As a longtime, food reformer (I got my start trying to improve the food in our school district), many people wrongly imagine that I live a life more ascetic than a monk. And often their comments about food are really weird.
I've had numerous folks in my town stare in my grocery shopping cart to see what I've purchased. One time I had some cookies in my cart and one woman admonished me for advocating for the removal of trans-fat laden, high calorie, giant Otis Spunkmeyer cookies from our schools, while I "hypocritically" purchased Newman's Fig Newtons for my family. Another time, a friend saw me at our local A&P and expressed shock that I would shop there at all. She assumed that food reformers only bought food from CSA's, Whole Foods and other natural food stores.
I had another friend approach me as our family shared two desserts at a local restaurant and remark in bewilderment that he didn't think we ate dessert! Anytime I have a dinner party or other gathering at my home, there are always one or two folks who seem astonished that I served something they think is "unhealthy." For the misguided, unhealthy apparently includes: anything with olive oil, any dessert other than fresh fruit, spinach quiche, homemade hummus (I kid you not), chicken cacciatore, baked sweet potato "fries," macaroni and cheese and avocado in (horrors!) an olive oil vinaigrette.
While I've patiently explained to those who've asked that just because I'm a food reformer doesn't mean I live on a steady diet of tree bark and tofu (although tofu is a family favorite in a stir fry and added to soups), that concept is tough for many to grasp. They seem to believe that if you are advocating for a healthier food environment, you must be:
- A lover of deprivation;
- A full-blown nut job who would love to ban cupcakes from schools and donuts from office meetings, and;
- A Birkenstock-wearing, hair-dye eschewing, ex-hippie socialist dedicated to putting an end to Halloween trick or treating, candy canes, the Easter Bunny and Dairy Queen.
When a group of us formed a nutrition committee in our town to advocate for improvements to school food, our superintendent, who had not yet met with or spoken to us, blindly derided our committee as a bunch of loonies who were "trying to take away my Twinkies." When I met with our school district's assistant superintendent to discuss our thoughtful and very moderate suggestions for improving school food, her eyes widened when I walked into her office wearing a stylish suit, high heels and make-up. I was later told she expected me to be the female equivalent of Jerry Garcia.
So, a word to the wise as we enter 2012. Food reformers love food. Really, we do! We cook it. We eat it. We talk about it. We even obsess over it and sometimes overdo it. We eat dessert on occasion (even things that have no nutritional value and just taste good), but not after every meal or in-between. We have an occasional sweetened drink but consume mostly water to quench our thirst. We eat plenty of healthy fats like olive oil and avocado in reasonable serving sizes. We believe kids should be given treats sparingly, like we were given as kids, but not a steady diet of sugary, non-nutritious junk, 24/7, like most kids get today. We love Halloween, but we usually offer less damaging treats like small chocolate bars and small toys to our ghost and goblin visitors.
We bake (imagine that!) and bring appropriately-sized cupcakes to our children's classroom on their birthdays, but we don't also serve chips, candy, and sugary drinks at the party. We shop at all the same stores you do, only we try to purchase mostly fresh produce, lower-fat meats, whole grains and low-fat dairy products that are the staples of our family's diet. We visit fast-food restaurants a couple of times a year (like when we're on a long drive to the beach). And, we have treasured, decadent family recipes for special occasion treats, like my mother-in-law's Pineapple Bread Pudding recipe I've included at the end of this post.
So, the next time you see me in the grocery store with a box of cookies in my shopping cart, or enjoying the molten chocolate cake at a local restaurant, please don't act surprised, confused or even miffed. We're eating the same way an earlier, much healthier generation ate -- my grandmother's generation. They healthfully subsisted on a steady of diet of mostly home-cooked, real, whole foods (some of them grown in their own gardens) with periodic treats. That's probably a good part of the reason why my grandmother managed to live a spectacularly healthy life, with no hospital visits (except for childbirth), until she was 86 years old.
Shouldn't we all have that chance?
Martha's Pineapple Bread Pudding
2 20 oz. cans of crushed pineapple in their own juices (drained)
1 stick of melted butter
1 cup of sugar
4 eggs, beaten
8 slices of cubed bread (crusts included)
Combine drained pineapple, butter, sugar, eggs and cubed bread in a larger bowl until well-moistened. Pour into a baking pan or dish, sprinkle generously with cinnamon on top.
Bake, covered, at 325 for 1 hour. Uncover the pudding for the last 15 minutes to allow browning.