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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A New Food-ifesto!

Greetings, KuKd Mommas and Inquisitive Guests!

There was a time, not so long ago, when I felt as though my pregnant months had been a waste of life. A waste of time spent reading What to Expect, a waste of emotion, a waste of love, a waste of money spent on maternity clothes and baby gear. A year of my life in total, wasted on wanting and waiting, on needlessly swollen boobs and weight gain, on what turned out to be the unnecessary torture of coffee and smoked salmon withdrawal.

Thankfully, I have since come around, realizing that such a world view does me absolutely no good. Instead, I've grown to appreciate the ways in which my pregnancies have changed me, become woven into my new KuKdx2 life, the Monica I am today. Those pregnancies - and the baby and almost-baby that characterized them - are an inextricable part of who I am.

The example I'm going to focus on for this post is how deeply and irrevocably my pregnancies changed my eating habits. Not just my eating habits, but my entire outlook on food. As many of you know, being knocked up forces you to step back and take a close look at what you are putting into your body. For me, I started - for the first time EVER - to read not the "nutritional information" on the foods I was eating, but the ingredients themselves.

I had always been a more-or-less health conscious person, at least in terms of sticking to low-fat this and that. If a product said "LOW FAT!" or LOW CALORIE," I was into it. I didn't care about what was actually IN the food I was eating, because if it had the wholesome image of Marie Callendar or Aunt Jemima, or a nice cursive homely font on the label, I totally bought it. How could Marie Callendar or the cartoon Honey-Nut Cheerios bumblebee have anything other than my best interest at heart? And simple things like Best Foods Mayonnaise and chicken bouillon cubes...stuff I grew up on and was fed by my parents and my friends' parents and my school cafeteria...how could any of that possibly be bad?

So again, fast forward to getting knocked up. Suddenly, something told me to start paying attention to what I was putting in my mouth. Not only that, but around that same time, somebody gave me a book-on-tape of The Omnivore's Dilemma, which K and I played during several road trips, practically memorizing it. The book's rules for what humans should eat, which author Michael Pollan repeats in his later book In Defense of Food, is simple:

1) Eat food.
2) Not too much.
3) Mostly plants.

And, one of my personal favorites:

4) Only eat foods that your grandmother would recognize as food.

Anyway, this book left a lasting impression on me, as did my own knocked-upness, and has ever-altered my outlook on food. I'd even go so far as to say I've developed a passionate distrust and hatred for the food industry, which I feel has duped not just me but my parents' entire generation, making us think we've been eating "food," when really we haven't.

Take these few recent examples:

Hellman's Mayonnaise: Soybean oil, whole eggs, vinegar, water, egg yolks, salt, sugar, lemon juice, natural flavors, calcium disodium EDTA (used to protect quality).

Now, try Googling "calcium disodium EDTA," and you won't find much. You will find, however, the words "rats" and cancer." So should this particular mysterious compound be eaten? My gut tells me no.

Knorr Chicken Bouillon: Salt, monosodium glutamate, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, chicken meat, chicken fat, lactose, hydrolized protein (corn, soy), sugar, yeast extract, natural flavor, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, spice, caramel color, tartaric acids, citric acids.

Okay. It's the monosodium glutamate, disodium inosinate, and disodium guanylate that get to me. What the hell ARE those things? And why are they in my chicken broth? Isn't chicken broth simply the water that is left when you boil a whole chicken in a pot and add salt?

Marie Callendar's Yankee Beef Pot Pie: I won't even list all the ingredients here, because there are simply too many to cite. But I'll give you a few alarming ones. Let me preface this by saying what I would normally guess might be in a beef pot pie: beef, flour, salt, butter, carrots, peas, celery, pepper, maybe a bit of red wine. That's it. What else do you need? If you freeze it and sell it, you shouldn't even need preservatives, right? But good old Marie insists on adding Sodium Phosphate, Lactic Acid, Maltodextrin, Calcium Chloride, Modified Food Starch, Yeast Propylene Glycol, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, Monosodium Glutamate, Phosphoric Acid, and Xanthan Gum. You can read the full riveting list here.


Now of course, all of this begs the question: why be concerned about eating things my grandmother wouldn't recognize as food? Why should I care if I'm eating small amounts of disodium EDTA and guaylate and monosodium gultamate? My personal reasons are as follows:

1) For every piece of evidence out there claiming these things are okay to eat, one can find evidence that they aren't.

2) Soaring cancer and autism rates in the Western world. What's the cause? I'm sure there are all kinds of theories out there. As for me, I look at what I eat here, compared to what I've eaten in developing countries, where processed and preserved foods are much too expensive for ordinary citizens to purchase and consume. Maybe it's the cheap availability of chemically preserved foods in the West that has caused our cancer and autism woes. Or maybe not. But why take chances?

3) If I'm going to eat an 800-calorie piece of coconut cream pie, why waste it on something that has artificial flavors and nasty chemicals, like Marie Callendars' pies? I'll save it for real food, thanks - just the milk, cream, sugar, butter, salt, flour, and coconut.

4) And finally, I'm just pissed at the food industry, the people who decide to add gross chemicals to our food and market them as "wholesome" and "low fat." You know, the executives over at General Mills and Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay. I just don't want to patronize them, period. It's dubious, this kind of corporate trickery. When I picture them, I see a bunch of sketchy balding white dudes wearing suit and ties, sitting around a conference table in some shitty New Jersey suburban office complex, devising all kinds of ways to make money - even if it means making Americans fat and unhealthy and cancer-ridden. Even www.dietfacts.com tried to contact Marie Callendars for "her" product ingredients list, and was flat-out denied (see the rejection letter here).

Anyway, don't take this as a preachy "call to action" of any sort, unless that's what you want this post to be. This is simply an announcement of my own personal

...FOOD-IFESTO!

I will eat food, not too much, mostly plants. And more than any of that, I will only eat things my grandmother would recognize as food. And yes, for the record, that includes steak and bacon and wine and coffee and all that other good stuff, since I'm pretty sure my grandma knew what those things were and ate them often (she did die of a heart attack after all; what more proof do you need!)

Thanks, Zachary, for teaching me something. You made an impression on your mom, little guy! (you dad is getting there, but he's a tougher nitrate-loving nut to crack. I'm working on him.)

11 comments:

Anabelle said...

huh... I wonder what was in all the whoopie pies I ate while preggers....??? explains an awful lot about the nut case 2 year old I live with.

Cara said...

Great post Monica.

Your right about pregnancy and its eye opening related to food.

Once knocked up we switched to whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta and organic milk, butter and cheese. We never went back. Now we look at a piece of white toast at a resturant and cringe.

Plus the the girls in this country are reaching milestones at an alarmingly early age. I firmly believe it is all the hormones in the food. We are as organic as the checkbook will allow (and raise / slaughter our own beef and pork) but I know there is still bad stuff entering bodies!!

*~*Lis*~* said...

I TOTALLY hear you on this one! Unfortunatly during the actual pregnancies and when I was working fulltime I was so stressed out any busy I ate way too much fast food and crap.

Now that I'm "just a mom" and actually have time to cook, I do so with real food as much as possible. Of course there's still a few fast food trips and processed foods sneak in now and then. But for the most part I make my foods from scratch and dadadadada we're lovin' it!

Michelle said...

I am unfortunately a lot like your DH but I am trying to be more the other way. It is a work in progress.

Viktoria said...

I love that. "Eat food your grandmother would recognize." But I think I should go back one more generation because my Grandma was crazy for Cheetos and Snickers.

Monica LeMoine said...

Anabelle - what's a whoopie pie? Sounds intriguing.

Cara - yes - I'm with you on that.

Lis - yes, I too sneak in the occasional junk. Just last night I ate store-bought lemon meringue pie at a family gathering. Holy moly, you wouldn't believe the crapoly that went in that pie. But I'm still here, and I don't have cancer or autism as far as I know, so I must be okay.

Michelle -Try shopping Trader Joe's if you have it - that's my favorite starting place for natural foods. Not organic, necessarily, but just stuff my grandma would recognize.

Vik - yes, go back to your great grandmother. Or ever great great. You must be younger than I thought. Not that you look old or anything.

*~*Lis*~* said...

since I still don't know how to e-mail you back I wanted to say Thanks for the b-day wishes (and you were close, I'm 32!) :)

Rebecca said...

Maybe this is why I am destined not to get pregnant/carry a baby to term...I already eat like that!

I am obsessed with In Defense of Food - although I change "food that your grandmother would recognize" to "food that SOMEONE'S grandma would recognize," since my grandmas would not recognize tempeh or tofu or hummus or quinoa (yes, that delicious heavenly grain that often finds it's way onto your blog) or lots of other foods that SOMEONE'S grandma in some country would.

Anyway, one thing that manifesto made me think about was all the soy-based products that I ate (soy burgers, etc.): textured vegetable protein is NOT something anyone's grandma would recognize, but I had never thought about how super processed those foods are (I no longer eat them).

I am very fortunate to live one block from the greatest food coop in the world (www.foodcoop.com) that follows the same principles, and sells organic foods at very very low prices (often cheaper than non-organic food in the local grocery stores), so it's no real sacrifice or chore for me, though...

Lani said...

I've been preaching all this for a while and even got in an argument with my bro-in-law about it the other day! he doesn't understand why eating cap'n crunch every so often or feeding it to your kids is not a good idea. I'm a food nazi if you will. I freaked out a bit here and there if I didn't eat well during the pregnancy, it was hard, food didn't appeal to me the way it used to. see where that got me- Silas isn't even here to appreciate how hard his mommy worked to be healthy for him. These last 3 baby-less months I haven't been as conscious as i've been in the past - I'm in the "I don't care" phase right now. I probably still eat better then the general public, but for me, it feels bad. December is a very very hard month to eat well with all the sweets around. I'm at a stand still with getting rid of this baby weight and all the beer i've been consuming lately is definitely not helping!

I also discovered meat again while pregnant- it had been over 15 years! now i'm just obsessed with bacon. its a strange world I live in now, where I actually look at chicken dishes on a menu. but anyway, I totally agree with you on this post, especially about the sketchy balding white dudes figuring out how to get as much crap into our food as possible in order to make as much money as they can. I hate those guys.

and yes, trader joes rocks, its my favorite favorite place. they have the best snacks to keep my husband satisfied- which in turn makes me very very happy.

cori said...

hey monica -
couldn't agree with you more...i've been off of mcdonald's and other fast "food" purveyors for years. besides all of those middle-aged white pudgey executives sitting around the conference room devising marketing plans on how to produce and package the most commercially appealing product, there are also very well educated chemists who are manufacturing flavors and aromatic additives to make food smell and taste like something that it really isn't. alot of those flavor factories are in new jersey too!

you should also read "animal, vegetable, miracle" by barbara kingsolver. she recounts her year-long experiment that she undertakes with her nuclear family to only consume whole foods that are grown locally (within a 250-mile radius or something close to that). anyway - it's delightfully written and includes food industry snippets written by her husband and recipes too!

btw - we prepare a lot of "whole" foods in your kitchen over the past week when we were snowed in!

Monica LeMoine said...

Cori - yes, that's on my "to read" list, that book. So glad you are using our kitchen for good purposes, and haven't thrown our stupid-arse stove out the window, as I have half a mind to do.