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.

 

 

How to Institute a Veggie Loving Household: Step One – Examine Yourself

Neither my husband nor I started out loving veggies. Years ago, words like “kale” or “brussels sprouts” would send shivers down our spines. That has changed. Now we love roasted brussels sprouts and frequently add kale to our soups and smoothies. And our young kids love eating them too (cue birdsong and waterfall sound effects). So, how did we get here?

The first thing we did was have an honest look into our veggie eating (or not eating as it were) habits. Those discussions really got us started down the path of eating well, and I think the questions we asked ourselves can be of use to you as well. So, Step One is to examine your and your partner’s (if you have one) attitudes towards vegetables. Here are a few questions to get your discussion started:

  1. To maintain a balanced diet, what percentage of your breakfast/lunch/dinner plate should be filled with fruits and veggies? (Answer is below)
  2. How much of your plate is usually filled with fruits and veggies (10%? 33%?)? Be honest here.
  3. Why do you want to eat more veggies?
  4. Forget your kids. What is stopping you from eating more of your veggies?

Before we delve into our tips and tricks, let’s examine how much of a plant-based diet we should have. According to the latest recommended dietary guidelines for Americans, half – yes, half! – of your plate should be occupied by fruits and vegetables. No, this is not some kind of state-mandated punishment. This is the amount of vegetables needed to maintain a healthy (read not dying from heart disease, cancer, etc.) lifestyle and a hot bod (most veggies and fruits are low in calories and high in nutrients). And let’s be honest here, who doesn’t want to be the hottest and healthiest version of themselves?

Alright, now that we know why eating our veggies is crucial for our well-being and how much we should be eating, look at your answer to Question #2. Did you answer 50%? If you didn’t, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, get ready to start eating more veggies more consistently and look for opportunities to add them (more on this in a future post).

Now that we have come to terms with what we are eating verses what we should be eating, let’s focusing on what can motivate you to eat more veggiesDo you want to fit into your pre-baby jeans? Do you want to age gracefully (and look good while you’re doing it)? Do you want to get off the sugar-and-caffeine rollercoaster (veggies can help stabilize your blood sugar)? Find your reason and write it on a sticky note somewhere where you can see it when you need a reminder (maybe inside the cupboard or the fridge)? Then, focus on your goal and remember that every piece of spinach, asparagus, and okra will help get you closer to your goal. Slip ups happen. That’s okay. What matters is that you keep on focusing on your goal.

Now, let’s take a look at your answer to Question #4 above: What is preventing you from eating more of your veggies? Is it time? Money? Distaste for all things kale? Really sit down and figure out what is stopping you from eating your fruits and veggies on a daily basis. Then, come up with a way to overcome it (Buy pre-washed veggies? Buy on-sale veggies? Find a new way to cook kale?). By doing so, you’ll get yourself to eat more veggies. And believe it or not, your family will follow eventually.

Once you get yourself on the fruit and veggie wagon, you will feel better about yourself and you’ll be a more convincing salesperson to your anyone nearby (“Mmmm…fennel! I love this!). And you might just end up loving veggies in the process too.