Monday, March 29, 2010

Still Here, Still Trying

Wow, it's been a while since I've posted here or even logged in to follow other blogs. I have been crazy busy with school, pounding out project after project and exam after exam. It's been overwhelming. And it has had an effect on our eating habits.

There have been good days, less-good days, and old life days. There haven't been too many old life days, though, so I haven't totally regressed. But I do know why it happened. I've been too busy. Avoiding processed foods means taking on a lot of food prep, which takes time. I have managed to find some all-real-ingredient shortcut foods at the grocery store. But not many- and who wants to eat the same three things all the time? I've also found myself making some compromises.

For the most part, I can live with a few compromises. Or, more truthfully, I'm just too busy right now to spend much time thinking about them. But it still irks me that the food offerings in this country are so out of whack that it is even necessary to wonder "would it be worse to pick up grocery store ground beef that's ethically bad or use that prepared stir fry sauce that's probably all kinds of bad for our health, so I don't go through the drive-thru which is definitely bad for our health?"

As a student of history, I recognize that the past is filled with multitudes of politicians who collected paychecks for  bending with the wind, as well as a handful of individuals who stood their ground and had significant effects on history as a result. I am hoping that I will see, in my lifetime, an American politician take a stand for food safety, nutrition, and transparency- and win. Until then, I'll continue waging the daily battles in my kitchen, one meal at a time.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Real Food Challenge Week 2 Recap

Well, this week has been difficult. I have had project deadlines out the wazoo and a touch of some sort of spring yuck. It never developed to a full-blown flu like I get each spring; but it was enough to slow me down. The combination of deadlines and yuck knocked me off my game a little bit. I did really well at sticking with the program for dinners. And I did a pretty good job of planning ahead for them as well. But lunches kicked my butt this week. We ate out several times because there either wasn't anything to prepare quickly for lunch in the kitchen,or because we were out when we were overcome by hunger. The Boy was loving it. But I was not. Yesterday I picked up stuff for lunches, so hopefully week 3 will not be as disappointing in this regard.

There is good news too. I picked up my first order from the new buying club. I am happy with the quality of the food. The eggs are better than those I have been buying a little more locally, and the chicken is half the price with a higher confidence level on my part with regard to the way it was raised.

Also, I finally got my seed starting shelf set up in the basement with the help of The Boy. I have to hide it in the basement because otherwise the naughty kitties who live here will curl up on top of my seedlings. Apparently, seedlings are tres comfy.

And last, but certainly not least, I lost four pounds since cutting back on processed foods. This is a minor miracle considering that the last several years have been filled with me doing exactly what the doctors said to do and steadily continuing to gain weight. Huh.

My goals for the coming week include continuing to work on meal planning and continuing the garden prep work if the rain lets up. I'd really like to get some seeds in the ground! I'll also start more seeds inside to transplant later. I'd like to try something new in the kitchen, but with so many deadlines looming it isn't likely to happen.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

GAO Spanks FDA

AOL News is reporting on a new General Accountability Office report that finds the Food and Drug Administration has "failed to ensure the safety of thousands of additives manufacturers put in what we eat." The GAO points to an exception to FDA rules, in place since 1958, that allows food companies to bypass FDA analysis by having the companies' own scientific panels designate their additives as "generally regarded as safe (GRAS)." You can read the rest of the story here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Obesogens: Scary Stuff

MSNBC is carrying a Men's Health article today that discusses "obesogens," a class of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The so-called obesogens disrupt the function of hormonal systems and are believed by many researchers to lead to weight gain. Sources of these endocrine disruptors include "soy products, hormones administered to animals, plastics in some food and drink packaging, ingredients added to processed foods, and pesticides sprayed on produce." The article is an interesting, albeit scary, read. Check it out!

Real Food Challenge Week 1 Recap

I've gotten off to a slow start in the Real Food Challenge running this month at Not Dabbling In Normal. I find myself missing a few aspects of last month's challenge at Nourished Kitchen. One of the things I find myself missing is the structure. So I've decided to adopt some of last month's structure for my personal challenge this month. Among the things I'll incorporate is the Monday Recap post. I thought I would enjoy the flexibility of NDIN's challenge more than I actually do. I think the reason for this is simply that, at any given moment, I am trying to juggle too many responsibilities. It gets overwhelming. I am serious about making changes in my family's diet. But I am also seriously time-restricted. It was nice to get a daily assignment last month, and know that every Monday I would have to fess up how I did during the week. NDIN is doing a "link party" today. But they also did a Friday recap. I'm not really sure if there is a regular check-in planned or not, so unless I figure out otherwise, I'll just plan to post a recap on Mondays.

That being said, I slacked more than I'm happy about this week. I also had tons and tons of schoolwork to turn in (I'm taking 15 credits this semester). On the upside, I did a better job about planning meals ahead of time and the meals I did plan were in line with our new diet. There were no disasters in the kitchen this week (woot!) and I'm getting into the swing of things with my new way of shopping. On the downside, the meals I didn't plan ended up not being great choices. They could have been worse; but they could have been a lot better.

In one respect, however, I got a "kitchen bonus" of sorts. This week was bulk trash week in my neighborhood. I scored an old-school 12 inch cast iron dutch oven that a neighbor was tossing. I'll post a picture when I've finished cleaning it up. I'm looking forward to trying sourdough bread in it.

I think my big lesson this week was my personal need for kitchen structure in order to stick to a healthy plan. I do a lot of winging it in life, with generally decent results. But the kitchen does not seem to be an area in which I can afford to wing it. That's useful information that, hopefully, I can translate into more success next week.

Also, FYI, the folks at Not Dabbling In Normal have posted a bunch of recipes this week, as well as some awesome photos. Go check them out. It's worth the click.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Speak Up. They're Listening.

So, recently, I sounded off in a post here about my frustration with Safeway over a telephone survey I participated in, purportedly to improve my local store. I was so annoyed after the survey that I fired off an email to Safeway with my list of suggestions, none of which were covered by the survey. Among my complaints were things such as not being able to buy fresh, wild-caught salmon and the unavailability of unprocessed staples like beans and rice in bulk, or at least in sizes larger than a single meal. I complained that while regular milk got several cases that were always full, organic milk got only one case that was always near empty. And I mentioned that it would be nice to have the option of buying the "most sprayed" produce items in organic instead. In addition, I told them that my family tries to eat a "real foods" diet and that we have some food sensitivity issues that make buying groceries challenging in a store filled with processed foods.

This morning, I went to my local Safeway. The produce section is right by the entrance, so I always start there. The produce section at this store generally looks pretty good. But when I got to the little organics section in the middle, I was surprised to see it fully stocked. Usually it looks pretty picked over, with the middle pretty much empty.

Now, there are lots of aisles I generally skip and today was no exception. But there were still a bunch of changes that jumped out at me. In all the aisles I shopped, organic products were front and center. In some cases, the selection of organic products had increased. I brought home a couple new things to try and I'm so thankful they were available. I was stunned, however, in the aisle where I used to frown at the puny bags of dry beans. Not only are the dry beans now available in larger quantities, but also in a much wider variety! (Rice too, I think, although I was so amazed by the bean selection that I sort of drooled over them until it became awkward and then I scurried away to finish my shopping.)

For the first time that I can recall, I was able to buy fresh, wild-caught salmon in exactly the amount I needed. And while I didn't need milk today, I did notice that the organic milk case was fully stocked.

I can't claim that my one little email brought about these changes at my local store. And it probably didn't hurt that CNN linked to my blog a week after I posted my rant. But people, somebody is listening. So when you can't find real foods to feed your family at your local store, fire off an email and let them know. Post about it on your blog because these corporations employ software that pours through social media searching for what people are saying about them. I know they do because they trolled my blog after my rant.

Speak up. They're listening.

This post is a part of Fight Back Friday hosted by Food Renegade.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Putting The CNN Article In Perspective

I had to give a lot of thought to whether or not I wanted to post on the CNN article for which I was interviewed. I was interviewed by Madison Park via phone regarding my participation in Nourished Kitchen's 28-Day Real Food Challenge. We talked for a long time about a range of subjects. So I was a little surprised to see that what she took from that conversation was essentially a Homeresque "Doh!" moment. Only a little surprised, though, because I knew going in that I was talking to The Media and that meant the rules were: 1) The Media can write whatever it wants, and 2)... well, no, maybe there's just that one rule.

Maybe it's because my training is in the Social Sciences, but I was disappointed that Park's article didn't delve a little further into why people were willing to go to the trouble to attempt this challenge. While it is true that the participants didn't know, going in, the depth to which we would be challenged (toss everything processed the first day?), it is interesting that so many signed on. And it's telling how many dropped out over time. Further, I would be willing to wager that nearly everyone, and quite possibly everyone, who finished the challenge "cheated" in some way. But why did they sign up in the first place?

I can only answer specifically for myself. But I suspect that many of the participants had become suspicious of the American food system. Movies like Food Inc. and authors such as Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver influenced more than a few participants. Some people were hoping for better health through better eating. And some people were motivated by a combination of factors. I fall into the last category.

For me, there are a number of factors. But one of them is my quest to see if I can manage rheumatoid arthritis with diet instead of drugs. It's only been a month, so I don't have an answer to that question yet. But so far, so good. And even if I ultimately go back on the RA meds, I have already learned a few things. I have learned that I have sensitivities to certain common food additives. And that one of the symptoms I experience when I eat "tainted" foods is an RA flare. I've also learned that cutting out processed foods for the past month improved my breathing, which is particularly interesting to me because I was not previously aware I was experiencing breathing trouble.

I'm all about moderation in life. I don't see myself ever completely giving up all processed foods. I might try making homemade pasta sometime; but I'll keep the whole wheat stuff in the cabinet. I don't grind my own flour. I would love to try that, but a grinder is not in my budget. So I buy whole grain flour. I didn't give up my morning coffee, although I did give up the sugar I added to it (most days).

For me, the shift to a new way of eating is a permanent commitment I have made, but the 28-Day Real Food Challenge wasn't. It was a challenge. It was an opportunity for participants to test themselves. No long-term commitment required. This seems to be an idea lost on some of those who entered comments at the CNN site. I suppose I studied the social sciences because it is the study of that which I least understand: why people do the goofy things they do. I can rationalize in my mind trying out a different way of eating for a month. But I can't rationalize anonymously entering biting criticisms of strangers on a website read worldwide, especially regarding matters of personal diet. How sad a life it must be to fill one's time with that. Let me suggest a different activity: take a good hard look at your own life, determine where improvement can be made, and take a step in that direction. Consider it a challenge.

For Readers...

Hi there! For those of you coming in from the link in the article discussing Jennifer McGruder's real food challenge, Jennifer's website is Nourished Kitchen. I was interviewed in the same CNN article; however, the summary of that article has confused the link to my blog with the link to Jennifer's site. But thanks for stopping by anyway!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Real Food vs. Obesity

This morning, I read this article, which is all bad news, but worth a read anyway because it focuses on the problem of constant snacking among U.S. kids. Honestly, I don't think it's just American kids who have this particular problem. The article cites Michelle Obama's message to the School Nutrition Association that "parents, educators, and policymakers" share responsibility for the obesity epidemic among young people. But beyond that, the article doesn't really tackle cause of rampant snacking. And that's the real question, isn't it? Why do people feel compelled to eat constantly?

Well, I have a hunch. It stems from my experience, so far, shifting my family away from processed foods and toward real foods. And it is rooted in the  knowledge that my family, too, used to snack all the time. Used to. Now, I can't claim that we never snack anymore. But this is an issue I've been paying attention to lately, in part because I was really worried, at the beginning of this real foods journey, what kind of snacks I could find to replace the processed junk. I need not have worried. As it turns out, preparing real foods has significantly reduced the desire to snack. We just aren't hungry that often anymore. I believe one of the key reasons behind this is the inclusion of healthy fats such as real butter and olive oil. I've stopped avoiding fats in favor of simply choosing healthy fats. The human body needs fats. Fat is in every cell membrane in the human body. Why? For one thing, it is necessary for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A,D,E, and K. Maybe~ and it's just a hunch~ the desire to snack constantly stems from the insufficiency of processed foods to meet the needs of the human body. Seriously, what is the point of breaking down a real food into its constituent parts, farming out those parts to various places, reassembling them into pseudo-foods, and marketing that as food? Oh yeah, profit...

I dunno. Maybe the answer to the snacking and obesity quandaries is to eat more real food. Could it be that simple? It's just an idea.  Note to Michelle: "parents, educators, policymakers, and food processors"

This post is participating in Real Food Wednesday, hosted this week by Cheeseslave.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Next Real Food Challenge

I stumbled upon Nourished Kitchen's 28-Day Real Food Challenge at the beginning of February, just as I was making the commitment to myself to change how my family eats. It was an intense 28 days. I survived and learned tons! But as the challenge was wearing down, I started to worry a little about losing the support, information, and accountability I had come to depend upon in my first month of changing my family's approach to food. So I was really excited to discover another Real Food Challenge just getting started over at Not Dabbling In Normal. Where do I sign up? (here, actually) I'll continue my journey with these folks for the month of March. This challenge has each participant working at their own pace and appreciating each step in the right direction. So if you are new to real foods, this might be a good challenge to try as you get your feet wet. Pop on over to NDIN and check it out!

28-Day Real Food Challenge: Week 4 Recap and Beyond

This week has been kind of crazy here. The whole thing sort of flew by me, with me thinking I was “failing” the final week of the 28-Day Real Food Challenge hosted by Jenny at Nourished Kitchen. But somehow, I actually did alright this week.

Day 22 was about choosing and preparing meat. My struggle to find grass-fed meat I can afford to buy has been a theme running through this whole challenge for me. As a result, I’ve scaled back how much meat I serve here in order to purchase meat in line with my ethics. I’ve developed the habit of always watching for a new source of grass-fed meat or a better price. And while I had never really had trouble preparing grass-fed beef, bison was a whole other matter. Last night, after much fretting and hovering with a thermometer, I prepared that much anticipated bison steak to near perfection. For me, eating meat with that much pink inside will take a little adjustment. But The Girl declared it delicious and everybody finished their serving. Progress! I tried to get a picture, but naturally, my camera told me to change the batteries and I decided to eat instead.

The animal proteins theme continued on Day 23 with a discussion of pork, poultry, and eggs from sources raised in accordance with the natural proclivities of pigs and chickens, which means access to grass, bugs, worms, etc. I’ve been buying pastured eggs and bacon for several weeks now and adore them. They’ve become my standard breakfast. I’ve struggled more than a little bit with the price of pastured poultry, but am slowly coming around. Pork is not really an issue here because, aside from my morning bacon, nobody here actually likes pork. However, if I have a chance to buy pastured-lard, I will give it a try.

Day 24 was all about preparing and using stocks and broths. This is where I really shined this week! I prepared both beef and chicken stocks, jarred them, and tucked them into the fridge for easy access. I am still learning all the ways to use them. But with one or two notable exceptions, nobody has complained about the foods I’ve prepared with them. I love the richness homemade stock adds to foods. Love it.

I was both looking forward to and dreading Day 25 and its discussion of offal. I don’t have much to report here. The Girl told me in unambiguous terms that she does not want to eat organ meats. I didn’t even have to ask The Boy. Honestly, I’m not thrilled about it either. But I have not given up hope. I need the right “entry” to this food group. I did include the miscellaneous chicken bits in the pot when I made stock. But that’s my only offal foray so far. I’ll experiment on myself when the kids visit their dad. Unless the smell drives me out of the kitchen.

Day 26 highlighted fish and seafood. I already was incorporating these into our diet, but was plagued by confusion over what is safe and what isn’t, what is sustainably/ethically harvested and what isn’t. I really, really appreciate the Seafood Watch guide to help me navigate this area.

Our assignment for Day 27 was to figure out how we can give back to the real foods movement. This assignment arrived the same day The Girl came home from a friend’s house and informed me she’d “schooled the neighbors” in real foods. Go Girl! As a Master Gardener, I already volunteer in my community helping people learn how to grow their own food. I’d like to also incorporate into my blog more resources for beginner gardeners who want to grow some of their own food. We also share resources we’ve come across, like Food Inc., with pretty much anyone. It makes a difference. For instance, after we watched that movie, I told my parents to watch it. They did, and have made a number of significant changes in their purchasing habits. They’ve also continued encouraging others to watch the movie.

Finally, Day 28 is about looking forward. I fully intend to continue buying and eating in line with all that I’ve learned during the last 28 days. I had made the commitment to change how we eat just before I stumbled, accidentally, onto the 28-Day Real Food Challenge just as it was beginning. I owe Sara at Plays Well With Butter for pointing me to this challenge. Thanks Sara! I’m so glad I joined! I have plenty to learn still and plenty of room for improvement. But I have also progressed more than I would have without this challenge to guide, support, and nudge me. Thanks Jenny!

Looking forward, things I plan to work on include planning ahead and perfecting my sourdough bread. We've cut way down on the amount of grain in our diet primarily because to do them right requires more work than I can muster. I'd like to add a little bit back. I still haven't made the sauerkraut I've been looking forward to, and I goofed with the cultured veggies I did make. After they started to discolor at the top of the jar, I decided to toss them. After spooning all but the last spoonful into the garbage disposal, I decided to have a tiny taste. It was good, and I wasted it! Note to self: patience really is a virtue. And then there's offal, which I'm working up to. Really. Check back and see.