Friday, August 5, 2011

Eating is a Celebration of Life?

We've always been relatively healthy eaters in our house. I have a good relationship with food, which I realize is not always the case for many adults. Food serves two purposes for me: fuel for my body and an opportunity to enjoy my relationships. I've always believed that eating can be an expression of gratitude for life's gifts and pleasures. But lately, I'm starting to wonder. Don't get me wrong, I still find joy in food: preparing it, sharing it, and eating it! It's just that lately, the more I read about food - where it comes from, how much it is changed before it reaches my local grocery store, and how those changes can affect our health - the more I begin to freak out!

Ever since joining our meat CSA last March, the issue of how our family's food is "handled" has become pretty interesting to me. It's not that we've completely confined our focus to meat - we've been trying to buy organic or hormone-free milk for a few years now. We really do try to minimize processed foods, too. Just yesterday, the Talker announced over a picnic lunch that he does not eat store-bought cookies anymore. "I just don't like them," he said. I don't like them, either, and I've only occasionally bought cookies over the last few years. All those preservatives gross me out! Do we just go without cookies, you ask? ABSOLUTELY NOT! I make them, and we eat them with great pleasure! Yes, I realize that many of the ingredients in homemade cookies have been processed in one way or another, but it's the freshness factor that makes it okay for me. The thing that gets to me is all the marketing by food companies to tout their products' health benefits, when really, we should just choose an apple with peanut butter over that FiberOne bar! The poor apple doesn't have the help of advertising gurus slapping labels all over its skin to tell you about its health benefits.

So, when I was contacted by Stonyfield Farm to attend a luncheon with mom and food activist Robyn O'Brien, I jumped at the chance. Thanks to my new Kindle, I was able to read about half of her book, The Unhealthy Truth, before meeting her last week at NAHA in Chicago.  Her story is incredible, really.  As a mother of four small children, Robyn was forced to pay attention to toxins in her family's foods when her youngest child had an allergic reaction to eggs.   Distressed that her child would have to be protected from a food that she had assumed was safe, Robyn began researching food allergies.  Tapping into her experiences as an equity analyst, she dove in to the world of corporate profits and government oversight (or lack of it).  She is clear in her understanding of what drives the food industry (money!), and because of her background she has a healthy respect for capitalism.  She gets that corporations are all about the bottom line, and that it is the consumers’ right and responsibility to be informed about food products before buying them.  It’s the lack of information that irritates her.

Think: Can you identify and recognize all ingredients are in your sandwich bread?  How about the hormones and antibiotics in your glass of cold milk?  (The hormones are to increase milk production and the antibiotics are for when the hormones make the cows sick. They tend to get mastitis. Yep, cows get it, too!)  Oh, my: what about your coffee creamer? I was an International Delight addict until I gave the stuff up for Lent this spring. That was a tough one!  I thought I was all good with my White Chocolate Macadamia Nut creamer because it was transfat free.  Nope, it’s full of high-sugar soy, which, interestingly, is fed to pigs to fatten them quickly for slaughter.  My plain ol’ half-and-half tastes quite good these days, thank you very much.
Now think again: of those ingredients you can identify as corn or soy based (because they are in almost everything that has been processed in one way or another), how many can you identify as genetically modified foods?  Yeah, none?  Me, neither.  That’s because the FDA doesn’t require food manufacturers to label genetically modified foods as such.  I suppose that would be okay, if the safety of genetically modified foods had been proven, which, you guess it: it hasn’t.

As I think and write about this, I realize that it sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory.  For the longest time I thought the whole “organic thing” was a load of bull.  I mean, a peach is a peach, right?  But the more I discover about the current state of conventional farming, the scarier it all gets.

Last weekend I was driving out to our meat farm, Walnut Acres, in central Illinois.  Walnut Acres is a small livestock farm thriving in the shadow of conventional corn and soybean farms.  As much as I enjoyed driving through the nation’s breadbasket, a few scenes gave me pause. The most dramatic was the low-flying airplane that was about 25 feet above our car.  A crop-sprayer, no doubt.  When I was a kid, I thought crop-sprayers were super cool; it was a job that looked fun!  But at that moment, all I could think about was the pesticides that were being sprayed on corn that had been genetically modified to withstand giant doses of incesticide. Pesticides that could, in all reality, end up in the small bodies of the sweet children all strapped in behind me. Besides feeling grossed out, I also felt guilty for the toxins that are, in all likelihood, already floating around under their soft skin.

So, what now?  Honestly, I don’t know.  As I mentioned, we’re already doing our best to eliminate as many processed foods as possible. At the very least, we’re committed to buying milk with the rBGH-free farmer pledge. Last week, I bought organic half-and-half for my coffee, and at this moment we have only organic yogurt in the fridge. Our favorite pasta is an organic, whole wheat variety, and we stock up when it goes on sale at the grocery store. We try to stick to meat and eggs from Walnut Acres, though we do buy conventional meat on occasion. So I suppose we’re off to a good start. 

Despite all the health and environmental benefits of going organic, such a commitment is still an expensive one.  Believe me, that is a concern for us!  I am still trying to figure out how to budget for organic food in our life, but at the same time, in the face of all this information, I’m not sure how I can turn away from such a commitment.  If it were just me, then maybe I wouldn’t worry so much.  But with three small kids who have their whole beautiful lives ahead of them, I know we owe it to them to give them safe foods to eat.
And lest you think, “Hey, I grew up on conventional produce and regular milk! What’s the big deal??” I get that. I was thinking the same thing until I read Robyn’s book. As it turns out, cows weren’t given hormones until the mid-1990s, and I’d done most of my growing by then. Genetically modified corn and soy are recent additions to the fields, too. So yes, we DID grow up on conventionally farmed foods – but folks, those seem to be long-gone.  We all know there are issues in our American food landscape: obesity, allergies, childhood disorders like autism and ADHD – issues that are on the rise just in the last 15 years.  Is it coincidence that all of these altered foods hit the shelves beginning around this time? Though it’s impossible to prove causation, I’m not sure I want to take chances with my kids’ futures.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Marathon Training, Take Two

It's official: I'm all signed up to run the Detroit Free Press Marathon on October 16th. The last time I wrote about marathon training I was three days in - and unknowingly two weeks pregnant. Ooops! One beautiful, big baby and 14 months later, I am lacing up my New Balance 890s and logging my miles in a complex-looking (but quite simple!) Excel spreadsheet developed for me by - who else? - the Runner.

The mindset of a distance runner is slowly returning, too. It's been a long time since I've allowed myself the joy of committing to a race this long, and I'm enjoying the familiar routine of training. It's a rediscovery of self, in a way. Motherhood has a way of taking up all my time! Go figure.

I'd better not say any more. I could jinx myself and end up with another baby. ;)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Community Supported Agriculture in the Big City

[This post originally appeared on the Chicago Moms Blog on March 18, 2010. I am reposting it here because I've been thinking a LOT about food and where it comes from lately. More on that very soon!]

Not too long ago, my husband and I took advantage of the watch-it-now-! feature on Netflix. I was hoping for a cuddle-worthy romantic comedy or perhaps an episode of Glee. No such luck: it was documentary night. He had just finished reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and was chattering on about eating mostly plants and decreasing our meat consumption. We agreed on watching Food, Inc., since we'd been hearing a lot about it from friends. So after a few minutes of fiddling with various cords to connect the laptop to the television, the enlightenment started. I have to admit, I was riveted. Of course we were disturbed (isn't that the point of almost every documentary?), but I was also completely grossed out. This yuk-factor motivated me to search for alternatives to the conventional meat we buy at our local grocery store. I had heard about Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, from various friends, but only for produce. Finding a CSA that offered meat in the Chicago area took a little more digging, but after a bit of research we decided to join Walnut Acres Family Farm.

CSAs are smaller farms that grow produce, or in the case of Walnut Acres, meat, poultry, and eggs. The cattle are full time pasture animals, eating mostly grass and hay. This was a relief to hear after contemplating the conventional method of cattle farming. It seems that "conventional" methods have become quite complicated and, in reality, unnatural. I know I have almost zero awareness of where our food comes from and the effort it takes to provide it.

My son and I are reading Little House in the Big Woods right now - and I realized with a shock that the images of Pa smoking pig and hanging the meat in the attic (obviously uninsulated!) for winter consumption were brand new concepts for him. It's not that I think this lack of awareness is a bad thing - he is only four. Maybe it was my own detachment that was jolting. Despite this, I definitely do not want to run right out and put a downpayment on a farm - I struggle with keeping the vegetable garden weeded in the summer!

We don't pick up our first "meat installment" until March 20th, but I am looking forward to supporting a local farmer and getting a bit of our grocery budget in line with our emerging family beliefs. My husband and I talk a lot about finding ways to live local - supporting our Main Street family businesses and shopping the Farmers' Market in the warmer months - but I guess making a commitment to at least three months of membership in the CSA, it feels like a more authentic leap towards a true relationship with our food and the farmers responsible for harvesting it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Memories and Boogies

Today I'm sharing a suppressed memory of a meal with The Talker.  No wonder he is such a slow eater: all that thinking and talking and thinking gets in the way of chewing and swallowing!  Enjoy!


[Sometime during the Fall of 2009]  Today began innocently enough: some definite cleaning up to do around the house, the typical rushing to get out the door on time.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  The Talker and I ate breakfast together – at the table!  Wait – that is out of the ordinary!  In the middle of a cheesy bite of a half-cream cheese, half-butter half of bagel (can you picture it?), he asked me, "Are boogies plants that grow in your nose?"
"No," I answered, suppressing a newly caffeinated smile. "Why?"
"Well, they grow!" He insisted.

From there we embarked on a graphic explanation of how boogies are made by your nose.  I swear that I appreciate the little things our bodies do more and more as I help my child understand how his miraculous little body works.  The hardest thing for him to understand was the dirt particles in the air.  Almost four-year-olds have to see it to believe it!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Wearing the Baby and Staying Warm

The benefits of "baby wearing" may seem obvious: babies, especially newborns, prefer to be squished up close to their mommies. Not only do they desire to be as close as possible, they also need it for healthy development. Touch is probably our most powerful gift as parents of infants - we communicate most through touch during these early months.

But there are so many benefits for moms, too. Being close to your baby promotes bonding, of course, and it also calms him when he is fussy. An upright position can help baby manage reflux or colic, and allow her to sleep when lying down isn't an option because it makes her uncomfortable. A calm baby definitely benefits mom - reducing stress levels when things are hectic around the house. And when multiple children are around, wearing the youngest one gives both hands the freedom to keep someone else from running in the street, falling down stairs, or drawing on the walls with permanent marker. (Don't laugh, that is seriously what I need my hands for during the day! Forget folding laundry or doing dishes - though you can do that while wearing baby, too.) Wearing the Bruiser in the sling has prevented Miss Rosie from breaking bones or climbing on the counter in an attempt to reach the scissors, which are stored in a box on top of the fridge. I suppose slings could also be used to restrain daredevils like my daughter, at least until they are old enough to learn to use scissors properly.

Because I knew that I would be wearing the Bruiser quite a bit, because the weather in Chicago isn't exactly tropical, and because I am a knitter, I made a baby wearing poncho to don while using my sling. I was inspired by a poncho on a Danish website called MamaPoncho. Though the ponchos were absolutely gorgeous, they were also expensive! Over $200. So I started scouring knitting books in the library and searching through Ravelry to see what I could find. After a long, dedicated search I gave up trying to find a pattern that I really liked. So I let the "Eleanor" pattern in Viva Poncho: Twenty Ponchos and Caplets to Knit, by Christina Stork and Leslie Barbazette to inspire me. After a few modifications, voila! I've got myself a useful poncho to wear while wearing the Bruiser!  Or honestly, Miss Rosie, who still needs the sling every now and again. Not that I mind, she is pretty cute and cuddly when she's not running with scissors on the stairs or in oncoming traffic.

The poncho has a turtleneck that can be folded down or scrunched down. Cables run along the shoulders and arms. The opening for the baby's head can be seen in the top picture pretty well - it looks like a little cut out "c." The picture on the bottom shows the pouch in the middle of the poncho. The whole thing is so cool! People are constantly stopping me whenever I'm out wearing it - it's a riot. I sometimes feel foolish telling people that I knit it myself - I feel like very few people (at least my age) knit, and I sort of feel silly admitting to it. But at the same time, it is a pretty cool skill! I'm hoping to make at least one more, perhaps with a cotton blend yarn. I'm also hoping I can figure out a way to add sleeves.

And best of all, it keeps the Bruiser and I warm enough to brave the park on these chilly May afternoons here in the upper Midwest. Lucky us!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Compression: A postpartum woman's best friend. (The Best $100+ I Ever Spent!)

Towards the end of my second pregnancy I had an interesting conversation with a dear friend's wife. We were discussing our c-section recoveries, and apparently her OB prescribed a compression "garment" to aid in her recovery from surgery. Compression garment?  I marveled. I wondered why my OB (who teaches at Harvard!) never mentioned this little bit of advice to me.

I got home and promptly forgot about our conversation. About two months later Miss Rosie was born, and my recovery was quick and easy compared to The Talker's. A compression garment never crossed my mind: Rosie kept me very busy! But during my third pregnancy the idea resurfaced in my mind, and I did a little research.  Apparently abdominal binding is commonplace in various cultures, and women report a variety of benefits from compression. Apparently women from Japan to Mexico to England bind their bellies after birth. I ended up buying a compression garment from Bellefit: it is worn like a half leotard - with hook-and-eye closures to make visits to the bathroom manageable. 

Okay, so take a good, long look at the picture on the right.  Yes, that is my belly and me (pretty sure the belly was bigger than the rest of me put together!) about a week before The Bruiser was born. I mean, seriously - how did I even stand up!?! I look at the photo now, and honestly, I sort of want to cry.  My legs look truly insufficient, don't they?

After all 10+ pounds of the Bruiser arrived, I started itching to try my BelleFit corset. Yes, my empty belly was lax. And yes, my back ached when I stood. I stooped a bit upon standing, and hobbled around the hospital room for a full day gathering my courage. And yes, I was nervous to wear it - my tummy hadn't fit into anything that small in at least six months. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get the thing on - and that would've been truly upsetting.

But both my midwife and my physical therapist recommended that I wear the compression garment ASAP, so as soon as we were settled at home, I shut the door to our bedroom, took a deep breath, exhaled, and squished myself into the Bellefit.  The relief I felt was immediate.  I stood up straight and felt no discomfort in my back or belly at all.  As a girlfriend of mine says, "This thing is a dream!"  I was back in my pre-pregnancy "skinny" jeans within three weeks. The Bruiser is now 12 weeks, and I don't need the Bellefit anymore, but I did wear it on Easter Sunday just to smooth things out.  Its uses continue!

And though I haven't tried other belly binding products, I'm not sure how others that simply wrap around your midsection can compare to this one.  Bellefit is sort of like one of those 80s bodysuits - minus the bust and arms, of course.  You step into it and pull it on, adjust it so the top is pulled right up under your bra, and fastened underneath with hook-and-eye closures. The Bellefit was surprisingly comfortable, though by the end of the day I was ready to take it off. Perhaps that is a sign that it is tight enough to do the job?

There are other abdominal binders out there, too. Wrap-style binders are fundamentally different - and achieving the right amount of "tightness" seems like it would be difficult.  Or at least you'd need a husband or friend to pull it tight enough to make a significant difference, right? I bet any kind of compression helps, though. I just preferred the style of the Bellefit to the others I saw on the Web.

Though the best part of the compression was how it felt, I can't deny its emotional benefits, either. Feeling good in your skin is not really one of those things that postpartum women typically get to do immediately. Wearing the Bellefit changed that for me.  I absolutely abhor my stretched out skin hanging over the waistband of my pants. (Seriously, who doesn't?) There was none of that when I was "compressed." It was wonderful - and it made me feel better about my body much sooner than I'd expected. That was a big plus as I navigated the familiar but nevertheless exhausting waters of those early weeks with our newest angel. The picture to the left was taken on the Bruiser's three month birthday.  I tend to hold on to about 10 pounds until I'm done nursing, but right now my clothes fit well.  No complaints!

The bottom line is that I wish I'd had a garment like this after each of my pregnancies! I am grateful to have benefited from the healing graces of compression to restore my midsection to its proper shape. Simply put: compression heals, ladies!

**Disclaimer** Bellefit offers an additional support garment to those women who choose to write a review and take before and after photos of their postpartum bodies. I don't have a "before" picture -- i.e., one that shows my postpartum belly. I chose to write this blog post on my own, regardless of whether or not Bellefit offers me a second support garment.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Early in the Morning, As the Sun Was Rising

A happy sound of motherhood: The sound of my little ones' voices as they wake up from a good night's sleep.  Their "waking up voices" are one of the sweetest blessings of my life.