Well, I feel like I’ve shared a lot with you and yet I feel like I’ve only shaved a little off the top. There is so much regarding food, health, nutrition and politics that can be discussed. But today I wanted to share with you my excitement.
I FINALLY joined a CSA! YAY!
What is a CSA? Well, I attached a video for you to take a look at but in a nutshell, CSA is an acronym for Community Supported Agriculture. In essence, I’ve bought a share of a farm and in exchange, I get fresh-from-the-farm food in a box every two weeks.
For me, this is monumental. Unless the farmers are lying (which I doubt they are but I acknowledge the possibility), my produce will have never seen a pesticide in its life. This means it is true organic, organic by MY definition. The only thing it’s seen is soil, rain, sun and maybe a blustery breeze or two. It’s as if I went out into the woods or the fields and picked it myself. It’s not genetically modified or doused with chemicals. Allow me a moment to breathe my sigh of relief. Whew.
This is merely a part of my year-long project to unplug as much as possible. First meat, then produce. Soon, I’ll be at a grocery store for my very basic of staples like my great-great grandmother used to do. They’d go to the grocery for sugar and flour. And that was it. My hope is to get to that point by the end of the year. And I plan on doing it all as a city girl. Full time job, wife, mother, yoga, happy hours and bread from scratch.
This is why I didn’t include produce in the Cost Analysis. If you buy organic produce from a grocery store, the price is going to be astronomical ($6.59 for one avocado? Really?). Admittedly, I have not been eating organic produce. I have been washing the conventional produce better and praying over it. But now I’ll be able to eat fully organic produce for around $20 a week. Yes, that’s right. The family size box of produce I’ll be receiving from Full Circle Farm in Washington is costing me $20 a week. If meat is about $20 a week and produce is about $20 a week, my $50 a week goal for groceries looks more feasible now doesn’t it? (And you people laughed at me for daring to think I could feed a family of three on $50 a week! HA!)
Now with the CSA you are limited in what you can have to items that can be grown locally in your climate and items that are in season (amen for living in the PNW where the winters are mild and stuff still grows). This creates a fun (or painful) challenge where I have to find recipes to match the ingredients I’ll be getting. It also brings about the possibility that I won’t eat everything in time before it begins to spoil so guess who’ll be reading up on canning and freezing in the next few weeks?
In the meantime, I’m beginning my list of what I will be planting in my own garden this year. It will be my largest gardening project ever (I usually do herbs each year) and I’ll be adding greens and veggies which is a first for me. I’m also looking into a greenhouse and thinking about a class on urban chicken farming (which will be news to the hubby!). I do have to figure out what to do about these raccoons though… (suddenly it doesn’t sound like I really live in a city, does it?)
Wish me luck and I’ll keep you posted on the how the CSA is working for me and my family. In the meantime, I hope you’re still doing your own digging and you’re setting your own goals on how to unplug.
If you are reading this then you have hung in there with me through the doom-and-gloom videos and ranting and raving about the Food Industry. I have taken all of your excuses as to why you “can’t” change your eating lifestyle- what’s the big deal? (fake food is unhealthy for you is the big deal!), only hippies care about that stuff! (just because I love roaming around barefoot doesn’t mean I’m a hippie, thank you), where would I even begin finding better food? (eatwild.com, localharvest.com), I’m only one person, I can’t change the system! (CONSUMERS are king, not corporations!)- and I have turned them totally on their ear.
Well, all except one and it’s by far the biggest one of all. How much more money is all of this changing over to REAL FOOD going to cost me?
SIDENOTE: I’d like to just point out here how lucky you all are that I’m willing to share the things I’ve learned with you. For me, all of this is a process of digging and finding and comparing and WORK. You all just get to read a blog! I hope, however, that you’re not just taking my word for it. I do hope you’re going out and researching for yourselves. I’m intelligent and I’m doing a lot of research but that doesn’t mean I’m right. The problem with people today is how much we rely on others to provide our information for us instead of seeking it ourselves. This is how we got into this mess in the first place. But I digress…
When I initially decided to make a change to my diet and the diets of my husband and daughter, I had a double blow to consider. My parents had been buying the majority of the groceries in the house. So not only would we have to move to buying our own groceries, which would be a significant impact to the budget, but if we’d be buying organic, we were going to go broke. I had to realistically consider that, as much as I may want to, I may not be able to afford it.
My journey to Whole Foods that I’ve mentioned before crept back into my mind. There was no way in hell we’d be able to afford $25 for a loaf of bread. And if the bread was $25 then my goodness, how much was everything else going to cost? I was worried. I was worried that I would be forced to feed my daughter crap- LITERALLY!- and be the first source of the cancerous, womb-killing yuckiness she’d receive in her life (yes, a bit extreme perhaps, but ensuring her future is everything to me and this worried me).
But I also knew that I really had no desire to shop at Whole Foods. Again, they’re a part of the system that hurts more than it helps and I wanted to unplug from the system. But the PCC Natural Markets was a co-op and that co-op was a part of it that HELPED. Hubby and I decided we’d just go and take a look around.
The first thing we see is the dairy section and WOWSERS! There was so much to choose from, so many labels to read and the prices made my heart hurt. $6 for a gallon of whole organic milk. $9-$12 for a gallon of raw milk or milk from pastured cows (my goal). Conventional milk can be found for $2 a gallon. We were not starting off on a good foot at all.
The meat section was next and I felt the fist squeezing my heart loosen its grip in stunned shock. By the time we made our way through the entire store, we’d picked up a few items to make for dinner that night and my spirits were soaring. Not only was the food affordable but it was actually possible to buy it within my set goal of $75 per week for a family of three (I’m hoping to get it down to $50 a week and I’m certain it will happen).
I know what you’re saying to yourself. “She’s CRAZY! If that pastured milk is 600% more than what I pay for regular, HOW can this lifestyle change be affordable?” Well, the reason why is two-fold and one has nothing to do with organic eating at all.
1) Plan your meals in advance. Breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts and snacks. Account for any anomalies such as field trips for the kids and make a little wiggle room to get food for days you may not want to cook, like hotdogs. Once you’ve planned the meals, create a shopping list based on all the ingredients you’ll need for those meals. Then, go shopping. Do not stray from the list. Do not go up and down all the aisles. All you need is what’s on the list so only get what is on the list. If it’s not there, it’s not bought, end of story. Don’t forget about price comparisons at different stores. There are some things I get at Trader Joe’s that are cheaper than they are at PCC and some things cheaper at the Farmer’s Markets, etc. Stick to this rule and you will save money, guaranteed.
2) Eating REAL FOOD costs more money, this is a fact and it’s one my research corroborates. However, eating REAL FOOD does not cost THAT MUCH more. And when I say not THAT MUCH more, I mean that the concern over how much it costs is not valid enough to not make the change (with some exceptions which I will explain later).
This past weekend I went major grocery shopping. I went to the butcher for bacon, I went to the co-op and Trader Joe’s. I stocked up for two weeks worth of meals for the three of us and some nights for the five of us. I spent a total of $200. I was over budget by $50 (admittedly I didn’t stick to the list). I have selected 11 rather everyday items that I will now compare for you. Please note that I took the conventional Grocery Stores SALES prices just to make it REALLY interesting. It goes something like this:
|Bacon||Oscar Mayer$7.69||From the Butcher who got it from the farm$8.50|
|Cheddar Cheese (same brand and size at both stores)||$4.09||$3.59 (weird that it was cheaper at the co-op)|
|Ketchup||Heinz (check out the ingredients, it’s SCARY!)$2.99||$3.29|
|Bread||Store brand Whole Wheat$1.50||Spelt Whole Wheat$3.69|
|Eggs||$2.59||Pastured$2.59 (SAME PRICE!)|
|Family pack Chicken Wings (3 lbs weight)||$6.00 (~$2/lb)||Pastured$9.00 (~$3/lb)|
|Milk (1 gallon, Whole Milk)||$2.89||(Organic, not pastured)$5.69|
|Beef Pot Roast (4 lbs weight)||$9.96 (~$2.49/lb)||$19.96 (~$4.99/lb)|
|Hot Dogs||Oscar Mayer Angus$3.49||Straight from the farm$5.50|
I selected these items for their randomness and their frequency of purchase. These are pretty much staples in most kitchens. I have found that there is a trend toward where your money really goes and that’s bread and dairy. I personally don’t think the meat is that much more expensive, especially considering the quality of meat you’re getting in the natural versus the conventional but you may feel otherwise. We go through a gallon of milk a week so to me, paying $6 for it is not that painful. If I had a household of growing children, I don’t doubt I’d feel differently. But at the same time, I might sacrifice in another area to ensure my growing children were getting the PROPER nutrition… again, that’s just me.
I have also found there’s a bit of what I call an “upfront cost”. This is to replace the things like syrup, ketchup, rice, etc. that you tend to buy in bulk or not very often. I like to buy pasta and things in bulk and so now I’m replacing a lot of these things. This is also sending me over budget in the beginning and wasn’t something I accounted for though I should have. I deliberately have not included produce because I will be doing a post dedicated solely to produce next week.
So there you have it. The way I look at it is, that $20 extra dollars is merely the cost of a co-pay for a doctor’s visit or for over-the-counter or prescription medication. I’d rather give it back to my body in the form of healthier and more nutritious food than to Big Medicine.
I encourage you to visit your local farmer’s markets/co-ops and do your own cost analysis. You don’t have to buy anything to do it, all you need is a pen and paper and some patience. (And you need to not mind having people stare at you as you walk through the store and write things down.) But go visit, take a look, investigate on your own. I promise, the cost is not nearly as bad as most of you think it is. And take it from the cheapest chick in the world, it’s well worth it.
Okay I think it’s time I finally let you all in on what I feel have been the benefits and disappointments of our new lifestyle choice. I wasn’t deliberately keeping you in the dark, I merely wanted to give it real time to set in so I had some hardcore data to give you and not just “Well, I THINK I feel better!”.
Immediately after watching Food, Inc. in November we made SOME changes to our diet but we didn’t go full-fledged until January 1. The first week of January I did a detoxification process to expel the old toxins and only ate fruits and veggies and drank water. (I didn’t complete the 7 day detox. I was detoxing from so many things that I felt awful so it only lasted 5 days. I plan on redoing it again.)
I will forewarn you, some of the things I’ll share with you are not normally mentioned in polite conversation but I have to share it with you because it’s just a fact of life and a big part of determining health and the changes to it. So here we go.
I quit smoking June 14th, 2010 after smoking for 15 years. One thing all ex-smokers always told me was how much better food tastes once you quit. Well, I never experienced that. I’ve always been someone who was quite in touch with my senses, especially taste, and so I was a bit disappointed that great tasting food didn’t become blissfully sublime food. But that has all changed now. My meat is infinitely better tasting. In several blogs I used the word delicious and every time I do I cringe. Because delicious doesn’t begin to cover it. Now when we eat, there are pleased grunts and nods of approval. That pleases me, especially since I’m the cook.
I’ve hated chicken my whole life. We ate it a lot when I was growing up and I just have come to abhor it. I had to go and marry a man who loves eating chicken all the time. It made me crazy. Now, I can eat chicken everyday. Pastured chicken and Grocery Store chicken taste NOTHING alike. Grass-finished beef… well my mouth is watering just thinking about it. I could go on and on but suffice it to say that everything tastes INFINITELY better.
Bloating and Fullness
I forgot what it felt like to be “full” or “stuffed” until yesterday when I broke and had a pizza from this specialty pizza place. I hadn’t had it in a while. It looked tasty. But it was disgusting and I felt like a total gargantuan after two slices. You see the whole taste thing was a huge factor. It LOOKED tasty but I made my own homemade all natural pizza at home last week and, well, this specialty pizza WISHED it was as good as my simple italian sausage pizza I made at home (I mean the italian sausage alone was divine!).
“Itis” is no longer something we experience. That “full” bloated feeling is no more. Couple that with the fact that we eat so much less (HELLO SAVINGS!) because the food we eat now is so much more nutrient-dense and we’re feeling really great after a meal. And no, it doesn’t mean we’re still starved. It’s a little difficult to describe so I’ll put it like this. You COULD eat more but your body and brain are wondering why you want to. You feel satisfied, even a little happy.
And the Queen of Potato Chips is snacking less. WAY LESS. I’ve worked on the same bag of chips for over a week. I used to do a bag a day. I just don’t find myself feeling hungry an hour or two later anymore. My breakfast ties me over until lunch, my lunch until dinner. It’s wonderful. (I still can’t give up my desserts though. Not happening.)
Briefly, I’ll say this. When you go natural there is an exponential increase in your fiber intake. I’m terrible about drinking water but the dehydration headaches became too much to bear so it forced me to drink more water (we’ve stopped drinking juices. I don’t even buy them anymore though sometimes I steep mint leaves because I just hate plain water). Water and fiber are what the body uses to detoxify. Hello clear water in the toilet after #1 and amen to regularity I haven’t seen in over 20 years! I’ll leave it at that.
Energy and Mood
I’m going to lay it all out there for those who may not know. I am a vampire. I do not sleep at night. I AVERAGE 5 hours of sleep a night during the week. Two nights ago I got three hours. It’s just a fact of my life that I prefer to sleep during the day than at night. I have a hard time sleeping at night because my brain is not only active but CREATIVE and I love to write.
Despite that, my energy levels have evened out in a way that almost frightens me. Sure, I’m sleepy but I’m not FATIGUED anymore. I don’t feel fatigue. I haven’t in weeks. No more feeling run-down, no more praying for an afternoon nap. It’s been since… never that I’ve felt this even-keeled.
And my moods have also evened out tremendously. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you I have major yo-yo mood swings. Not anymore. And my depression is becoming less of something I overcome daily and more of an afterthought. And this is a MAJOR boon in my life and the lives of my husband and daughter. I am definitely happier. Genuinely happier.
Did I mention taste? Okay, just checking.
Allow me a moment of esoteric rambling. Without turning this into some deep conversation about religion I will tell you I am not religious. I do not follow a religion. I am, however, deeply spiritual. I have admittedly been feeling a bit of a spiritual disconnect in the last few years though and it’s bothered me a tad. All of that has changed.
My husband joked the other day that the novelty will soon wear off and I won’t be cooking everyday. I don’t know if that’s true. Not only is cooking the food providing my family and myself with delicious sustenance but I have found a new spiritual connection not only with my food (and inevitably the earth and thus the universe and thus the Creator of the universe) but also with my family- the two people I love more than anything. Because I’m putting love in each meal I prepare. I’ve lovingly and carefully picked out each ingredient, lovingly and carefully prepared it and all with a deep sense of concern for their health, happiness and well-being. Each slice of a carrot and stir of a pot has me thinking about them and their health and whether they’ll be happy with what they eat.
I’m a firm believer in energy and that each of us transfers energy with everything we do. Be it positive or negative, we give and take energy. I don’t doubt that the energy I’m using in preparing their meals is transferring to them and thus to the people they touch. Couple that with the growing feeling of wanting to be the one that got my hands in the dirt and nursed the carrot from seed to dinner plate, of wanting to be the giver as well as the taker. I want to input positive energy so I can withdraw positive energy. Some of the farmers call themselves “Stewards of Nature”. This is profound to me and it’s one of my favorite parts of this entire transformation. Expect future blogs about my experiences on the farm. That is definitely happening.
Completely unplugging from “The Meatrix” is profoundly difficult. It’s amazing the lengths Big Food has gone to ensure their total dominance of Global Food. I bought a package of “organic” dry sauce mix. Well, it had the fake ingredients. Now don’t get me wrong, maltodextrin is made from corn. But you know what, I don’t need it in my food. I don’t WANT it in my food. This is why I’m learning how to make my own condiments. Because when it comes to salad dressings, sauces, ketchup and the like, it’s virtually IMPOSSIBLE to go fully natural. I’m so glad I’m viewing this as a challenge. But I’m impatient. I want to unplug now. But as a city girl, it’s not going to happen unless I’m growing the food myself.
Paranoia and Cynicism
I’m a paranoid person by nature but learning about all of this has made it a little worse, I’ll admit. I think it was sort of a nail in the coffin for me to realize that greed truly knows no bounds, that people will literally do ANYTHING for money, even kill the people they’re trying to milk the money from. It’s frustrating and frightening and sad. I won’t eat anything now without looking at the ingredients. Perhaps it’s still the newness of it all. I’m hoping one day I’ll hit that point where I just KNOW what I’m going to buy when I walk into the market. But until then, I’m incredibly paranoid about everything I’m putting in my body.
And I’ve grown more cynical about people in general. I’m a firm believer that the majority of us humans are decent and kind people. It’s unfortunate they’re not the ones in charge. I’m growing more and more distrustful of those that are in charge. I want to have faith and belief but… it’s very difficult.
I don’t know if this is a disappointment persay but I put it here because most people will probably view it as such. If we’re having a busy evening with meetings and things, I can no longer just swing by McDonald’s and eat. I have to ensure we have time to cook and eat before we go. Or that we have money for something like already prepped sushi packs or something. I do buy the all natural beef hotdogs for just such an occasion. But it does make things more difficult. Especially since my husband doesn’t cook.
I also now have more elements involved with getting my food. No more quick jaunts two blocks down the hill to the QFC. Now I have to travel farther and plan ahead and ensure I have the time to go and read labels. I’m sure this will change once I’m comfortable with my food choices but until then it is a bit more work.
And I’m cooking everyday and preparing more of my own condiments and desserts and it takes a bit more time and energy. This is not a disappointment to me at all but it could very much be one to the movers and shakers of the world. I do my best to ensure there are always leftovers handy for a quick warm up, just in case I’m not able to cook that day. We won’t even be TEMPTED to do the fast food thing. No thank you.
You would not BELIEVE how many excuses come out of people’s mouths when you discuss natural eating. Mind you, people are asking ME about it only to then tell me how wrong I am or refute what I’ve researched without themselves doing any research (I don’t at all mind being told I’m wrong by people who have done their OWN research!). I always assumed healthy eating was expensive too. Until I did my research. I once didn’t want to learn or accept where my food REALLY came from. That was a MASSIVE mistake. I do believe I can affect change, even though I’m only one individual. It really is not that difficult to find natural food, no matter where you live, if you’re willing to look. And no, wanting to be healthy is not just for wealthy hippies. We should all want that for ourselves and ESPECIALLY for our children.
If I didn’t have The Diva, I’m sure I wouldn’ t be as steadfast about the lifestyle changes. But I do and it is my duty to ensure that I instill the right attitudes and values in her while I still have the chance. It is also my duty as her mother to ensure I’m doing everything I can to ensure her health and well-being. I don’t think feeding her shit- literally!- accomplishes that.
And no, I’m not getting all “uppity” now. I’m growing more conscious and aware of one of the most intimate things I do- and I do it at least three times daily mind you. When it comes to your own well-being, you should care. End of story. I’m done leaving my health in the hands of others.
So there you have it. These are the benefits and disappointments I’ve experienced so far. As you can see, the benefits far outweigh the disappointments. And maybe you’ve noticed that COST is curiously absent from this list. Wink.
Are you tempted to go natural? Have you already started? I’d love for you to comment your testimony.
So I’m getting lots of questions from people and since I’m still not ready to give you the cost analysis (how do you expect me to keep you coming back? Be interesting? HA!) then I will answer some questions.
Q: Are you becoming a vegetarian/vegan?
A: If you haven’t figured that out by now, the answer is a resounding HECK NO. I LOVE meat, beef especially, and I do not ever anticipate that it’s something I’ll give up. I am, however, eating LESS meat. And I’m making sure the meat I eat is NATURAL. But no, I will not be a vegetarian/vegan.
Q: When you said in your post “make your own condiments” did you really mean “make your own condiments”?
A: Yes, I did. How else do you truly know what’s going in them? This is not easy to do in the beginning unless you get access to recipes for them. For example, I now make my own vinaigrette. I didn’t have a recipe but I had apples and apple cider vinegar so I made an apple vinaigrette. It is delicious. I’m moving into more adventures of learning how to make more dressings and things. But if you pay attention to the ingredients in your condiments, you should be good.
Q: Does it take you longer to make your food since you’re only using all natural ingredients?
A: Yes and no. I’m no longer buying a boxed lasagna to just toss in the oven. I’d make my own. So that would take longer. I buy the blocked cheese now so if I want slices or shreds I have to do it myself. Otherwise I don’t see a significant increase in the amount of time it takes to cook. (Desserts would be the exception.) I make my salads and salad dressing WHILE something is cooking. I have to stand there and monitor it anyway so why not. But I’ll tell you why cooking has now become so much fun and is no longer a chore in the benefits post. WINK!
Q: How is your daughter handling all of this?
A: The other day, The Diva got a hold of a McDonald’s french fry from my parents (who are “old dogs” and thus having a hard time learning “new tricks”) and she looked at me said “You know, I’m good. I like what we’re eating now. It tastes better”. So I’d say she’s doing just fine. Veggies are still a bit of an issue but I’m working on getting more vegetarian recipes to vary the routine up. But she’s loving the meat so much that she eats the veggies as a sort of appreciation for the meat. Strange but so far that’s how she’s approaching it.
Q: What is a Slowvolution?
A: It’s a very cute take on the Slow Food idea (thanks to one of my fave people!). I’m undergoing a revolution toward a Slow Food lifestyle (the kinda dull but informative video above should explain more for you). I don’t embrace ALL the ideology (I’m still a City Girl after all and I don’t have time for all this!) but I do believe in returning to our roots, back to the basics as far as our food is concerned. So maybe we’re not eating at the dinner table but we are returning to a slower eating lifestyle. I do believe in what Slow Food feels about localized and seasonal farming and eating and food freedom for all.
Q: Did you really visit a farm?
A: Yes. I did my research on eatwild.com and found a farm on Whidbey Island. My in-laws have a summer house out there and we were going to ring in the new year there. I happened to find 3 Sisters Beef which was on our way to Deception Pass and so we stopped on the way. I bought 3 meals worth of meat and talked with one of the 3 Sisters. We’re preparing a large order from them here soon. I’m also planning on spending a few weekends this summer volunteering on one. I’m growing more and more interested in learning how to propagate my own food.
Q: Are you trying to eliminate EVERYTHING from your diet? Even sweets?
A: I’m trying to eliminate the need to ever step foot in another grocery store. To be healthy, I don’t have to DEPRIVE myself of anything but the fake toxins Big Food slips us in what we buy from them on a daily basis. You know, the stuff our bodies don’t know what to do with and thus leads to chronic illness (including depression, which I suffer from) and cancer? Yeah, I’m trying to eliminate that stuff. I made an all natural and organic white chocolate fruit tart the other day. No fake ingredients (even managed to steer clear of the soy lecithin which is hard to do if chocolate is on the menu). It was delicious. So no, not eliminating sweets. Just changing their source.
Q: What sorts of questions do you ask your butcher?
A: Well I always ask the name of the farm they got the meat from. I’ve been looking them up and finding out information about them. Also, I ask if the meat has been PASTURED. So for my chicken I don’t ask if it was free-range (which could mean a 1×1 patch of grass and that’s not what I think free-range means. Again, the good ol’ USDA/Big Food collabo), I ask if it was on a PASTURE (enjoying the grass and sunshine as it helped itself to its own food). For pork, I ask if they have nitrates and nitrites which your body does not like. For beef, I ask if it’s grass-FINISHED. I’m not eating grain-finished beef. Those days for me are over.
Q: Do you feel any better now that you’ve changed your diet?
A: Tremendously better. I’ll explain more in the benefits post.
Q: Are you breaking your bank doing all this?
A: Not at all. But cost analysis is coming soon! Stay tuned!
I didn’t expect this many people to be interested in my blog and lifestyle transition. So I want to take this moment to let you all know that I appreciate you reading. I LOVE FEEDBACK so please don’t hesitate to post comments or questions or correct any mistakes or research. I want to educate the masses. The more contributing intellects the better!
So I hope I have satisfactorily explained how complicated and confusing the ‘organic’ label can be. Today I’d like to provide you with a concrete example as well as expand on it a little bit.
In discussing my newfound discoveries with a friend, she gave me a dissenting view- try all you might, it doesn’t matter. You can’t escape the beast. Sometimes I have to admit that it feels that way. And when it boils down to the most basic conclusion, if I’m not growing the food or hunting and gathering the food myself, she’s probably right. I can’t fully and completely unplug if I am reliant on others to provide my sustenance.
To drive her point home, she sent me this link with the words “why it doesn’t matter”. Except it didn’t change my mind or make me feel daunted. Because, as I mentioned in the organic blog, there’s a difference between organic meat and pastured meat. And I have moved to only eating PASTURED meat. And PASTURED meat, unlike ORGANIC meat, has a very low chance of containing the virulent strain of E. Coli O157:H7. This is why “going organic” isn’t quite good enough if you truly are looking to protect your health, especially when it comes to your meat.
I’ve said it before but I think it’s so important that it bears repeating- cows are not meant to digest grain. As Washington Farmer Erick Haakenson explains in his January Newsletter:
…the specific strain of E-coli that is fatal to humans (O157:H7), was unknown before 1980, when the first feed-lots were started and when beef in the US started its shift from being nearly 100% grass-finished to being 100% grain finished. This is a new phenomenon whose appearance was made at the exact time the feed-lots appeared. The gut of grass raised cattle is acidic, as ours is. E-coli O157:H7 is a microbe that needs a neutral environment to survive; hence this kind of E-coli cannot survive in the acidic stomach(s) of grass-fed cattle. But when cattle are fed large amounts of corn and grain, the pH of their stomach rises to the point of becoming neutral, and as such, becomes a suitable host for this virulent E-coli.
So this brings me to another important point. All cattle, even feedlot cattle, start their lives off grass-fed. It is entirely too expensive and there is too high a death rate if they feed the cattle grain right off the bat. But because of USDA food labeling laws, you can technically say your meat is grass-fed, even if it wasn’t grass-FINISHED.
Ahh, so what is grass-FINISHED? It means that the only time your cow left its wonderful grass pastures was for its once-in-a-lifetime visit to the butcher-man. The cow started its life on grass and ended its life on grass. It was not ever fed grains or anything other than God’s green earth. (The reason for the grain feeding is so your steaks get that nice marbled look that people seem to like so much. I love beef fat but it’s not that serious.)
My father and I took a trip to a natural food market and he picked up some ground beef and showed it to me. “Is this good?” he asked. I looked at the label. 100% Grass-fed! But all cattle is grass-fed at some point, I know. I call for the butcher. “Excuse me is this meat grass-FINISHED?” I ask. “No it isn’t. It’s grass-fed and grain and potato finished”. Now this answer came from a NATURAL FOOD MARKET. At least my father can feel good knowing that his E. Coli would be “organic” E. Coli. <Insert Eye Roll Here>
Will you ever completely get rid of food poisoning? Probably not. I think it’s sad, however, that the simple act of feeding cows something it’s not meant to eat causes such a significant increase in food-borne illnesses. I find it sadder that no one feels we should just change this. Isn’t grass cheaper anyway? I mean, it’s certainly abundant. I know a few yards that could use some attention.
So be mindful. Don’t assume that the label is telling you the whole truth. Find out for yourself. I’ve only been eating this way for about 3 weeks and already one of the butchers at my local market knows me. And he already has my answers. I pick up some stew beef and he tells me the name of the farm it came from and whether or not it’s what I want. Now that, my friends, is service.
In a nutshell, the answer to the title question would be “maybe”. Going to an all organic diet would certainly be much better for you and the planet in the long run but would it be enough? Probably not, especially if conventional METHODS are still used to supply the organic products- grocery stores.
Now I’m not trying to say grocery stores are the direct issue so much as I’m saying that the need to put food into grocery stores is. You basically end up with multi-national conglomerates trying to get food into nationwide grocery stores. Grocery store products travel an average of 1500 miles to get to you. What they have to do to make that happen is pick the food before it’s ripe (meaning it hasn’t reached its peak of healthfulness), ripen it in transit with ethylene gas (GROSS!), coat it with a fancy wax (made of petroleum- HELLO!- so it LOOKS like it’s in better shape than it is) and truck it across the country from farm to store. Let’s add to the conventional produce all the toxins that went into its production and, well, no thanks.
Now the question is, what makes shopping at Whole Foods any different than your local Kroger/Safeway/Publix/Piggly Wiggly if either way, this is going to be the case? Not only that, but these national grocery chains don’t want to buy from hundreds of different farms and suppliers. This means the suppliers themselves have to be massive. Grocery stores buy from DOZENS of suppliers, not HUNDREDS. Think on what that means for a moment. And Whole Foods is not much different (though a better alternative than conventional any day).
Then there is the whole debate on what organic even means. To you and me, organic means that the food was produced the way it would be in the wild. It means we’re lucky enough to go to the grocery store and pick it up off a shelf as if we hunted it and gathered it ourselves- without the hunting or gathering. To the USDA and Big Food (essentially they’re the same entity), not so much. This is direct from the USDA website:
“What is organic food? Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.
The underlining is obviously mine. Buying organic doesn’t mean you get NO pesticides on your produce. It means you get fewer. And you’re probably spared the worst of the lot. So organic produce is much better than non-organic produce but don’t think you don’t need to be mindful of where it came from.
Meat, however, is another very complicated matter. If you watched The Meatrix videos, you learned that the animals that eventually end up on your dinner plate are being fed horrifying things. For cows, they’re being fed grain which is something they are not evolved to eat or digest. This elevates E. Coli and other bacteria and, well, you end up with a recipe for disaster. Did you know that the only difference between an organic steak and a conventional steak is simply that the grain it’s fed has no pesticides?
Well, either way, it’s still eating grain. This grain- probably corn- ends up making the animal fat (and thus it makes us fat), detracting from the nutrients it provides us and still contains elevated levels of E. Coli bacteria. It also doesn’t guarantee the animal is humanely raised.
SIDENOTE: Even if you’re not an animal rights activist, if you’re a meat lover then you care that the animal is humanely raised. Let’s not even get into what kind of person would want to treat an animal badly or the kind of negative energy you’d be ingesting. Animals raised in food lots are constantly under high stress conditions. This means their bodies are flooded with hormones and chemicals that affect how the meat tastes and how tender it is. So there, you want humanely raised meat. It’s tastier.
So is eating organic better? Yes, it’s definitely better than conventional. Is it good enough? I would say my answer would be no. Because if the USDA is the one slapping the certified organic sticker on the product, I’ll take my chances shaking my local farmer’s hand and looking him in the eye as I ask him how he raises his cattle and produce. I’d rather give him the thousands of dollars I spend annually on feeding my family. (And supporting your local farmer? How is that wrong? If everything went to hell in a handbasket, wouldn’t you want to know someone who could feed you was close by?)
What should you do? Go to your favorite search engine and type in Community Supported Agriculture and your zip code. Find a local farm that provides boxes of fruits and vegetables grown fresh on their farm or through farm co-ops. Go to eatwild.com and find meat and dairy that has been PASTURED (raised on a farm and eating what it’s SUPPOSED to eat) and figure out how to get your hands on it. And don’t tell me you don’t know of any local farms. There isn’t a single state in the union that doesn’t have farms and that is a fact. I just gave you resources. Use them! In the meantime, Happy Eating!
This weekend, I sat down with my daughter and we watched several documentaries about food and health. Later that evening once I was all alone, I decided I’d watch another called The Future of Food (the above is a clip of the beginning). I was nearly in tears by the end of it. I have hit a new height of anger and fear and it has pushed me to a new level of advocacy I was not expecting or prepared to pursue. But this is not something I can sit back and just accept.
This is akin to slavery- yes, I said it.
Forcing me into an action involuntarily, deliberately keeping me ignorant to the truth, taking something from me that is a HUMAN RIGHT is slavery and oppression and to attempt to view it in any other way is to prefer to dwell in ignorance. And yet this is what Big Food does. They lie to you, they manipulate the facts, they prevent truths from getting out into the open, they’ve taken over one of the most intimate human functions- eating. This is absolutely, irrevocably, fundamentally wrong.
The hope is that people in positions of power would do the right things on behalf of those that aren’t. It is a constant and painful disappointment that they usually do not. People in power will do whatever they can to maintain and expand that power and all at the EXPENSE of the Little People. And in the meantime, the Little People severely underestimate their own power. We forget that the Have Nots will ALWAYS outnumber the Haves. That the power of those in charge is tenuous so long as we ALLOW them to have that power, allow them to manipulate us and keep us in ignorance.
So for all the people that say the following: “No no, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know” “It doesn’t matter what you do, you’ll never beat the system” and my personal favorite “I’m only one person, how can I possibly promote a change”, then I give you Sister Rosa Parks who by a small gesture of refusing to take it any longer sparked a national debate. And of course there is Dr. Martin Luther King who, through sacrifice and courage, became one of the most powerful voices this country has ever known.
Humor me a moment. “You’re only one person, what could you possibly hope to accomplish” is one of the most cowardly cop-outs I’ve ever heard in my life. Yes, I am only one person. And you’re only one person and they’re only one person and so on to the tune of 350 million “one-persons” in the United States of America. Now in changing how I eat, I’ve not only taken my “one person” out of the equation but also my family. So we’re three people. What if ten million mothers like me who had a 3 person household decided to make the same change? We’ve now become 30 million people. And that’s only 10% of the population.
What if all 10 million households purchased these documentaries and books and mailed them to the White House? Do you not think that 10 million movies and books showing up on their doorstep wouldn’t get their attention? Is that not, at its very core, the true essence of freedom, voice- of POWER? Because if there is one thing all of these Big Food people have in common it is the dependence on the All Mighty Dollar- and this will always make them vulnerable. It is a mighty big Achilles Heel to aim at. If it’s one thing we as Little People must do, it’s spend money to eat. What if, with your dollars, you enacted your protest? What if 10% of the population enacted protest solely based on where they purchased their food? Would you still think no one was listening?
First Lady Michelle Obama has decided that she will take on health and obesity. If she was truly serious, she’d recognize how much the food we eat contributes to it. She would take on and challenge Big Food. She would would be a force in her husband’s ear to truly enact change and bring hope. Except he just signed the new Food Safety Bill which is NOT a friend to the small farmer- or YOU the consumer (EDUCATE YOURSELVES!).
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Almost always, the creative and dedicated minority has made the world better”. All revolution has been the minority against the “majority”. At what point do you start to realize your true power, oh “one person”? For me, that time is now.
So you’re still hanging in there with me I see. Well I am very grateful. For every person who decides enough is enough, it is one more person who uses their purchase power to tell Big Food we won’t have it anymore. And if you haven’t noticed, Big Food is listening. They know people are growing more and more savvy about their food and they’re trying to make us think they’re catering. McDonald’s recently started offering whole grain oatmeal and fruit on their breakfast menu.
Which is great until I remember that package of apples I got once that never rotted. Ever. 2 months after being opened the apples looked as if they’d just been peeled and cut. I was disgusted and refused to let my daughter eat them. I was still too afraid to delve deeper into their food, however. Which is a shame. As a parent you want to do what’s right for your children, what will promote strong and healthy growth….
I spiraled into a shame pit for a moment but we’re back and I’d like to share with you the decisions my family made (which reads as the decisions I made and forced on my family though they’re on board for the most part) to move toward a new lifestyle of clean eating. They were:
No more meals from a box or package, no meals that can go in the microwave or be placed in the oven straight from the freezer (meals meaning something already prepped that requires no work from me).
We will have one vegetarian night per week. . Veggies will take center stage on our plates and make meat the side dish and not the main dish.
We will no longer buy meat from a grocery store (except our co-op). We will only eat pastured meat and dairy products.
We will have no meat in our lunches (except for our growing Diva. I’ve been told by her doctor not to restrict her calories and let them be as diverse as possible).
We will eat organic produce as much as possible.
No more processed condiments, sauces, dressings, etc. We will make our own or at least make sure the ingredients would be what I would put in it.
No more fast food. Dining Out will occur more infrequently.
If we do buy packaged food (like bread, cheese, etc.) it will be organic and processed in a recognizable way and have ingredients that The Diva can pronounce and recognize.
This list seems daunting, doesn’t it? And where on earth do you even start? If the grocery store doesn’t have it, where do you buy stuff like this? What the heck does “pastured” mean? How do you KNOW how it was processed? Did this crazy lady say “make” my own condiments?!?!?
Okay, calm down. If you’re feeling anything like I was after taking the red pill, you want to know how to accomplish clean eating and you want to know NOW. Very well, here is what I did.
I have to preface this by telling you that I live in the Land Where Hippies Dwell. This means I’m surrounded by people who battle “the system” everyday. This works to my benefit, in this instance, because there is a group of co-operative grocery stores started by concerned citizens and farmers that sell only natural foods. And no I don’t mean Whole Foods (you’ll start to see that grocery stores, even well intentioned ones, are a major part of the problem). PCC Natural Markets is awesome, to be cliché. I am lucky enough to be able to go ten minutes down the road and get clean food.
There is also the very helpful website eatwild.com which is where I found my farm that I purchase my meat from and local farms that sell to the PCC Markets. Here there is a list of local farms in your area, farmer’s markets (THIS is where you want to shop if you can!), co-op stores like PCC, restaurants that use only “wild” products, and butcher shops, etc. You can view farm websites here, which I did in my education.
Unlike the Sara Lee website where you can’t locate ANY ingredients lists for their products (and why the hell not Sara Lee? What don’t you want me to readily know about your food?), the farms are remarkably transparent about every stage of their operations. At 3 sisters Beef where I got my (DELICIOUS IS NOT A STRONG ENOUGH WORD!) beef from, she was very honest to tell me that their bacon does contain nitrates and nitrites (yucky stuff)… for now. And this is how you know how your food was processed. If you can’t find easily learn how it was processed, then they have something to hide and don’t buy that product. It’s more simple than you think once you know what questions to ask.
From the farms and the farmer’s markets you want to look for PASTURED meat and dairy. It is not good enough to say organic and I’ll explain why in the next post. But pastured means that your cow grew up outside of The Meatrix but still managed to eat grass (as it’s supposed to), laze around in the sun all day and be treated humanely from birth to butcher. It means they eat what God intended for them to eat and ONLY what God intended them to eat. No we don’t NEED meat to live but for those of us who adore it, we can have it and we can have it without the guilt and the expense to the environment or our health.
I am not going to get too much into cost in this post but I will say this. I am so cheap it’s ridiculous. Cheap, frugal whatever you want to call it, I hate spending what I FEEL is more money than I should. So my second response (after the shock and anger, of course) was “how much is this lifestyle change going to cost me?”. I went to the PCC to just look around and price things out. I purchased a meal for me and my husband to eat and then did price comparisons. I was astounded at how little it varied. I could get clean, whole foods for about the same amount of money as the nasty stuff. Amazing.
I regret to inform you that despite their best efforts it is virtually impossible to eat clean from your local Safeway, Kroger/QFC, Walmart, etc. And believe me, they are trying HARD to make you feel like you can. You cannot. Organic Produce is about as clean as you’re going to get. If you MUST then I’d say go to Whole Foods but they’re a part of the problem too (and more expensive than my PCC so I don’t go there either). I am currently in the process of getting together a group of people and we will buy an entire cow from 3 Sisters Beef. They will butcher it and cut it up and package it for us. My grandmother used to do this with her neighbors. This is the best way to get your food short of hunting it down yourself. And it’s more than worth the hour drive to get it.
I have been cooking our meals every night. Our eating experience has become one that is so amazingly refreshing and pleasant that I now don’t mind. The food we’re eating… well I’ll get into that more when I discuss the benefits so far with you. Which means you have to stay tuned. In the meantime, stop hanging out with a loser like me and go to eatwild.com and start researching how you can get started in your area. It’s time to take the shovel I’ve given you and start digging.
I see you’ve come back to see what else I have to say which both pleases me (thank you!) and proves that you want to do better for yourself. Like me, you were appalled to learn just how much Big Food is destroying our health so they can increase revenue streams. If you’ve delved as far as I have at this stage then you’re horrified about not only what they’re doing to our food but also to the farmers, the environment and their contribution to the immigration debate.
Now let’s inject a moment of honesty here. We knew. Certainly we didn’t know everything but we knew to some degree or other that the food we were eating was not altogether the best for us. We knew that the animals that provide our meat, eggs and dairy weren’t raised humanely (there is no way you can supply the American culture with that much food and not know this). We were aware they were putting hormones and antibiotics in the animals. Perhaps we weren’t sure why or what kind but we knew. And we were happy to remain blissfully ignorant to it. Because we are, after all, busy movers and shakers with things to do, places to go and people to see.
And who wants to truly look behind the smoke screen and see what’s really going on? I knew about Food, Inc. the moment it came out in 2008 but I wasn’t ready. I knew that I would learn something that would cause me to completely change my current way of life. But I couldn’t afford it. I walked into Whole Foods once and saw a $25 loaf of bread (not kidding!) and turned around and walked back out. Only rich people can afford to eat healthy, after all, and I am NO WHERE NEAR rich. Not only that but I would have to start making all my food from scratch, maybe even GROW it and who has time for that? And I’d also have to be a vegetarian and NO WAY is that ever happening. So thank you but no thank you, I justified to myself, I’m not ready for the awakening.
Last June I was diagnosed with high cholesterol and elevated blood sugar (and I’ve been concerned about my weight since I’m heavier than I’ve ever been in my life at 165 pounds). There have been a few anomalies in my family history but I was blindsided by the cholesterol thing. Not so much the sugar thing because I’m a sugar junkie but the cholesterol took me by surprise. So I decided it was time to make a few adjustments to my diet.
I learned that you can really bring down your bad cholesterol levels by adding more fiber to your diet so I started eating more bread and oats. It’s funny to me now considering what I’ve learned about bread and oatmeal (the Quaker variety specifically). In August I cut out all added sugars from my diet, vowing to only eat naturally occuring sugars like in fruits and vegetables. After a week of a killer detox headache, I couldn’t believe how much better I began to feel. I’ve maintained a low sugar diet ever since. But feeling better, healthier with more even moods and energy levels led me to think harder about what I was eating- and what I was doing to my daughter through her diet.
By November I was ready. I was ready for the kick in the behind that I knew sitting and watching Food, Inc. would give me. I had spoken to several people who’d watched the movie and their reactions told me I would not come away unscathed. And I didn’t. After watching that movie I wanted to go through my fridge and pantry and purge everything in them.
I began reading. Incessantly. I went to Big Food websites and read them but what I was reading more of than I ever had in my life was ingredients lists on the food products. Because I have now learned that the gigantic nutrition label listing all your fat and sodium content is meant to distract you from the really important information- the ingredients.
Let’s use an example.
If I wanted to make 100% whole wheat honey bread at home, I would need the following ingredients: whole wheat flour, honey, butter, salt and yeast. That’s it. Nothing else. Now, I urge you to go and look at your loaf of bread and read the ingredients. I’ll wait patiently while you do………. done? Is your stomach hurting yet? Did you even know what half that stuff was? My family were big Sara Lee fans. The Nutrition Label made me feel like I was making a good choice- so low in fat and bad stuff! The ingredients, however, prove that the choice was all wrong. All the added sugars alone were enough to scare me. Let’s not even start on all the fake ingredients.
And yet they make tons of health and nutrition claims on their products. But if the nutrition label says it’s so good for you, why bother reading those teeny tiny ingredients that you can’t pronounce? Well, the real issue is why do we not think it’s a problem that we can’t pronounce them? Our grandparents (or in the case of many of you, great-great grandparents) never cooked with anything they couldn’t pronounce. My grandmother used to make biscuits from scratch every morning. I bet if I called her right now and asked her for the recipe, dextrose would not be one of the ingredients.
And it’s not just them. It’s virtually everything you find in the grocery store. Very few items outside of the produce section have any nutritional value to you. And if you watched Part Two of The Meatrix above you’ve found even the milk and dairy aren’t good for you. What’s the City Folk to do if they want to unplug?
First, pick up a book. In the Highly Recommended Media section of this blog you will find many of the books I’ve read on my journey to enlightenment and the first one I read was The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. In this book, he explains different food systems and creates a meal based off each. This is a good place to start but it won’t help you with the HOW (I will in the next post). What it will do, however, is further educate you on the food systems and what each entails.
But by all means begin educating yourself. Don’t just take my word for it. I am no nutritionist or expert. I am, however, a very concerned consumer and I think- sometimes- we’re the best educators of all.
I was once Leo. In November 2010, I also took the red pill (I watched Food, Inc.). In doing so I uncovered much more than I bargained for as I learned about today’s food and where it comes from. I’m still learning a great deal about it. Alice fell down the rabbit hole. I jumped and I’m still falling. This blog is essentially me taking you along for the ride.
Here, you will learn what I am learning. If you’re not prepared for that, you won’t follow me. And I’m perfectly okay with that. But everyone knows knowledge is power and the sharing of knowledge is a kindness unlike any other. I believe in the Golden Rule- you know, “Do unto others…” and all that. I wish someone had pulled me aside sooner and taught me the things I’ll be sharing with you. Though I am against shoving ideology down people’s throats, I do think that if someone expresses interest in a topic you are knowledgable in, you should share your knowledge. So here I am.
Why should you listen to me? Well, to be honest I don’t think I’m that interesting. I’ll let others be the judge of that. But I am a die-hard and dedicated City Girl. Born and raised in Chicago, I’ve also lived in Atlanta and now currently reside in the smallest town I ever want to live in- Seattle. Any smaller than this and I’ll start getting hives. Sure, I love venturing out to the country every now and then but I equally love watching the skyline rise above me and the concrete embrace me as I head back home.
For me, The Country is a place you VISIT. Whenever we go to Whidbey Island, I have no doubt I stand out- that I reek of the Big, Bad City. I “ew” at everything, pick up leaves with my thumb and forefinger and my pinky up. I refuse to camp unless I know there’s a comfy bed, heat, running water and a functioning toilet. In other words, I’m all about the modern conveniences. Add that I’m a working woman and a wife and the mother of a growing 11 year-old Diva and you start to see how enjoying modern conveniences can also encompass food.
But let me make sure you all understand how much food means to me. This may explain why I’m so upset and angry about the things I’ve learned. I ADORE FOOD. It is one of my three major vices (which used to be four until I quit smoking)- Food, Sex and Alcohol, in that order. Yes, you read that right. Food is ranked higher than sex, that is just how serious it is for me.
Eating is such a sensual and personal experience, one you can easily associate with memories and moments in time. Collard greens and corn bread remind me of watching my grandmother cook in the kitchen, the way she’d make the cornbread as little round patties just for me because that was how I liked them. Thanksgiving Dinner is so much a ritual in my home that to eat anything other than the main staples is almost sacreligious. I still remember the best swordfish steak I ever had in my life and every moment of the dinner I spent eating it… 17 years ago.
But I took the red pill. And the road I now tread is full of some of the most frightening demons I’ve ever encountered in my life. Bottom line, learning where your beloved Velveeta comes from and how it’s made is scary. But since the 1st of January I have embarked on completely altering what kind of food enters our home and our bodies. No more heavily processed food, no more buying from the major grocery stores- ESPECIALLY our meat and dairy. I have a growing, pre-pubescent daughter. I want the hormones in her body to be of her OWN making, the medication to be what I knowingly gave her. Hell, I just want the meat I feed her to really be meat!
So take my hand and traverse this dark and dangerous path with me- if you dare. Take note it’s not for the faint of heart. No more excuses. Just because I am a city girl, doesn’t mean I have to be a TOTAL slave to the system. As far as my food is concerned, I took the red pill. I have unplugged from the Food Matrix.
It’s time for you to stop being Leo, too.