A Year Of No Sugar: Postscript 8

April 6, 2012 § 1 Comment

Here’s my situation: currently, I am somewhat frantically pulling together a book ( a fascinating book!! Soon-to-be described as “unputdownable!!” Coming to a New York Times Bestseller list near you!!) about last year, our family’s Year of No Sugar. In the book I am spending lots of time writing about spending more time cooking food at home from scratch, the direct result of which is that I have officially become busier and less available to cook food at home from scratch than ever before.

You have to love irony.

Dinner from the Food Fairy!

But the time has come, I suppose to put my money where my mouth is- or at least my cooking where my free moments are, which is to say, few and far between. I know that the conundrum of being torn between commitments to work and wanting to feed my family well is hardly unique, but if I thought last year was a challenge, this year is certainly proving to be even more so.

I’m not sure if it helps that I feel terrifically guilty about our new state of being, about the fact that we’re eating out on average two or sometimes three times a week compared to only once a week previously. It’s not even that we’re suddenly eating lots of sugar in doing so… we’re not. In fact, we’re still eating at the same we-really-do-make-it-ourselves establishments we found refuge in during all of our No Sugar escapades last year. We’re still being incredibly moderate when we do indulge in a dessert- rather than ordering three or four desserts, ordering one dessert and three or four spoons instead. We’re still avoiding soda and juice as if it were rat poison, still packing school lunches at home, still even making my own bread and tomato sauce from scratch.

So what’s my problem, exactly? For one thing, I’m too lucky. I know that there are lots of people who couldn’t afford to eat out this much, and certainly not at the nicer kinds of places that are likely to have cooked their meals from scratch. I’m also incredibly fortunate to have discovered Kate- the talented caterer who lives a mile from my house and who offers wonderful home-cooked soups, quiches and biscuits once per week for pick-up straight out of her kitchen. Out here in the country- where we like to brag that you have to drive half an hour to buy a carton of milk- her appearance on the scene with fresh, homemade, convenient take-out made with local ingredients is nothing short of a Food Miracle… if I have a Food Fairy Godmother I think it might be Kate.

Is it okay that I’m this lucky? Somehow it makes me feel like I’m cheating. Other times it’s still hard to get the dishes done, the piano practicing complete, the homework read, the activities attended and the children showered and in bed before we have to get up and do it all over again- even with those crutches. There’s some weird, control-freaky part of me that is reluctant to give myself a break and remember that we’re all human and to -as they say- take it one day at a time. Reminding me of those things is one of the things my husband is here for, apparently- because he’s awfully good at it, even if he does have to repeat himself a bit. As he points out, I can’t spend all morning making a homemade lasagna and then beat myself up for not accomplishing any writing, and neither can I write all afternoon and then be annoyed at myself that I didn’t make every item on our dinner table from scratch.

But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? We can’t have our cake and eat it too (if you’ll excuse the sugar-based proverb.) When I was pre-teenager my mom began law school: I remember it well- it was the same year she started buying Swanson Hungry Man dinners. There it is, right? The modern day trade-off- the liberated woman bargain, if you like- in a nutshell.

We can’t eat like crap because it’s convenient and then be surprised when our health suffers. Neither can we spend our lives grinding our wheat berries by hand and churning our own butter, and ever expect to accomplish anything but the relatively thankless and quickly forgotten job of getting ourselves fed for one more day. Somehow we have to prioritize the things we care about. How do you choose between your ambition and your food? Your life’s work and your family’s health? You don’t, of course, but maintaining that balance is excruciatingly hard; a highwire act on rollerskates. In a rainstorm. I’m trying my hardest, but still, like any mom- I question myself. I wonder… could it be better?

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 54

June 10, 2011 § 1 Comment

Now that we are creeping up on- dare I say it?- halfway through our Year of No Sugar (!!!) there is a very pleasant law of dietary inertia setting in, that is: a person not eating sugar tends to stay not eating sugar. Compared to our shaky beginnings on January first, we’ve acclimated significantly to the challenges of shopping differently, eating differently, and talking to people about it. I still make mistakes, dumb ones, like just the other day when, for variety’s sake, I picked up a package of Applegate Farms organic ham slices at the health food store instead of the usual Applegate Farms organic roasted turkey, without double-checking the ingredients… um, Eve, hel-lo? Still, we’ve gotten to a point where we might be what you’d call… fairly well used to it.

To celebrate meeting the nebulous milestone of being “fairly well used to it,” Greta, my eleven year old daughter and I did a short presentation for her fifth grade class which we might’ve titled “Yeah, Like, What the Heck is Greta’s Family Doing, Again?” I was nervous. I realized that for all the talking and reading and thinking and agonizing I’ve done on this subject, I haven’t spoken before a group about it at all. Sure they’re fifth graders, not a congressional inquiry, but nonetheless I had visions of difficult biochemistry questions being lobbed at me by kids who aren’t about to give up their chocolate-covered Twinkies without a fight.

Worse, as I made up my notes for the talk, I was having trouble striking the right chord somewhere in between being the world’s most boring health teacher (“Can anyone tell me the incredibly fascinating difference between lactose and galactose? Hmmm?”) and scaring the pee out of them (“Well, according to what I’ve been reading, sugar causes obesity, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, prostate and breast cancer, not to mention elephantitis of the pores, rampant yellow toe fungus, the end of the world and not getting asked to the junior prom!!! AIIIGHHHH!”)

Most of all, I worried about the same thing all mothers of pre-teen girls worry about: budding eating disorders. The last, last, LAST thing I wanted to do in the course of discussing important topics like the national epidemic of obesity, was to inadvertently encourage some fifth grade girl not to eat. Have I put enough pressure on myself yet? Just wait till I have to talk to The New York Times– I’ll melt into a little savory puddle on the floor.

But I think it went okay, after all. I focused on some key terms and statistics I thought might perk their interest: how every man, woman and child consumes on average 2.7 pounds of sugar per week (I held up a five pound bag of sugar to demonstrate one person’s two week allotment. Interestingly, the kids seemed rather unfazed by this), what a “Western Disease” is (guesses included “pneumonia” and “malaria”- so good we talked about this one), and how doctors decide whether a person is a healthy weight, overweight, or obese. I mean, you hear about an “epidemic of obesity,” but what does that really mean?

I put the BMI (Body Mass Index) formula on the board: weight in pounds times 703, divided by the square of your height in inches. Amazingly, the kids really perked up at this. There were sudden shuffling noises as kids grabbed for pieces of paper and pencils, presumably so they could calculate their own BMI, although I have to admit that I wasn’t about to start figuring out what sixty-six squared is on paper. I demonstrated how I got my own BMI by plugging in my own height and weight… and whipping out my handy dandy calculator.

The other two most popular part of the hour was more predictable: when Greta distributed my most recent dextrose dessert effort: carob chip brownies. I was delighted to see that everyone ate their entire brownie- which to me equals success, not just for my changed palate, but to kids who may very well view sugar as one of the four food groups. That’s one of the things you can still say about kids at this age- they haven’t learned to varnish their opinions yet in the name of politeness. Most fifth graders aren’t going to eat a yucky brownie just to be polite to someone’s mom.

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