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Year in Review

It’s almost 2015! Lately my mind has been on coming up with a great resolution for next year. BUT, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself. We still have a day or two left of this year and as excited as I am about the possibilities for all the improvements that 2015 can bring, I think I need to pause for a moment and reflect on the accomplishments of 2014.

At the beginning of 2014, I set my resolution to remove all the GMOs from my house. The idea wasn’t to search and distroy within my pantry but rather do a slow replacement of offending items as they ran out. A nice, easy transition.

Things started to snowball around the middle of the year, though, and before I knew it I was learning not just about modified foods but about pesticides, chemical additives, industrialized food, etc. That transitioned into learning about grains and why they aren’t fulfilling my family’s nutritional needs. From there we did food allergy testing on our son to see if we could nail down some persistent digestive issues… and we discovered the need to keep out wheat as well as spelt, diary, eggs, and peanuts. And more research has led me to try to restrict certain other foods, like nightshades (potatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes).

This year has been a big learning experience with food. And we’ve come a long way as a family with our diet. We started the year very grain- and dairy-heavy: lots of cereal, lots of cheese, lots of baggies of processed snacks and a whole pantry of dinner “helpers” in a box and processed convenience foods. Now we still have a couple snack foods that we buy but we’ve switched to buying brands with more quality ingredients. We read labels on everything now and we try to make foods rather than buy them.

Speaking of making foods, now we cook all our meals at home, three times a day (I work from home which helps with this tremendously). We went from going out to eat at least once or twice a week to family meals out maybe twice in the last few months (it’s easy to stop eating out when you’re avoiding just about everything on the menu!). This has been really great on our pocketbook and it’s really easy to avoid the “no” foods by just not being around them. But we’ve had to learn to cook everything!

I wasn’t too much of a cook before this year. I could make a mean boxed mac n’cheese. I could bake chicken and stuff too, but cooking a whole chicken or making a vegetable without a cheese topping really wasn’t my thing. This year I have learned so much about cooking and baking. I can make several meals without recipes now and I have lots of resources for finding things to eat when I get stuck. I meal plan every week – no more winging it like I used to! I know how to properly use and care for my cast iron pans (that I had but only used a handful of times before this year – now I use them at least once, sometimes two or three times a day!). I’ve totally changed how and where we shop for food so that we can buy from local farms and outside the industrialized food system.

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My latest meal planning tool – the list of foods we can eat!

 

I’ve learned that a lot of the food out there today is just plain not food. I’ve learned that I want to participate in a better food system, and if I really want to bring about change then I must be conscious of how each one of my food dollars is spent. We buy from local farms because organic is good for us, but we also buy that way because we’re supporting a way of growing food that is sustainable on every level: good to the Earth, good to the animals, good to the workers, good to the neighbors, good for the community, on and on and on. Yes it is more expensive but what is the true cost of the alternative? The cost of food is not just what I see on my receipt!! It’s in how the workers are paid so they can contribute to a healthy economy, it’s how the animals are treated so they are healthy and strong (cause if they’re not healthy my meat isn’t going to be too healthy eaither), it’s in the way we treat the Earth so we have fertile soil and clean air to keep growing healthy food, it’s in the LACK of government subsidies that decive customers with food prices that are unsustainably cheap. That cheap food is costing us much more than the tax dollars we spend on the subsidies. In my opinion, it is not sustainable or responsible to turn a blind eye to what we buy.

Out of everything, the biggest thing I learned and my family learned is just general awareness of food: what’s in it, where it comes from, who makes it, why it’s good for us or not, where we can buy it, etc. This year of discovery has completely changed everything about food for us and I’m so glad we opened this can of worms and started making these changes!

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Bringing Home the Bacon

Ah, grocery shopping. Other than meal planning, is there anything more fun? Add in a toddler who MUST walk for herself through the entire store and you’ve got a load of entertainment, let me tell you!

We’ve been changing up our grocery shopping habits a lot in the last six months or so. Our baseline was your typical shopper, I think: we got most foods from a big grocery store like Safeway or Fred Meyer. We didn’t buy anything special, a fair mix of packaged foods and fresh produce. I didn’t care if things were organic or not, they just needed to look okay. We shopped a little at some smaller, locally owned grocery stores, too, but I hated going to more than one store for food.

Then when I found out about GMOs and started my New Years resolution to improve our diet, I started doing more shopping at Trader Joe’s and a couple really sweet local grocery stores. I tell you what, local grocery stores are where it’s at. If you’re lucky enough to have them close to you, check them out. Local grocery stores are where we’re getting the vast majority of our produce right now. It’s almost like a farmers market, because most of the foods are sourced locally, but they still have out-of-season foods like the grocery stores (like strawberries in January). It’s so much easier to find the organic produce at the smaller spots.

The farmers market, though… that’s where I’d love to get the bulk of our produce from. The local grocery stores just aren’t as “local” as the farmers market. The problem is I have to go by the market’s schedule. With the grocery store I can go whenever I want, but with the market I have to wait for the brief weekly window in which the farmers gather. I shouldn’t complain – here in my city there’s a farmers market five or six days of the week. But I still find it difficult to get there! And I have to plan meals more carefully and seasonally because the farmers markets don’t grow all our favorites year-round like the commercial growers. The third con on my list for farmers markers is the cost. Most of the time I don’t find them to be cheaper than the store (but Mr. Handsome is way more observant about prices than I am. I just look for what I need and buy it but he actually tries to stay within a budget. Imagine that!).

Speaking of seasonal produce, I’m in love with these seasonal charts. I want to print them out and hang them in my kitchen – both as art and as meal planning tools! Here’s the veggie chart.

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Moving on… so produce buying is sort of a balancing act between what is available and reasonably priced at the farmers market and all the choices but not quite as locally-sourced foods at the smaller grocery stores. There are some discount produce markets around here that are open all week and year-round – those are a good “in between” option. Another in-between’er is our food buying club.

We joined this club… it’s kind of a combination of group buying (where a bunch of people go in on a big buy of something like 50 pounds of honey or a whole cow), bulk buying like Azure, and farmer cooperative. We have been getting just about all of our meat through the co-op farmers and have had good luck with random boxes of veggies. I recently ordered 15 pounds of coconut oil that I plan to turn into more toothpaste (imagine that!), soap, hair products, and maybe even food. When we all had bad colds a few weeks ago we nursed them with a couple bottles of elderberry syrup that I got for a good price through the club. I’d love to start getting sundries from the club, too, but right now I still go to the big grocery store for toilet paper, dishwasher soap, vinegar, epsom salt, aluminum foil, and paper towels (we have used washable towels more lately, and I have some strategies to eliminate paper towels altogether, but I haven’t been able to implement them yet).

Now my shopping order goes something like this…

  1. Food buying club weekly for milk, eggs, cheese; monthly for meat, bulk staples, bulk produce like lemons, garlic, onion, potatoes.
  2. Farmers market weekly for seasonal veggies (if the price is right) and “craft” items like vegan chocolate.
  3. Discount produce market weekly for more seasonal veggies (that were too expensive at the farmers market).
  4. Local grocery stores weekly or every other week for produce we couldn’t find already.
  5. Trader Joe’s, if we have to, maybe once a month (we get plain Joe’s O’s for lazy breakfasts a couple times a month, beer/wine, flowers, and other random stuff at TJ’s like more chocolate).
  6. Big grocery stores for paper products, maybe once a month.

Yes, we go to more than one store to get our food now. But we don’t go to every place in one day and ask you can see we don’t even go to every place each week. I have been going to the club weekly but I’d love to cut down to every other week if it weren’t for the fresh milk that we need to get every week (Baby2 loves milk and Kiddo1 has even been on a bit of a milk kick lately). I went to Safeway last week for the first time in at least a month. I needed toilet paper. They laughed at my reusable bags. It’s a different world at those grocery stores for me anymore!

 

Diet Changes Are Hard

A couple days ago I started this post about frustrations with food and family. It was kind of a difficult afternoon around here! I don’t remember what started it off, but somehow there were frustrations boiling to the surface about the changes in our diet that I’ve made this year, some specifics of which I’ve documented here.

I haven’t given much background on these diet changes, but my New Years’ resolution this year was to become a GMO-free house. That came from some article I read about finding correlations between Round-Up and food allergies, cases of ADD and ADHD, autism spectrum, and rises in infertility. I don’t have the original source, but the graphs showing the nearly 1-for-1 relationship between use of GMOs/Monsanto pesticides and these new human conditions are shocking. What are we putting into our children? What is it doing to them? I’m not saying I totally agree that GMOs are to blame for all these ills. Correlation does not equal causation. But when in doubt, I avoid.

In my quest to rid my pantry of GMOs, I stumbled upon a whole bunch of other bad shit about food. Even if food isn’t genetically modified, there are still lots of Round-Up pesticides that can be used on it. I don’t like those pictures of people wearing haz-mat suits and spraying chemicals on food. So now we eat organic fruits and veggies. Not just whenever possible, but always. If it isn’t available in organic, then we don’t get it. Period. Not only is this because organic food is less likely to have pesticides (I don’t believe anything is 100% free of any other thing) but organic food is also more nutrient-dense. If I have to fight to get the family to eat veggies, then at least the bites they do take should be full of nutrients. Full of them I say!

My final point about organic fruits and veggies is the social impact. By buying organic, I’m telling the market that pesticides and non-organic practices are not okay with me. I’m voting with my dollars and I’m supporting a farmer rather than a corporation. I don’t know who the farmer is yet (getting there!), and I’m sure that depending on where I get my food I’m still supporting a corporation, but at least there is one more person telling them that organic is the way to go. Okay, end organic rant.

Then I started reading about how foods affect our bodies and how food is our first line of defense against sickness. I want to print out one of those sayings about food is healthcare and hang it on my fridge as a motivator. I was interested in this because Kiddo1 has always had stomach problems. I’ll spare you the details, but it is not fun. We have done all kinds of things to help him, but nothing has worked. Changing our diet is the one thing we haven’t really tried too much that I think can really help. My son’s gut health is not good, and after reading about how some foods can affect our bodies, I think he needs some drastic changes in order to start feeling better.

Grain is difficult for some people to process. I hate jumping on the grain-blame-train, I really do. I love bread and pasta. I swore I would never give them up. I was raised in the Midwest, where corn and grain are king! I laughed at Atkins in the early 00’s and questioned why anyone would be dumb enough to give up grains. In this life of suffering, at least give us the pleasure of donuts, lasagna, and toast!

But then those grains went and fucked with my kid, and know my tune has changed.

He exhibits all the classic signs of having trouble with grains (not intolerance, but sensitivity – there is a huge difference). Again, I will spare you the details, but a quick Google search of grain sensitivity symptoms reads like an observatory journal of my son. Even if grains turn out not to be the culprit, I can’t look at this list of symptoms and ignore it. If eliminating grains could be the key to my son’s health, I have to try. I’ll try anything.

And that, dear blog, is where the struggles come in. Kiddo1 understands that he is not healthy, but he is not standing ready and willing to do something about it, especially when that something involves him giving up the comforts of bread. Also, Mr. Handsome and I have a delicate balancing act between getting him to eat the right things versus just getting him to eat, period! He does not have a strong appetite (my gut tells me this is a deeper symptom of the grain intolerance, and it is often listed as a symptom of grain sensitivity). Sometimes I can’t justify taking away bread when bread is all he’ll eat!

So there we are – feed him the “right things” and fight to get him to eat it OR just feed him something he’ll eat and avoid the fight. It’s a struggle that is on my mind all the time.

This is how I’m dealing (this, and WINE).

  • Offer the good stuff first. I know that 9 times out of 10 (or 10 times out of 10!) he’ll reject what I offer and want something else. But I offer and sometimes he takes it. I don’t give up. This has started to pay off if you can believe it. Details below.
  • Take the food to him. I don’t like this one, but I don’t know what else to do. This kid is 11 years old and I would like more than anything for him to just make his own damn food already! Not every meal, but a snack, breakfast, some lunches… these are not hard things to make. He is perfectly capable of making these meals BUT he’s not willing to make them with the things I want him to eat. Yet. In the meantime, I will bring things to him. And, now that he is getting used to some things, he’s making them for himself again. We’re also going to work on learning a few meals that he can cook himself. That is one of our summer goals. Eventually we will get back to the point where he’s making more of his food, but I feel like he needs a little hand-holding or a little guiding to get him through this transition. I know it sounds like babying, but in practice it is really me forcing him to eat what I want! So it’s messed up all around, really. But I find it easier to “force” him if he thinks he’s getting away with being lazy.
  • If When he doesn’t like the food I offer, he has to make something that he will eat and he has to actually eat it. And no one can decide they don’t like something until they taste it – even if it’s the millionth time it is served.
  • Stay positive about the changes. It’s really easy to say, nevermind, this is too hard. I have wanted to say it and give up several times! But as discouraged as I am by my son’s rejection, I’m motivated by him. He is my catalyst for change, he always has been. It is because I want him to be healthy that I started down this road in the first place. We have been “giving up” his whole life and that is changing. I tell Mr. Handsome – WE are the adults. We are the only force for change here. He will not change himself, and it should not be up to him to be the change! He’s a kid! We are the ones who need to take that burden for him. When he is ready, when we are ready, he can take on more responsibility, but we aren’t there yet.

Last night for dinner we had an amazing meal – pasture-based pork medallions with fingerling potatoes and caramelized onions alongside a romaine salad cut from the garden moments before serving. The potatoes were the “worst” thing on the table as far as nutrition goes! I cooked everything in my cast iron skillet with ghee made from grass-fed butter, otherwise no added dairy, no processed anything (the pork was the closest thing to processed, and only because it had to be butchered), no grains, no GMOs. A nearly perfect meal. So of course I knew Kiddo1 would reject it. BUT, I offered it first. I placed a medallion on his plate with some potatoes.

To my surprise, he ate the pork. To my utter shock and amazement he said he liked it! He said I could make it AGAIN! He ate the WHOLE THING!!! Not the potatoes or onions or salad, but whatever! I am clinging to my one success, no matter how small. It is really hard to get this kid to eat pork. It’s hard to get him to eat any meat but chicken, and even THAT is hard sometimes. (Side note: Part of my victory with the pork, I think, is that I finally learned how to cook pasture-based pork, which is different from conventional meat. More on that in another post; it will be a book review of “Long Way on a Little” by Shannon Hayes.)

Kiddo1 has also started eating a leaf of romaine with his sandwiches, which is the only thing keeping him in sandwiches right now. He tried some spelt flour tortillas and actually liked those, too, so I’m trying to encourage more wraps rather than sandwiches. He goes for it most of the time if you can believe it! More encouragement for me.

When I started this post a couple days ago, it was not on a good day. But since then there have been just enough small victories that I’ve managed to keep my head up. It is important to stay positive! If, after the frustrations a few days ago, I had relented, then I wouldn’t have had the victory last night. And it won’t be the only victory. Fueled by my love for my son and my desire to get him healthy, I will make it through the next disturbance about food and I will continue to cook 3 meals a day (even though it’s exhausting!) and offer him wholesome goodness at every meal. Someday it will be less of a struggle.