“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.