April 10, 2012

Knoxville Real Food Challenge, What I’ve learned

Yesterday and today were busy days, and I’m just now getting to posting an update.  Since we have mostly eaten leftover cabbage rolls and eggs, there isn’t much to report for our meals.  I’m glad Hubby thought of the suggestion to bring the rest of the carrot cake to work for the folks there to enjoy.  It helped to have it out of sight and mind. 

What have I learned from the challenge?

In reflecting about these last ten days and the challenge, I again am reminded about how blessed I am.  Instead of worrying about if there will be food on the table, I have the abundance to instead be thinking about what kind of food will be on the table.  Instead of worrying if we have enough, I’m able to instead worry that we are eating out too much or wasting too much food.  Does this mean that the food revolution is an elitist movement?  I’m not entirely sure.  I think that it probably has started out that way, but most of the big thinkers and writers are working on ways to make real food accessible and affordable for more.  In the last 10 years we’ve seen a huge shift in the availability and affordability of organic and locally grown foods, and I suspect in the next 10 years we’ll continue to see a shift.  What kind of shift, I guess is left to be determined.

Convenience

Probably the biggest area that I struggle with in feeding our family healthy, real food is the area of convenience.  This is more impactful even than the cost of the food because lately time has become a hot commodity in our lives.  Baking bread or making yogurt, while enjoyable activities for me that require little hands on time, do not happen very often anymore.  Instead I spend more of the time in the kitchen working on making suppers, preserving foods from the garden, or prepping for lunches. 

What does this convenience look like on a daily level?  On one side it means that we buy store bought whole grain bread made without HFCS and organic plain yogurt that we sweeten with local honey.  On the other it means that we eat out at restaurants and enjoy trips to Chick-fil-a.  It means that we have lunchmeat in the house for Hubby’s work lunches and Annie’s crackers for our daughter’s lunchbox.  It means that we don’t always buy local meats and that we have bananas (a food despised by locovores) in our home most weeks. 

Does this make me a bad person, mother or wife?  I don’t think so.  I kind of think that for the most part I’m pretty good at those roles. I think what it does make me is human.  I learned a long time ago that when we take anything to an extreme it can become dysfunctional.  For our family, we find some solace in moderation.  (Again, though, what is right for each of our families is not going to be the same—you must decide what is right for you.)

How this challenge helped me was by becoming a little wake-up call reminding me of how important food really is.  I want to feed our family healthy, homemade foods and want that to be the norm over trips to Chick-fil-a.  It gave me some practical tips and tools, often gleaned from posts that other local bloggers participating in this challenge were writing, to help me do so.

Children and Food

Another valuable lesson from this challenge came when feeding the kiddos at church.  I had worried about what would happen when I only offered them healthy foods—would they balk?  Would they whine?  Would they go home hungry?  None of the above.  I didn’t give them nearly enough credit, and for that I’m ashamed.  Each and every child found something on the salad bar that they liked, and many of them talked about liking the salad.

Later, I was reminded about Jamie Oliver’s show about revolutionizing school lunches in America.  I was reminded about the nay-sayers who were convinced that the kids would not drink milk unless it were flavored or eat healthy foods instead of French fries.  What he found was that much of the time what the kids actually did was more in response to how the adults in their lives approached the situation.  It is sort of like that Field of Dreams—if you provide it, they will eat it.  It may not happen right away, but over time, you might find that they are eating healthier and healthier.

As a result of the success that we’ve had recently with providing the kids real food, this week I’m making what I am calling “Jesus foods” for the supper.  I thought it might be fun for the kids to have an inkling of what types of foods Jesus might have eaten.  I didn’t do a lot of historical research, so please don’t beat me with a wet noodle about the foods not being 100% authentic.  I based the menu on what I know of that region’s foods—hummus, naan or another flatbread, plain  yogurt with honey, grapes and grape juice, dates or dried figs (depending on what I can find at the store), Egyptian cucumbers, and baked fish (freshwater fish with gills and scales, not catfish.  We were tickled when one of the fishermen in our church volunteered to provide the fish!)  How much of the food will they eat?  I’m not sure, but at least they will be introduced to these foods.  Part of the enjoyment of preparing these meals for the kids is to watch when they try something new to them and experience it for the first time. 

A line in the sand

The real food challenge rules for the original blogger seemed to be a sort of line in the sand.  From what I can gather from her writing, it served as a guide for them to help them make better food choices. 

One question this challenge made me reflect on is where is our family’s line in the sand?  Where does that line get a little fuzzier?  After spending almost 15 minutes trying to write out a few paragraphs on what I’ve come up with, it is clear to me that these questions aren’t really answered yet.  I suppose in some way they are a work in progress.  I aim for some semblance of balance but that goes a bit wonky when we have an illness in the family, vacation comes, a busier week hits…  Reading books about, watching documentaries that explore, and participating in challenges that encourage a deeper look at real food help to remind me of what I’m aiming for.  Like I said earlier in this challenge, they give me the swift kick in the pants that I sometimes need. 

I’ve always said that the fastest way for me to clean the house is to watch the first 5 minutes of one of those organizing shows.  I am up off my behind and have a broom in hand.  This challenge has done the same thing. When I go to the store next, I know I’ll see more fruits and vegetables and less boxes.  The trick is to remind myself of this often enough so that it becomes more the norm instead of the exception.

Thanks for walking alongside me on this journey.  It has been interesting!  I also offer thanks to Erica of Child Organics for encouraging me to participate and spearheading this local challenge!

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