Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What To Eat

For the majority of my life, I have given little thought to nutrition. I've given a ton of thought to food, but not a lot of thought to feeding my body. I've been a Weight Watcher half a dozen times, I've read diet books, I understand the concept of taking in fewer calories than you burn to lose weight. I've done the calorie counting for so long that I know what foods are "good foods;" nutrient-rich, low calorie, fiber dense, etc. And I know that there are A LOT of foods that are pretty much like crack; addictive but empty and, in time, lethal.

Since my pregnancy, I began to think differently about my diet specifically and our food culture in general. Eating to fit into a pair of jeans or lose a gut is different than eating well, I have learned. The former, dieting as I knew it pre-baby, involved eating lots of substitutes for bad foods. For example, in lieu of eating butter (high fat=bad food), I would spray I Can't Believe It's Not Butter on everything. That choice, while it facilitated weight loss (maybe), isn't what I'd call eating well.

It wasn't just pregnancy that got me thinking about nutrition. As a matter of fact, I clearly remember my first trip to the grocery store after I found out I was expecting. It involved a cart full of Oreos, chicken nuggets, and tater tots. I could suddenly eat anything I wanted without even a twinge of guilt. If I was spotted downing donuts by a fellow Weight Watcher I'd just whip out my grainy ultrasound picture and tell her to shove off, I was growing a human. A human whose cell walls were coated in high fructose corn syrup.

The day my diet began to change happened while I was pregnant, but whether it was pregnancy related is not clear to me. It was January, I was 5 months along and I had just fixed dinner. A pot of chili was simmering on the stove while I waited for Shawn to get home from work. I had been listening to the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and I walked into the living room in time to see a story about abuse occurring in a California slaughterhouse. Shawn came home at that moment and I was crying. I did not eat the chili that night and haven't eaten beef since.

I thought long and hard, after seeing that story and reading more about the meat industry in the United States, about what I considered good food. I cannot get past the cruelty; a gut wrenching video on the treatment of veal calves just came to my inbox from the Humane Society. Then there are still issues of how safe is it to eat animals raised confined in cramped cages, pumped full of growth hormone to fatten them quickly, and fed a steady diet of antibiotics to counteract the diseases that flourish among livestock kept in such poor conditions.

Shawn prefers to take an "ignorance is bliss" stand on meat consumption. He loves his steak and doesn't want to hear about the conditions that created it. I think a lot of us feel that way. I know I did for a long time. The thought of making a drastic shift in my diet based on something as seemingly far removed from my life as factory farming did not appeal to me. Out of sight, out of mind. Then I realized that if I was too squeamish and bothered by watching a video of how the animals I eat are raised, I shouldn't eat them, plain and simple.

And for Violet, ignorance is bliss is not good enough. I do not want her eating crappy food day in and day out. I want her to be aware of what it takes to bring food to her table not an ignorant consumer of whatever tastes good at McDonald's. I think our generation is so far removed from where our food comes from we started to think some really sinister stuff (trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, MSG) was fine simply because it tastes good.

So I am going to have to start being a better consumer. When I went off beef and pork, I started buying a lot of ground turkey products and using chicken more to fill in the gaps at dinnertime. I have been fooling myself into thinking that poultry production is better than any other kind of factory farming. Beginning now I want to know where all of my meat comes from. In France, consumers can actually trace a cut of meat from their butcher back to the farmer and even the actual animal from where it came. This creates an accountability that is unheard of in the US. I don't know that that level of accountability is possible, but I am going to start exclusively getting any meat we consume from the local farmers that raise their animals safely and ethically. (Our Thanksgiving turkey is coming from the same farmer where we get our pastured eggs, Gunthorp Farms in Northern Indiana). In the past, I've balked at the higher prices for these products until in occurred to me that I am willing to pay more for a better quality of food. And if that means we eat less meat to stay on our budget, so be it (sorry, Shawn!). We'll all be healthier for it!

Maybe eating better quality meat less often will justify the occasional (daily?) slice of apple pie!


Jen said...

I don't eat meat. I don't eat wheat. And I don't eat sugar.

Babs said...

So does this mean that the little toy McDonald's cash register and the play menu (french fries, cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets, sundaes)that I bought yesterday won't be welcome at the Pierce home? ;)

julie said...

On the flip side, I have most of my little brother's 4-H Reserve Grand Champion pig in our freezer. I can lure friends to our house with the promise of some "Edward" for dinner. We have Edward because my dad can't bring himself to eat any of it; He got too close. So you can know TOO MUCH about your meat, too. Heh.

I prefer tofu. It's delicious. It's healthy. It didn't have a mother. Perfect.

Aly said...

My mom became a vegetarian shortly after I was born & has rarely looked back. (though I swear I've seen her sneak a bit of turkey on Thanksgiving!)

I think it would do us all some good to think about what we eat before inhaling it.