I get a lot of questions from people when I make food-related statements like "I don't eat canned soup" and "This is the first time my son has had a chicken nugget," and although I don't say things like that to cause a reaction — I'm purely talking about just straight-up conversation, usually with family members — it doesn't surprise me in today's food culture that, well, people are surprised.
To me, it's normal that my 2-year-old doesn't eat a lot of chicken nuggets, but that's like saying I always thought it was normal when my legs got itchy while running, before I figured out I had cholinergic urticaria. What you live with day in and day out is what's normal to you. So I get it, on the flip side, that chicken nuggets, fruit snacks and soda are mainstays in a lot of homes — really, I get it. I went on and on plenty of times at the old site about how I give in way too often when I shop with my kids and end up taking home a bag of pretzels or a box of cheesy crackers or Goldfish. (Today I swore off shopping with them for what will hopefully be the last time.) But again — I get that to most people pretzels are harmless. To me, they're empty calories, quickly digested carbs and, usually, made with additives and probably GMO something.
But that's not really my point. What drove me to write this post was that, if you're not careful, you can get easily carried away by all the different food philosophies out there, or the different diet and meal plans to follow, even pressure to be vegetarian, vegan, a locavore, totally organic. I feel the pressure all the time because it's in my ridiculous Virgo nature to want to be all (read: perfect) or nothing; balance is something appropriately attributed to the Libras. I don't work that way. So I feel the guilt for eating the pretzels (really, for buying them in the first place). I feel the guilt for making the banana bread with sugar instead of looking up how to sub in a liquid sweetener (honey or maple syrup; less refined). I feel the pain at the register in Whole Foods on a day when I'm feeling particularly affluent (read: stupid) and think I can afford to do the week's grocery shopping there. And then, of course, I feel the guilt again at the next grocery store for buying conventional strawberries (loaded with pesticides! we're all going to get cancer! they're not in season! shipped from California!) and bread made with white flour to accompany our homemade soup.
I think, bottom line, that it's better — definitely easier — to have just one food philosophy if you're going to adopt any at all, than try to fall in line with every one of them. Otherwise, you'll drive yourself insane. With the access we have to convenience foods, the way we jam-pack our days and end up needing to resort to fast food and the lack of time we have to do the things that really relax us instead of diving into a pint of ice cream, we'd need blinders to be able to eat 100% healthy 100% of the time. If you try to follow every piece of nutritional advice you hear to the letter, it's almost as if there's nothing left to eat, and what IS available to you is expensive and time consuming to prepare:
- Say you're trying to avoid BPAs because you're concerned about the health risks. This means no canned food except the rare organic brand, because most cans — even Diet Cokes — are lined with the chemical that could possibly leach into your food, especially if the can is ever in a warm or heated environment. No more canned beans, tomatoes, vegetables, etc; you'll have to cook from fresh.
- Say you're trying to avoid plastic, because plastics, too, can leach chemicals into your food. More bad stuff. More cancer. Well, that knocks out just about every convenience food, anything at the deli, even your frozen veggies and ANYTHING you take home from the produce section in one of those annoying plastic bags that I swear do not open at either end. (So just roll it down the conveyor belt and let it get even dirtier??? Invest in reusable bags for your fruits and veggies only??? You can see where this is headed — down my road of annoying anxieties.) Time to start making your own peanut butter, and you might as well bake your own bread while you're at it.
- Say you're trying to be a good little environmentalist and so you want to eat only wild-caught fish. But it has to be fresh, never frozen. And local. Maybe even fed by hand in a small pool of liquid gold. Yeah...I don't eat fish that often. Paying $45 for salmon leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
- Maybe you're trying to avoid food dyes because that's been in the news lately — American companies that sell their products to Europe are suddenly reformulating them without synthetic dyes, but in America what the heck, let's just leave 'em in. Better leave those crescent rolls on the table tomorrow; they've got Red #40 and Yellow #5. I've even heard that a certain fast food chain puts food coloring in vanilla ice cream. I know, right? Doesn't even make sense. So it's lurking in places you'd never expect. I'm now on alert. Time to learn how to use the ice cream maker.
- We all know sugar is bad, so anything with refined sugar is out. Forever. For good. Forget about it. Let's make this abundantly clear: No more brownies, birthday cake, dark chocolate, granola bars, frozen yogurt, cranberry juice or kettle corn. Yes, that's just the short list.
- Unless you've been living under a rock, you know gluten isn't far behind when it comes to the Devil Incarnate. Not everyone eats gluten free because of an intolerance; many are proponents of eliminating it from the public's diet because it's said to cause inflammation, which is a precursor to a whole host of diseases and maladies. That means no more bread or crackers, unless you don't mind if they weigh the equivalent of a brick and taste like chalk. So I guess you get out of making your own bread after all!
- We kind of already went over the organic thing. Don't buy another conventional anything ever. Yes, that even means Oreos and carrots.
You know me. I could go on and on. Clearly this is just a smattering of how our favorite foods have been "ruined" by suddenly learning what's wrong with them and trying to figure out in our spare time how to make them from scratch, infuse them with vitamins and overhaul every meal, snack and beverage we consume. Which is why I make this point: Walking down the aisles of your go-to grocery store, you're bombarded with products that violate any and all of these "rules." It's like that pseudo-postcard that was circulating on Facebook for a while: Eat Organic — or, what our grandparents used to call, Food. We're faced with more food "products" these days than we are straight-forward, recognizable, from-the-earth real foods. It isn't easy to eat, even though it should be.
So to make a long story even longer, it makes me wish I could boil all of these principles down into one cohesive food philosophy instead of 100 different tips and tricks (which I'll have trouble adhering to on a day-to-day basis anyways because of all the reasons mentioned above, and, well, I'm human). What would it be? Eat food, not food products? Do the best you can with what you have? If you can't cook it, don't eat it?
Frankly, I don't know. (Were you expecting an easy, ingenious answer? You knoweth me not!) What I do know is that the more I think about it, the worse it gets. It only gets easier when I tune in and focus on how I feel AFTER I eat the fast food or the gluten or the scone or the raspberries. So perhaps "Eat what feels good"? Only that would all too easily justify tacos in excess.
This is part of my journey. It's my hobby; it's my way of trying to show my family I care; it's my creative release. I write about food — and other things, don't worry — to help the thought process along, because it somehow helps me finally reach conclusions, and because one day I will figure it all out. So if you're new to the site, this is where it's headed. If you want one honest gal's take on all of the above and more, this is the place to be. Have you read my bio? Help me help you. Or, just help me. I could use your comments and suggestions! Let me know you stopped here by leaving a note below.
Filed under: What to eat