Sunday, April 27, 2008

Junk in the Trunk

One desperate Sunday evening, I wander into the kitchen and scour the pantry for something sweet. I push aside rice, dried beans, a jar of bulk flour, the bin of homemade granola, and last year's can of mandarin oranges that I can't bring myself to eat in case disaster strikes and we need "canned food".

Nothing. No cookies. No candy. Not a oxidized chocolate chip or a honey stick in sight. I keep digging and, suddenly, hit the mother lode. At the bottom of the cereal basket my hand brushes a foreign plastic clam shell. I pull out a container of Lucky's brand chocolate chip cookies. I have no idea where these came from. I didn't buy them. Did I? I haven't shopped at Lucky's in at least a year, more like two. If I did buy these back then, they are remarkably well preserved. I sniff them. They smell fine. Not a crumb is out of place.

I can't resist though. It has become habit. I flip the container over to peer at the ingredients. The main purchased sweets we eat these days are cookies sold at the farmers' market by a local bakery. The bakery's label boasts five ingredients. Lucky's cookies? I stop counting after twenty-two - seventeen of which are recognizable only to someone with an advanced degree in Chemistry. I relocate the cookies to the trash.

A few months ago, I polished off In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan. The book delves into the not-so-tasty world of processed food products. I say "food products" because most of the stuff gracing supermarket shelves these days is not actually food but food wannabe. It is often laden with corn syrup (which wasn't invented until the 1960's) and comprised more of chemicals than real food. Thankfully, Mr. Pollan sets out a number of suggestions for better filling our plates, including two of my favorites:

1) Only eat something your great grandmother would identify as food. Plastic yogurt filled tubes would not be recognized. Neither would squirtable cheese or diet Coke.
2) Avoid products containing ingredients that are (a) unrecognizable, (b) more than five or (c) high fructose corn syrup.
In the past several months, we've abandoned most pre-made goodies in favor of homemade treats comprised of local, organic and fair trade ingredients: rice pudding with honey meringue, meringue cookies and granola bars. Baking from scratch keeps all that junk out of my trunk and, because I'm not using all the plastic wrappers, cartons and bags from store-bought sweets, keeps junk out of the garbage collector's trunk as well.
Indeed, Mr. Pollan agrees that junk food is okay if we make it from scratch . . . and if we don't eat it all the time. I've done very well with the former but have successfully ignored the latter. Unfortunately, it shows. A daily (or twice daily) ration of homemade chocolate pudding or oatmeal chocolate chip cookies is not so good for the junk in my trunk.
To further reduce my carbon bite and the size of, um, my trunk, I've joined Blue Collar Crunch's Diet for Global Hunger challenge. Blue Collar Crunch asks participants to (a) abandon fake food (check), (b) eat real food (check), (c) eat lower on the food chain (check, I'm a vegetarian), (d) determine our recommended daily caloric intake (er, check), (e) lower our daily caloric intake if we're carrying excess weight (um, er, yeah, I'll work on this), and (f) take daily action to raise awareness about the food crisis (no problem, check). Mr. Pollan would surely approve.


Heather said...

I'm so glad I'm not alone. I've been eating a local foods diet for a little over 6 months now. But I gave myself a bit of a break on the strictness: I could buy things at the grocery, but they had to be whole foods (cooking oil, salt, pepper, flour, sugar, etc) so that whatever else I ate had to be from scratch. Homemade cookies and cake are delicious and I've put on an unwanted pound or two in the process. Oops.

Food shortages around the world have made me feel awful about how much abundance we have. Here I am pigging out on sweets and so many don't have bread. Definitely time to start being more mindful of quantity in addition to quality.

Thanks for the reminder!

Verde said...

Great post!
I know next to most people I associate with, we eat simply.

That's why I'm hanging out around blogs like this. My family has a long way to go and it's good to have company on the journey

badhuman said...

Thanks for the post. After having eaten like...well, an American for almost 30 years, I almost feel like I need a support group or something. Eating locally was harder to start than I thought it would be, but we're doing well so far. Making just about everything we eat from scratch has been easier, and more enjoyable than I thought it would be, though.
Thanks for the mind-set/ frame of reference gut-check.

Jenna said...

Good luck on the challenge. I've linked your blog to my own, let me know if that isn't kosher and I'll yank it down.

arduous said...

If you don't want to eat them anymore feel free to send those oatmeal chocolate chip cookies my way!

Green Bean said...

Heather: On one hand, we do eat so much simpler and I think most mainstream people would wonder why I feel the need to change. On the other hand, food is the only area in my life that I feel I have not successfully cut the cords. I used to be a shopaholic but could care less about that now. I can't for the life of me cut the sweets habit but it seems so wrong knowing that, even though fair trade and organic have a smaller footprint, it still has to be shipped all from around the world, takes up alot of energy in growth and takes up space that could be used to grow food that people need to actually live, not just pig out on.

Verde: I hear ya girl. See my comment above.

Badhuman: It is more enjoyable, more meaningful, isn't it? Cooking from scratch. It tastes better too - which isn't always good as it is sometimes more tempting to eat more. Good luck with the local food thing. I think it is like my bike riding - you'll have some bumps in the road, feel uncomfortable here and there and gradually before you know it you'll find sources for things and you'll be a total local yokel.

Jenna: I love links to my blog. :) Totally kosher - uh oh, another food reference. I'm feeling hungry which leads me to . . .

Arduous: The challenge doesn't start until May. I feel confident that I can consume the remaining oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (dang, they are good, I should post the recipe) before May starts. Sorry, charlie!

arduous said...

Yes, PLEASE post the recipe!! I have all this homemade butter just waiting to be used up! Plus I lost three pounds during ApPTMo, so I totally DESERVE cookies, right?!

eco 'burban mom said...

I too joined Blue Collar's challenge. Now, getting my 4 baseball-playing, track-running, basketball-hooping boys to understand that smurf-blue gatorade really does NOT exist in nature will another challenge! However, over the last few months I have been cutting back on one or two items each week. There was pandemonium during the "no more lucky charms week" from the 4 yr. old but all of a sudden everyone is adapting to an oreo-less pantry. Now I just have to start replacing those processed goodies with the homemade kind. Too bad for my kids I am not the best cook in town! If we can cut back on putting junk in our bodies and become a little more mindful of the food crisis, it's really a win-win situation!

Going Crunchy said...

Ooh...excellent post!

I'm evil with P.M.S. All I want is Moose Tracks Ice Cream. It's terrible that there is nothing junk in my house anymore for the most part.

Funny thing, now that we're so off anything junk- - -I so how I feel really crappy when I may eat it. I get a sickly feeling. Shannon

kendra said...

Oh, I have spent many days lately scouring the back of the cupboards looking for a little stash of chocolate without any luck. But each day I keep looking as though some will appear.

I just finished Michael's book too and has definately changed my food spending habits even more than before. I will have to check out that challenge. It's totally something I'd be into, but the calorie counting seems like it might take some work. How do you do that if you are eating whole foods, rather than just being able to copy them off the back of a package of processed food?

Green Bean said...

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (WARNING: Do not make if you are joining BCC's challenge this month - these are extremely delicious and a hint of healthy with the oatmeal)

1 cup butter (room temp)
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 cups quick cooked oats
1 1/2 cups flour
chocolate chips

Cream butter, sugar and eggs. Add remaining ingredients. Cook on 350 for 13-15 minutes.

*Make with homemade butter, pastured local eggs, fair trade organic sugar, fair trade vanilla, fair trade, organic bulk chocolate chips, organic bulk oatmeal and organic bulk flour to lessen your guilt (but unfortunately not the calories).

Green Bean said...

Eco Burbs: People often ask if my kids freaked out when we changed the way we eat. We did it very much like you - a little bit at a time. Pretty soon they don't even notice or remember what it was like before. As to the cooking, I wasn't either but with practice I improve and now find that I can cook most anything. Try the cookie recipe I posted - DELICIOUS!

Shannon: I do have a weakness for Moose Tracks but you are right, your body feels different when you aren't eating all that crap.

Kendra: Yes, the calorie counting does sound like work so, shh, I'm not actually going to do it. I'm going to try to cut back on snacking and limit it to fruits and vegetables. And also eat just one (pathetic, I know) dessert a day.

eco 'burban mom said...

Thanks much for the cookie recipe, that sounds like something I can tackle. was like fate. My (almost) 4 year old was crying that we had no cookies for snack after school! And, regardless of blue collar's challenge, I still need to make cookies (tho switching to homemade, fair trade and organic cookies!) to feed all those kids!

However, my older 3 boys (middle school - UGH!) are a challenge. How do you get your children to change their habits when away from home? I give them lunch money - they buy nachos with glowing orange oil-cheese. They have been great at home, learning to live with whole wheat bread, organic ketchup and the like. When set loose to go the market on the corner - Faygo pop and candy bars it is! I don't mind once in awhile, everything in moderation, right? But how do you get them to make better choices at least once in a great while? This WILL be a challenge all right!

Green Bean said...

Eco Burbs: I can't resist answering your post before we head out. YES! Everything in moderation - especially with the kids. I believe that we can teach them values, live in accordance with our ideals but, heck, we are human and we are Americans. We were born and raised and live in this culture. To keep our kids into the simple living, eco thing, needs to be fun and not just eco-freak. We took our kids to a major league baseball game and are debating a less eco-happy vacation this summer. We and they cannot be completely out of touch with the society we live in if we want to effect changes.

Bake the cookies. Enjoy them. Yes, I need to eat less because I've been a little piggie but I will still make treats for my kids and still feel good about it because they are made with local, non processed ingredients and don't come in a big old plastic wrapper.

My kids are young - 3 and 5 - so I can't give you advice for your older boys. I'd say that know that you've raised them well, you are teaching them to eat healthier and that they will end up in a good place. That is the best we can do.

I'd recommend LIVING SIMPLY WITH CHILDREN by Marie Sherlock. I read it a year ago but it had a lot of great ideas for children of all ages and a simpler, more meaningful life.

Oh, and make the cookies - or some other homemade dessert (homemade chocolate pudding ROCKS) and trust that it will win out over flourescent nacho cheese sauce any day of the week.

Good luck.

ChefSara said...

I'm reading Pollan's book now. Though I guess we were sort of on the right track even before...signing up for a CSA an getting rid of high fructose corn syrup in the products we buy. I feel proud of myself that most of the dinners I make are food (like last night's fritata made with farm fresh eggs, CSA spinach and green onions, and green peppers, with sliced plums on the side). I've started to evaluate what I eat, asking before I eat it, "Is this food?" I figure it will only make us healthier, and will help us set a good example for our children.

ChefSara said...

sorry for two posts in a row...but I've had lots of success portioning out cookie dough and freezing it before baking. Once frozen, you can throw the little balls of dough in a zip lock bag in the freezer and bake just a few each day. I might help keep you from over-indulging :-)

ruralaspirations said...

I would kill for your homemade granola bars recipe. My kids recently discovered these but when I read the ingredients list at the supermarket I just couldn't bring myself to buy them.

We keep no sweets or junk food in the house at all because I will devour it all and I am trying to lose weight! Still I manage to find a way to hide a bag of Wine Gums from the kids...just doing my best to protect them, ya know?

eco 'burban mom said...

Thanks, GB. That makes me feel a little better to know that someone much greener than I believes it is wise to allow the kiddies a treat. Even if it might glow when the lights are turned out! :-)

I am making the cookies this weekend, I am sure they will be wonderful. My youngest (they are so easy when they are little!) will enjoy making them, watching them bake, eating them and sharing the extras with neighbors. My older ones will run through the kitchen, grab a handful on the way out the door with a "tks ma"... muttered under their breath. Don't get me wrong, they are good boys with great grades, spectacular behavior and even have been working with me at the baseball fields doing all the recycling work. They are just at an age where being like everyone else is SO IMPORTANT. If everyone is buying orange oil-cheese, chances are they are too! This eating local challenge will test them to their limits, but I think the discussions we will have about where exactly our eggs came from, where the jelly was made and who baked our bread might just give us some real dinner time coversation!

Hope your vacation was spectacular! And, with regards to your possibly "less eco-friendly" vacation - I say do it. We went to Disney in Feb. with all 4 boys and it was the most un-eco-friendly place (busses belching smog everywhere you look and nary an organic item to be found at the restaurant!) but we made memories that will last forever!

Green Bean said...

chefsara: Thanks for the cookie dough tip. I was on that track too but you are right. Pollan's "rules" make it a bit easier to navigate, to stay on track.

ri: Nice to meet someone else with as much will power as me - though you do have the wine gums. I guess it's your desire to save your kids that helps out there. ;-) I'm going to make granola bars tomorrow or Monday so I'll post the recipe with a photo then.

eco burbs: You caught me on the locale of our next vacation. I'll post on that later. And thanks for a glimpse into my future with my boys. ;-) I do think that living lighter has to be fun for kids, spouses and, heck, ourselves! I truly believe that it is not about wearing ugly clothes, living a drab life but finding a better, happier way. If that way means that the kids have the occasional treat, fine! But they'll keep coming back to mom for homemade junk food and, more importantly, we'll hopefully instill our values in our children. We'll have a better shot of that if we enjoy our lives and they enjoy theirs. Good luck!

eco 'burban mom said...

Just a quick note - I tried the Oatmeal Choc Chip recipe and it's a slam dunk / home run / goal - whatever sport my boys are playing of the moment. One thing - that recipe makes a big 'ol batch of cookies! Perfect for my family and a couple of lucky neighbors. My boys can put a hurtin' on some cookies!! And, I did manage to keep to my local challenge - every ingredient was organic, bulk and / or fair trade. I am looking forward to the granola bar recipe!

Green Bean said...

Awesome, eco burbs! I'm so glad - I was wondering if your boys would go for it. Glad they did.


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