Thursday, March 8, 2012

Welcome Back...about feakin' time

It's been a while. Like, months. As with so many other things in my life, my commitment has waned. Both in writing this blog, but also in the eating disciplines I was so actively pursuing. It's so easy to get sidetracked. The reason I'm back, if I'm honest, is because I underestimated the level of accountability writing this blog offered me. When I was writing regularly about the virtues of eating healthy, natural foods...i found it much more difficult to down a large order of onion rings for lunch (like I did today). I may be a hypocrite, but even I have my limits. Some things remain true. When I eat poorly, I feel like crap. When I feel like crap, I'm not that much fun to be around. When I'm not that much fun to be around, I go into a bit of isolation. When I'm in isolation, I eat like crap...and we're off.

Another thing I've learned (or rather, been reminded of) is that eating out is not helpful. I love to eat out. I love the social aspect of it. Truthfully, I would probably have just as much fun I was just sipping a Coke  (I know, I know...processed food alert. Right now, I'm seriously over it) while everyone else was eating. When you eat out, you eat more food and you eat less-healthy food. There are multiple studies to back this up, as well as my own experiences over the last two months. Bring a lunch, bonehead (me...not you).

When I began this blog a few months back, I promised to be honest when I ate a burger or pizza or whatever. Neither you or I have time for that right now, because the list is long. It's not that I've abandoned eating healthy...the gray areas have just gotten a lot bigger. I want that to change.
I was feeling the burden to wrench myself back on track so much that I began fasting this week. Often times I find that the discipline of fasting brings me much nearer to the heart of God, and that, in turn, has a positive impact on my behavior. So, I thought fasting would be helpful to try and restore some sense of balance and health. I quit a day-and-a-half into it. I've been feeling the burn of failure a lot lately.

So, my friends, please forgive me. I lied and cheated. And I hid...I think I've been avoiding this blog because I wanted to get it all back together again before I resurfaced in this arena. I was done in by the onion rings. Today, things change.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Routine



I’ve been out of it for a bit. It’s been at least half on purpose. Maybe a third...
Anyway, I’m convinced that there is nothing better than the holiday season to spoil routine. It’s like the whole country just takes two weeks off from normal. I went into this season with some purposeful intentions. The first was to indulge a little. In my experience any discipline that lacks freedom can quickly do two things...become very legalistic (and judgemental) and fail. I wanted to avoid that, so I allowed some freedom, knowing that few of the parties and shin-digs that I would attend would allow me to eat the way I’ve been trying to eat. The second intention was to be smart and not go crazy. Freedom is one thing...but I feared that should I just go nuts and start eating all of the stuff in front of me in large quantities (which, make no mistake, is exactly what I wanted to do) it would potentially derail me to a place I couldn’t recover from.

I’m happy to report that, by-and-large, it was a success. I managed to avoid most (though not all) of the pizza and cookies and chocolate and (insert here) that was offered. I tired to limit my indulgences to things that were as unprocessed as possible (lots of cheese, bacon, homemade breads, etc.) and as often as I could, I brought some of my ‘weird’ food to the party to share. There weren’t a lot of takers...

So...because I am a glutton for punishment (and, let’s face it, a glutton in general)...I am now preparing to depart on a cruise with my family. If you’re not familier with cruises, food is sort of one of the main events. I’m going into this with the same attitude I went into Christmas time with. Eat and enjoy...but don’t be stupid. As I enjoyed some indulgences over the holidays, I noticed a distinct regression in how I felt, physically. This was encouraging to my original goal of this project, which was to see if I would feel better (in any or all areas of my being) by eating in a way more consistent to how I was designed. It appears that I am, in fact, feeling better. On days or nights when I strayed, I slept much worse, had much less energy and was generally grumpier. All good reasons to stay on course...So again, the cruise. The goal is to eat healthy whole foods for breakfast and lunch (I’m sure there will be a few exceptions) and enjoy the culinary delights of dinner with a bit more gusto. I don’t know how it will go...but I’ll let you know. This should be the last break in routine for a while, so upon my return I will be writing much more regular updates.
Happy January!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Carnivore



Vegetarians are weird. Vegans are even worse. All those earthy tones they wear with their socially active bumper stickers. Hippies. People weren’t meant to eat like that. My daughter would prefer to not eat meat...she could subsist on noodles alone. But because we’re teaching her that it’s sinful to not eat meat, we withhold things like cookies and love if she doesn’t eat her steak. We’re gonna learn her good. My son is different. He’s a good carnivore through and through. A steak and potatoes boy with shovels for hands. Seriously...you should watch this kid put it away. It’s amazing. I have lived my entire life subscribing to the belief that meat is a necessary, desirable and sizable part of my diet. After all...why did God create cows if He didn’t want us to cram them shoulder-to-shoulder in a feedlot while they wait to be shot in the head, skinned and have their muscles shredded and chopped into small pieces. Right?

I heard this week that in the 1960’s, the average American family ate meat (of any kind...beef, fish, poultry...whatever) twice a week. Two times. Out of every 21 meals. Most Americans today eat it about twice a day. Meat used to be expensive. When cattle and chickens were raised in pastures on grass, eating the way that they were biologically designed to eat, it was expensive to produce meat. It took a lot more space to raise the animals, and they were a lot leaner (smaller) when it came time to slaughter them. This resulted in significantly higher prices for meat, so it was reserved for Sunday dinners and other special occasions. When the food revolution began, some smart person somewhere realized that we could force these animals to eat a corn diet if we pumped them full of antibiotics to offset their digestive system’s natural rebellion. Corn was a lot cheaper than grass and clover. Then we learned that if we actually cram thousands of these animals into one small place, the feeding and growing became a lot more efficient and required much less space. All this continued making it cheap to produce meat. Finally, we figured out that by genetically engineering different species and using growth hormones, we could get a lot more meat off of each animal, driving costs down even more. And that, more or less, is how we came to eat meat twice a day.

I’m not even going to discuss the ethical implications for how we’re treating these animals raised for meat (though I think there are a lot of them). Nevermind...yes I am. That’s messed up. Watch any one of the dozen or so documentaries out there on our food system, and you’ll get to see how these animals are raised and it will make you want to slap a greenpeace sticker on your car and become a vegetarian. In addition to the stress and torment that these animals are subjected to, there are health implications too.  For example, a feedlot raised steak has about 9g of saturated fat while a pasture raised, grass fed and finished steak has less than 2. The protein content is higher in the grass steak too, as are several other vitamins and nutrients. And it tastes better (subjective, I know).

I have a friend who is from Kenya and we talk about food a lot. Incidentally, I have never seen any human being go after any type of food with the ferocity that he goes after my wife’s lasagna. Like a dog on a bone. He was telling me the other day that when they have feasts and celebrations (birthdays, holidays, etc.) they will sometimes slaughter a chicken or a goat. It’s a special occasion when meat is on the menu. For something really special, like a wedding, sometimes families that can afford it will slaughter a cow for the feast, but it is a rarity. I couldn’t relate.

Here’s the upshot...if animals were raised the way that they were designed to be raised, the meat produced would be healthier and significantly more expensive. The increased cost would drive our culture back to eating meat a few times a week instead of virtually every day. We would all be better for it, as would the animals.

We’re having company over for dinner tonight. My wife wanted to make chicken. We decided to get locally raised, free-range chicken breasts. It cost us $16. That same amount of chicken at Meijer would have cost about $5. This last fall, we got our hands on a chest freezer and bought 1/4 cow (about 90 lbs of meat) from a local farmer who raises his small herd of cows on grass. We now have all the beef we’ll need for the next 6 months (FYI...if you’re able to do it this way and buy in bulk, getting the good stuff doesn’t cost any more than buying it at the store). I recognize that these are small steps, but I like the direction that we’re headed. It feels right that meat is costly. After all, some living thing had to give up it’s life for my dinner. That shouldn’t come cheap.

Off to apologize to all my vegetarian friends...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

All I Want for Christmas is a Soapbox...


As I’m reading this post before it goes up...I realize that it sounds a lot more depressing than I actually feel...so, read at your own risk.

It's Christmas time. This past week I have been experiencing much of comes with Christmas in our culture, and it's highlighted a few things in my innards. Indulgence is sort of the name of the game at Christmas time. And I'm certain that I am one of the worst offenders. From our spending to our time to, yes, even our eating...Christmas seems to bring out (or at least point out) a fair amount of selfishness in me. Let me start here...

Last Friday night, we had a staff Christmas party for all of the members of the staff at the church that I work at. It was great fun. We have chemistry that is uncommon in any workplace setting that I've ever encountered (church or otherwise). We have a great time with each other. Part of any good Christmas party is the food. This was no exception. We got food from one of my favorite restaurants in the area. It was AMAZING! It was the most delicious holiday party I've ever been a part of. I went into it knowing that eating more food than necessary was inevitable. It was sort of an unspoken agreement between me and my body...it was a special occasion, so we all (my body, mind, etc.) just looked the other way, knowing that it was an exception and not the rule (hopefully). Here's what I can tell you about all that.

First, I loved every minute of it. my taste buds were doing a happy dance, and my body rejoiced at the overabundance of caloric consumption. It added to the festive mood of the occasion, and I believe that we all had more fun than we would have if we would have eaten more responsibly. That points to the fact that food was created to bring joy in addition to sustaining life. Feasts are a common occurrence throughout history... celebrations always have a component of food. The problem comes when we have celebrations every day, which is basically how Americans eat now. I don’t think I have ever, in my entire life, not had access to a feast. The danger in that is two-fold. First, we all eat too much food and get unhealthy and begin using food for things it was never intended for (filling emotional needs, reducing boredom, etc.). Secondly, and every bit as insidious, it reduces that spectacular and celebratory nature of the real feasts when we have them. The impact of food on our celebrations is negated because it’s nothing out of the ordinary for us

The second thing I learned is that indulgence doesn’t feel good. I knew this, but it’s good to be reminded. I physically felt worse than I have in a month, I slept horribly, and I had very little energy for about 24 hours post-feast. Indulgence doesn’t feel good. Which leads me to Christmas. Is there a more indulgent holiday in our culture. We’re talking about a day whose official ramp-up begins with a day dedicated to excessive spending and impulse buys (black Friday)...I was there. I saw the carnage first hand. Never am I more aware of all of the things that I need but don’t have then I am at Christmas time. Never is my sense of personal discontent higher. That’s wrong. Somewhere along the line, Christmas has become about indulgence, and it goes far beyond food.

There is a restlessness in my soul today about my own indulgences. I don’t know what will come of it or what I’m supposed to do, but to this point, I am missing the mark when it comes to peace on earth, goodwill toward men. Food is only the beginning of what is broken in me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Baby Steps


I’ve said before that I think one of the dangers in a major lifestyle change (particularly one involving something as basic as food) is that it’s easy to bite off more than you can chew...so-to-speak. Sustainable change comes in small increments. If you try to do too much at once, you’re almost certainly dooming yourself to failure. It was during a conversation like this with some friends that they asked me to recommend some steps to take. Steps that have been helpful to me over the last two years as I’ve gradually made whatever progression I’ve made. Let me again offer my disclaimer that I would not presume to tell anyone what to do or how to live when it comes to food. I am only sharing what I’ve found to be helpful for me, and I am still learning a lot every day. If you feel like taking some next steps in your own life, maybe these will be helpful.

Step One: Watch the movie “Food Inc.” It’s a fairly entertaining, clever documentary on the food system in America. It’s as unbiased as I think it’s possible to be, but it provides a pretty good luck at where we’ve come from and where we’re going. It’s a good starting point.

Step Two: Stop eating fast food. Honestly, if you do step one, this probably won’t be that tough. I know that it’s not always possible or practical...but as much as possible, pass on the fast food. We’ll all be better for it.

Step Three: Plant a garden. It doesn’t need to be big. It could be in containers on your porch or patio...but plant a garden. Something that you can harvest at some point to eat. This was really helpful in my understanding where food really comes from and how it’s really produced. I also found it to be a great learning tool for my kids, who now know that tomatoes don’t come from Meijer. Plus...the difference in taste will knock your socks off.

Step Four: Change you eggs. The system required to produce eggs for $.79 a dozen is pretty scary. There is a decent article about it here: 

For most families who go through somewhere around a dozen eggs a week, the financial cost in switching to organic cage-free eggs is somewhere around $4 a week. Even less if you find a local farmer to buy your eggs from

Step Five: Bake bread. There seems to be a mis-perception that bread-baking is too difficult and/or time consuming. Both untrue. This is a great way to begin to produce your own food at home, having full control of everything that is going into it. It’s much better for you (particularly if you choose to use whole grains) and it tastes WAY better. Here’s a great book to get started:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0312362919?ie=UTF8&tag=arbrinfimiada-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0312362919

Step Six: Spend more time (and money) at your farmer’s market. I used to go the farmers market because it was fun in the same way that going to a fair or a carnival was fun. It’s a large gathering and it’s a trendy place to hang out. Once in a while we would buy some of our stuff there, but I didn’t really buy in. The truth is that buying your seasonal produce from a local producer does more than give you better broccoli and tastier tomatoes. It supports the local growers who have made it a point to opt-out of the mass produced food system. It also saves tons of fuel that is needed to ship produce from California, Mexico and wherever else it’s coming from. Every dollar that you can give to a local grower instead of the grocery store is an investment in the future of the sustainable food movement. Even better look into a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with one of the local farms. This is a system where you pay a fee for a share of the farm and every week you get a box of all the different things that are currently being grown at that farm. It’s a great deal.

Step Seven: Analyze. By this point, you’ll be getting a pretty good idea of works for you and what doesn’t and what you’re led and compelled to do. Analyze your food choices. Are there things you’re buying on a regular basis that you can get in a better way by buying local or organic. How much processed food is going through your household? Are there places where that can be trimmed? This is where the lifestyle really takes shape, because you begin deciding what’s important and what’s not in a way that tends to last.

What other steps would you ad?
Good luck...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Truth...?


A friend of mine sent me this picture of my blog that he created with a tag cloud generator. I felt pretty happy about it because, for the most part, it seems to indicate that I’ve been talking about the things that I think are important (the bigger the word, the more often it’s been mentioned in the blog).

I had a spirited discussion this morning with some friends (some would have seen it as an argument, but only those who haven’t been around us enough to know that heightened intensity levels are kind of normal for us). The topic on the table was, essentially, is this new philosophy on food true...as a matter of fact and beyond my simple opinion...is it true. Is it factually accurate that living this way and eating this way (healthy and sustainable) is better than the alternative. Is it incontrovertible that unimpeded participation in the American food system is bad. And beyond all of this, is it really what God desires of us, or is it a disputable matter.

While the answers aren’t easy, I continue to believe that the answers to all of those questions is yes. It is better to live this way, the food system is bad and I believe that this is what God desires of us...particularly those of us who have been given the knowledge to make informed choices. That is to say that there are loads of people who have no paradigm for anything different than what they’ve been living for their entire lives. It can’t be held against them, then, that they are unaware of the implications of their involvement. They are also unaware of alternatives. But for those who have access to the knowledge, I believe the answers are clear. That doesn’t make it easy.

As people have been asking me about this shift in lifestyle (and again let me remind you that I am far from a poster-boy for the sustainable food movement...I’m still working it all out and fail regularly) I find the one’s that seem to have the greatest problem with it are the ones that feel deep conflict about it inside of them. In other words, they know that there is some truth to the idea, but it’s a tough pill to swallow. Again, I’ve been there. All 260 lbs of me. The reality is the system isn’t working for people. The health of the country is degrading rapidly. This, I believe, is what happens anytime the Lord begins to ask for difficult, sacrificial change in people’s lives. The first reaction is often defensiveness because we know what’s coming (that at least has been my reaction). The second is often helpless confusion because we don’t know where to start. Welcome to my world.

At the beginning of this project, in my very first blog, I promised not to judge. It is not for me to tell people how to live or what habits they need to change. The only responsibility I have is to live as I feel led to live and let that speak for itself. When this causes people to ask questions (which has happened a lot lately), I have an opportunity to share some of the knowledge that I am gaining in this most recent season of my life. If that knowledge or the weight of the decisions I make stirs something up inside of people then I feel like there is something far greater going on...and that doesn’t suck.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Two Weeks


Well here we are nearing the end of week two, and I can tell you two things with certainty. The first is that my excitement is waning. While I haven’t had any fast-food burgers or pizza in the last couple of weeks, I am missing some of the ease and variety that was readily available in my previous culinary life. The second thing I’m sure of is that this is making me better. I’m feeling better (a 24 hour flu bug notwithstanding), sleeping better and am in a generally sunnier disposition. Plus, my wife is brining an organic chicken for dinner tonight, so I pretty excited about that.

While it is beginning to feel a bit monotonous, I am choosing to believe that if I keep pushing through, the fruit will come. It could be that I’ve been conditioned to think that food must be exciting and filled with variety, when in fact it was only intended to be a means for survival on the most basic level. I’ve been living to eat instead of eating to live. It requires much more energy in every conceivable way to eat this way, from planning to shopping to cooking. I’m still committed, but I can tell that to sustain this for the long haul, I’m going to need some help...not sure what form that will take yet.

Indulgent living is living in opposition to God. Therefore it would seem that sacrificial living would be living in alignment with God. One of the things I’ve been reflecting on recently is the idea of sacrificial living. If I’m honest, I’m not really sacrificing anything with my food choices. I’m still eating very well. In fact, financially, I’m spending more on food not then I did before because it costs so much more in America to eat sustainably. So even the fact that I am able to engage in this lifestyle is an indication of my affluence.
So what am I sacrificing? Where in my life is that showing up and where should it be showing up more. I find there is an inherent sense of Godly responsibility that is cultivated and encouraged by the food choices I’m making. Everything is connected to everything, and so by eating (more) sustainably, I am forced to look at the sustainability in other areas of life, from driving to shopping to the amount of waste our household produces. It’s a never ending balancing act. I wonder what other sorts of changes this is going to require...