Times Are A’Changing

The past few days I’ve come across a variety of products and situations that reflect a growing awareness of consumer’s dissatisfaction with our food supply. It’s always encouraging when companies pay attention to their customer’s desires and start responding with better, improved products. Obviously they are doing it to help their bottom line, but it is still wonderful to see that people are asking for change and that some companies are responding.

Several large soda brands are now offering “natural” versions of their drinks. The “natural” versions use straight sugar (sometimes even raw) instead of high fructose corn syrup. A few that I’ve noticed are Dr. Pepper, Sierra Mist, and Mountain Dew. Sometimes companies brand these versions as “throwbacks”. Of course, even the “natural” versions of these drinks are not great for you, but at least they don’t have HFCS.

I am a huge fan of chocolate milk. Unfortunately, we’ve never seen any chocolate syrup that is HFCS free. Until a few weeks ago. Nestle’s chocolate syrup bottle proudly proclaims it does not contain HFCS. Again, probably not the greatest thing in the world for you even without HFCS, but at least the option is out there now.

My respect for Hannaford, a grocery store, has grown tremendously the past few months because of their latest line of “natural”, organic products. We’d been buying our ketchup at our local health foods store because it was the only place we could find that carried ketchup without HFCS. Then, lo and behold, a few days ago, I noticed that Hannaford starting selling their own brand of “natural” (every company defines the term “natural” different ways so be sure to read the label for exact information about what their version of “natural” means), organic ketchup without HFCS. It was half the price of what we’d been paying at our health food store. I also noticed that Hunt’s had their own version (non-organic) of ketchup that did not contain HFCS.

Most recently, I was waiting at a restaurant for some friends to arrive, and I overheard a conversation the chef was having with another person. She was telling the person that none of their food has any GMOs (genetically modified organisms), and she works with area farmers on a daily basis to source the restaurant’s food. She went on to explain how desensitized we’ve become to the true flavor of food. She said she had a customer complain once that the blueberries in the blueberry pancakes s/he’d ordered were not real. The chef knew they were real because she’d gotten the blueberries from an area farmer. She said that we, as a culture, have become so used to artificial flavors that we don’t even recognize or like the true flavor of real food anymore. My friends entered and the chef and her colleague left the room.

I admit I was shamelessly eavesdropping. I desperately wanted to talk more with the chef. I had no idea the place we were eating followed the practices described by the chef. It is not an overly expensive place to eat. They had typical diner food along with fancier entrees. I’d never seen it use its healthy sourcing of foods as a selling point/advertised in the community. After we ate there I did look at their website and found it does explain their sourcing practices. For those of  you who are local to the Saratoga/Ballston Spa, New York area, the restaurant I’m referring to is Fifty South. It’s a great place to eat and has prices to fit just about every budget too.

Needless to say, I’ve been impressed by all the changes I’ve seen in our society’s marketplace in the few months since we’ve switched to more wholesome eating and living practices. All of these changes are indicators that there is an increasing awareness about the quality of food we consume and that people are (finally) becoming more aware of the what’s in the food they are eating and demanding change.

*This post is shared on Real Food Wednesday and on Homemaking Link-Up.

What’s up with GMOs?

I’d never really heard much about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) until we changed to our more wholesome diet. We first found out about GMOs when we were looking more closely at the organic label. More specifically, when we were identifying why something may be classified as “organic” or not. In the United States, if a food product has the organic label, it is not a GMO and does not contain any genetically modified ingredients (among other requirements). After finding this out, we concluded (brilliantly) that anything not labeled “organic” may be genetically modified or contain genetically modified ingredients.

Unlike other countries, the United States does not require labeling of food that is genetically modified and/or contains genetically modified ingredients. Corn and soybeans are the two largest GMO crops in the U.S. When we think about how many products on our grocery store shelves contain corn or soybeans (or products made with these two crops), the impact that GMOs could have on our society becomes quite obvious.

It is important to know that not all corn and soybeans (and their products) are genetically modified. Most are, but not all. Due to cross-pollination of crops, it is easy for fields that contain non-GMO crops to become GMO crops. For instance, all it takes is a few seeds from a truck toting GMO corn to fly into the field of non-GMO corn to contaminate the non-GMO corn. So, what once was non-GMO corn, now is GMO corn. GMO seeds are also patented. So a farmer whose crop has been contaminated by no fault of his or her own can be sued by the seed developer for patent infringement. This has numerous consequences, the most troubling of which is more and more farmers are switching to GMO seeds to avoid the risk of their non-GMO crop being accidentally contaminated, which could result in hefty fines and legal fees. This, of course, means that there is an increasing lack of diversity among seeds since most farmers feel pressured, one way or another, into using the GMO crops.

What does it mean to be genetically modified? Crops are modified for a variety of reasons. They can be modified to be more resistant to cold weather or to grow larger. Some crops are modified so they can be sprayed with large amounts of pesticides and not be killed- only the weeds around the crops are killed, not the actual crop, as in the case of Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready Soybean. The most common way of altering the genetic make up of a seed involves adding whatever gene a company desires to a virus or bacteria and then infecting the seed with that virus and/or bacteria. The desired gene cannot simply just be added to the seed, it does not work. Infecting a seed with viruses and/or bacteria (such as E. Coli) that can be altered to carry the desired gene works because the virus and/or bacteria can successfully invade and alter the genetic make-up of a seed. Other methods of altering the genetic make-up of a seed include using a gene gun, which fires particles of gold and the desired gene into the seed and/or using electricity to create holes in the seed’s cell walls so the desired gene can then be added to the seed. None of these methods have been subject to any long-term testing by independent parties. Yes, you read that correctly. GMOs have not been tested over long periods of time and most of the testing done on GMO crops is not done by independent testers. Instead, it is most often done by the company who developed and is trying to sell the seed.

Genetic modification is only allowed in agriculture and biotechnology in the United States for the time being. Right now, the FDA is examining GM salmon and this salmon may be the first GM animal to grace our grocery store shelves. As with GMOs in agriculture, it would only be a matter of time before the wild salmon population is contaminated by GM salmon. Both animals and seeds reproduce, which makes GMOs in these two areas difficult, if not impossible, to control.

We avoid genetically modified products as much as we can. One of the primary reasons why we buy organic is to avoid GMOs. After all, who knows what types of health effects these may have, especially with long-term consumption. As we’ve mentioned before, we avoid processed foods- most of them contain high fructose CORN syrup and other ingredients made with corn and/or soybeans. Finally, we’ve written letters to our government representatives requesting they not allow GM salmon into the marketplace and requesting genetically modified foods be labeled as such. After all, how are we to make informed decisions about what we eat, if we aren’t given the information to make well-informed choices?

*This post is shared on Real Food Wednesday

The Rut

Well, I’m officially exhausted and haven’t had much energy for our wholesome living quest. I miss white flour and white sugar. I miss the ease in which I “made” our family’s meals. The past two weeks have been a challenge. Our daughter is all but walking, requiring constant monitoring throughout the day. Then, she stopped her usual sleeping pattern of only getting up once per night. For the past two weeks, she’s been up at least three times a night. One night she was up every hour. She also decided napping is for big girls, like she thinks she is, and stopped napping for long periods of time. It’s been raining nonstop here for days and days now so Myla and I have been unable to go on our daily walks. Several people we know are having severe health problems. Ryan, my husband, has been traveling and/or working late hours and is scheduled to travel several more times this month.

All of this equals one exhausted mama who really doesn’t feel like spending any time at all making wholesome meals and snacks, let alone homemade cleaners as well. All I’ve been wanting to do is curl up in a silent room with a good book and a bunch of comfort food made with white sugar and white flour. To add insult to injury, a Harry and David catalogue came in the mail yesterday, featuring all sorts of luscious delights made with oodles of white sugar (or high fructose corn syrup) and white flour. Yes, I browsed through it. I drooled over their beautiful looking (most likely airbrushed) cookies, moose munch and truffles.

Needless to say, I’ve been in a rut, a very grouchy rut I may add. Yet in the midst of my foggy, sleep deprived mind, the Lords given fresh perspective and strength. The lesson I’ve been learning as of late is that of seasons. My “rut” is only for a season. After two weeks the rut is already started to change into another season. The rain has finally stopped so I was able to go for a walk today. Myla only woke up twice a night the past two nights. She’s back on her regular nap schedule. However, some things won’t change for some time. Ryan still has to travel a lot this month. I still want some cookies or truffles from Harry and David. I’m sure there will be days ahead when I just don’t feel like making the effort to make sure our family is eating wholesome food.

When we find ourselves in an uncomfortable or downright miserable season, we shouldn’t, and often can’t, continue on at the same pace as before. Sometimes we need to adapt, pause, and/or rest.

Ryan has been pitching in extra the past few weeks because he knows how exhausted I’ve been, which has been wonderful. I am so thankful that we are team and when one of us is in need, the other naturally and lovingly fills in. I didn’t rush out and buy “quick-fix” meals for us. However, I did stick with tried and true meals that I didn’t have to think about too much while I was making them. We did order pizza and salad one night. I let a few of my weekly chores go for a few extra days. Instead of making myself a bunch of snacks throughout the day, I stocked up on fruit, whole wheat crackers and raw cheese, and yogurt so I can munch on healthy things that don’t require a significant amount of prep work. I started napping with Myla again at least once a day. I’ve also been indulging in dark chocolate and a cup of hot tea each night and enjoying some quiet time by myself after Myla’s in bed for the evening.

With each season of my life, I rest in knowing that God is God through the season. Nothing escapes His plan or purpose. He is still there. He still loves me. He’s growing and shaping me through each season. Looking back on the past few weeks, I have to admit, I’m proud of myself for not throwing in the towel on our wholesome living quest when the going got tough. I didn’t binge on high fructose corn syrup (although I did buy some seltzer water). I learned to adapt a few things to make life a bit easier for the few weeks when I was so sleep deprived I could barely think straight. I found myself clinging to scripture at the moments when I was thinking, “God, I just can’t do this anymore. I can’t last another hour.” Strength came when I realized I said those same words yesterday and God got me through yesterday’s difficult hour. It was as if God was saying, “Watch me. Watch me bring you through this.” How thankful I am that I have such a Saviour, such a wonderfully tender and loving God!

“To every [thing there is] a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Ecc. 3:1

So, do you have any wholesome living shortcuts for when your exhausted? Here are a few things I’ve learned:

-If I can, I spend a few extra dollars and buy the more natural/less chemically dishwasher detergent during the week that I’m too tired to make it (Ecover and Seventh Generation are good brands I’ve used before).

-Give yourself a break. You’re not a superhero. If you need to nap, then nap if possible. If you need to give up an activity for a week to catch up on rest, then do so. Reevaluate your priorities. When you’re in difficult seasons, your priorities may need readjusting. (For me the past few weeks, my priorities were spending time with God, Ryan and Myla, sleeping, and eating. The end. Now that things are improving, I’m adding a few things back in the mix).

-I freeze meals when we have extras so when I’m too tired to cook, I can just pull an already made meal out of the freezer and pop it in the oven.

-I make chicken and beef stock once a month. Then, if I’m too tired to cook (and don’t have any freezer meals) I can add a few veggies and noodles or rice and have a delicious soup for dinner.

-Tell your spouse you’re struggling. Let them help you.

-Have lots of fresh fruit in the house so you don’t have to make (or buy processed) snacks.

-If you don’t feel like buying or mixing your own cleaning solutions, just use baking soda and vinegar.

-Pray and pray often.

-Don’t open any type of processed food catalogue. It will give you mad cravings for white sugar and white flour. Thank you Harry and David. I’m still fighting that craving!

*This post is shared on Monday Mania