Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Feeding Ourselves and Our Children

I'm distracting myself - let's see if it works.

Today I read this in the New York Times:
and this:

I find the comments on such articles as interesting as the articles themselves. I recognize that the NYT is more elitist than not, so it's not a cross section of America, but it's a starting place.

It is no surprise to me that I fall on the far end of the food debate. I'm not the most extreme (yes, Tessa knows what Oreos are, and she loves them, and I let her eat other peoples houses) but I'm towards that end. No surprise to anyone who knows me, and I know my own biases.

What I am saddened by is that more people do not share these biases.

What's my main food philosophy? I'll take the words from Michael Pollan: Eat foods. Mostly plants. Not too much.

I think that this applies quadruply to children. Just watching how Tessa grows, both physically, intellectually, and emotionally, lets me know that he body is undergoing incredible changes and needs all the support it can get. Not only is she developing habits to last her a lifetime, she is developing a body to last her a lifetime. I take that pretty seriously: it is my job to give her the best body I can.

There are so many components to nutrition that I worry about, including ethical sourcing of food, organic, and the like. But even more important that that, I think is that she needs to eat food. Not food like substances, but real food.


I recently stopped buying Kashi TLC crackers. I have liked them for years - they taste good, they have whole grains in them, they're high in fiber. But looking further at their ingredients:
Unbleached Wheat Flour, Kashi Seven Whole Grain and Sesame Flour (Whole: Oats, Hard Red Winter Wheat, Rye, Long Grain Brown Rice, Triticale, Barley, Buckwheat, Sesame Seeds), Expeller Pressed Sunflower Oil, Evaporated Cane Juice, Toasted Whole Wheat, Toasted Sesame Seeds, Wehat Bran, Contains two percent or less of Brown Rice Syrup, Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour, Sea Salt, Malt Extract, Yellow Corn Meal, Millet, Onion Powder, Horseradish Powder, Rice Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Natural Leavenings (Potassium Bicarbonate, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Whey
...makes me question.

The very first ingredient is processed flour. The grains are good (and what drew me to the crackers in the first place). Evaporated cane juice is just sugar, so is brown rice syrup. More research:
Not harmful, but doesn't exactly come across like health food.

And what is sodium acid pyrophosphate?
Or monocalcium phosphate?
The first line for the wikipedia definition of monocalcium phosphate reads:
Monocalcium phosphate is a chemical compound with the formula Ca(H2PO4)2. It is commonly found as the monohydrate, Ca(H2PO4)2·H2O.

Okay, seriously? Is that what I want to eat? Is this food, or a food-like-substance? Why does "health food" need chemicals in it?

I used to eat Luna bars. Here is the ingredients list for Nutz Over Chocolate:
LunaPro (TM) (soy rice crisp [soy protein isolate, rice flour], organic oats, organic soy flour, organic roasted soybeans, organic milled flaxseed), brown rice syrup, Coating (organic evaporated cane juice, palm kernel oil, cocoa, inulin, soy lecithin, natural vanilla), vegetable glycerin, organic peanut butter, inulin, peanut flour, natural flavors, sea salt, geen tea extract.Vitamins & Minerals: calcium carbonate, dicalcium phosphate, magnesium oxide, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), alpha-tocophero
Now, let me go to the kitchen to whip some of those up. Where is my soy protein isolate? And my inulin? (What is inulin, anyway?) And glycerin? (Oh, I have glycerin. In the bathroom. It's called SOAP.)

This list makes me lose my appetite.

Feeding myself is complicated enough. I aim for a mainly plant based diet, with occassional ethically sourced, sustainably raised meat. I hope to eat mostly whole grains, unprocessed foods. I shop at "healthy" grocery stores, and I try to stick to the health foods aisles. Kashi and Clif (the manufacturer of Luna bars) are actually among the higher-scoring companies for healthy items, and if you ask me, they're falling short. I can't count on the "healthy" companies to take care of me.

But throw the likes and dislikes of a seven year old into the mix, and it's much, much harder.

Everywhere we go, we see messages about food-like-substances. Cereals, cookies, crackers, bars, and packaged dinners that are designed to be appealing to children. Chicken in the shape of dinosaurs, for example, includes these ingredients:
Chicken breast with rib meat, water, dried whole eggs, seasoning (salt, onion powder, modified corn starch, natural flavor), and sodium phosphates. BREADED WITH: Enriched unbleached wheat flour (enriched with niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, dextrose, iodized salt, yellow corn flour, modified corn starch, dried whey, soy flour, sugar, spices, caramel color, garlic powder, methylcellulose, oleoresin paprika, spice extractive. Breading set in vegetable oil.
Of the 23 ingredients listed, only 12 look like real foods to me (and I'm counting water, spices, and oleoresin paprika in there, even though I have no idea what oleoresin means). That means that 11 ingredients aren't even real ingredients....they're food-like substances. And I'm not even getting into ethical sourcing, or organics, or processing.

As a stay at home mom and chief cook at our house, it's pretty hard to compete. Assuming I was willing to make my own chicken nuggets (sounds like a lot of effort for little return) I'm certainly not going to make them shaped like dinosaurs or some other cute creatures (because I'm not sure I could - how do you make chicken do that?). They won't each look like carbon copies of each other, and they won't taste like the ones from the plastic bag in the freezer section; they won't have the same "caramel color". And they won't take 15 minutes in an oven or a blast of the microwave, either - they'd take at least an hour.

But Tessa doesn't see that. She just sees yummy chicken nuggets.

Tessa is more adventurous than many, but she's pretty sick of my cooking. Vegetables? Yuck. Pasta? Okay, but none of your sauce. (The penne with sausage, chard, and zuchinni that I made recently got gagging sounds.) Thai stir fry? Blech. Salad? How about I just pick out the blue cheese.

I'm not giving up, but it is a hard thing to face every day, multiple times per day. Tessa wants peanut butter that doesn't seperate (the natural stuff I buy does; it contains peanuts and salt, and nothing else); compare that to Jif:
And don't get me started on jam.

I'm more attuned to food ingredients than most people, and I struggle. I won't give up, and I'll keep trying to work it out, but I'm constantly tweaking. Just this week I found out (through a friend) that Tillamook ice cream - chosen because they have cows with no growth hormones, and they're local, and they promote their natural flavors - uses corn syrup. Well, cross that one off the list.

No wonder our nation's kids are becoming more and more obese, and with higher rates of type II diabetes. No wonder heart disease is a number one killer. No wonder cancer is so prevelant: we just weren't meant to be eating all of this junk.

I don't want to spend my life in the kitchen, even though I believe that there is honor in it. But feeding myself and my family is a bit like running a gauntlet. I'm managing, and doing relatively well, but it is a challenge that I think our great grandmothers would shake their heads at.

How are you handling feeding your family? What are your solutions for these problems?

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