Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Food Revolution Road Trip: Three Weeks Later

Jake and I sit at the kitchen table, sun pouring through the windows, slurping up huge bowls of cauliflower cheese soup topped with salty, crispy, bacon. One thing that I missed most during Food Revolution Road Trip was the endless vegetables that we eat, and the light dinners of just a bowl of soup and hunk of whole wheat bread. Restaurant food, even with our best intentions, always seems like way too much.

Hubs quietly grabs a bowl and serves himself some soup. Jake and I stop eating, spoons half raised to our mouths, and stare in disbelief.

"You are eating...SOUP?" Jake sputters, "But you say soup isn't food. You don't like soup."

In 18 years, I have never once seen Hubs, who is the epitome of the picky eater, consume soup. NEVER. He claims that it is not food, actually. And yet here he sits with a bowl of cauliflower cheese, spooning it down like it's the best thing ever.

"This is really good," Hubs shrugs and smacks his lips, smiling. "It's cauliflower! I guess I've learned to like some new things."

I almost dropped my spoon.

We've been home just over three weeks and still, I see a difference in how we eat. If I thought we ate healthy before, Food Revolution Road Trip has pushed us the extra mile. (pun not intended but it works, doesn't it? We all read more labels, Jake is choosing fruit over home made cookies, and the fridge is practically bulging with fresh produce.

The amount of salads I'm churning out of that kitchen are far beyond what I've ever made in the past, because now I'm not the only one eating them. I'm a little stunned.

This whole foray into healthy eating has been a journey of sorts-one that has taken years to get where we are now, and that always had it's bumps along the way. Just like the road trip, things aren't always black and white or easy, even when you have the best intentions. Food Revolution Road Trip taught me a few lessons, which I thought I needed to share with you.

1. Healthy Eating is a family affair

If my family hadn't indulged me and embraced the idea of our experiment with such determination and enthusiasm, I'm not sure I would have been able to pull it off. When you're tired and time is short, and you just want something to eat its' SO easy to just grab whatever is available to fill that hunger. It's much harder to force yourself to wait for something better or to put in the work to get that healthier meal. Without the support, any one of us would have caved at some point. How does that translate to home?

Parents, I believe, are the key. The adults set the example and buy the food, and the kids are along for the ride. If the parents can make a plan and stick to it, soon the small change becomes a habit. After our two and a half weeks, most of the self imposed 'rules' of our road trip have carried over to home.

2. Food is cultural

I had never really paid much attention to the distinct differences in food between not only Canada and the USA, but between regions or states. During this trip it was glaringly obvious, and we had to adjust accordingly which at times was hard. What may be considered healthy and have long standing emotional ties for some, might be considered horrible to someone else. Different doesn't mean bad, but I tell you-sometimes some of the products made me cringe.

But here's the rub; the products that we found most cringe-worthy (KFC's Double Down, Kraft Spray Cheese, those luminous cookies) would not be available if there were not a demand for highly processed, deep fried, preservative crammed food in both our countries.

I find that kind of scary, to be honest. Is that where our cultures are going?

3. Eat and enjoy, unapologetically

People like to judge. I think it makes them feel better about their own choices. We were judged for sneaking in some Multigrain cheerios to the breakfast bar. In the past I have been guilty of judging a friend who would feed her kids donuts for breakfast, and have a bag of popcorn for dinner. Haven't we all?

People are so guilt ridden when it comes to food that it seems to be woven right into our cultures. If we eat healthy and then have a slice of cheesecake, we apologize for it, chastise ourselves, and eat salads the next day. Some people get a secret thrill out of watching others who they consider healthy eaters, "fail". Some will give you a hard time if you are vegetarian, or if you won't eat things that are the cultural norm.

There is pressure to fit in, to conform, and Lord help you if you don't-at either end of the spectrum.

I was once chastised by a former friend when I didn't conform to the hype surrounding the latest Harry Potter release. In fact, I was puzzled and frankly kind of disgusted by the relentless media hype surrounding it. I couldn't understand why our courts would waste time ruling that some books that had accidentally been released early couldn't be read until a certain date by the people who purchased them. I was so irritated by Harry Potter hype being shoved in my face that finally I wrote this post.

My friend was highly insulted. How dare I? She felt betrayed that I was not a fan to the level that she was, and as her friend, this cut her to the core. Her last statement, however, was the most telling. (I'm paraphrasing here)

"You champion that you won't buy into something just because the masses do, and what's worse, you seem PROUD OF IT." At the time, I was a little set aback by it. Am I?

DAMN STRAIGHT I am. Whatever you do, lose the guilt. Enjoy life.

Eat, and enjoy, unapologetically.

4. Healthy food really is everywhere, but it's not always accessible

This is the one lesson that almost made me cry. We drove past field upon field of grains, potatoes, vegetables-all so beautiful, and just RIGHT THERE. Our countries can produce some of the most amazing food. What shocked me was that the produce-the most basic, healthiest food, was just as expensive everywhere we went as it is in my remote, shipped-in, very little selection town. Then you just look across the aisle and there is highly processed, preservative filled CRAP for less than you can get a pound of apples.

I'm being completely, unwaveringly unapologetic about my use of the word crap to describe processed food. Let's be honest. It's crap. You know it, I know it, the people who MAKE IT know it.

How can that be? How could we allow (and I say we because it's not a USA problem, we have this stuff in Canada too) this? What happens to the people who struggle every day to buy groceries? They are forced to buy only what they can afford, which could mean food that is so laden with chemicals and preservatives that it's practically devoid of nutrition? How could we allow companies to claim that some of their foods are healthy when they are so full of chemicals that not one ingredient listed is even recognizable?

The sad thing is that we're so conditioned to buy it, and so used to eating it, that some don't even recognize or like the real stuff when we finally put it in our mouths. (Case in point: strawberry flavored milkshakes). Commercials tell us that our kids will be happier and love us better if we let them have chocolate cereal for breakfast, and candies posing as "fruit" in their lunchboxes. They are rewarded with toys and cartoon characters on the boxes.

How can fruit, veggies, and whole grains compete with that?

5. WE hold the key

Food, and the state of it in our countries, is a daunting issue. There were times when tired, hungry, and cranky, I was ready to throw in the towel. I'm so glad that I had Hubs and Jake for support, because in the end we accomplished our goal.

The outcome was far better than we even imagined. We slept like babies, had tons of energy and arrived home feeling better than we have ever felt on ANY holiday, ever. The difference was, we had the power. We made the choice, and stuck to it, every single day. Sure, we allowed an occasional indulgence because like I said, life is too short and you have to enjoy yourself. At times it was embarrassing and a bit weird, but we did it.

We traveled for 2 1/2 weeks through a foreign country, with little knowledge of any products, shopping only at basic grocery stores, with only a small cooler, a few utensils, and unreliable hotel fridges. We didn't eat at ONE fast food place and a few times, didn't eat in a restaurant at all.

YOU, dear readers at home, have the farmer's markets, google, kitchens laden with utensils and appliances, full fridges, the knowledge of products and the sale flyers in your fists. You hold the power, my friends. It doesn't have to be a huge undertaking or as large as what we did. It can be as simple as resolving to eat a home cooked meal together once a week.

A tiny step is all you need to get a snowball rolling.

We did it.


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