Why Food Matters

I've been writing a lot about food lately from a variety of perspectives: from a simple list of meals I plan to prepare for the week to my struggles getting my son to eat the healthy, delicious meals I'm preparing.  It sort of came full circle when on Friday I attended one of the College's weekly Community Reflections (held every Friday in our Chapel).  The College is going through the process of contracting a new (possibly) dining service provider (a process which hasn't been done in over 40 years).  The College community has a pretty extensive list of requirements for it's provider, including utilizing local foods/products, providing healthy food choices and offering a range of authentic international foods.  Several students and one faculty member spoke about why food matters to them and it made me think about why food matters so much to me.  If I were asked to share my story, it would go something like this:

I grew up as a skinny kid despite hating gym class.  I grew up with a mom who made almost everything from scratch.  I grew up in a family with food allergies.  I grew up having brought my lunch from home every day since the 3rd grade (which is when my small school cafeteria stopped cooking their own food).  I grew up using chopsticks.  I grew up living on the east and west coasts, with roots firmly in the midwest.  I grew up eating seafood.  I grew up going to authentic Mexican restaurants.  I grew up hating jello salad.

Growing up, food always seemed to be something that brought us together as a family, separated us from our peers, and nourished our sensitive bodies.  Food baked from scratch was offered as congratulations and condolence. And while healthy food was prioritized, our sweet tooths were never left wanting.

I learned at a young age to read food labels because my brother was allergic to food dye and my mom to milk proteins.  While I still avoid red dye #40, as an adult (and now as a parent) I read labels looking to avoid artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils (and making sure that there are as many whole foods as possible in those packaged products).  I am so fortunate that I can afford to be so choosy, and that more importantly, I can afford to buy fresh produce weekly, which I do in abundance.

So why does this matter?  Because I feel better when I eat real food.  And as an educated consumer, I know that my body needs a variety of foods (fat and sugar included in moderation) to perform at its peak - never mind that I like trying new foods and recipes, and that I crave a variety of flavors and textures (though my busy schedule doesn't afford me the luxury of preparing a gourmet meal every evening).  My balanced and healthy approach to the food that I eat has kept me at a healthy weight before, during and post-pregnancy, and was instrumental in my husband's 50 pound weight loss.

As a full-time working mother of a very picky toddler, I struggle a great deal with allowing my son to subsist on cereal.  Thankfully he does love Chex and Cheerios, relatively healthy at least.  I told myself I'd make my kid eat whatever I cook (because although I don't consider my meals gourmet, they are home-cooked about 90% of the time), but that was before the reality of a screaming, crying toddler at every meal.

And so, while whole and home-made foods matter to me a great deal, I continue to read labels to find healthier packaged options for my son, and continue to sneak spinach into his morning smoothie (thank goodness he likes pureed fruits and yogurt).  I know that he'll thank me for it in the long run when he's old enough to realize that what you put in your body really matters.


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