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Mother Nature's Son

For those of you who have been following my blog, you may have noticed a progression towards our more "natural" family diet. While we have always eaten a diet heavy in fruits and vegetables-- fresh seasonal fruits and veggies a large part of my diet growing up-- other aspects in our family diet were lacking, like the allowance of some hydrogenated oils or convenience foods with low nutritional content. We've cut back on food colorings and many processed foods, though I do not ever see us throwing out our cereal or Annie's Mac'n'Cheese. We love cereal. And we buy the best cereal options we can, recently switching to Mom's Best Naturals when shopping at Target or just about anything sold at Trader Joe's because, well, that has to be healthy, right? ;)

Courtesy of Watchculture
I also just re-read one of my favorite "diet approach" books, French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano, a book that addresses how you think about food instead of radical binge diets. Basically the author recommends all things in moderation: "French women don't eat 'fat-free,' 'sugar-free,' or anything artificially stripped of natural flavor. They go for the real thing in moderation." She discusses food quality and seasonal ingredients, something that I love. (My husband, meanwhile, wonders if there is meat in our deliciously fabulous leek tarts...) Paying closer attention to what is in our foods has led to better choices and a renewed interest in cooking, coming from someone who professed a year ago that there is no joy in cooking. I love whipping up tasty concoctions that the whole family enjoys. I also love knowing exactly what is in our foods. Living this way has not led to hours in the kitchen. In fact, because I've spent much more time in the kitchen, I've improved upon my cooking skills (once amateur and now mediocre), making prep time less time (yes, I know that rhymes). I also follow what Mireille Guiliano professes in French Women Don't Get Fat, "French women avoid anything that demands too much effort for too little pleasure." Yes, it took me a month or two to get my own rhythm in the kitchen. Once I figure out my style of cooking, I have found great recipe books, like Homemade: Irresistible Homemade Recipes for Every Occasion by Clodagh McKenna and The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl by Ree Drummond (I really want her second cookbook!), and magazines with painfully simple recipes, like Real Simple which lays out the entire meal for you. When I find a recipe that looks like something we would love, I write it down. For instance, sitting with my sister who was breastfeeding her newborn, we were absent-mindedly watching Rachael Ray, who made this pita recipe my family has since become crazed for. We cannot get enough of that feta tzatziki sauce. Even our three-year old dips his veggies in it for snack. I love to experiment with recipes. I only ask for ingredients that are easy to come by and not ridiculously expensive and that appeal to my current culinary mood. (Tonight, for instance, I feel like having chicken...)

Something that keeps frequently popping up in my quest for natural and delicious foods is that the selection is limited. Even when I go to buy quick-easy foods for my one-year olds, I find that Gerber puts high fructose corn syrup in their granola bars. Why? Why is there high fructose corn syrup in a granola bar for toddlers? I fully stand behind everything in moderation, fine. But how is a diet heavy in high fructose corn syrup moderation? Have you personally read the labels to see how many of your dietary staples include high fructose corn syrup? I'm sure that you, just as I was, would be surprised. Previously, I paid no attention to high fructose corn syrup; instead I avoided "big offenders," like hydrogenated oils or even calories from fat (I never even look at how many calories come from fat anymore). I have been surprised and disappointed many, many times by what is ACTUALLY in the foods we eat. Maple syrup-- don't laugh-- was a recent shocker. First ingredient on any affordable maple syrup: high fructose corn syrup. Price of real maple syrup: upwards of $10 a bottle. Now, I'm sure that if you cut back on high fructose corn syrup in the rest of your diet, 2 tablespoons at breakfast won't kill you. But before you reach for ketchup, certain salad dressings, oatmeal packets, granola bars, some yogurts, and many other products, look at the ingredients. High fructose corn syrup sneaks in there again and again.

I'm not getting into the "why it is bad for you" aspect of this whole debate. I am simply wondering why our foods are artificial in the first place. (A friend of mine recommended I watch the documentary "Food, Inc." to get the answer to that question, though she said, "Once you see it, you can never go back." I have not been brave enough to watch it yet.) Who sat down in a factory and said, "You know what? Let's mass produce cookies that get chalky in your mouth, are full of calories and horrible fats, and make the majority of their ingredients artificial. Who doesn't love a fake cookie?" Did these men in suits grow up on fake cookies? What did their mother make for them? How do Chips Ahoy make it past the taste testers? After eating a diet of natural foods for a year, putting those foods in my mouth is disgusting. How did I used to eat--and enjoy-- Cookie Crisp cereal? Or some of those packaged frozen dinners? "...the great majority of Americans are conditioned to demand and accept bland, processed, chemically treated, generally unnatural foods, which through packaging and marketing have been made to seem wholesome" (pg. 76 from French Women Don't Get Fat).

I realize that buying quality ingredients requires smart shopping. "Part of living like a French woman, then, will mean searching out and paying a bit more for quality..." (pg. 77 from French Women Don't Get Fat). I do our grocery shopping online, stocking up on freshly ground organic beef when it goes on sale, and shopping the ads. My local Harris Teeter offers nearly the same wide variety of local fruits and veggies as my farmer's market, making shopping local even easier for me. Our diet is heavy in fresh produce, mostly the reason why I don't coupon. Couponing was frustrating because I would scour my ads for coupons for products we actually buy, only to find money saving options for boxed or sugary foods; the only chicken products on sale were Perdue and we just don't buy their meat. It has been easier for me to save money by planning our meals, sticking to our list, and shopping the ads, all easy to do when online grocery shopping. We do make trips to our local farmers market, roughly every 2 weeks. With a three-year old and one-year old twins, it becomes much more of a "day trip" then a pop-in-for-cucumbers kind of run. However, the kids like it and sweet potatoes for seventy cents a pound is worth it to me.

Now, even with all of the natural shopping we have been doing, I frequently run into the question of organics. When I have the choice between organic or non-organic, I first look at the price. If it is the same price or nearly the same price, I always go with the organic option. My logic is, why not? However, yesterday at Trader Joe's, I bought chicken breasts for our dinner. The Trader Joe's All Natural Boneless Skinless Breasts advertised "No antibiotics ever, all vegetarian fed, never fed animal by-products, no added hormones." (Disclaimer for no added hormones: federal regulation does not permit the use of hormones in poultry.) On the back of the chicken was this long note:
Trader Joe's All Natural Chicken is raised using the highest standards for "natural" as established by government agencies. The chickens are raised on a balanced diet of corn and soybean meal and are never fed animal fat or animal by-products. Never treated with antibiotics or hormones, they are grown in houses where they are handled humanely and allowed to roam freely.
The ranchers who raise Trader Joe's All Natural Chickens take pride in their humane treatment of the animals as well as their concern for the environment. They use sustainable farming methods, honor their stewardship of the land, and minimize their use of our natural resources in the course of their daily business. They grow a delicious product which you can feel good about eating.
I paid $8.28 for 1.66 lbs of chicken. The organic option was $14+ with the same note, only with the word "organic" in it. In all seriousness, for this product, why would I pay the extra money for the organic option? Buying this "natural" chicken--which I believe the chicken I bought to be-- is already an investment. I've said it before, but I don't think that I am fully committed to an all organic diet (yet). In a different situation, say at Food Lion when I am faced with questionable "natural" chicken choices, yes, I would opt for the ridiculously priced organic option because I have the peace of mind knowing I am not eating genetically altered meat. "The key to cooking, and therefore living well, is the best of ingredients" (pg. 77 from French Women Don't Get Fat).

Photo courtesy of Natalie Maynor
I feel like I need to do more research on organic ingredients before I make such a large financial commitment. Why organic when an all-natural product is okay? I have a garden, but use Miracle Grow; does that make my fruits and vegetables only all-natural instead of organic? What about at the local farmer's market? Some stands proclaim organic; some don't. With the research that I have done thus far, I am content with our all-natural/semi-organic, mostly healthy diet. I feel like we've cut so much crap from our diet and we just keep making better and better choices, slowly moving in the right direction.

My husband can tell you that I firmly believe that one person can change the world. Let's make these healthy, all-natural options less expensive by shifting the market. "The last twenty years have seen astonishing strides in American cooking, with a heartwarming new respect for cuisine du terrior, bringing the best of the earth onto the restaurant and home kitchen table. American apostles of this faith like Alice Waters were the first to get Americans thinking seriously about ingredients and markets, and there is nothing short of a revolution under way as more and more Americans are converted to the satisfaction of making it themselves" (pg. 76 from French Women Don't Get Fat).


Lindsay said…
For us, buying organic fruits and veggies is important because in order to be certified organic they have to be free of genetically modified organisms, commonly seen as GMO's. I certainly don't want my red bell peppers modified with animal DNA in order to make them less tasty to bugs! I really, really hope in the near future the FDA requires disclosure on labels if a food contains GMO's. Until then, I feel guilty every time I buy something non-organic because of the cost. It has to happen though, we just plain can't afford a grocery bill for 100% organics!
Kimber said…
The bulk of our produce is local, save for my raspberries, which are usually Driscolls. I really don't picture local farms genetically modifying produce? However, I don't know. I feel better buying local non-organic produce over buying imported organic produce; I feel better buying local organic than just local; and I feel better buying imported organic over imported non-organic produce. We, obviously, have a family budget and so all organic all the time no matter what isn't an option for us. But even with that said, is there anything wrong with non-organic local produce? Logically, I really think supporting local farms versus even commercial organic farms is the better choice.
Kimber said…
In reply to this post, a friend posted on my Facebook page that I should check out the "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean 15." You can google it yourself, but here is one of the links I found:
Good to know! :)
Lindsay said…
I completely agree with local produce being a great alternative to the cost of organics at the grocery store. Like you said, though, the market can be quite the outing, and if it's 2 weeks in between I was assuming there was some produce being bought at the grocery store. The farm we have our CSA at is not certified organic, and it's because of the cost involved to become 'official'. I completely trust that they aren't using GMO's in their farming. :)
Anonymous said…
Kimber, I am shocked! What does your family say about this? Have you been disowned? I am only reminded of the abuse I took at your house from your mother. And now this! I am so proud. (I knew some of the things I ranted about would stick.) Keep it up.
Mrs. Pagan
Kimber said…
I REALLY need to look into this CSA thing. After our conversation about it the other day, it is written on my to-do list, but hasn't been done yet. We do buy produce at the grocery. Our Harris Teeter here has a huge local section inside, so we can still buy local groceries when we make our one-stop shopping. I read over that list of Dirty Dozen and Clean 15. I'm assuming products made with these items would need to be organic, for instance, since apples are on the "Dirty Dozen," you would need to buy organic apple juice... What things do you buy organic? I can't seem to make a decision on how I "feel" about organic dairy, but that is totally cost related. We go through a gallon of milk in 30 hours. Milk is already expensive. I just don't think we can afford paying $6 a gallon. I've been having great luck finding cage-free, 100% vegetarian feed, no antibiotics eggs and I buy organic yogurt for me and the kids. For cheese, I always go for taste; I love a high-quality sharp white cheddar for my everyday cooking. Bread... I go by Harvest Bread Company whenever I can, but, again, another extra trip, so I buy a lot of artisan breads at Harris Teeter. I would love to make my own bread; I have a bread maker. My sister makes bread, like braided loaves. It just seems like a lot of work! (I should ask for her recipes. She's quite the baker.) We fly through bread so I always have a loaf or two of Arnold Whole Wheat bread. I think I could make better bread than that. Even buying their cheap whole wheat bread adds up. We go through so much food and they are only 3 and 1!!! A store-bought loaf of bread lasts us about 2, maybe 3, days.
Kimber said…
Mrs. Pagan--
Hahahahaha!!!! :) I ACTUALLY heard myself saying the other day, "Do you REALIZE how many hormones are in our food???"
Miss you!!
Lindsay said…
Your grocery store has a LOCAL produce section?? Ugh, I am so jealous!!! That and the fact you can order online. Our grocery stores are pitiful. I was at one the other day and wanted to grab a couple bags of frozen organic veggies. You know, green beans, maybe a corn/pea/carrot medley. Well, they had NONE. None. I asked three different clerks thinking it had to be a mistake, I just wasn't seeing them, whatever. Nope, they really just don't carry them at all. I was outraged...and they probably thought I was a crazy lunatic. Oh well. I follow the dirty dozen list, and try to buy some of the others not on the list if I can find them organic or local, but I don't stress out if all I can find is conventional. The dairy thing I feel your pain with. The boys eat a ton of cheese, and probably only half is organic. I try to buy local at the farmers market, but it's still pretty expensive and doesn't come conveniently pre-sliced... I'm still a glutton for convenience. We are coming up on switching to cow's milk, which in and of itself was an issue for me. I don't intend on raising a vegan family by any means, but for the babies to drink cow milk meant for baby cows just really feels WRONG to me. However, the only alternative high enough in fat and calories to be comparable is hemp milk, which is not available in my area (again, sucky grocery stores) and runs about $5 for a half gallon. So I had to just accept they will be drinking cows milk, and there is a great, highly reputable dairy farm that does home delivery for $5/gallon, or you can buy it at the farmers market for $4/gallon. Not too bad. Again, I feel better about buying this local, non-certified organic product over buying milk from a huge corporation like Horizon. I just want the animals who give their lives for our food and dairy products to have been happy animals, as silly as that sounds. One thing I learned from Food, Inc was that buying meat marked "certified humanely raised" is more important to me than certified organic. With produce at my sucky grocery store, however, buying organic is the only way I don't worry about the GMO's causing us to grow a third kidney or transgender body parts in 10 years.
Kimber said…
I've never even thought of looking for local dairy farms. Is it pasteurized if you buy it that way? And I feel the same way; it just breaks my heart thinking about large, corporate farms. I feel like it would be so much better if we lived closer. We could tag team our grocery trips... You go to some local dairy while I hit up the farmers market and we swap goods. :) And I have to say, you would LOVE the grocery options down here. It is amazing. I think that is one of the biggest reasons why we have made so many changes. They have been such GOOD changes that I hope we will have the resolve to stick with them, even when we move. I can imagine it would be very difficult to eat homemade (or all-natural) when living in the Navy Lodge for a month...

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