Thursday, October 23, 2014

We Are What We Eat

This is a phrase that I have been thinking about a lot lately.  It is a phrase that has been around for as long as I can remember, but it wasn't until I was reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan (or rather listening to it while driving across the MidWest) that I really started to take it seriously.  You see, Pollan points out that we are quite literally what we eat.  All of the carbon molecules, amino acids, fats, sugars, etc that our bodies use to build new cells, run the ones we have and repair old ones come from the foods that we eat and the liquids that we drink.  I always knew that my husband and I felt better when we were eating a healthy, balanced diet.  However, I never really thought about the fact that the very carbon atoms that build my children's bodies come directly from the food that they eat as do the protein that builds their muscles, the fats that turn into hormones, and the sugars that turn into energy for their cells so that they can run and play, grow and learn.  We all know that eating a good breakfast is important for school success and that it is hard for anyone to concentrate when they are hungry, but it is easy to get stuck in the mentality that food is little more than tasty fuel for our brains and bodies.

 

It would not be fair to say that this is a novel concept to me.  In college I studied wildlife biology.  I took classes that talked about how different grasses nourished game and livestock in different ways.  I also learned over and over again about how our cells work and how our bodies digest our food and turn it into the building blocks of life.  I even had classes about how different types of common livestock animals have bodies designed for specific types of diets and all of the things that can happen if they get the wrong kind of food for too long.  I knew about CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) where grass eating cows are packed into tight spaces and fed lots of corn/antibiotics/animal byproducts/etc instead of hay.  I have driven by large scale dairies and CAFOs that could be smelled many miles before they could be seen.  I even knew a little bit about commercial hog production, though the little bit I knew about that was enough to keep me from wanting to learn more.  I also worked for years doing computer stuff for our local cooperative extension service.  I posted the warnings when the EPA decided to pull certain pesticides off of the list of allowed chemicals because they caused too many health problems for those applying them.  I saw a tiny bit of the backlash from conventional farmers who felt that they could not grow crops without these chemicals.  I saw the extension service working to help farmers who were dependent on "roundup ready" crops figure out what to do when the weeds became resistant to the only herbicide that those farmers knew to use.  I really had no excuse for sticking my head in the sand and pretending that all food is created equal.
This is a swale I saw in Iowa while on our roadtrip.  I was
so excited to see good land management that I took a picture.
Despite all of this and a love of good food I never really thought too much about it once I had kids because I was too busy thinking about other things like how to raise them into the best adults that I can.  That isn't to say that I've been feeding my kids junk.  We try to eat meals as a family, snacks are frequently fruits and veggies and some sort of non-grain plant food pretty much always appears at the dinner table.  We are lucky enough to live in a region with a year round growing season in a neighborhood where fresh produce is used to draw people into the grocery store so despite a very tight grocery budget we still eat pretty well by modern American standards.

However, I have always been a little bit of a "slow food" person at heart as well as a lover of books (especially nonfiction) and bit by bit I have been realizing that changes need to happen.  At this point I am responsible for raising three amazing children* and I am the main person responsible for making sure that they get what they need in terms of food, shelter, clothing, teaching, love and responsibility to grow into amazing adults. (Yes, my husband helps, but he is also at work all day earning the living that supports the rest of us.) However, the kinds of changes that need to happen are ones that I have been told over and over again can't happen on a tight food budget.  I really want to start feeding my kids mostly organically produced fruits and veggies.  I want to feed them milk, cheese and yogurt from cows that have eaten grass.  I want their eggs to come from chickens that have been allowed to roam free, and not just packed into a giant shed with a little door they could theoretically go out if they could find it and weren't too demoralized to care.  I want the meat we eat (because we really are omnivores here and feel better with meat in our diet) to come from animals that have been humanely raised and allowed to eat the diet that they evolved to eat.  So how do I do it?  How do I feed a family of five organic produce, grass-fed meat and organic dairy products on a seriously tight food budget**?

The answer to that involves planning, saving, cooking and some creativity.  I started the planning and saving phase back in April after that fateful road trip and things are just now coming together, but it is totally worth it so far.  I am hoping to share my journey with anyone who is interested and would love to answer any questions that come up along the way.  I would also love it if this post and those that I hope will follow it inspire someone to eat even a little bit better or to spend their food dollars in a slightly more sustainable way.  Who's with me?

* Yes, yes, bad blogger, no cookie. I had a baby that didn't ever get mentioned here, but if I have any followers left that don't know me in real life I'll be shocked.  I'm pretty sure the 3ish visits this blog sees each week are all from my dad.  Hi Dad!
**When I say seriously tight I mean it.  When I first started budgeting I looked up what people got in the way of food stamps and used that as my jumping off point.  I increased it when we needed to and decreased it when we had extra and needed something elsewhere.  I haven't checked recently, but last I did our food budget is below the USDA numbers for frugal shoppers feeding a family of 4.  That said, cash is an important part of how I have made grocery shopping at this level work as is living in a place where we can literally grow food crops year round and the local farmers can too.  I honestly don't know if someone who is limited to food stamps or living in a climate that has harsh winters would be able to make this work on the budget that we are using.  However, these tips may still be useful in helping others in those sorts of situations move in the same direction.

1 comment:

  1. Candie odell-SchererOctober 25, 2014 at 12:31 PM

    I'd love to be a part of your journey.

    ReplyDelete