It’s later in the evening than I would like it to be, folks, and I still have much to do; so tonight’s post will be more of a round-up than a musing, I guess. We had much more pre-bed mayhem of both the good AND, well, less good varieties, and I’m just plain tired at the moment. But last night, I caught the very, very tail end of a Twitter party with Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Team, and their questions about what people are doing in their own communities to help effect some sort of change in the food systems got me reflecting on a few things that have recently happened in our own lives to make me feel sort of positive about the future of conscious eating.
1. The No More Juice Memo. I mentioned before that the kids’ school had surprised me, pleasantly so, when they agreed to send home a permission slip so parents could opt in or out of a homemade treat for P.’s birthday in class. (By the way — all the parents did give permission, and the banana muffins were a hit.) Right around that same time, a note came home in both boys’ backpacks saying that we should expect to see another change in the snack menu: no more juice. It stated, basically, that the owners of the school had been consulting pediatricians and other experts and had been convinced that there was no real merit to giving juice to the little ones. Water is now being offered instead, and there’s also milk — whole for the under-2 crowd, low-fat for the older kids — which can be given in moderation as well.
2. Birthday menus beyond the box. I’ve got no problem with the old standard, take-out pizza at a kid’s birthday party; and I’m pretty sure there will be plenty of years in which we’ll offer it to the kids and their friends as they get older. However, with the boys being as young as they are, I think there’s an opportunity to introduce other menus at parties that are just as fun and better for all the guests, if the hosts are willing to be a bit more ambitious (and again, if they’re not — it’s fine. We’re talking about a party here). Two things that have delighted me recently in the birthday-party realm: an at-home party (which is rare enough) at which there was homemade turkey chili, fun-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches on wheat bread, fruit salad, veggies, and other assorted healthy snacks; and an invitation for an upcoming event at a local park which bore the note “We’ll grill burgers AND have an organic vegan meal.”
Obviously I had to ask the parents hosting the party — my curiosity got the better of me — what was up with the vegan meal. The answer was that some family members who planned to attend were vegans, and this particular clan has grown accustomed to always celebrating big occasions with both the “traditional” meal and a vegan alternative. However, the birthday mom mentioned, she and her immediate household did try not to eat processed foods — so while they’d like to eat burgers at the picnic and offer them to their guests, having all those nice organic side dishes would suit them just fine. (I’m DYING to check out this food!)
3. Sad news and lots of questions. Somebody we know — not intimately, but fairly well — asked me the other day “What’s the deal about grass fed beef? I’m hearing a lot about that lately and how bad regular beef is, but I don’t know anything about what the difference really is.” (I should mention that she prefaced her question by saying she’d watched Jamie Oliver’s show and seen how he tried to change the purchasing habits of a fast-food restaurant owner — J.O. certainly does raise awareness in many ways, no matter what else you might think of him or the show.) Naturally I was mentally rolling up my sleeves and joking, “Well, how much time do you have?” But I stopped myself.
I didn’t want to be too pushy or overbearing. I didn’t want to hurl everything I’ve learned about our food system and its flaws at someone who was clearly just embarking on the very first steps of even WANTING to ask the question. So I gave a sort of brief explanation of the fact that cows who eat corn and grain instead of grass are prone to e. Coli, whereas grass fed cattle are not. That in order to combat sickness in these cows, they are fed low doses of antibiotics — which are not necessary if you are feeding the cows grass in the first place. And I mentioned the incredibly frightening new research showing that 40-50% of our supermarket meats are contaminated with staph bacteria, much of it multi-drug resistant…because of all those antibiotics.
Her eyes grew big. “No wonder you’re so careful about what you eat,” she said. And then she revealed to me that someone in her family is very sick, at a relatively young age, with an illness that’s likely diet-related. The doctor has said that the family needs to completely change their eating habits. There’s not much hope that anything else will really work. And they’re just not sure what to do. Without working knowledge of what’s REALLY healthy to eat, what’s full of hidden dangers and what’s not; without being able to quantify easily just how REAL and WHOLE a food actually is; this family and many, many others like it are just treading water and not knowing where to turn for the change they need.
I’m so sad for them. For everyone in that position. And I’m frankly extremely frustrated by this reality, because these are not undereducated people or people of no means. It’s easy to think that the biggest problems with food in this country belong to the lowest classes; that if you’re college-educated and have a decent job, you likely understand food and nutrition and are making smart choices. Of course, none of that is true. It’s not a linear equation. Our history and our marketers and our lobbyists and our whole social construction around food and agriculture have done a dandy job of making sure that no matter how smart, successful, and educated you are, you can be fully ignorant about what’s going into your body every single day.
But of course, there’s hope. There’s always hope; and situations like these are the bright spots that convince me to keep going, because even if it feels like I’m part of a very, very small band of activists, there ARE other people around me beginning to do their own research, ask their own questions, and follow their own instincts about becoming conscious eaters. We’re all part of a quietly growing revolution, and by the time my kids are my age, I can only imagine how different things might be…if we just keep talking.