A few years back, my family planted a garden. We dreamed of a bountiful harvest. We spent a summer watering, weeding, watching and waiting. Then we joyously rallied around our harvest . . . four beans and a pumpkin.
Now, I don’t know about yours, but my family of five won’t last long on four beans and a pumpkin! In fact, after we devoured the beans (and saved the pumpkin for Halloween) we drove to our local grocery store and loaded up on fruits and vegetables born of another person’s labor. And let me tell you, I’ve never been more grateful for the produce section.
Because, let’s face it, growing food is hard work. My family of five eats three meals a day. We run and jump and play and learn and we. do. not. stop. We need energy to keep going, and we need good healthy food to give us that energy. As nutritionist, Jodie Shield, M.Ed., R.D., L.D.N, author of “Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens” noted; the US has the safest food supply in the world. So, the question on the table (so to speak) isn’t about food safety: It’s about choice.
A few years ago, my family experienced some health issues seemingly related to an overconsumption of wheat and dairy products. Not caused by wheat or dairy, but closely associated to eating too much of it. So, as the family meal planner, I chose to reduce the amount of wheat and dairy in our diet for a while. And guess what? Everything improved. That was strong enough evidence for me to make a change away from breads and pastas to more fruits, vegetables and low-fat meats. That’s what my family needed. I was glad the grocery store offered the gluten-free, dairy-free choices that helped ease our transition, and I realized then that every family’s needs are different. But every family needs choices.
As a society, we seem to have less and less time to eat together. We rush from home to school to work and back again. Yet, advertisers and marketers beg us to question whether our food is healthy or even safe. They tell us that “good moms” buy food labels that say things like ‘organic’, ‘natural’ or ‘cage-free’. That we should worry about the way our food is grown and the very seeds it comes from. But “good moms” have to make lots of choices within the limitations of our family’s needs. We have to choose between time spent helping with homework and time spent cooking. We have to choose between preservatives when they’re necessary and organics when they’re affordable, or vice versa. That’s just what we do.
One Spring Break, my family and I went hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. We stopped at a grocery store before entering the park and chose enough food to pack two backpacks with meals for a day. They were foods made to last without refrigeration, to be eaten without spoons or forks; to give us the energy we needed to make it up and down the mountain, all while being economical and gluten- and dairy-free. (Whew! What an order!) We walked for what seemed like hours. We got so tired we almost turned back. But then we saw it: a huge waterfall, made even bigger by the melting snow on the mountaintop. The water rolled past our feet and crashed below us in a rising mist that enveloped the trees and held us frozen in wonder and amazement. In that moment of awesomeness, I heard the voice of my 5 year-old saying, “Mom, I’m hungry.” And in complete isolation at the top of a waterfall in the middle of a great forest, we were able to eat with abundance. And it was the best meal EVER.
Do I worry about food safety? Sure, especially when my child sneezes into the stir-fry I’m serving for dinner. Am I concerned that my local grocery store might stop carrying the foods my family needs to stay healthy? Yes, but a recent visit to Ultra Foods in Wheaton taught me that a shopper can actually request specific food items and management will stock them. Do I worry about unnecessary colorings and preservatives in my family’s food? Yeah. Sometimes. But not when I’m sitting at the top of a waterfall.
Genevieve is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2014 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.