel safer outside. Many don’t like walls-they feel closed in. The Veterans I know that have been homeless-and that’s most of them-feel safer in their ‘camps’ than in a house with people. One man told me he had a “sweet little camp in the English ivy next to a creek. I was dirty and hungry a lot though.” Trade-offs that you and I might not think about.

Being safe is an ongoing theme. Have you spent a lot of time thinking about your personal safety? Most of us haven’t. Veterans have.

They are respectful of private matters.

They are hard on themselves. I see progress must faster than they see it in themselves. Self-esteem takes a hit when you can’t shut off the voices in your head and turn to drugs or alcohol, which can lead to job and family loss and homelessness. No wonder it’s easier for them to believe the worst of themselves and not the best.

They are very appreciative. I have never been thanked so much as I have been thanked working with these Veterans.

Dental health is a huge issue. Lack of teeth is common. This man’s teeth would be a big improvement for most of the Veterans I know.

Coffee, cigarettes, ice cream and salt are food groups for many. We work on slowly changing that. Small steps.

I’ve heard many of them talk about God-Plan G, as they put it.

They’re big meat-eaters. They will eat lots of salad and veggies, but they love their meat.

They will wait until they have to go to the Emergency Room before they off-handedly mention that they’re been urinating blood! Tough guys until they can’t stand it anymore.

They just want a ‘normal’ life. One told me that all he wanted was, “a woman who loves me and that I love. I don’t need anything else.”

Even one family member who is cheering them on in their recovery can make all the difference. “My grand-niece is always clapping for me”, or “my little sister is tough on me-she doesn’t put up with my s*#t, but she loves me and wants me to get better.”  So many more stories. They may be tough guys in exterior, but they don’t fool me-just like everyone, they just want someone who truly cares and will help them get better and begin life fresh.



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