Friday, January 11, 2008

On Food

So today I am thinking about food.
I started my life off with little to no relationship with food. I didn't like anything, and this was not my mother's fault. She is an amazing cook with a passion for food that somehow, her three little girls just didn't come out sharing. In addition, we were all extremely skinny little girls, probably the result of our picky palates, to the point that our pediatrician, who is now the president of the AAP, told our mother: Feed them what they will eat. Don't worry about variety, as long as you can get them to eat something of value. So these are the things I remember eating: eggs, cheese, applesauce, lots of breads and muffins with grated up things in them (carrot, squash, zucchini etc) lots of bran stuff, oatmeal, and peanut butter sandwiches on brown bread. I think I seriously just summed up the first 8 or 9 years of my life in a nutshell. When my palate expanded, I never started eating meat so I still wasn't much of a social eater, because I still felt shy about what I would and would not eat.
How did this all change? I don't know. A semester abroad in New Zealand introduced me to eating meat, which really was a session in how not to eat meat: it was 23 ways to cook an old sheep. Very native and authentic, but very distasteful to the new meat eater. It did, however, make me less nervous to try this category of food and now (sorry to shock some of you out there) I quite enjoy the expansion of my palate to include other meats as well (although I will never eat a sheep again). Pregnancy actually was what did this, my craving for iron suddenly made me realize the potential for whole new centerpieces to my food experiences.
So now I am a foodie. I love to buy it, I love to cook it, and I love to serve it, and I LOVE to eat it. Thank goodness I have retained my good metabolism. I love food and I am happy to say my kids love food, too. They like pretty much everything. Fruits, veggies, spicy, sweet, you name it. But with my fabulous, food eating kids, and my own food-addiction, comes the trip to the grocery store and the ever-present connundrum of what to buy, how it's grown, and what it costs.
So don't you sometimes wish you lived in the 30's or something? Or somewhere where we didn't have the time and money and privilege to worry so much about what we put into our bodies? I long for the simplicity of not reading any studies at all, for not really thinking or knowing about how something was grown and just feeling comforted by the mere fact that my children are being fed three times a day and are healthy and thriving. With every industry, every food product and everything we buy, we have to make these choices (if we can afford to) about what we are supporting (or not) by what we buy. I worry about what I'm growing my kids bodies with more than I worry about my own. Sometimes, for example, if the budget is tight I will buy them organic milk, but not for me. Things like that. But for some reason yesterday, after a long trip to the grocery store and a lot of thinking about what I was buying, and as I put it into my fridge, I decided this.
I can't afford to buy everything labled "organic" in the grocery store. Furthermore, when you read labels on food, you never know what exactly means anything. For example, sugar is labled fat free. Duh. This seems silly. But also, organic milk is labeled antibiotic free. But did you know what? I am from dairy country, and when you are shipping your milk, they test it, and if you have any antibiotics in the milk, they reject the whole shipment. Yes, yes, I know. Those farms are allowed to treat their animals with antibiotics, remove them from the milking herd, and then restore them as milkers when the antibiotic is out of their milk. But still! All milk is technically antibiotic free. So my point is not that you don't need to be buying organic milk (I do), but that reading labels doesn't necessarily get you a good comparison. So anyway this is how I try to look at buying food: its the same way I look at vaccinations, as a public health issue. When I can, I want to try to support a world that is healthier for everyone. So this means less pesticides, and better practices of farming in sustainable ways. If I worry about my children, I will feel worried, and obsess about every little thing which isn't healthy for my brain. So instead, I will transfer this to trying to buy milk from tiny little farms which practice good herd management, and graze their cows, and hopefully are also organic to boot. You get my drift? I am kind of leaning towards lifestyle, and not just obsessing about every chemical. If I were obsessing about every chemical I should definitely move far away from America where my poor kids are probably breathing in far worse things than I feed them. But again, I digress and worry worry worry where I could be having fun enjoying running in the "fresh" air.
I also feel like obsessing over food leads to limiting what kids can eat. I am very careful about what my kids eat at our table. I think about balancing vitamins and colors, about making sure they get lots of good healthy fat, and about making food exciting and appealing so that they will love to eat. If somebody offers them something elsewhere that doesn't appeal to our family's eating priorities? I don't care one bit. Let them eat it, whatever it is. Candy, pop tart, gold fish, etc. Bring it on. You know why? Food is social. Food makes kids part of a community. Sharing food is a universal thing. If there are things that kids aren't allowed to eat, and this is a really strict thing, I have seen lots of kids feel really upset by this. Mostly in this case I am thinking of the vegan children that I taught, who were not allowed to participate in shared snack, who were not allowed the cupcake at the birthday celebration, etc. While I have all respect for the ideals behind this practice, my sympathies were limited when I had this child weeping in my arms, just crying into my shoulder saying, "But my mom does let me eat goldfish crackers, I swear she does, just sometimes on special occasions". And I know that mom does not let her eat goldfish, but all the other kids are eating these little crackers with the 4 ingredients of flour, water, cheese, and paprika, and I wonder what is more harmful: 23 crackers, or the fact that this little girl is left out of all the community food activities she is exposed to. Now I don't have to think about this, really, because my kids are not vegan and not even vegetarian, but where it comes into play with me was my initial instinct to not let Liam eat anything with sugar, or partially hydrogenated fats when he was a smaller child. I used to read labels obsessively until I just thought, let it go. Read your own labels. Do whatever feels right and good and just to you behind your 4 walls. When out in the world, just let the child be part of that world and what comes with it.
So I let the kids be part of their world, and I buy as well as I can afford to, and what I think is reasonable. Often in the grocery store I just wish that we weren't living on one teacher's salary because I would shop differently if I had all the money in the world. But it's all a balance, isn't it. We have to provide a lot of things for our children and we just do the best we can. I am constantly reminding myself of how unbelieveably priviledged my children are, and I am, and I am so lucky to have the luxury of making any of these decisions at all.
I would also like to state, just for the record, that I do also eat ice cream almost every day. Yeah.

1 comment:

Becky said...

You put the whole "social eating" stuff into great context here. I'd never thought about it one bit (we're not vegans, not vegetarians), and it makes for an interesting thought for those children and parents.