When I started down the real foods path I had no idea what I was getting myself into. On the surface, it sounded pretty simple. Stop buying processed crap and replace that with natural whole foods. No problem. Well, let me tell you, ignorance truly is bliss.
Anti-nutrients? Phytic acid? SCOBY? Find a local farmer and grill him on pasture raising animals and organic practices. Learn to ferment foods. Learn to like fermented foods. Learn to freaking plan ahead.
Making a commitment to a real foods diet requires not just an ideological shift, but also an actual lifestyle change. It requires more time in the kitchen, at least initially and probably long term. It requires significant changes to one's shopping habits and significant up-front research time devoted to locating real foods. And it requires an ongoing food ethics conversation, even if that conversation takes place only in your own mind.
I have found myself debating the ethics of potential food choices from several angles. Produce is pretty easy. Is it organic? If it's not organic, is it one of the less-sprayed options? Is it local or relatively local? If it's not organic and not local is there something I could substitute?
Meat, however, has caused me some serious mental wrangling. My family eats meat and it doesn't look like that's going to change. I've been vegetarian and it's not for me. My kids have the option, but neither of them seem inclined that way. So, I try to make the best meat-buying decisions I can. And it's not that easy. Local pastured meat is pretty expensive. At least twice, and often three or four times, as expensive as grocery store meat. We have cut waaaay back on our meat consumption (and it was never as high as the "average") lately in order to be able to afford to purchase local, pastured meat. And while I am happy to support local farmers raising animals ethically, I am also more than a little pissed off that the values of the society in which I live have become so skewed that choosing to eat ethically equates to taking a financial hit for those of us who are not in a position to raise all our own food (which, I suspect, is most of us). Shouldn't the norm be ethical eating standards? If it was the norm, perhaps we could all afford to eat ethically.
And then, of course, there's the "eat local" dilemma. At this point in my food journey, I'm shooting for an 80/20 solution. If I can purchase 80% of my family's food from local sources, I'll be happy. There are just certain things I don't see myself giving up. For example, I live on the East Coast and have access to some relatively local seafood. But not Pacific wild-caught salmon. I'm not going to buy farm-raised salmon, so I'll continue to purchase the flown-in variety. And while I can grow and save my most-used spices and seasonings (basil, oregano, and garlic in my kitchen), there are plenty that are not produced locally that I don't see giving up (salt, pepper, vanilla...). I think I will eventually be able to procure more than 80% of my family's food locally; but for now, that's a number I can live with.
For me, the result of these mental food wranglings has been the slowly emerging outline of my personal food values.
1. My family's health and nutrition is foremost. So this translates into an emphasis on nutrient dense whole foods produced without harmful pesticides or other contaminants.
2. By necessity, my budget needs to come in second. But to stay in line with my first priority, this really translates into two possibilities: find less expensive foods that meet the above rule, or reduce our overall consumption. So far, I've done a little of both.
3. My next priority is to purchase local foods in keeping with the first two rules. I do this, incorporating my 80/20 philosophy on the matter. But another part of the "buy local" idea, for me, is to lobby for greater access to local foods. I've been back and forth in my mind about the role of grocery stores in the real foods/local foods movement. But I know for sure that my life would be simpler right now if I had greater access to local, ethically produced foods in my grocery store.
4. My last priority, due primarily to time constraints (but also, somewhat, to budget constraints) is to practice ways of food preparation that allow for optimal nutrient utilization. Mastering these new (to me) techniques is a huge time sink. For now, I can only test the waters and hope to slowly develop competence.
I'm sure other people's priority lists would be different from mine. And I'm sure I left out some important considerations. But for now, I'm comfortable with the way my ideas about food are evolving. This is where I'm at right now. Where are you?
This post is a part of Fight Back Friday, hosted by Food Renegade.