Nitrates in hot dogs, BPA in cans, pesticides on produce. Anyone else notice how crappy the news has been about food lately? When I consider the stuff I grew up on, apparently I should feel lucky just to be alive: canned tuna by the case, countless non-organic apples and peaches I was too lazy to wash, canned fruit, processed meats, processed meats in a can (am I the only one who has fond memories of twisting open a new can of corned beef with that little metal key, sardine-style?).
All eaten, of course, without wearing sunscreen or a seatbelt.
I can’t turn back the hands of time and undo all those Steak-umm sandwiches that I ate. But (to paraphrase one of Oprah’s favorite inspirational phrases) “now that I know better, I can do better”. Now mind you, I don’t overhaul my family’s diet over every scary headline—and I’m way too frugal to turn my life savings over to Whole Foods (trust me, you don’t have to feed your kids $4-a-box organic cheddar bunny crackers to be a good mom). Yet I have made some small—but hopefully significant—tweaks in how and what we eat around here.
I bought a cow. Well, half of one, to be exact. I’m splitting said bovine with a friend, which means each of us needs to make room for roughly 80 pounds of grass-fed beef in our respective chest freezers. Two things influenced this purchase: A viewing of the jaw-dropping, gag-inducing movie “Food, Inc.” and hearing so much about the nutritional perks of grass-fed beef, namely less saturated fat and more healthy fats like omega-3s. We’re paying much less per pound since we’re buying in bulk, and I like that our beef is coming from a local farmer with a few cows, not a mega-cattle operation.
I’m stocking fewer canned foods. Now that the government has finally gotten around to warning us about BPA in cans, I realize I should’ve been seriously worried about this a looong time ago. BPA is a chemical used in the metal lining of cans and in some plastics (including, of course, baby bottles and sippy cups) and has been linked to developmental and reproductive problems in kids. I used to stock canned fruit (packed in juice) in the winter and didn’t think twice about buying something in a can (like pizza sauce) instead of a jarred version. Not anymore.
I’m choosing some organics. Heard of the Dirty Dozen? It’s a list of the fruits and vegetables with the highest residue of pesticides, compiled by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. They claim you can reduce your exposure to pesticides by 80 percent by buying the organic version of celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, domestic blueberries, nectarines, sweet bell peppers, spinach/kale/collard greens, cherries, potatoes, imported grapes, and lettuce. My kids eat fruit constantly, and I know their little bodies are more vulnerable to big doses of pesticides. And while I’m not ready to shell out for all of these, I’m dipping my toe in the water. I buy organic apples, since Henry and Sam like to eat them unpeeled, and organic lettuce, because my husband and I eat big salads nearly every night at dinner.
I’m shopping more at the farmer’s market. I’m lucky to live a block away from our community’s weekly farmer’s market, which grows larger and livelier every year. This season I’m picking up more things, like free-range eggs from a local farm, homemade veggie burgers, and beautiful organic strawberries that my kids gobble up within minutes. Compared to the stuff at my grocery store, they are splurges—but if it means my family eats a cleaner, healthier diet and my kids learn to love the taste of fresh-picked produce, it’s well worth it (and all that cash I save from my rabid coupon-clipping obsession has to go somewhere).
Have you made any changes to the way you feed your family? I’d love to hear about them.
Photo by Pieter Musterd