Monday, January 23, 2012

Real Manners for Real People Concerning Real Food

I eat this stuff we're all calling "real food" these days.  Mine and my family's diet consists mostly of farm raised meats, organic dairy, lots of fruits and veggies, whole grains, and natural sweeteners.  I try not to go crazy with sugar.  I avoid certain things like they are the plague--things such as artificial colors, hydrogenated oils, and high-fructose corn syrup.  I eat mostly whole grains (although I'm a sucker for a crusty white French loaf). 

All in all, I do quite well with my diet, but guess what?  I've got news for you--it doesn't make me superior to other humans just because I'm a little more conscious about what I eat.

It doesn't make God like me better than you because I buy organic.  It may not even make me live longer just because I eat more fruits and veggies.  It improves my chances of not getting an illness that might kill me, but it doesn't protect me from oncoming trains or zombie apocalypse.  I'm not extra-special just because I raise my own pork and eggs.  It makes me happy to lead a more independent and "back to the land" lifestyle, but I don't think it's going to get me a Nobel prize or sainthood in the Catholic church.  I'm not going to gain scores of admirers or have small children ask for my autograph just because my wheat has more bran than your wheat. 

I'm not saying that our food choices don't matter, because they really do.  I wouldn't be out feeding hungry pigs when it's 20 degrees outside or picking up food coop orders after an exhausting day at work if  I thought what I was doing didn't matter.  I have very healthy children.  My 15 year old caught a cold this month for the first time in years and was in absolute shock over it.  He literally thought he was going to die.  I've watched too many friends lose their woman-parts to cancer.  Healthy eating may not save me from that fate, but it's the one thing I can do to lessen my chances.  When I choose organic, acres of land and the surrounding environments are saved from pesticide poisoning.  When I choose local, I am strengthening my community in innumerable ways.  I could go on, but my point is that food choices DO matter.  They matter a lot.

Yes, food matters, but human beings matter more.  I know when I make good food choices a lot of humans besides myself get to be physically happier and healthier.  My actions, for good or ill, have a ripple effect in this world.  That's why when I act superior and dogmatic just because I eat this and you eat that, I'm negating my food choices by adding "junk thoughts" into the world.  Junk thoughts, with their stress-inducing negativity, can be just as poisonous as junk food.  My people don't need my judgement.  They need my support and encouragement to take better care of themselves, sure, but that doesn't happen when I treat them with scorn.
I see too many real food eaters adding those junk thoughts into the world.  I actually heard someone once state that feeding a child refined sugar was a form of child abuse.  Really?!  I had a pretty rough childhood and I can guarantee you that being fed sweet confections was the least of my troubles.  Let's try to have a little gratitude for the fact that we live in a land of such abundance that we can actually choose what we eat. Let's pray that someday soon all of the world's peoples can have enough nourishing food to fill their bellies and sustain their health.
To avoid us all going off the deep end with this whole real food business, I propose a few ground rules:

1.  When you are a guest in some one's home, unless you have an allergy or intolerance to a certain food, accept what they offer with gratitude.  They used their financial resources, time, and energy to feed you.  Say thanks and eat.  Enjoy a little community.  Don't dictate do them what they serve to you when you are a guest in their home.

2.  Accept gifts freely given.  On several occasions when organizing pot-luck style meals with organizations I am involved with, I have been told to purchase specific brands because they are healthier.  Since I agree that those brands are "better for you" brands it was no big deal for me to comply, but the request really irked me.  What if I couldn't afford those brands?  What if I had already bought something only to find it didn't make the cut?  On another occasion, the food I wanted to bring was nixed for not being healthy--nevermind that there was nothing else there that my special-needs child would eat. This is especially bothersome when it happens at church functions.  I'd hate it if someone felt unwelcome in God's church because they didn't bring the right yogurt to the potluck.  If I remember right, Jesus had  a few things to say to those who wanted to get too dogmatic about other people's dietary habits.
3.  This is my own personal ax to grind, but keep in mind there may be extenuating circumstances to why somebody doesn't follow your ideal diet.  Although I believe that healthy eating isn't unaffordable by most people in America, it is expensive to consume an "ideal diet".  This is a complex issue.  I was shocked to hear on NPR that a family of 4 was forced to eat unhealthy because they only received $150 a week in food stamps, especially when they used the "soda is cheaper than milk" excuse.  Yes, soda is cheaper than milk, but water is free!  The beverages available in our house are milk, water, coffee, and herbal tea--and you have to be at least 15 years old for the coffee.  My children have survived for years on those limited choices.

Regardless, we all know the organic milk is twice that of the conventional milk.  I have at certain points in my life been so poor that I've had to choose the absolute cheapest options at the grocery store.  If you aren't in that place right now, say a prayer of gratitude and don't judge those who are. 

On another note, I have a child who has borderline Asperger's and a lot of sensory integration issues.  Food flavors and textures are a real issue for her.  We feed her as healthy as we can, but sometimes just getting anything into her little body takes priority.  She eats a lot of mac and cheese (no artificial colors!) and not many veggies.  Yes, I've tried all that "getting your picky eater to like veggies" advice and it still doesn't work.  I make her take one bite out of her veggies every night in the hope that she will become more used to the texture.  I send her to school with a fruit leather.  That's about all she can handle right now.  I'm probably not going to hell because my little girl doesn't get her 5 a day.

4.  Your family doesn't need your "lessons".  If they are kind enough to watch your kids, they don't need you to micromanage every aspect of the care and feeding of your children.  I used to be so guilty of this.  Now I realize that my kids don't belong to just me--they were born into a marriage, a family, and a community.  I have final say on their care and upbringing, but I need to pick my battles.  I figure that, in total, the meals fed to my children by extended family equals 3 weeks or less, so that leaves 49 weeks out of the year that they eat an above average diet.  My family knows my preferences so it's really not worth the damage to those relationships to press the issue too much. I try not to sweat it when I'm not in absolute control of what they are eating and enjoy the grown up movies, quiet car rides, and alone time with my hubbie instead.

5. Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.  Some days I'm tired and our diet may not be as wonderful as it usually is.  Sometimes my kids get invited to a birthday party at (gasp!) McDonald's.  Sometimes we are traveling on the road, didn't plan ahead, and there aren't many food choices.  Sometimes, life isn't perfect.  I do pretty damn good, and that's good enough.

I'll end with a quote from Diet for a New America, which I read when I was 18, and has stuck with me these past 19 years:  "Better to eat beer and franks with cheer and thanks than sprouts and bread with fear and dread."  Gratitude is everything!

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