I think I am going to try this--though Sean might not like the 'no meat thing' this could involve. Still, it seems sad that I am going to work hard to get a $15 dinner for three together sustainably, when we could walk down to those golden arches and 'feast' on subsidized trash for much less... How are we going to change this?!.. I'm not sure, but I am thinking an awful lot about this sort of thing lately!..
I don't know if it is just plain chance that has me eating today the first fruits of my gardening labor. About two months ago, I won a raised garden bed at our farmer's market. My three-year old and I quickly found the perfect little tomato plant at the market to go into our 2x2 box (well, to be honest, we tried to pick out four, but the kind farmer let us know that we were being a bit greedy and not giving that tiny plant nearly enough credit). Thank goodness he stopped us, as we watched as daily our little plant grew and grew, until it towered over our toddler and had a waistline wider than mine at the end of nine equally fertile months. Every day, we race to see what new has transpired on this plant, which currently has no less than 30 fruit hanging from it in various stages of late summer garb. And the first of them ripen and deliver as we return from a weekend of yurt camping on the Oregon coast. Two beautiful, tasty critters that leave one wondering how anyone could ever pay for their mushy-tasting look-a-likes at a store. A little fresh mozzarella, basil from our same raised bed and some olive oil, and one of the best Labor day snacks I never shared. There will be plenty of these guys to share, but for now, 'me' and these first two comers are having a party, and no one else is invited. Happy Labor Day to me and my two new all-organic tummy dwellers!
For my Stress, Food and Public Health class, I had to do a 5-day observation period where I recorded everything I ate and then a five-day intervention period where I changed something and wrote about it in an informal report. Given my newfound focus on all that is organic, as well as the socio-economic consequences of eating that which nourishes, I chose to go 100% organic and healthy (not always synonomous, unfortunately).
Here are excerpts:
I feel like I began the observation process a bit ahead of the game. I had already begun to really look at what I ate and how it affected me. I tend to eat what is healthy in general. I have a sensitivity to soy, which means that a lot of the unhealthy stuff ends up being off limits anyway, since soy flour/soybean oil or some other derivative is in so many of the processed foods. However, I still noticed that despite buying a generally healthy diet, I am prone to snacking on ‘whatever happens to be in front of me’ at certain times. For example, my husband will often bring home the not so great stuff found in our house, and I have a hard time not snacking on this while in the kitchen preparing the ‘real food’ at dinnertime. This was an interesting observation that I hadn’t noticed before having to write it down. For example, during the observation period, he bought chocolate goldfish crackers for our daughter (‘but they are whole grain—look on the package’, he said to me when I rolled my eyes at the door). If it is already in the house, I don’t tend to read the package as diligently, and the impact doesn’t register as strongly. It was actually good that I was having to journal during this time, as I would only pull out 3-4 to snack as I prepared dinner. I imagine if I hadn’t had to write this down for our assignment, the amount would have been counted by handful, not by piece. This same thing also happened at work. I had a whole food plan mapped out for one of the days we were journaling, and when I got to work, a colleague had brought in a box of Noah’s bagels. While I did choose the ‘whole wheat’ option, I imagine that it had just as much enriched flour as its’ less healthy-looking counterparts.
So, for my intervention experiment, I decided to eat only organic and whole, healthy foods. By means of definition, it included whole organic/farm fresh foods as well as packaged foods with minimal ingredient lists, chosen only after a thorough reading of the package reassured me that there was lack of refinement, minimal additives and whole/organic farming practices. On Saturday, I went to Whole Foods and New Seasons, and mapped out several meals as well as snack items and staples. On Sunday, I completed my list at the Woodstock Farmer’s Market. Since I was also working on a presentation around the increased cost of natural/organic food choices, I then took the entire list of what I had bought, and went online and ‘filled’ a Safeway cart with all of the same choices, only their less healthy versions. At last count, I was at about $45 difference between buying healthy and the more affordable options for a five-day menu. When I brought up the amount to my husband, instead of getting upset about it, as I had feared, he just mentioned that maybe our garden should include more than just tomatoes next year. (Point taken.)
I also realized through the observation process that our dependence on meat options for meals would be a big cost factor in this way of eating. My husband does not view a meal as a true meal unless something has died in the making. If I were able to do more vegetarian options, I think I could cut down on this expense significantly. For now, I am just looking at meals where I can use less meat and more high protein vegetarian options and still include some sort of meat within meal planning (for example, chili, where I can choose the amount of meat and large salads where the meat is a topper).
In terms of relationship to stress and the way I ate during the intervention period, I noticed that I had a hard time stopping before the point of being full when I was eating lunch at my desk at work. An example was a journaling day where I bought a chicken taco salad from our cafeteria. Our cafeteria at work does a really good job using fresh, local products, and the salad was excellent. However, I should have stopped about 60% of the way through the salad, and instead ended up eating the entire thing. This made me realize the true out-of-control portion sizes we are getting, even in places such as Providence, where our chefs are spending considerable time thinking about feeding us all healthier. It also made me ponder my relationship to serving size and finishing the food. When the server gave me the to-go box, I remember thinking how heavy it was. And 30 minutes later, all that heaviness had transferred directly to my stomach. I noted an upset stomach 45 minutes after finishing, which is understandable, given how much I ended up eating compared to how much I actually needed.
On the first day of the intervention, I found myself thinking of the different things in my cupboard/refrigerator that might go to waste because they don’t fit my definition of organic/healthy. In much the same way that I ‘had’ to finish the salad because it was there in front of me and couldn’t be wasted, I was already scheming about how to get my husband to eat the remaining 'off limits' foods in the fridge so that they wouldn’t go to waste. I consider myself a true conservationist, in very environmental and physical ways. This idea of ‘waste’ was eating at me emotionally in a way that seemed to be negatively impacting me from a stress perspective. I reassured myself that it would get easier as we stopped buying the cheaper options, but it was still an interesting observation. An example was a gallon of nonfat milk that my husband brought home on Friday. It was a regular gallon of Lucerne milk, and didn’t fit the definition of allowable foods that I carved out for my intervention. Still, I found myself at one point serving my daughter the cheaper milk (even though we normally give her organic), so as not to ‘waste’ it, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to drink it over the days that followed. I imagine that part of this reaction is a by-product of growing up in a home without a lot of money, where any and all food that was available was consumed, ‘period’ (and if you didn’t consume it first, someone else would). I am not sure if/how to let that self-created stressor go, but it was an interesting and unexpected reaction to the experiment.
The other piece that I found really interesting was the role of my significant other in the mix. Both of us have always been on the healthier side, in terms of reading nutrition labels and exercise. In this way, we have both benefited from the social support that this healthier way of living provides. However, this intervention still involved a stretch for both of us and I was impressed throughout by his willingness to listen, play along, and readily adopt. I realized at a number of points during this intervention the importance of bringing him along on this journey. The first was from a cost /value perspective. When we first met, he was doing all of his grocery shopping at Winco and buying his 8% fat beef in 5 pound tubes. I, on the other hand, was doing most of my shopping at New Seasons. Over the years, we had both gradually shifted to a place where he would buy many of our household staples from Grocery Outlet and I would buy the perishables at a QFC or Whole Foods. It was great to have some of the empirical and scientific data from readings and from the class to show the health benefits of buying more intentionally healthy and organic. I also realized the importance that he plays in my food choices. When I was single, I would go days without eating meat, poultry or other seafood. I realized in my menu planning phase of the intervention that this wasn’t going to be an option (at this point anyway), and so that I would need to budget more in order to buy the organic alternatives to the central component of our evening meal. Through the intervention period, I noticed a downward shift in how much meat he requires at each meal, and am not sure if it is due to the higher quality/taste of the protein itself, or the better tasting accompaniments. In all, I found the issue of social support and willingness to shift of the family unit a key factor in making this a permanent change in our lives.
The other social component was my workplace. From our executive assistant who always has a huge container of peanut M&Ms on her desk to the break room that is constantly overflowing with processed foods, brought in for any occasion at all, I realized this is a key entryway into my day-to-day of the foods I would never buy for myself. I am also a bit dismayed to be working in healthcare and be surrounded by this on a daily basis. It reiterated to me the concept that we as Americans have a lot of work to do to get beyond the idea that ‘breaking proverbial bread’ together doesn't have to be a 24/7 way of life.
The impact of media on my intervention was harder for me to wrap my brain around as we do not have television, don’t often listen to the radio and I didn’t read any magazines during the intervention. I knew that I ‘must be getting’ food messages from the media, but didn’t consciously notice a lot of impact during the experiment. Where I did notice impact was my awareness of the plethora of facebook posts and blog entries around food, and a significant frequency in names of restaurants, brands of foods, pictures of meals, etc. In most of these cases, the focus of these posts was on high-quality foods/meal types that would fit within my intervention framework. In some cases, however, it was a check-in at a fast food restaurant with a family of five, and I found myself becoming more aware of my own biases against fast foods.
Physically and emotionally, I left the intervention stage never wanting to look back. I found myself enjoying the shopping experience more, the cooking experience more, and completely in love with the end result eating experience. I noticed that as a family we took more time savoring the food and actually ended up eating less as a result. I found myself looking forward to meals and putting off snacks because of this anticipation. We are now in the middle of week two of a continuation of the intervention, and I remain impressed with how good I feel and how supportive my family has been. I love talking with the farmers and ranchers at the farmer’s market about their practices and getting to know where the cow / carrot / etc. has been before enjoying the gift of their sustenance. I love not having to flip over and read the white nutrition box and judge the fat/protein/carb ratio in whatever I might be contemplating buying/consuming. I love talking about this topic with others and have found that people are generally hungry for information, wanting to learn more about where their food comes from and where we as a country have gone astray. I love feeling the sense of power and accomplishment I get when I make a meal from the base ingredients without resorting to opening multiple packages for assistance. Most of all, I love the fact that this way of eating aligns better with how I try to live out other parts of my life: freely, simply, knowledgably, and with a spirit of honest intention and newfound respect that food hadn't held for me since I left France.
Interesting read from the NYT on how to fix the food/obesity mess in which we find ourselves. It seems to me, however, that rather than taxing the 'bad for you' that is currently being subsidized through corn and soy subsidies, couldn't we just cut the subsidies (which would, in turn, raise prices without the need for a tax) and shift these same subsidies to fresh foods?! Same end result, one less government tax program to manage: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/opinion/sunday/24bittman.html?pagewanted=3&_r=1&smid=fb-nytimes
Warning--this post might be a bit on the academic (AKA-dry) side--I thought I would share an excerpt or two from a reaction paper for my class from a research article from Brian Wansink: “Environmental factors that increase the food intake and consumption volume of unknowing consumers.” As an aside, my professor is not at all a 'dry' academic. She actually used 'Fuck' as one of four F's in her slide presentation (the other three were much less inflammatory--fight, flight, famine). Gotta love a bit of shock effect to wake up a class. Anyway, on to the excerpts:
This [article] was interesting to me for a number of reasons. The first of which had to do with the fact that I lived in France for a few years after undergraduate studies. I never had to do much at all to maintain an optimal weight, never had to restrict or diet, didn't ‘work out’ (though I ran for fun occasionally), and still managed to eat really great food on a daily basis. It has always been a theory of mine that a lot of the difference was not only in the quality, but also in the presentation and volume of the food present. When I think about the way I bought most food there, it was always about the ‘experience’. I would often go to three or four stores to gather food for dinner. When I went to the butcher, he would ask me ‘how many for dinner’, and then cut me a small portion each, for the usual 1-5 people I would reply back. I would then take it home, make a big salad, and a copious side of some sort of starch or vegetable (both usually bought at the farmer’s market, which simply went indoors during the winter months) and a delectable, small portion(s) of whatever yummy (and usually fatteningly yummy cut) of meat I had decided upon (often decided with the help of same said butcher). I would serve this on several different small plates in series, if entertaining, and this repeated itself, day after day, until all I owned were skinny jeans.
All this to say that this research article confirmed what I experienced during this time. That we will eat what we are given. And when what we are given happens to be in ever-larger portions, with ever-increasing plate and bowl sizes, we, too, become ever-increasing. I found particularly telling the idea of the bowl experiment, where folks were given a bowl that refilled from the bottom, unbeknownst to the eaters. I know that I personally would eat much more if given a bowl that kept refilling itself. In this, I recognize that I have little ability, other than external cues, to guide my ability to be ‘done’, or to self-regulate, especially if we are talking about soup. In this country, we have gotten so far away from the biological idea of hunger that most of us don't even get to the point of biologically feeling 'full' signals.
Another piece that struck me as I read was the idea of perceived variety driving consumption. I am sure everyone is guilty of eating more than they would otherwise consume at a good-quality buffet, in the attempt to ‘sample everything’. However, I had never thought about the way manufacturers of processed foods use this sampling tendency so amazingly well. It made me think of the difference between my potential reaction to a bowl of all brown M&Ms versus a bowl containing an assortment of all the trademark colors. I am almost sure that I, and already my three-year old, would eat more of the latter bowl, even though the taste in each container would be identical. This becomes even more important when we consider the way manufacturers change flavors slightly. I can recall times where I ate an entire bag of Skittles only to make sure that I had gotten all of my preferred ‘grape’ flavored candies out of the bag. Hunger, or lack thereof, was never the regulator, only the search for my preferred variety. As the article suggests, this sort of consumption, while great for the manufacturer's Wall Street ticker, is not nearly as beneficial for consumers, who fall prey to over-consumption in the biological search for variety. For thousands of years, our biologic heritage has us trained to seek out variety and color in a search for alphabetic nirvana (of the vitaminic sort). Unfortunately, our brains haven't yet caught on to the fact that that bag of Gummi Worms probably doesn't count.
Peter Jennings Reporting: How to Get Fat Without Really Trying - Watch the Documentary Film for Free | Watch Free Documentaries Online | SnagFilms.
A really insightful look at the truth behind our agricultural priorities and the food we eat. Even if you just make it through the first ten minutes, it gives some good thoughts to chew on for a while.
So, I think I might have gone about this whole thing backwards. Which is probably why it is the right direction and the only way to have done it. And, since I am barely even started, it is oh-so premature to start a blog about it. Which is probably another reason that this is exactly the right thing to be doing, right now.
So, what exactly am I embarking on?!.. A blog about food?!.. Food. Really. I mean, we all love food, right?!.. Gotta have it to survive, and when it is done right, it can be so amazingly yummy. But that is not what this is about. Probably every member of my family could write a memoir about food from that perspective. Growing up, we ate food when we were happy, we ate it when we were sad, and when we had a little extra money in the house, that full refrigerator was the highlight of the month!
Nope, this isn't that kind of blog, though I have no doubt my love-hate relationship with the role of food in emotion management will come up from time to time. Chocolate, anyone?!..
So, then, what am I putting out here, exactly?!. I guess, if I have to sum it up, at least for today, it would be the very beginning of a journey. How one woman-- a mother, wife and community member, started to smarten up about the 'what/where/how' of food in our culture and in our daily lives.
When I say I came at this backwards, I really, truly mean it. I mean, from the outside, I would probably be pegged 'in the know' already. I have been working in healthcare for eight plus years. I lived in France for multiple years, food capital of the world. I run long-distances, for fun. I am finishing a master's in public health. I grew up, and currently live in Oregon, granola/foodie capital of my country of origin. I have owned multiple retail eating establishments. I have a toddler. I donate to causes around animal protection and rescue. I drink whey protein, post-workout. I vote as far left as I possibly can without getting put on a watchlist. I am a fanatic about 'breast is best'. I helped start a farmer's market. I have dieted most of my adult life. I pour over the black and white nutrition boxes on packages. Despite all of these 'labels' that probably suggest I should know what I'm doing, I have been absolutely, positively head in the sand about the food delivery system of which I am a part.
Then, along comes a summer course with the required reading: In Defense of Food (Michael Pollan). If you hate to read, the documentary, Food, Inc., will give you the guist. Basically, they both discuss how, we, the most educated, richest people on earth have also become the most disconnected from the very food we ingest at ever-greater quantities. We no longer know how to grow it, cook it, store it. We may know all the nutrients inside, down to the 'gram per FDA recommended serving', yet have become completely disconnected from the essence of what food IS, DOES and most of all, how where it comes from truly impacts our bodies, our communities and our world.
And, I am ready to change that, one bite at a time. Despite the fact that it might hurt a bit. It might hurt my pocket-book--we Americans like it cheap and abundant. It might hurt my relationship with my 'he thinks it's a secret, but...Burger King-loving' husband. It will probably hurt to have to plan what's for dinner earlier than 5.30 pm, on my way home from work. Hurt to have to be 'that person' asking about how the chicken lived before eating it at my favorite restaurant ('Portlandia', anyone?!).
So, my hope is that here begins a blog about how one ordinary woman set out to change a lifetime of food assumptions, habits and mores, one bite at a time. Will it be: Political? Probably. Judgmental? I certainly hope not. Perfect? Have we met?! It is, however, my hope that a blog of this journey WILL be: Relevant. Kind. Thought-provoking. And, perhaps, just perhaps, make us look at the food we eat a bit differently. And, please, if you are further along on this journey than me, I sure would love a bite of your wisdom to aid in this journey.
My bite of the day: Eat more plants.