Cleaning Pantry

Hello again! It’s been a while since I last posted. Due to the California deluge, many people have been indoors most of the time, which has resulted in everyone in my family taking turns getting sick multiple times (including yours truly). I guess we are just really good at sharing. Maybe I should cut back on the “sharing is good” lecture I give my kids whenever there is a quarrel or just add in a caveat…hmm…

In any case, I am still scarred from eating hairy bagels and have been working on cleaning my pantry. This task has been surprisingly easy and difficult simultaneously. It’s been easy in that now I read the list of ingredients on everything that comes in a box, bag, jar, or can. If there is an ingredient on the list that I can’t picture in my mind (WTF is ‘palm stearin‘???), then out it goes.

Reading ingredient labels is simple and surprisingly quick since once you rule out an item, you never have to re-read the label again. However, I have found that once I determine a food is on the no-go list, I am faced with an ethical dilemma:

Is it better to eat this bag of not-food-posing-as-food (shudder) or to throw it out (shudder)?

While standing in my kitchen deciding the fate of the box of faux-food that is in my hands, I am instantly transported back to family dinners decades ago. There I am sitting at the table staring at the overcooked, slimy spinach on my plate, and hearing my father lecture me about world hunger: “There are children starving right now who would love to have the privilege of eating this.” Silent and blinking, I am staring down at the shiny, smelly green mess on my plate wondering why anyone would want to eat it, while also wondering if there were a way to somehow invite this figurative person over for dinner so they could finish the food on my plate…

And we are back. It’s 2017, and here I am holding the not-food instant soup mix in my hand. It’s an open container, which means I cannot send it to my local food bank. And, I am hearing my father’s voice in my head “There are children starving right now who would love to have the privilege of eating this.“… I decide to punt and put the box back into the pantry for now.

I tell my husband, who is a full-on pragmatist, about my dilemma and he suggests we eat through whatever we already have and then stop buying it. We’ve eaten it before so why not just finish it out? Makes complete sense. However, once you know something, it is very hard to un-know it. So now when I see the marked boxes, cans, and jars of not-food, I can’t actually bring myself to eat them. So I try to punt again – I’ll just let (make?) my preschoolers eat the “berry” cereal they love that has additives in it to make the berries look nice and red. However, guilt sets in as I watch them eating it. Little kids can get really sick from things that minimally affect adults (think viruses, contaminants, and so on), so why am letting them shove additives and not-really-healthy (or fruity) food into their faces when I can just find a substitute?

After a few guilt-inducing meals, I decide to chuck all opened not-food “food” packages with one important caveat: If my pragmatic husband will willingly prepare and eat the food himself until it’s completely gone, then it gets to stay.

I go through my pantry and put all the not-food into the compost and all of its packaging into the recycling. Guilt assuaged; pantry cleaned. Done and done.

 

Taking the Leap: Saying “No” to Hairy Bagels

I was buying a bag of freshly baked bagels from a store the other day when I decided to flip over the package and read the ingredients. I had recently read some of Michael Pollan’s books on “real food” verses “processed food” and was pretty confident that these freshly baked bagels were fine. That is until I noticed that the bagels in the bag in my hand seemed unusually soft and pliable today. Maybe I just happened to pick them up right after they were baked? Upon reading the ingredients, I found several I didn’t recognize. Ahh, it’s fine, I told myself. These are probably just fancy names for baking soda or something.

Well, the curiosity hung on and after I had made myself and my family a few delicious toasty bagels at home, I decided to play a form of Russian Roulette and randomly google one of the mysterious ingredients; L-Cysteine was the winner.

I figured it would be pretty boring since I assumed that it was some kind of amino acid (trying to remember biology from high school). Turned out I was right. Except I found out something highly disturbing that I wasn’t expecting: the source of this additive could be duck feathers or … human hair! Given that this amino acid is most abundant in human hair (which means it is also probably the cheapest way of manufacturing it) and that human hair is very inexpensive to procure in Asia, one can safely presume that I had been happily scarfing down hair clippings from the other side of the world for several weeks. BLAAAARRGH! Fast forward to me throwing out the rest of my bagel and feeling like I had just eaten a hairball – actually many hairballs; who knows, maybe I had done the equivalent of licking a salon floor post hair cut. I texted my sister, who is a medical school student, to inform her of my horrifying discovery, who reassured me it wasn’t human hair at that point and “That [it is] like saying eating veggies is the same as eating sh*t.” Thanks, Sis, for making me feel so much better.

To make matters worse, I am pregnant, so this whole I-think-I-am-eating-bagels-but-really-I-am-eating-Chinese-hair-clippings episode really threw me for a loop; what was I supposed to eat if freshly baked, FDA approved store bagels had completely bizarre, non-food ingredients in them? Did anyone know what effect (if any) these “approved” additives and preservatives had on unborn children?

I decided I wouldn’t wait for science to determine whether this was the new margarine or not (“Hey this is totally fine, just eat it. Oops, causes heart disease. My bad. Guess you should have just downed the butter. Oh well!”). I decided to quit processed food cold turkey.

And so I am. It just so happens that this coincides with New Years, which makes me hesitate to say “This year, I am opting out of all non-food ‘food'” mostly because I don’t like New Years Resolutions (so much pressure, so little follow through). But, this time I decided to interpret this as a nice coincidence that meant that I had a whole year of clean, non-hairy eating in front of me. That and learning how to cook and substitute out boxed goods.

So join me on my quest to nix the packaged and boxed items while attempting to juggle work, family, and home (possibly in that order).

PS – Don’t believe me on the human hair because it is just so disgusting? Check it out (along with other horrifying additive sources) here.