Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Stuff Week: Food Choices and a Rant!

From Medical News Today:
A voluntary recall of 5,379 cases of bagged salad products has been announced by both Ready Pac Foods Inc. and the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) - the recall refers specifically to products that contain Romaine lettuce with a November 18th, 2011 use-by-date. The company says these products could be tainted with E. coli O157:H7, a bacterium that can cause diarrhea and bloody stools.
Monday, on my commute in to work, I heard the aforementioned salad recall on the radio. Upon hearing this news, I was immediately inflamed over yet another food recall. In the past few years, I've made it my business to read up and watch just about everything I could get my hands on about the American food industry. Right off the top of my head, the most influential of those books and documentaries are: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (always, LOVE), Why Animals Matter: The Case For Animal Protection by Erin Williams and Margo Demello, and the very popular documentary, Food, Inc. There are certainly others worth mentioning, but these pieces planted the seeds and got me reading more up-to-date news articles and following food issues more closely.

In light of what I've learned over the past few years, I've even "themed" some of my writing and research courses on food. My Comp II class is research-focused, and they are required to complete a lengthy proposal including an annotated bibliography and a 10-page research paper. A number of them look at me like I was a NUT CASE when I announced that our class would be all about food. However, I'm proud to say that by the end of the class they were as interested in issues of food as I am. We learned a lot together reading over their unique topics.

My main frustration with the food industry is its carelessness and a general disregard for the people eating the food. It's a business. Just a business. You can read all about it yourself -- you certainly don't need me to try to summarize the issues with factory farming (of meat and veggies) or the pervasiveness of preservatives and artificial sweeteners, dyes, etc. IT'S JUST BAD. It makes me sick to my stomach to know that it's all fixable but will likely never be fixed. Small changes and differences occur -- more organically grown produce and free range meat moves into chain supermarkets -- because people want them. At the same time, those buzz words become marketing tools. Savvy consumers have to read, research, and know more to stay ahead of companies and their advertising to know what's legit and what's advertising lingo.

I think it's a shame that I have to monitor any fast-food hamburgers my son eats because they might kill him if they're undercooked. That I can't, in good faith, give him a bagged salad for the same reasons. Compounding the problem are the high prices of the good food. Organics, free range, and other, healthier foods are hard for me to afford sometimes. It's easier to be unhealthy in America than it is to be healthy.

The key word there is easier. It's not impossible to healthy options, but it does require a due diligence from consumers and a lot of digging for information -- and a community of people who are bound and determined to make it happen. 

In the last few weeks I've been hooked on 100 Days of Real Food, a blog written by Lisa Leake and focused on how her family cut processed food out of their diets. Lemme tell you, my  first reaction: WHOA! Lisa's blog is endlessly helpful and insightful offering everything from "real food" recipes, to kids' school lunch menus, and advice for shopping at big box and chain grocery stores for "real food." I've found a lot of great tips and recipes at this site and get excited every time Lisa posts something new.

If you have the time, take a few minutes to read Lisa's "About" page, as it's a lot of good background. Her "Recipes & Resources" page is also excellent.

This is such a huge deal to me for so many reasons. Ever since Greyson has been in daycare I've been grappling with the fact that they feed him junk. French toast sticks for breakfast, heat and serve quesadillas for lunch, boxed crackers for a snack in the afternoon. It varies day by day, but you get the gist. Those things are easy to fall back on at home when I don't have time to cook or he's having an especially picky toddler appetite day. But does that make me OK with it? No. And I'm trying not to settle.

When I was pregnant and came into the office for a checkup one day, I had remarkably high blood pressure. I'd also just had a fight with a family member that sent it through the roof. I knew that,  but my doctor freaked out and made me go no-sodium/low-sodium for three days. I ate home-cooked food, no salt added canned veggies and frozen choices, and I drank water.

And I lost 9 pounds in three days. 

That alone was a huge wake up call for me and something that lit a fire under me to start making healthier choices. While I wasn't eating what I considered overtly "bad" food while pregnant, I obviously was not eating anything good either. Or too little of it, anyway.  It has not been an easy road, and I can't say I make good food choices all, or even most, of the time. But I am determined to make more good choices and to make more of a difference in the way my child experiences food. Hopefully it will impact his long-term health and wellness, and that's the best reason of all to keep chugging along on this path.

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