Monday, July 25, 2011

Balance Beam

I can tell I'm off balance.  In my thoughts.  In my attitude.  I'm having extreme responses internally that don't make any sense.

Balance.

The word keeps coming up.

Last week while sitting in my doctor's office to address the latest side effect of my roller-coaster health ride (hot flashes at age 34!), I started to whine to Jesus: "why couldn't I have made healthy living choices years ago?  I've known what to do; I was just too stubborn not to do it."  I started to berate myself, and He interrupted me.  Cut me off.  Made me stop.

A picture.

Small, puny, brittle twigs scattered on the ground.  They have fallen down.  A few, sturdier branches remain of what once was...a tepee-like campfire awaiting the flame.  There are gaps in what is left.

I see a hand place a thicker, stronger branch into the kindling, and I know what His voice confirms.  You did not yet have what you needed in order to achieve balance.

I had to wait for certain things, people to come into my life before I felt safe enough to let others go.  Until those processes happened, balance was not possible.

Sitting here tonight, another picture.

Lily, my almost two-year-old, trying to walk on the balance beam in her Little Gym class.  She can not move forward without balance, and she can not achieve balance without support.  All of her core muscles have to come together to provide the base of support she needs to stand tall, reach out, and take a step.

Last but not least, a final picture.

Ocean waves seen from the deck of a sailboat.  All is quiet; it is a sunny day.

"God's word does not say we'll have peace like a pond but peace like a river, righteousness like the waves of the sea."  (July 25th, Beth Moore's Praying God's Word Day by Day)

Up, down, up, down, up, down...the peaks and troughs of the waves move in and out of view.  They balance one another, these highs and lows.  Both are necessary for the ocean to contain life.

Balance.

Linking up with my friends at Soli Deo Gloria tonight.  Take a moment to stop by and visit some of the other wonderful bloggers that rest there each week.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

First Fruits

I had given up entirely.  In fact, I had planned to dig it up this weekend...my tomato plant, that is.  This was my first foray into gardening.  Originally, I had wanted to plant an entire bed.  My husband, in his wisdom, said I should start small - tomato seeds inside one planter - to see how faithful I am with the daily necessities of growth.

To make a long story short, I was not faithful at all.  Some days I would forget.  Other days I simply chose not to water my tomato plant.  I would choose other things: resting when my energy was particularly low; working around the house when I had energy to spare; playing with the kids the rest of the time.  These were not bad choices.  In fact, they were good, but they had consequences: a tired, wilting, dieing plant, for one.





Or, so I thought:.  Today, my husband said, "congratulations honey, you grew a tomato!"


(What a precious, loving man to say it that way, since he was the one who faithfully watered the plant when I did not.)

Needless to say, there was much rejoicing over our late bloomer!  My three-year-old little boy and one-year-old little girl jumped up and down as I let out a loud "whoop!"

Watching my tomato plant this summer has been an eye-opening experience for me.  This may sound silly, but I have been astonished at how much water this plant requires!  I often think to myself: "I need to water it again?  Water daily?  Why can't it just take care of itself or live off what I gave it yesterday?  Why does it have to be so high-maintenance?"  (Obviously, I'm working through some legacy, negative self-talk....my thoughts toward the plant mirror how I treat myself - not validating my own needs much less moving toward meeting them.)  

The answer to my silent questions?

Because that's how God made it to be.  Because that's how God made me to be.  Because the need for daily watering keeps us coming back to our Maker, daily.  Whether I like it or not, I need daily replenishment, or I will wilt and wither just like my plant.

"On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.  Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified." (John 7:37-39, NIV)

I need much more than I realize.  My self-sufficiency causes me to wilt and wither, but His grace produces growth.  Even when I am unfaithful, He is ever present, at work for my good, providing so that I may grow.

One of the ways He provided?  By bringing me to the end of myself and showing me how utterly, truly, and completely dependent I am.  I can no longer ignore myself - I must acknowledge my own dependency so that I can go to the Source and let His Spirit carry me.  If I'm honest, many days I can't even go to the Source; I simply have to sit and wait for Him to come to me.

So, I've started feeding myself.  Good food, lots and lots of water, and intangible things like rest, play, grace.  There are many less 'shoulds' in my life and far more 'wants'.  It's really fun.  Life is so much more peaceful and not dramatic this way.  There is much less stress.  And, I'm much more available for my husband and my kids (all by taking care of myself more!).  Our home is more balanced because I am more balanced. 

I wish everyone could experience this deep, convicting shift - this place from which, God willing, I will never come back.  I am dug in, root deep, reaching out for the groundwater I know He is.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Seven Steps to a Healthy Pantry: Step 7

Step 7: Review & Resources

Quick Review

In our seven steps we have:
  • taken an internal inventory to review our motivations;
  • defined our terms;
  • set a clear goal or goals;
  • rid ourselves of things that don’t serve us well as we seek to achieve our goals;
  • learned creative ways to try to afford healthier options;
  • organized our pantries in a way that sets us up for success;
  • and observed changes in our body as they begin to happen, making adjustments to our food as necessary.

I’ll leave you with a few parting thoughts that have helped me along the way. 

As I was beginning to change my eating habits, my naturopath gave me these sage pieces of advice:

It’s easier to add things than it is to take things away.  If you can’t take something out yet, just add vegetables – fresh and organic is best.  Make sure you get five servings/day.  One serving is either one cup raw or ½ cup steamed.”

She also advised:

“You need to cut out sodas, especially diet ones.  The artificial sweeteners act as a stimulant to your nervous system (among many other not so bueno effects they have on the body).  The high fructose corn syrup and caramel color are really, really bad for you too.  So, if you do nothing else after you leave here, cut out the sodas.  If you have to have caffeine, one cup of coffee/day is okay, though I would prefer that you drank unsweetened tea.”*

Her last piece of advice that I’ll share:

“Every person should be drinking at least ½ his or her body weight in water every day.  You have to do this daily.  So, if you weigh 200 pounds, you need to drink 100 ounces of water per day, plain water.  And if you drink a caffeinated drink you need to subtract that from your tally since it counteracts the hydrating effects of water.  They’ve even found that BPA-free plastics are leaching hormones into our system, affecting our internal hormone balance, so drink water in a glass or stainless steel container that does not have a BPA-free liner.  You can count herbal tea toward your total if you don’t sweeten it.”

*Again, these are pieces of advice that a naturopathic doctor told me, not you.  I’m sharing them here because I honestly believe that they apply to everyone, but know that I am not a doctor.  NOTHING I have written here (or anywhere on my blog) should be misconstrued as medical advice or taken as such.

Resources for Further Reading & Research




Living Without Magazine (hate the name, LOVE the mag and the folks behind it)



Klean Kanteen – a great source for BPA-free, stainless steel water bottles (there are others of course; I just happen to like this one)

Dirty Dozen Guide (see below) – this tells you how to prioritize where to spend your organic dollars on produce, reprinted from a pamphlet by the Environmental Working Group:

DIRTY DOZEN
WORST: Buy These Organic
Celery
Peaches
Strawberries
Apples
Blueberries
Nectarines
Bell Peppers
Spinach
Kale
Cherries
Potatoes
Grapes (Imported)
BEST: Lowest in Pesticides (okay to buy non-organic)
Onions
Avocado
Sweet Corn
Pineapple
Mangos
Sweet Peas
Asparagus
Kiwi
Cabbage
Eggplant
Cantaloupe
Watermelon
Grapefruit
Sweet Potato
Honeydew Melon
Why Should You Care About Pesticides?
The growing consensus among scientists is that small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can cause lasting damage to human health, especially during fetal development and early childhood.  Scientists now know enough about the long-term consequences of ingesting these powerful chemicals to advise that we minimize our consumption of pesticides.

What’s the Difference?
EWG research has found that people who eat five fruits and vegetables a day from the Dirty Dozen list consume an average of 10 pesticides a day. Those who eat from the 15 least contaminated conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables ingest fewer than 2 pesticides daily. The Guide helps consumers make informed choices to lower their dietary pesticide load.

Will Washing and Peeling Help?
The data used to create these lists is based on produce tested as it is typically eaten (meaning washed, rinsed or peeled, depending on the type of produce). Rinsing reduces but does not eliminate pesticides. Peeling helps, but valuable nutrients often go down the drain with the skin. The best approach: eat a varied diet, rinse all produce and buy organic when possible.

How Was This Guide Developed?
EWG analysts have developed the Guide based on data from nearly 96,000 tests for pesticide residues in produce conducted between 2000 and 2008 and collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. You can find a detailed description of the criteria EWG used to develop these rankings and the complete list of fruits and vegetables tested at our dedicated website, www.foodnews.org.

THE POWER OF INFORMATION
Headquarters 1436 U St. N.W., Suite 100 Washington, DC 20009
(202) 667-6982
Learn More at FoodNews.org

Monday, July 11, 2011

Seven Steps to a Healthy Pantry: Step 6

Step 6: Eat, Observe, Repeat.

For me, this is the most important step (well, okay, maybe as important as Step 1 and Step 3).  It’s important because this is where the rubber meets the road.  I think I can best describe it by sharing my own story/timeline:

February 2011.  I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue/borderline failure.  In addition to med’s, I was told to test a gluten-free diet for six weeks.  After one day I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that gluten contributed to my adrenal troubles, so I made the switch.  My pantry transition began.  First step?  Change all foods in the house, including spices, oils, sauces, flours, etc, from gluten-full to gluten-free.

March & April 2011.  My naturopath echoed what my pediatrician had told me years before: eat as much organic as possible.  Because these two people – from two very different backgrounds and perspectives – were saying the same thing, I started paying attention.  I started looking for ways to buy organic pantry items (juice boxes, fruit snacks, etc). 

If I couldn’t buy organic because of cost I read the labels and bought the best option.  What was the best option?  The choice that had the least (or no) non-natural preservatives and the most whole ingredients.  Sugar was also a factor – I chose the lowest level of sugar possible.  More transition happened in my pantry (not to mention my refrigerator, deep freezer, and back-up shelf in the garage).

June & July 2011.  I started feeling the tug to cut out dairy in addition to gluten.  You might think this wouldn’t affect the pantry, but it’s shocking how many items have dairy in them (remember all those Blue Diamond Nut Thins from Step 5’s shelf picture?  They have dairy!).

So, with the dairy piece added in, I am now in my third stage of transitioning my pantry.

This is my process – it certainly shouldn’t be yours.  While I absolutely believe that some choices are bottom-line healthier than others, for everyone, I also know that our bodies are all unique and at different stages in the process of becoming healthy.

As I’ve changed the way I eat, my body’s needs have changed.  The healthier the food is that I put in my body – and by healthy I mean whole, non-processed, non-gluten, and non-dairy – the more sensitive I am when I eat something that is unhealthy.  Things that didn’t make me feel bad at all several months ago now send me spiraling into a general fog of yuckiness (muscle pain, brain fog, etc).  I believe this is because my body needs good things and simply has less tolerance for junk than it used to.

I could explain all of this chemically – because cravings and lack of sensitivity to junk are 100% chemical – but your eyes would glaze over.  For a detailed explanation I highly recommend The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolfe. 

Why am I mentioning all of this?  Because it’s important that you pay attention and validate what’s happening in your body by responding to it. 

I can’t wait to hear your stories as you implement changes in your diet!  Remember, even the smallest change will make a difference.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Seven Steps to a Healthy Pantry: Step 5

Step 5: Let’s Get Organized

You’ve bought the groceries, now what?  Organizing your pantry can be simple or complex.  Here are my tips on how to get organized:

Tip #1: Divide & Conquer

Hopefully you’ve taken advantage of online and warehouse shopping, which means you now have what I affectionately call “back-up” food.  This overstock could live in your pantry, or you could do what I’ve done:


When we realized we would save a lot of money by buying in bulk my husband and I spent $39 on a wire shelving unit at Costco.  He installed it next to my deep freezer, both of which are in the garage. 


I promptly filled it up with goodies from Costco and Amazon.com.  This one change in the way I organize our home has saved me countless hours in drive time and shopping, not to mention gas money.  It’s by far my favorite part of my pantry switch.

Tip #2: Categorize

This may seem simple and obvious, but I really do believe that it will change the way you eat.  Here’s what I mean: organize your shelves according to type of meal. 

For example, put items that contribute to baked goods (flour, sugar, etc), on one shelf – preferably a shelf that is up high and a little hard to reach.  Put salty snacks on one shelf.  Put sweet snacks on another shelf (if your shelves are too large to devote to one type of meal, then simply create an area that is distinct).  Put side dishes on one shelf (grains, beans, etc.).  Put things like root vegetables and onions on a vegetable shelf. 

And of course, put kid-friendly snacks on a shelf that they can reach.  Be sure to tell them that this shelf is on-limits twice a day so they can choose what snacks they want.  (But they should be healthy snacks!)

Why does this matter?  You’re giving yourself a visual of how much you have of what type of meal.  If your salty snack shelf is overflowing and your vegetables shelf is almost empty, you see that you might need to make an adjustment there.  (It can be helpful to do this in the refrigerator, too.)

You don’t have to organize by meal.  You could organize by organic vs. non-organic, processed vs. clean (aka whole ingredients), etc.  I would choose something that will ultimately help you meet the goal you set for yourself in Step 3.

I’d love to see how ya’ll reorganize your pantries.  Post pic’s or share changes you’ve made!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Seven Steps to a Healthy Pantry: Step 4

Step 4: How to Shop

Alright, you’ve got clean pantry shelves just waiting to be filled (right?).  Now what?

I’ll admit that when I first started my own transition from gluten-full to gluten-free products, I was totally overwhelmed.  I didn’t know what to buy, and I certainly didn’t know where to buy it.  Now, many months later, I’ve realized there is a plethora of information out there, as well as a slew of sources. 

In today’s post, I’ll try to break down months of research for you to make your life a little easier!

Tip 1: Don’t go to the grocery store
At least, not at first.  Your regular, down-the-street grocery store can sometimes be your most expensive option.  Since we all know switching to healthier choices is more expensive, cost is the #1 issue I’ll be dealing with.

For the first few months of sourcing gluten-free products, I was literally driving to four stores in a week.  Not only did my gas bill go up; I also became very disenchanted with the process.  I knew it wouldn’t last if I didn’t find a better solution.  What did I do?  I went online.

Tip 2: Shop online
I know, I know, you’re thinking: shipping costs.  Ah-ha!  I have some thoughts here.  Sign up to become a “frequent flyer” at your favorite online store, and you will almost always get free shipping one way or another.

“Like” the store on Facebook for deals and steals and first pass at discounts.  This sounds obvious but a lot of us forget about it.  I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve found out something was half off this week at Whole Foods Market because I’m their friend on Facebook!

Sign up for email updates.  I hesitated to do this for a long time because I didn’t want to junk up my inbox.  If that’s your hurdle, then create an email account just for the deals: jennydealsonly@yahoo.com, for example.  Send all of your blast emails there.  (Some people are even really specific and break out their deal emails by category: jennytraveldeals@yahoo.com, jennyfooddeals@yahoo.com, etc.)

Join coupon sites that do the work for you.  My favorite is also a button on my blog (top left): yourgreenhelper.com.

My best piece of advice: join Amazon Prime.  It’s $79/year, but you get discounts and free 2-day shipping.  Since pantry items are heavy and shipping is often by weight, this will end up saving you a lot (not to mention the gas you’re saving, and the sanity, by not having to drive all over town).

If you’re a mommy, you can join Amazon Moms and automatically become enrolled in Prime for free.  Amazon Moms gives you 15% off all baby items.  (I promise, this is the cheapest place to buy diapers!)

Last but not least, Amazon has started this nifty thing called Subscribe & Save.  If you find an item that your family uses a lot (like, I don’t know, toilet paper), you can “subscribe” to have it shipped to you on a regular basis for an extra 15% off!  The best part?  You can cancel your subscription at any time for no charge.  So, you could buy it once with the extra discount and then cancel it immediately.  And if it’s a Prime item, you get free shipping!  The subscription options are every month, every three months, every six months – you can choose one that works for you.  (For example, I subscribed to Pamela’s gluten-free pancake mix and set it to ship to me once every three months.  If I’m getting low then I can log on and ask for a shipment to come now, or I can change the shipment schedule altogether.) 

Did you catch that: if you’re buying an Amazon Moms item via Subscribe & Save (like diapers), you get 30% off + free shipping.  WOW!

The best part?  Amazon has almost every organic/natural brand I’ve found at specialty shops, but I don’t have to drive to a million stores!

Tip #3: Become a coupon clipper
You might already be one.  I resisted this forever.  Too annoying, not enough time, you name it – I had an excuse.  (The real impediment was probably pride, but I’ll save that for another day.)  Now, it’s an absolute necessity, and it makes organic affordable (sort of).

I don’t mean that I literally sit down every Sunday and clip coupons out of the paper.  I do mean that I shop the sales.  This involves knowing prices of the things that I buy the most.

Here’s a great example: Annie’s Organic Bunny Snacks, the fruit kind.  My kids eat these like crazy.  I can go through a box in two days.  So, I needed to find the cheapest source.  I have the bulk prices from Amazon memorized so that when I’m at my grocery store or on a Target run I can compare.  One week they were on sale at Target so I bought them there.  The next week they were on sale at H-E-B (the grocery store) so I bought them there.  I also have them on Subscribe & Save at Amazon, but only one flavor is discounted on their site.  The other two flavors are just as expensive as they are at the grocery store (price per unit), so I only buy the discounted flavor from Amazon.

Tip #4: Don’t get stuck in a rut
As my example above illustrates, be flexible, be aware, and always be on the lookout.  I even check drink prices when I’m at Lowe’s picking up something for the backyard – you never know where you will find a deal!

Tip #5: Share your resources
If you find a deal, let your friends know and ask them to do the same.  I can’t tell you how many times my friend Jen has called me to tell me that X is on sale at Target or Y is on sale at H-E-B.

Tip #6: Join a bulk shopping center like Costco
I mention Costco specifically because they have a wonderful assortment of organic, grass-fed, and gluten-free.  It’s truly impressive.  For a $50 annual membership you can reduce your price per unit significantly, easily recouping that up-front cost.

I buy things like Food for Life quinoa chips, dog food, toilet paper, paper towels, eggs (36 organic eggs at Costco cost $4.99, as much as 12 organic eggs at the grocery store), and meat at Costco.

Tip #7: Invest in a deep freezer
You can find one for less than $200.  If you calculate that steaks at Costco are three for $25 and organic ground beef is $4.99/pound (on sale at Costco) and is normally sold in 3 pound packs, and you buy one each per week, you’ll recoup that $200 in 5 weeks.  The meat will stay good up to one year. 

Obviously, the return on investment is worth it, not to mention the awesome feeling of knowing you have stuff in the freezer to make when you don’t have dinner planned.

Tip #8: Invest in a shelving unit for your garage
You might have oodles and oodles of space, but I don’t.  When I realized that buying in bulk would save me significant amounts of cash, I bought a $39 steel shelving unit (at Costco) and had my husband set it up in the garage (next to the deep freezer, of course).  It’s where I put my back-stock of gluten-free goods as well as my toilet paper, dog food, paper towels, sponges, trash bags, etc.

Tip #9: Get creativeOne of my neighbors has found a local source for a grass-fed, organic cow.  (Yes, I do mean, cow.)  She works directly with the rancher, orders the cow and cuts of meat, and then emails out a spreadsheet with a price per pound to all of her friends (and they then email it to their friends).  Everyone places their orders.  She graciously drives about an hour out of town to pick up the meat.  We all go over and pick it up when it’s ready, paying her for the meat.  She does this about once every three months.  It’s not cheap to buy a cow, but it’s less expensive than buying grass-fed, organic beef from any store source we’ve found.
A note on Farmer’s Markets: while the produce and meat and eggs are by far and away better from local, fresh, organic sources you find at these markets, I have yet to be able to afford anything but the occasional produce purchase.  I still go to them so my kids will learn, and because I sometimes find a great deal (peppers were much cheaper at the market a few weeks back than at the grocery store, and much tastier).

The bottom line?  When I switched to gluten-free my monthly grocery bill went up by about 1/3.  That was painful.  A few months later I decided I needed to also try to buy as much organic as possible.  This made my bill almost double (and I wasn’t buying organic meat yet!).

Now, after implementing the tips above, I’m back down to my average monthly bill, or sometimes just a wee bit more.  I shop at two stores monthly (and sometimes I pick up groceries at Target if there’s a sale) + amazon.com. 

What are your tips & sources?  Please share the love!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Top 10 Scariest Food Additives

I just read this today, and I had to share it in light of the series I'm writing.

Top 10 Scariest Food Additives

Seven Steps to a Healthy Pantry: Step 3

Step 3: Clean House

Okay, you’ve searched your heart to figure out your motivation.  You’ve done your research so you know what we’re talking about.  Now it’s time to get your hands dirty.

First, take out pen and paper and write a one sentence goal for your Great Pantry Clean-Out. 

For example, my one sentence would look like this:

I want to remove all non-organic food from my pantry.

It could also look like this:

I need to remove anything that has gluten (or, insert your allergy here).

Or, one last example:

I want to reduce the amount of processed foods in my pantry so that processed foods represent only 25% of the food we eat in a week.

Second, tape this sentence inside your pantry door or in a place that you will see it every time you go to the pantry.  You might want to make a copy of your goal and put it with your grocery list or in your wallet – some place you’ll see it when you’re at the grocery store.

Third, start removing what you don’t want.  When I went through this the first time I removed all gluten-containing snacks and packed them up for a friend who had kids my own kids’ ages.  You could donate the goods to a soup kitchen.  You could host a “I’m throwing out the junk!” party and invite friends over to get rid of all the outgoing items.

Don’t forget the spice drawer.  (If you are allergic or sensitive to gluten, for example, your spices need to be examined.  If you’re going all-organic, you definitely need to address the spices.)

This will be my shortest post during this series because you’ve got work to do.  J  Have fun!  And send me before and after pictures. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Seven Steps to a Healthy Pantry: Step 2

Step 2: Define Your Terms

You can’t find your destination unless you know how to get there.  And what would happen if all the roads along the way were mislabeled?  Let’s define our terms to help us find our way.

I encourage you to think through the definitions I’ve offered – do you agree with them; if not, what do they look like in your life? – and dig deeper using the links I’ve provided. 

I know it takes a lot of work up front to learn about this stuff, but we are talking about our bodies, one of the most precious gifts God has given us.  It’s worth it!  And once you’ve done the work once, you’ll own a treasure chest of knowledge that you can dip from over and over again to sustain you throughout the rest of your life.

Healthy.  First and foremost, we must begin here.  The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (citation 1).  To keep things simple, I’m going to agree with and adopt this definition for this series.

If I were to put this definition into my own words, I would say it like this:

A healthy person is one who is living a life that is whole and at rest with itself – mentally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually – within the limitations that exist in that person’s life.

In other words, I believe healthiness cannot exist without reconciliation to God.  (For a much more eloquent Biblical ethic on health and medicine, please read here.)  Within the contexts of reconciliation to God and the reality of a fallen world, healthiness exists in a constant state of tension between God-intended wholeness and the Fall-aftermath of limitation, disease and infirmity.  As in all things, the goal is to move toward God and His intention as much as possible.

As I stated above, I’m adopting the WHO definition of ‘healthy’ for this series because I do not intend to focus on the spiritual aspect of food in this series.  I’m trying to dig into the nitty-gritty practicals of what it means to eat well.  Maybe someday I’ll do a post called “God & Eating”, but not today! 

Organic.  This is a term that is legally regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture, within their National Organic Program as defined in the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.  According to the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) the following are definitions related to the organic agricultural industry (citation 2):
·         Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.
·         ‘Organic’ is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole.
·         Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water.
·         Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.

As you can see, the term “organic” is rather nebulous.  In general, you can think of anything labeled USDA Organic as free of pesticides, additives, preservatives, and anything else that doesn’t naturally occur. 
For a product to be labeled ‘100% organic’ every ingredient in the product, except for salt and water, must be organic.  For a product to be labeled ‘organic’ 95% of the ingredients must be organic.  For a product to carry the label ‘made with organic ingredients’ 70% of the ingredients must be organic.  In all three cases, the ingredients that are organic must be denoted on the label.  (Citation 3)

Though the term is a bit general, becoming certified organic is a rigorous process.  For more details on that, click here.  

The above applies to fruits and vegetables only.  I have been unable to find federal regulations governing the use of the term organic as applied to meat or poultry (including eggs).  Several states have regulating bodies, but – honestly – I haven’t found the answer yet.  I’ll get back to you if I do!

(I do know this: organic does not automatically mean grass-fed or free-range.  You can have corn-fed organic beef, for example.)

All-natural, 100% Natural.  As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no regulating body covering the terms “100% natural” or “all-natural.”  So, when you see that listed on products, I suggest you read the labels and do your research.

For an excellent discussion of food labels and what they actually mean, I highly suggest reading this link.  It is from several years ago, but the information is still current.

Free Range (& more).  According to the , “there are no restrictions on use of other truthful labeling claims such as ‘no drugs or growth hormones used,’ ‘free range,’ or ‘sustainably harvested’” (citation 4). 

In this case, I would suggest researching a brand online (like Buddy’s All-Natural Chicken) in order to decide if they produce food in a way you want them to.

Food Allergens.  According to the FDA’s Food Labeling Guide, “a ‘major food allergen’ is an ingredient that is one of the following eight foods or food groups, or an ingredient that contains protein derived from one of them:
·         milk
·         egg
·         fish
·         Crustacean shellfish
·         tree nuts
·         wheat
·         peanuts
·         soybeans
“Although more than 160 foods have been identified to cause food allergies in sensitive individuals, the "major food allergens" account for 90 percent of all food allergies. Allergens other than the major food allergens are not subject to FALCPA labeling requirements.”

At this point, only Crustacean shellfish and tree nuts are defined or regulated further than the general designation of “food allergen”.  In other words, if you see the term “gluten-free” on a package, the manufacturer has chosen to put it there freely – the term has no common definition.  Read the labels!

For more information on the Gluten-Free Label, click here.

Preservative(s).  Since this post is already long and I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, I’m going to let another amazing blogger address this topic: for a brief explanation of Food Preservatives, take a short trip to Mom-Going-Organic-Sensibly.com, an awesome resource I hope you’ll return to.

One last note on preservatives: according to the FDA’s Food Labeling Guide, “when an approved chemical preservative is added to a food, the ingredient list must include both the common or usual name of the preservative and the function of the preservative by including terms, such as ‘preservative,’ ‘to retard spoilage,’ ‘a mold inhibitor,’ ‘to help protect flavor,’ or ‘to promote color retention.’”

Partially Hydrogenated or Hydrogenated.  Partially hydrogenated oil is only produced artificially at high temperatures with metal catalysts in chemical plants, which means that it is not natural at all. Hydrogenation fundamentally degrades the nutritional properties of natural vegetable oils and creates trans fats that cause cardiovascular diseases.”

So, if a product claims to be all-natural but it lists ‘partially hydrogenated oil’ as an ingredient, versus canola oil for example, you know the claim is false.

Sugar & Sugar Free.  Sugar on a nutrition label is defined as “sucrose” (there are three types of sugars: sucrose, glucose, and fructose) or “a generic term that includes any of a class of water-soluble carbohydrates with various degrees of sweetness” (citation 5).  In other words, the front of a package might say “sugar free” because it does not include sucrose.  In the end, however, that same product might be made up of 75% carbohydrate (all food is either protein, fat or carbohydrate…sugar is a carb).

Are you seeing a pattern here?  READ YOUR LABELS, and, more importantly, know how to understand them!!!!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Seven Steps to a Healthy Pantry: Step 1

Step 1: Know Your Motivation

“Limitation freed me.”  I read this phrase on a friend’s blog recently, and I knew I had to borrow it.  Those three words succinctly capture the process of transitioning my food life.  My process began with limitation and will end with freedom.  For more on that, click here.

Now that I’m done philosophizing (I tend to do that, bear with me), let me get down to the nitty-gritty.  This series is about how to transition your pantry from a not-so-healthy state to a healthier one.

Though my own personal story involves much more than pantry food items (and I will at times venture outside of the pantry during this series, just to keep things interesting), I’m starting with the pantry for two reasons:
  1. It’s contained and, therefore, not as overwhelming.
  2. It’s often where most of the worst offenders are found.
So, how do we begin?  I suggest that we start with an inventory. 


No, not an inventory of the pantry. 



That comes later.  I’m talking about an inventory of the heart: your heart, to be precise.  Why are you undertaking this process?

Do you want to lose weight?  Do you want to teach your kids better eating habits?  Do you feel convicted?  Like me, are you sick and now find yourself trying to change your diet in order to feel better and re-claim your health?  Or, is it some combination of these motivating factors?

(I have to insert a note here: this is not a place for guilt.  If you feel guilty at the thought of even glancing in the direction of your true heart motivations, then I encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit to talk to you about that.  Do you need to confess something (like a misaligned motivation or desire)?  Or, do you need to let go of shame and cut yourself some slack?  Only God knows, and He will show you.)

Whatever your reasons, you need to understand them in order for this to work.  If you don’t know your motivation, then you risk losing your way along the path. 

For example, if you are telling yourself that you want to rid your pantry of high-sugar snacks because you want to honor God with your body, but your real desire is to lose weight, then it will be harder to resist the sugary snack (I promise!) because you’ll find yourself living out of a mixed-up, confused, conflicted place, instead of a place of peace.  When you’re not secure in your conviction to make a change, it’s a lot easier to talk yourself into backsliding or “cheating”.

If you’re in this to lose weight and could care less about being healthy, then great…let’s be real about that.  If you’re examining your pantry because your friends are into this whole ‘clean eating’ thing and you feel like you should be into it too, okay, we can work with that.  What we can’t work with is deception, including self-deception.  Food choices, like all choices, come out of our hearts.  Our hearts need to be in the light first so that we can move forward with clarity (see the Scripture references at the end of this post). 

Once we bring them into the light, revealing what’s really going on in there, we can work on bringing them into alignment with God’s heart for us to be healthy, whole children able to bring Him glory with all parts of our selves, including our physical bodies (for more on aligning ourselves with God, check out Proverbs 3:6 and Romans 12:2).

Let me be clear – this is my theology of eating:
  • God made us in His image: Genesis 1:26-27
  • As such, He wants us to be healthy, inside and out: Romans 12:1-2 (don't worry - we'll dig into what I mean by 'healthy' in the next post)
  • He gave us food to meet that goal: Genesis 1:28 & Genesis 8:20-9:4
  • We need to receive this food as a gift, using it to fulfill God’s intention that we reflect His image and have “life to the full”: John 10:10
  • Part of receiving the gift of food is a call to stewardship of His resources: Genesis 1: 28-30 & Genesis 9:2
In other words, God wants us to experience abundance!  Over the next several steps I will ask you to take things out of your pantry, to say no to things, to limit yourself – but I am not asking you to deprive yourself out of some misguided notion of how to achieve holiness. 

Nothing you do will make God love you more or less.  This is about giving and receiving – giving Him the gift of trust by believing He will provide for you if you let go of your desires and align your eating habits with His desires (health, wholeness, good stewardship of His creation).

So, back to my original point: in order to move forward through this process in a way that will produce lasting results, it's time to take an inventory.  And I do mean now (or the next minute you have a free moment).  Invite the Holy Spirit to illuminate your heart and mind, to bring you into alignment with His wishes, and to show you a clear path forward.

If, as you are examining your heart, you find some not-so-nice things there – motivations that don’t line up with God’s heart – don’t stress (Phil. 4:6).  We serve a loving and forgiving and welcoming God!  He wants to set you free and transform you into His likeness (yes, even down to the very detail of your heart becoming more like His) (1 John 1:9).  Confess the wrong motivation, tell Him you want to repent, and invite Him to realign your heart with His.

I will provide six more steps in the process – some practical and some more ethereal – but the Holy Spirit may reveal something different to you, a new or unique way forward that will fit your family or lifestyle perfectly.  That’s why I say start here, in prayer, searching your heart.  The way forward will be much simpler if you do.

See you at Step Two!  Blessings, Jenny

Here are a few more Scriptures for reference:

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”  Proverbs 4:23, NLV

“Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.”  Psalm 119:36, NIV



Prologue to a Series

"Mommy, where do bunny snacks come from?"

"Well honey, they don't grow out of the ground like apples and strawberries.  They come from a factory, actually."

I swallowed hard after admitting that to my toddler.  It honestly kind of grossed me out.  Why, when I have a refrigerator full of beautiful, fresh, organic fruit, do I choose to hand him the little aluminum packet of highly-processed food?

The answers are simple and familiar: convenience, the desire to avoid a battle, the "at least" argument (you know the one: "at least I'm not ordering at a fast-food restaurant right now" type of thinking).

But none of those answers are good enough.  Not really.  It's just as convenient to hand my son a whole apple (or strawberry or peach or carrot stick) as it is to rip open a bag of something.  If I draw a line in the sand now, the battles will eventually subside, especially if whole foods are the only option in the house. 

And the "at least" argument?  You could use that to justify anything.  I'm not saying don't give yourself grace.  I'm not saying that transitioning from one habit to another is not a process.  I'm not saying that you shouldn't genuinely pat yourself on the back when you make a better choice.  What am I saying?  Don't use this argument to justify what you know, deep down, isn't the best for you or your family.

As many of you know I've had to transition my diet over the last six months.  I didn't choose to - I had to.  Confession: I never would have done it otherwise. 

That's not to say I haven't tried.  I'm thirty-four, and I've tried lots over the years.  Not fad diets.  I'm not into fad diets (the closest I've ever come is Weight Watchers).  In fact, to be really honest, I'm not even that concerned with weight.  For me, food has always been about taking care of the body.  I've just never known how to do it well.

I grew up in a house that was about as Southern as you could get; we regularly ate such goodies as biscuits and gravy, liver and onions, Tex-Mex enchiladas drenched in sauce, chicken fried steak, and more.  Don't forget dessert: not a day went by when there wasn't something sweet sitting on the butcher's block waiting for me after school. 

And that was just age zero to age nine, when my grandparents moved out.  From that point forward, fast food became my friend.  By the time I was fourteen, I was driving myself to Short Stop (a fast-food chain) every night for the same meal: cheeseburger, fries, and Diet Coke.

When I made it to college and had to cook for myself for the first time ever, my roommates just about lost it from laughter when they saw me trying to make a grilled cheese sandwich in the toaster.

You get the picture.  Why am I telling you all of this?  To make this point: we leave our children a food legacy, even when we're not trying to.  On the opposite side of that coin, we have an opportunity to teach our children how to have a proper relationship with food, and, by extension, our own bodies and God as well.  It has to start with us - our habits, our choices, our modeling.

That's why this transition has been so profound in my life.  I've learned a lot (much of which I will share in the coming weeks), and I have much more to learn.  I'm excited about the changes I see in my own being, but I'm most excited about how I am setting my kids up for a lifetime of healthy choices.  I want them to be as healthy and whole as possible so that they can fully serve God wherever He leads them (and any definition of service must include the physical, as well as the mental, emotional, intellectual, spiritual).

So I hope you'll join me over the next several weeks.  I am launching a series entitled Seven Steps to a Healthier Pantry.  Please read, comment, share with your friends, and try out some of the ideas I put forth. 

Like I said, I am relatively new at this.  I can think of a dozen people right off the bat more qualified than I to write about healthy eating/living.  But this series has been on my heart for months now.  It won't go away, so I'm dutifully putting pen to paper, so to speak.  I hope you glean something from it.  I know I will learn from those of you who engage in the dialogue.

Blessings, Jenny

Monday, July 4, 2011

Assumptions

Lately, I've been thinking a lot (and I do mean a LOT) about two things: schooling and eating.  As any of my friends can tell you, I've been obsessing over these topics for months now.  I ask questions like:

Why do we teach our kids what we teach them (with regard to public or private school curriculum, or even homeschooling currciculum, or the university model curriculum - no form of education escapes my questioning)? 

And more school questions:

What do we (my husband and I) value?  In other words, what do we want to pass on to our kids?  (In other words, is it important to us that they can compete in the world they live in and become successful?  If so, what does 'compete' or 'successful' look like?  If that's not important, what is?  What do they need to know - and I am talking head knowledge here - as well as what do they need to experience?  And, what's the best way to give that to them?)

Do I/we believe that it the parents' primary responsibility to educate?  And what does educate mean?  Do we view it traditionally - as in 'schooling' - or do we include things like 'raise up', 'instill values', 'model' in our understanding of education?  Is it more important that they receive the latter than it is for them to receive head knowledge?  Would the process of receiving knowledge in a more traditional setting lead to the same outcome of experiencing and growing in a less traditional way?

How do we form character in our kids that will keep them building their lives on God, with God, and for God, for the rest of their days?

Is preserving our children's innocence a goal?  If so, why?  And for how long?  (I was taught that I needed to toughen up so that I would be able to deal with the big, bad world.  That was valuable - staying innocent and kind was not.  Well, kindness was okay, even expected, as long as I was tough, in control, never let anyone gain power over me.  Kindness was a means to an end and a social norm, not the end goal in and of itself, and it certainly had nothing to do with my true heart towards people or the world, much less what Christ would expect of me.)

Most of the time when I ask my friends the first question - including my many friends that have graduate-level degrees in education - I get blank stares.  Not because they are uninformed or uneducated, but because they've either never questioned why we teach what we teach (being able to teach is what mattered to them because they are passionate about helping kids, God bless them), or because they've gone over this argument so many times that it makes them tired to think of doing it again. 

Then there's always the last reason: they're so saddened and disheartened by the state of schools today that it's overwhelming to think/talk about.  Have you ever noticed how many times you overhear teachers talking about the problems with public schools? 

This past weekend, while listening in on one of those types of conversations, I asked a public school elementary teacher: what would you say to someone to convince them to send their child to a public school?  I feel like people always demand a justification if you want to take your kids out of the mainstream system, so I thought I would turn the argument on its head. 

The response?  Unfortunately, there was some defensiveness and then this: "your problem is you're lumping all schools together."  First off, I didn't know I had a problem.  I was honestly asking a question to become better informed about any good that happens in public schools.  Since I don't have kids at school ages yet, I feel like I don't have good information.  I thought this was an opportunity to go to the source.  Secondly, I truly wasn't and don't lump all schools together.  I can simply look back on my own experience in school to know that it really and truly all depends.  Sometimes, it's the luck of the draw.  So then I ask myself: do I want to gamble with my kids?

This person continued: "You have to look at the school and then the teacher."  I get this response a lot.  The funny thing?  This response does not come close to digging deep to my core questions: is a parent better suited at teaching a child than a teacher?  Does the current school environment - for whatever reason - lack the ability to give our kids the best, or even, good learning experiences?  How should we teach our kids - lecture format, experiential knowledge, field-based studies, etc?  We all seem to agree that babies, toddlers, and preschoolers learn best by doing.  Does that change as we get older?  Aren't we all, fundamentally, created to be explorers? 

I'm not sure where I fall on this spectrum yet.  I want to learn more so that I can make an informed decision for my kids.  A lot of folks - and perhaps some of you - say: "you have to make the best decision for your kid, and that decision might change over time."  If that's you, then please don't take offense at this: I don't know if I agree with that.  When I say "I don't know", I really mean I don't know.  I'm still developing my philosophy.  Right now, I'm leaning towards the following as guiding principles:
  • A theology of preserving innocence.  As parents, I think one of our jobs is to allow our children to be children, and to let them grow up slowly (part or our covering, protective role).  Again, I'm not sure why I think this - which makes me feel shaky.  I need to understand scripturally if this is sound or if I'm just longing for a utopian-like childhood for my kids that I never had.  I have a feeling there is a sound, scriptural reasoning behind this - that it is actually crucial to maintain innocence (just think of how Jesus tells us we must enter the Kingdom...innocently, like a child), but I'm still working it all out.
  • A theology of developing children.  Again, I say I think because I'm really not sure yet...I think that it is God's plan for children to be raised - first - by nuclear families, and then by the extended family and the greater community in ever-widening circles of influence.  If this is so, then I'm not sure why I would turn over influence to someone who is not within my child's natural circle of influence - a circle that will stay with him or her for a lifetime.  And then there's the time component: even if I think public school - theologically - is fine, how do I find the time to be the primary influence on my child if he/she is gone from me forty+ hours/week?  Again, I have no experience here yet, so I simply don't know.
I bring all of this up because I would really, truly like to hear from you about what you think.  Please email me or post in my comments.  I'm currently reading Teach Your Own by John Holt (an 'unschooling' book by one of the fathers of the homeschooling movement).  I plan to read an educational philosophy book by Charlotte Mason and some books about the history and nature of our public school system (recommendations are welcome!).  Like I keep saying, I want to try to make an informed decision for our kids.

With regard to education, I'll leave you with this.  I heard a very interesting piece from Human Media over the weekend about the fact that our founding fathers believed that democracy would fail without an informed, engaged citizenry.  (They also believed that to become engaged you must first be informed.)  When we were founded as a nation we had no mandate for public education - that didn't come nationally until 1918. 

So, my 4th of July question is this: If we assume that part of the reason we have compulsory public education in our country is to maintain democracy, then is our current public education system serving that goal?  Do we have an informed, engaged citizenry?  Could other forms of education meet that goal in a more effective manner? 

I'm going to save the food questions for another day.  I've already rambled on for too long.  Suffice it to say, my brain is full of questions, and this weekend I realized a common theme:

I am in a process of examining fundamental assummptions.

This is exciting for me.  Are there some assumptions you need to examine or question?  Are you already doing it?  I'd love to hear about it!  I find that it's really awesome to see what God will show us when we don't get so set in our ways that we aren't willing to examine and reexamine - our motives, our methods, and goals. 

Linking up with Jen at Soli Deo Gloria this fine Monday evening.  Be sure to stop by her site! 

One last thing, I promise!  I am going to start a 7-part series on Wednesday called 7 Steps to a Healthier Pantry.  Please be sure to come back for it and tell all your friends!