Friday, January 13, 2012

Spoiled and Lazy?

You may think I will be posting about my children, but even though they are spoiled and lazy at times, today I’m thinking about the state of our food industry and our role in creating what it has become. I do believe our food system is a result of us wanting more convenience, and the industry responds. But is it all bad?

It has been one of those extra special weeks at my household. I’m working more hours getting ready for a number of upcoming meetings and events, so the meals available to my family have suffered due to a lack of time. Sunday we had Tuna Helper with added broccoli (dinner in less than 15 minutes). Monday was Taco Bell between trips to office supply stores and the copy shop, Tuesday was soup from a can or whatever else you can find that night which was a medley of cereal, apples, peanut butter and milk, and Wednesday I visited the local Chinese takeout. I better stop now before it gets worse.

But I have come to the realization that even though I have wonderful intentions of providing my family good food, I am exactly the mom our food industry is catering to: one with never enough time on her hands. I am grateful to have these options, but try to be careful not to be sucked into the deep chasm of ready-made meals every evening.

Why, you may ask? There are fewer ingredients, and I want my kids to learn to appreciate raw, unadulterated food. What I don’t want to do, however, is look a gift horse in the mouth. Fast food and pop-in-the-microwave meals may not be best, but I am so glad to have them when I need them on occasion. It’s when these options are abused, the “cheap food is making us fat” complainers definitely get fuel added to their fire.

I recently watched a couple episodes of “Half-Ton Teen.” It was quite apparent that those children were victims of their mamas letting them eat whatever they wanted, most of which came pre-packaged or from a drive-thru. Who is to blame, here: the mamas, the kids, or the industry?

The most compelling argument blaming the industry is that unhealthy food is cheaper. While the price of whole food ingredients may seem formidable to someone trying to feed their family on a budget, I have to disagree that the frozen pizza for $5 or less is “cheaper” than the meals I can cook with a meat and a few vegetables. You have to get creative and opt for the least processed foods (because you pay for that) but it can be done. I would also encourage everyone to look beyond the cost per food volume or cost per calories; figure your cost per nutrients.

The real reason fast food is compelling to most of us moms is because it’s EASY.

I’m afraid I’m digging a big “do what I say, not what I do” hole here, because this week I needed “easy.” My daughter is loving it right now and is quick to suggest, “Let’s just go get a pizza,” when I start wondering how I’m going to get dinner made before 8 p.m. I may cave 10% of the time, but try to balance it out by allowing only one piece paired with some raw fruits and veggies, which are also easy.

The absolute best food marketing campaign of 2011 was for Cutie mandarin oranges. They didn’t try to sell the fact that their product was a better option than a cookie, but they said their product was easy for a kid to peel and eat. I was sold… I’ve bought about 3 bags of them this winter, and they don’t stay in the refrigerator long at all.

In the end, I guess I’m trying to say it’s okay to be spoiled and lazy some of the time and it’s okay to rejoice the food industry that has allowed it to become easy to do so. I also want to stress that you will never hear me complain about having access to cheap, easy food. BUT, just remember to treat it as a special gift when the going gets tough, or your kids won’t let you get back to the meals that you know are best.
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