A few days ago, I was bemoaning my grocery shopping problem, namely that I go grocery shopping about four days a week. There are many reasons why this happens: my family eats a ton, my family doesn’t remind me about what they are out of, my family eats the food I buy for myself because of my food allergies, and/or my family decides they don’t like what I’ve bought. It’s maddening.
Tonight I went to make a late evening bowl of cereal. This is something I’ve started doing recently because I’ve mostly sworn off sugar, but a little bowl of Rice Chex with oat milk and a half of a banana seems like a treat when I am craving something sweet. I went to grab the cereal out of the pantry and noticed someone had finished off what was in the cereal container. No worries. I had purchased more in anticipation of that. So, I pulled down the new box, got a bowl, and walked to where we keep the counter produce to fetch myself a half of a banana. In a fit of optimism yesterday, I bought eight bananas. I never do this because we like our bananas on the less ripe side and usually if I buy more than three bananas I end up having to make damn banana bread because the stupid things turn brown before anyone eats them. But, I bought eight, gave two to my mother-in-law for her downstairs apartment, and kept six for Luke, Steve, and I. Imagine my shock when I go to the bowl today and find this:
So, I had to go on a hunt to figure out who inhaled five freaking bananas since my shopping trip yesterday at 1 p.m. Steve said he had one for cereal. That meant Luke ate four bananas in 31 hours.
Me: How on earth did you eat four bananas? FOUR.
Luke: Well, I think I ate three yesterday.
Me: Why? Why would you do that?
Luke: Well, my joints have been hurting because of cross-country, and I heard potassium helps with that.
Me: And the other banana? Where did that one go?
Luke: I made a smoothie today.
Me: Seriously, Luke? I mean, it’s great that you’re eating something healthy instead of cookies, but I need you guys to do me a favor. When you are in a banana place, please say so. Then I can buy more the first time.
Luke: What can I say? The line between self-care and self-destruction is often very thin.
No arguing with that comment.
So, it looks like I will be going back to the grocery store tomorrow because Luke is eating all the bananas for my cereal and Steve has suddenly decided to eat a honeycrisp apple with his lunch (previously I was the only one eating an apple a day) and he’s putting my oat milk into his afternoon lattes. If I hit the grocery store on Monday and then again on Wednesday, maybe I can manage to make it to Friday before the next trip? And if all goes well, perhaps I can cut from four grocery trips this week to three. That’s something, right?
“This is the first time in history when you can save humanity by just sitting on your couch and watching tv. Don’t f*#k it up.” ~timely Internet meme
We are spoiled Americans. As a family, we are fortunate enough to be able to afford most of what we want when we want it, within reason. I mean, we don’t drive new Jaguars or BMWs. We do not live in a huge, stately home in a golf course community. We don’t take yearly trips to Europe. But we are able to buy a movie on our Apple TV without considering if the $20 is a waste, and the four of us can dine out a few times a month at decent, sit-down restaurants without being unable to pay our other bills because of it. If our sons need new jeans, they get them. If I want to buy a $75 concert ticket, I do it without guilt or stress. I know it is a gift to be in this position. And I do realize it makes us unlike most other American families. We are the lucky ones.
A few weeks ago, when I saw the writing on the wall regarding this pandemic, I went shopping. I didn’t panic buy or hoard multiple packages of toilet paper, but I was able to purchase about two weeks’ worth of groceries in advance knowing we wouldn’t be going to the store as often once the virus began to spread widely among our population. Perishables were mostly off the table on my stock-up trip. Not a problem, I told myself as I bought some frozen fruits and vegetables. Then this morning I decided I would love an avocado for my bagel. Alas, there were none.
In my past life, I might run out to Safeway and grab a few of those bumpy-skinned babies to satisfy my craving. But, that past life was in the olden days two weeks ago. Now, I honestly have to look at a trip to the store differently than I did then. Now there are exponentially more people walking around unknowingly affected by COVID-19 than there were two weeks ago. My risk of contracting the virus is much higher, at a time when the hospitals are becoming increasingly overwhelmed. So I had to have a long talk with my fortunate self about going without. I suspect that over the coming days and weeks I will have to lecture myself many more times about the importance of remaining at home. I need to learn the delayed gratification I have been delaying learning. To that end, I made myself this flow chart, which I can refer to in the future replacing, as necessary, “avocado” with whatever thing it is I think I desperately need but really don’t.
This is our new normal. It may be our normal for eighteen plus months. I need to adapt to these temporary restrictions. They will be short-lived and my efforts could save lives, including my own and those of my husband and sons. I’ve lived a fortunate and entitled adult life, thus far, traveling freely through the world, buying grass-fed tenderloin steaks when I felt like spoiling myself. Now it’s time to do with less. In the grand scheme of history, what the times are asking of me is not a lot. It’s simply the matter of a small adjustment.
Someday the virus will run its course. Someday we will have a treatment or a vaccine. Someday we will once again be able to run to the store on a whim for that one topping we wanted but didn’t buy the first time through. When that day comes again, you best believe avocado toast will feel like the decadent treat it is and always was. We just didn’t realize that our last avocado toast would be our last avocado toast for a while. Live in the moment, my friends, and make sure to appreciate what you have today because tomorrow you might not have it. I’m grateful for the opportunity to remember and appreciate my great fortune and teach my sons to do the same. And when this is behind us, we’ll celebrate. We’ll don toilet paper togas and feed each other avocado toast just because we can. And then we’ll fold up the toilet paper and tuck it safely away for a later crisis because you just never know what tomorrow might hold.
Our sons have many predictable rituals in our home. None is more predictable than the two-hour-post-dinner-second-dinner. This annoys the living daylights out of me. I understand they are growing. I understand they are hungry and therefore, like every Labrador retriever I’ve ever known, constantly believe they are starving. And all this would be fine if we were independently wealthy but, alas, we are not. And a year ago, in an attempt to cut processed and genetically modified foods from our diets, I began doing the majority of our grocery shopping at Whole Foods. This was not an inexpensive choice, but it was one I felt good about making. At the rate our boys are currently eating, however, we will have to disconnect our cable and wireless Internet and drop our iPhone plans to support the sudden bump in our Whole Foods habit.
Tonight, two hours post dinner as per protocol, Joe came downstairs and asked if he could consume the last of the chocolate ice cream in the freezer. He’d already had dinner and dessert, so this would technically be his second dessert. I balked.
“What fruits and vegetables have you had today?” I asked.
“I had that chicken soup for lunch,” came the reply.
He was referring to some of the homemade chicken soup I make for him each week for his school lunches. He enjoys it, and it’s a labor of loving creating a whole food lunch to infuse some measurable nutrition into my son’s diet. Sometimes I put kale in it. Sometimes I toss some edamame in there. It is always full of vegetables. It is always organic. So I had to give him some credit for that meal.
Sensing I was not quite fully satisfied with his answer, he quickly added, “I had a mandarin orange too.”
“Well….that’s probably about half the fruits and vegetables you should have eaten today,” I said. “You would need more of that before you would be eligible for more of dessert.”
In our family, dessert is not an issue. They are allowed dessert every night because they are blessed with skinny genes. Caloric intake is not a concern for our boys who are only in the 10th percentile for height and weight. Nutrition, however, is a constant struggle. It’s hard to get them enough calories in healthy foods to keep them growing. They require more nutrition than they have traditionally been willing to ingest. We have to sneak it in through negotiations. So off he went to the kitchen in search of some additional nutrition to appease his demanding mother. Hubby and I went back to watching our Netflix movie.
Eventually, the banging noises coming from the kitchen got my curiosity.
“What did you find?” I asked, fully aware of the current Mother Hubbard condition of our cupboards.
He held aloft for my approval a now empty package of organic, chopped, frozen spinach, which he’d dropped into a ceramic bowl for heating. Interesting, I thought. Although I had bought that frozen spinach specifically for inclusion in one of my green smoothies, I decided that now was not the time to complain about his eating my food. I’d sent him in there to forage for something healthy, and he’d found it. Best not to bicker when your child listens to you and chooses spinach for his evening snack. And he did consume the entire 10 ounce package. Without butter or salt or any enhancement whatsoever. God bless him. I’d managed to sneak two additional servings of vegetables into our nearly teenage son’s day without so much as an eye roll or grunt from either one of us. Yep. I’m a ninja like that.
Of course, he still got his second dessert. It was chocolate ice cream. There are some forces of nature that even a ninja warrior can’t fight.
I posted something to Facebook today, an article and linked video clip about Monsanto and GMOs. When I posted it, I was merely doing so because I thought the report was interesting. What happened after I posted it, however, was even more interesting. A friend of mine from grade school responded to it. His response didn’t directly discuss the food issue. Instead, he wrote about the way the news was reported by CNN. I wrote back and said that I was looking to start a conversation about food and not about television journalism. To which he responded with a somewhat longer diatribe, basically accusing me of not wanting to hear anyone’s opinion if it differed from mine. And then I told him that I was interested in others’ opinions and did he care to share his with me or not? I stood there shaking my head because I wasn’t exactly sure how my post had devolved into a partisan issue, but it had and I was disappointed.
The whole conversation got me to thinking about how quick we are to judge each other. I’m just as bad about this as anyone else. We see what we see on Facebook and we assume we know people. We pigeonhole them based on stereotypes they seem to present through their profile. We block ourselves from the idea that there might be more to them than meets the eye. We deny their humanity. We do the same thing with the guy driving the Range Rover who cuts us off in traffic or the mom in the Walmart who is yelling at her kid or the homeless guy holding a sign on the street corner. We know who they are without their even saying a word. We don’t need to know their circumstances or their reasons or their history. All we need to know is what we see. Like an artist working only from a photograph we paint our one-sided portrait of them.
We do this same thing with people we’re close to, people whom we’ve known for years. They exist inside the box we placed them in when we first learned about them. Even though they have grown and experienced and changed over time as we all do, we still want to know them as they were because it’s easier that way. It’s difficult to accept that they have moved and maybe we haven’t made the journey along with them. I don’t know if we do this because we seek the familiar or because we’re too lazy to look deeper. I just know that it happens. In the end, although we look at each other every day, we don’t see each other at all.
The conversation I started about food on Facebook today did enlighten me, just not about food. I’m thinking now about how many boxes I live in, boxes constructed by the people who saw what they wanted to see and closed up the lid without even leaving me air holes so I could breathe. And I’m thinking about how I can take a box cutter and free some of the people whom I’ve trapped. Maybe if I slit open the lid, step back, and pay careful attention I will learn something new about them. And, maybe as with my post today, I will learn something new about myself as well.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
There’s something about turning 45 that has made me take a good, hard look at my life. Maybe it’s because I did the math and realized, if I’m lucky, I literally am at midlife. Maybe it’s because I’m starting to notice changes to my body that a few trips to the gym will no longer be able to cure like sagging flesh and wrinkles in places there were none before. Maybe it’s because I’m beginning to hear that I creak and crack more than a rusty-hinged shutter in a dust storm. In any case, over the past year, I’ve put greater focus on my food choices. Fueled by the notion that I might perhaps be gluten intolerant, I began changing my eating habits. My plan was to mostly eliminate wheat (I still need a decent piece of NY style pizza on occasion), cut way back on sugar, and completely ban artificial sweeteners. Along the way, I’ve begun paying better attention to where my food comes from and what is in it. I’ve pushed the food with no food in it to the back of the pantry and filled the crisper drawers with organics. And true to everything I’ve read, I have found that I feel better. I sleep better. I don’t have midday energy crashes. The amount of Tums I consume is at an all-time low. I’m happier and have fewer mood swings. I’m feeling better now and am healthier than I was 20 years ago.
Up until this point, I’ve made these changes mostly for myself while simply trying to do right by my children. This can be difficult, however, when the little buggers are on the very bottom end of the growth chart and are exceedingly fussy. We have struggled just to get our kids to eat anything. Our youngest child is the worst. The. Worst. Luke has a horrible gag reflex (mostly psychological) and the kid can look at a food he finds unappealing and throw up. It’s unbelievable. Nothing like having to put up a cardboard barrier around your son so the sight of your quinoa with kale doesn’t make him puke on the dinner table. So, I’ve been sneaking in their dietary changes bit by bit. I’ve been slowly reducing the amount of non-food food I buy and increasing the healthier items. I realized that cleaning out the pantry one day of all the foods I have for years allowed and replacing candy, cookies, and goldfish crackers with yogurt from happy cows, Lara bars, and organic cheddar bunnies would be too much of a shock. I understand I cannot build Rome in a day, so I decided to view this change for our family as a food journey. We’re in the slow lane on the road to healthier habits. We’ll get there…eventually.
A while back I watched the documentary Food, Inc. It scared me more than The Shining and, for a while, the memory of it kept me in line at the grocery store. It kept me from being cheap and easy with my food choices. Over time, though, the memory faded and I got lazy. Then I decided to read Fast Food Nation, which reiterated exactly how important my food choices are, and I started to pay better attention. Well, last night I rented Food, Inc. again for a refresher course in where our food comes from. As I sat in my room watching it carefully, the boys were wandering in and out. The more they watched, the more wide eyed they became. Today in the car on the way to school it was still on their minds.
“I’m sorry, but fish should not be eating corn,” Joe said out of the blue. “That’s just wrong.”
“I agree, Joe. Cows shouldn’t be eating it either.”
“Meat scares me too,” he continued. “I think I want to be a vegetarian.”
“You can do that if you want, but you don’t need to be a vegetarian. We can make better choices. It will cost more money and we’ll have to eat less meat, but you don’t have to totally give up eating your dad’s famous homemade chicken nuggets. We just need to tweak the ingredients a bit.”
“Well, I don’t like thinking that our food is all chemicals. It’s creepy,” he said.
“It is creepy. It’s not just the pesticides on the fresh food we need to think about, though. It’s the additives, flavors, and food dyes too. We need to pay better attention to what is going into our food because what is going into our food is going into our bodies and these are the only bodies we get.”
Then, out of nowhere, the world’s pickiest eater piped up.
“I want to eat healthier,” Luke chimed in.
“You’ll have to start trying more fruits and vegetables. And we’ll have to change the brands of foods you’ve been eating to healthier alternatives,” I reminded him.
“I’ll try,” he said. “It seems like a good idea.”
Indeed it is. I am happy to see that as we travel down this slow road to healthier food they’ve finally closed the car doors and are prepared for the journey. Luke doesn’t realize it yet, but he’s already been eating healthier. That new homemade apple-cinnamon bread I’ve been making and he’s been devouring is made without sugar, oil, or wheat flour. Everything in it is organic, real food with actual nutritional value. I just neglected to tell him that. I figure what he doesn’t know will definitely help him.
The more you read about our food supply, the scarier it gets. But changing our food system seems an insurmountable task. I mean, which one of us is prepared to take on Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Kraft, or Tyson? Now I’m never going to be one of those folks who is 100% healthy about my food choices because, well, sometimes I just need to eat some dang Skittles. (What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?) But I understand that the only way to change the food industry is through one consumer at a time. I cannot expect the food industry to produce healthier, cleaner, less toxic meat, produce, dairy, and boxed foods unless I tell them with my choices that better food matters to me, at least most of the time. I want my kids to eat better, so I have to eat better to set the right example. For changes to occur, it has to start with the little guy. If a bunch of us little guys start making bigger demands, things might change. Lest they forget, the food industry works for us. As Gandhi suggested, we need to be the change we wish to see in the world. No matter what we hope to change, our food, our health, our career, our attitude, we have to start somewhere or we’ll get nowhere.
I’m a strange beast. For most of the year, I operate at breakneck speed. I can’t stand to be bored. You likely won’t catch me growing mold as I fester on the couch, not even during the winter months. I’m busy, and I like it that way. But, for three weeks, three glorious weeks beginning mid-December and running through the first full week of January, I shut down and become Slothstine rather than Justine. In all likelihood exhausted from 49 straight weeks of running headlong into my future, I quit moving. I don’t work out. I only go out when absolutely necessary (apparently Christmas with the family is compulsory). I lounge in bed reading, surfing Al Gore’s Internet, playing games on my iPhone, and going into some sort of trance while busting through episode after episode of my latest television show du jour. It is decidedly, uncharacteristically, not at all like me.
There are pluses and minuses about this annual holiday shutdown. On the bad side, without my usual workouts and time on my yoga mat, I often resurface during the second week of January only to find a random Hot Tamale candy stuck in my hair and tell-tale orange fingerprints on my clothes from excessive Cheetos consumption. And, it’s right about that time that I step on the scale and hear it whimper. My house is a pit because it’s hard to clean a bathroom when your butt hasn’t moved out of bed. My husband, like a dog whose repeated enthusiastic requests for a nice walk have gone unanswered, stops barking at my door. Of course, that might have more to do with my slovenly state than with ego-bruise gained from the repeated times I smacked him on the nose with the rolled up newspaper when he asked if I wanted to go for a long, winter’s walk with him. My kids. Well…where are my kids, anyway? I have no idea. And, at the end of this three week period of sloth and gluttony, a time during which the only real accomplishment I can note is my OCD completion of three puzzles (2500 individual pieces, thank you very much), I’m usually ready to hit the ground running as soon as the kids start back to school after Christmas break. If I can find them, that is.
Just as Punxsutawney Phil emerges after a long, shadowless winter, I too am ready for spring. Yes. Spring is still over two months away. I know this. But, I’m well-rested after my three weeks of hibernation. To that end, in the past four days I’ve picked up the pace. I’ve done insane things, like wash light fixtures, clean out our pantry, and scrub the laundry room floor on my hands and knees. I finally made it back to yoga today, and they’re having a promotion that coincides with my fitness goals. If I complete 20 classes in 30 days I’ll get a retail credit for new yoga clothes, so that’s a win-win, right? I registered for the Tubbs Romp to Stomp 5k snowshoe event in Frisco, the 7k Running of the Green (which, knowing me, will be more like a Walking of the Green), and my annual MS150 ride. Yesterday I whipped out 16 handmade greeting cards so I won’t miss birthdays during the first quarter of 2013. I think I’m finally back on track.
I used to feel bad about this rollercoaster ride I’m on. I would berate myself for falling off the wagon and losing myself to Christmas cookies and movie theater popcorn. I don’t anymore. The way I have it figured I’m merely one of those people who needs something to motivate her. And, nothing motivates me more than the chance to let go and fall apart occasionally. After a quick, exhilarating downhill slide, my coaster car is back on the platform and about to begin its next ascent up the highest peak on the coaster. I’m a lifelong coaster rider, and I’m ready for another go around. There will be plenty of time to relax again when I head down the big hill next December, arms in the air, smile on my face. It’s all good.
“I can resist anything except temptation.” ~Oscar Wilde
Everyone has their temptation. As a rule, I like to think I’m fairly well in control of mine. My weakness is candy. As you can imagine, Halloween is a nightmare for me. We bought five large bags of Halloween candy this year. I handed every bit of it out, only to discover that my boys had returned from their trick-or-treating with the rough equivalent of what I had spent the evening unloading. Seriously? What kind of cruel joke is that?
Since the boys went back to school, I’ve begun working out again. I hike. I skate. I practice yoga. The combination of the increased exercise and the decreased eating out generally puts me back to what I like to call my “winter weight.” My winter weight is 7-8 pounds less than my summer weight. I know it seems odd that I’m thinner during the time when most people become more sedentary, but I’m a stay-at-home mom. When my boys are home for the summer, I have less time for myself and exercise goes to the back burner. When they start back at school, I have more free time to hit the yoga studio. It just works out that way.
But, right about the time when my clothes are fitting again and I’m feeling happy about my healthfulness, Halloween rears its ugly head. Don’t get me wrong. I have willpower. I do. I can live with unopened bags of candy in my house for weeks. No problem. But, the minute something is opened (be it a 5 pound bag of peanut M&Ms or a can of Pringles), all bets are off. I can’t stop myself. I have issues. You see, there are two very large bowls of candy sitting on the kitchen counter right now. And, while I can turn my nose up at a Butterfinger or Twix, I’m eating Tootsie Rolls, Nerds, and Twizzlers like a bear storing up for winter hibernation.
Tonight I had a craving for one of my favorite candies…Hot Tamales. I’ve been addicted to those red capsules of evil dating back to my days working for Mann Theaters in high school. I would buy a box on my break, take it into a theater, and down the sugar while watching part of Out of Africa or Back To The Future. I bought a few boxes weeks ago because I like to have a stash on hand for family movie nights at home. The boxes have been in the top cupboard of the pantry for weeks, and I’ve done an excellent job of ignoring them. But, tonight, blame it on the candy floodgates having been opened by the decadence of Halloween or blame it on PMS, I wanted those stupid cinnamon-flavored pieces of nutritional garbage. (First three ingredients: sugar, corn syrup, modified food starch. Nutritional value = -536.)
I brought them up to my room where I began watching a Netflix rental. I set them atop the books on my nightstand and stared at them. Or, rather, they stared at me. Perched atop The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, there seemed to be a battle of the forces of good and evil playing itself out an arm’s reach away…the tamales representing my baser, selfish wants and the book representing my desire to bring myself to a higher realm of consciousness, my zen. I really wanted to tear the box open, but I would look at Tolle’s book and remind myself that I didn’t need the candies. I simply wanted them. I was full from a pizza dinner with the family. I’d eaten more than I usually do at dinnertime, and I was already feeling a bit uncomfortable. (Ever since my gall bladder and I parted ways, I can’t quite eat the way I used to. Getting old sucks.) And, I knew that eating 500 calories of food dye and sugar would make me feel absolutely miserable both physically and mentally. I pushed thoughts of the devil candies from my mind. I watched my movie. I played Word with Friends on my iPhone. I ironed. Yes. Ironed. On a Saturday night, even. I read aloud to my sons. I stuck my tongue out at the red box in defiance.
It worked. The box still sits unopened on my nightstand…three hours after its appearance there. And, I’m feeling fairly smug about the whole thing. My pants will still fit tomorrow. I did it! I resisted temptation. I feel like I could take on the world. Now, I merely have to hope that my level head and nerves of steel persist through the night because I’m too tired now to take them back downstairs and tuck them away in the cupboard above the pantry where they belong. You know, one could rationalize that cinnamon candies are just a few ingredients away from being a cinnamon bun. That makes them justifiable as breakfast food, don’t you think?