“Why is your milk yellow?” my sister asked with a grossed out look on her face. I cheerfully explained that when cows eat grass, the beta carotene tends to color the cream. The color is also an indication of high levels of beneficial fatty acids and other nutrients. I tried not to over-explain, knowing that she didn’t really want the answers. Yet.
This has been quite a month for me. After four years of being a wife and stay-at-home mom, I started a full time job. Needless to say, blogging has been on the back burner. In fact, it has been squeezed off the edge of the stove because I am always cooking on all four burners these days, both literally and figuratively. My work days are filled with food prep and cooking in the Deli at Basics Co-op. There I am responsible for the salad bar, soups, sandwiches and various offerings in the deli case. I’ve been having a blast creating and learning, always learning. I hope to offer good, local food whenever possible. I also hope to help educate people about their food choices while continuing to accomodate various special diets and food intolerances.
What about the Eat Local Challenge? I have to confess I stopped keeping track. It just wasn’t a priority to write down all of my foods. Still, I did not let go of the constant awareness. What I learned about myself and my eating habits could probably fill a (very boring) book. Here are a few observations.
1. I eat out far more often than I would like to believe. Even though I try to choose local restaurants, such as Lukes, I am spending a large portion of my meager food budget on prepared foods. This was an unusual month because of my new job and visits from no less than fourteen out-of-state family members. Because I value time with family, I frequently chose to scrap the challenge and join them in eating out, no matter where they chose to go.
2. I found that I tend to eat at least two meals a week at my grandma’s house. Having such a close relationship to my grandparents is a blessing that I count several times a day. I have kept my grandma supplied with zucchinis and other good vegetables throughout the summer. She seems to enjoy turning my produce into home-cooked food for her kids and grand kids. We definitely enjoy eating the food. When it comes to home-cooked food, I make several exceptions to my usual rules. In fact, I believe that connecting with others can be as important and even more important sometimes than what we eat. I do make healthy choices at the grocery store. I read labels and avoid corn syrup, white flour, etc. Often I avoid the store altogether and purchase high quality foods from local farms. Still, if Grandma offers me a casserole or my family has a potluck, I load up my plate and don’t worry about ingredients.
3. If I have learned anything this month, it is that I don’t want to be so strict about my eating that it prevents me from enjoying a meal with others. I’ve been there, done that. I’ve avoided certain foods due to health issues or personal beliefs over the years. I was even a vegetarian for twelve years. The changes I have made in my dietary choices have allowed me a level of health and happiness that never ceases to amaze me. Now that I have better digestion and more ability to “cheat” on my chosen diet, I am enjoying a new connection to my loved ones as we can all sit down together around a table. I have to add that food allergies and certain health issues need to be taken seriously. Sometimes it is necessary to avoid certain foods for periods of time or even for life. Hopefully loved ones can understand these needs.
4. I can still make better choices and set a good example when I eat out and eat with others. I do go easy on the desserts and avoid the Cool Whip. As for my daughter, I give her as many healthy foods as possible when we are at home. She gets treats, often home-made, at regular intervals. At family gatherings, I offer no restrictions. Thankfully, this approach has served me well. I happen to have a daughter who loves protein and doesn’t care much for cookies. I’m not sure if this is because I started her out on quality meats and eggs or because I don’t make sweets into forbidden foods. Spending time with my extended family, I noticed that we all have different approaches when it comes to kids and sweets. One family insists that their kids finish the meal before having dessert. Another family limits sweets and snacks to once per day. Both approaches succeed in making sure kids don’t overload on unhealthy foods. Still, at family gatherings, these are the kids hanging out next to the cake and licking the frosting. I don’t follow either approach with my daughter. Instead I offer her plenty of choices, including sweets. Desserts are given no more value than other foods. Am I just lucky that my daughter has an appetite for good food or is she making good choices because sweets aren’t a big deal to her? Either way, I am thankful.
5. I love my local, farm-fresh foods and will continue to go out of my way to buy them. For example, I regularly drive half an hour each way to buy the creamy milk I mentioned at the beginning of this article. I drink at least a gallon of it every week. If I have no time for breakfast as I head to work at 5:30 AM, I still have time to grab a glass of fresh Jersey milk on my way out the door. It is not unusual for people to comment on my glowing skin and hair. I blame it on the milk. I can also credit local butter, local pastured meats, local eggs and fresh or fermented fruits and vegetables.
6. I think the Eat Local Challenge is a great way to bring more awareness to our food choices. In the future, I hope to spend even more of my food budget on local, raw ingredients. I also hope to offer more local foods in the Deli at Basics. My style of food advocacy has changed over the years. Though I still sometimes slip up and put information ahead of relationships, I am learning to teach by example. For now I want to simply cook and share good food. Hopefully I will also make time to write about the food I cook, maybe even with more recipes and photos.