Our family abides by a few unofficial food rules (which I’m making official by listing).
1. Beef - When it comes to beef, we eat only the organic, grass-fed variety for a few reasons.
A. Cattle who aren’t grass-fed are fed a diet of corn, which isn’t what they evolved to eat, at least for a long period of time. Being fed a diet of something they aren’t designed to eat leads to some nasty infections, hence the enormous amounts of antibiotics they’re given. These antibiotics get passed on through the food chain, and are largely responsible for antibiotic resistance in humans.The hormones given to cattle to make them bigger, stronger, faster also get passed along the food chain, and is a contributing factor to the earlier onset of puberty in humans. Getting steady doses of hormones through our food can lead to other bad “stuff”. In my own family, my mother is a survivor of estrogen-receptive breast cancer, which means that estrogen encourages this particular type of cancer to grow. Knowing that I’m at risk for a similar kind of cancer makes me want to avoid pumping any more hormones into my system that could encourage cancer growth.
B. How would you rather live? Grazing on grass, having room to lie down when you get tired, and generally living out the life cycle that nature intended? Or maybe being crowded in tight quarters, knee-deep in feces, being fed a diet that is literally killing you save for being sustained by a steady dose of antibiotics? I’m not a vegetarian (although it is a good idea to eat less meat than the average American does), but it’s important to me to know that the life I’m taking in order to sustain my own was treated humanely and had a happy life. Well, as happy as a cow can feel.
C. Remember that knee-deep in feces imagery? That’s not made-up, and that’s why you have to be so afraid of beef tainted by E. Coli. Cattle who lived in pastures as opposed to feed lots are far, far less likely to be contaminated with dangerous pathogens like E. Coli. Isn’t it appetizing to think that the cow that gave its life for your fast food hamburger was once covered in poop? Mmmmm, boy.
2. Dairy - We buy only organic milk and buy organic cheese and other dairy products whenever possible for the same reasons we buy organic beef.
3. Chicken and Eggs - We buy organic, free-range chicken when possible for many of the same reasons we
buy organic, grass-fed beef. These are chickens who weren’t pumped up with hormones or antibiotics and were allowed to live out a life of chickenness (like that word?). In a pinch, we’ll go with cage-free. Cage-free sounds great, but these chickens often start out in cages (they only have to be “finished” in a cage-free setting in order to be classified as cage-free. Also the “cage-free” environment may be a nasty area without any vegetation.) These chicken terms… they’re tricky. Like all-natural… as opposed to what? Synthetic chicken?
4. Processed Foods - When we shop the middle of the grocery store, we try to stick with foods made of ingredients we can pronounce. Most of those ingredients you can’t pronounce come from corn… very, very processed corn, but corn could be a whole other post. Maybe it will one day. For now, just know that you have no business eating that much corn that’s been reduced to a very un-corny substance. One ingredient that I can pronounce that we avoid is high fructose corn syrup. There’s more and more evidence all the time that high fructose corn syrup (aka HFC) is at least in part responsible for America’s obesity problem. And despite that industry’s ad campaign about how harmless it is (Methinks they do protest too much), there’s also evidence that it DOES lead to more weight gain than eating sugar.
5. Food Origin - We like buying local when possible. Sometimes the local guy can’t or doesn’t pay to get
certified organic, but that’s okay. He’s the local guy, so I can ask him about his practices to find out if it’s compatible with our food philosophy. Furthermore, I trust the local guy who looks me in the eye when I buy his products far more than I trust a distant, faceless corporation.
Do we follow our rules perfectly? Nah. When I had the babies, I really blew it during the hospital stay. Between getting practically no sleep, trying to recover from major surgery, and learning to breastfeed not one but two little people, I just didn’t have the energy to deal with it. I just ate whatever slop came to my room, and I said thank you.
More later on how this matches up with feeding babies...
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Rules (for a condensed version), In Defense of Food - all by Michael Pollan
Fast Food Nation (the book - not the movie, which was horrible)
Food Matters: A Guide to Conscous Eating by Mark Bittman