I’ve run out of my B-complex vitamins and I only realized how much of a difference they made when I drank two diet cokes in two and a half days. I haven’t finished a Diet Coke in probably over a year and yet this weekend, I found myself really craving it. I indulged the craving on Friday at work and promptly felt guilty about it.
Also during the day at work on Friday, I got into discussion with my coworkers about factory farming, eating meat versus not eating meat, and all of the ills of the world that food production can cause. There are countless issues related to the environment, our health, social justice, animal rights, and politics that accompany every bite we take. Organic or not organic? Local or from a developing country? Can I afford to pay more for fair trade? Should I buy this product in the biodegradable packaging even though it’s twice as expensive? Should I made all of my condiments from scratch to avoid throwing bottles away? Who picked this tomato? How is the runoff filled with animal manure and antibiotics going to affect my community? Why are hundreds people getting sick from unsafe food?
At every meal, there are so many factors to consider – and I find myself struggling to keep up. I work in the sustainable food world, and every day is a barrage of information. Every day I read about another way to save a little bit more energy or get a little bit more out of leftovers. I read horror stories about the way people in the fields are treated. I read about small farmers that are working to combat the factory farm and I read about animal treatment activists who say it isn’t enough.
The question is, how do we choose? How do we prioritize? I don’t have a good answer for that but my attempt would be “do what you can.” Buy Fair Trade when you can, cook from scratch when you can, eat organically as much as possible, buy humanely raised meat when it’s an option. I do the best I can, and I know it’s pretty good. This weekend I made the following things from scratch:
- Two almond butters
- Almond milk
- Pumpkin butter
- Vegetable stock
- Bread crumbs
- Pickled carrots
- Two batches of bread dough
- Two soups
And then each meal we ate over the weekend.
Instead of feeling good about all of that (I avoided packaging, I was able to control my ingredients – most of which were fair trade and organic and I was able to support local businesses), I was beating myself up over the Diet Coke I had on Friday and the second one I had today because Diet Coke is a product so far from homemade and natural it’s laughable. But what can I say? I like the taste. I also bought a can of beans instead of making them from scratch (which I have found to be so much fresher and more economical). I had a soup that I wanted to get done today, and I didn’t have time to soak and cook the beans.
My point is not to brag about all the stuff I did over the weekend, but rather to illustrate how we all tend to focus on our perceived failures rather than our successes. Oftentimes, I think this vast landscape of issues is what keeps people from taking steps toward sustainability. The outlook is paralyzing; there are too many choices and too many entities saying which one is right. Whether it’s the diet debate or organic versus local, everyone has an opinion. All of the issues are real and important, and they need the support of the average consumer, but trying to focus on all of them at once is draining and counter productive.
It helps to start with baby steps. When Alex and I first started eating healthier, I just focused on getting home cooked meals on the table that didn’t come out of hermetically sealed package at Trader Joe’s (love those Indian packs!). Slowly, I started buying more organic produce – because it was fresher, tasted better, and I felt it was healthier for us and the planet. From there, I’ve gone on to learn more about social and animal justice issues, food politics, agriculture practices and more. I’ve taken each piece one at time until it becomes a habit to make different choices. Paying eight dollars for a dozen eggs used to seem horrifying – now paying seventy nine cents seems unbelievable.
But there is a flip side. I am thrilled I was able to accomplish all of that this weekend, and it’s all mighty delicious. But I’m exhausted and Alex has done at least two weeks worth of dishes in last two days. I probably could have just purchased the ketchup from a bottle. The pickled carrots were unnecessary. I didn’t even end up needing the apple sauce and I knocked the vegetable stock out of the fridge and all over the floor, only managing to salvage about a half a cup. Just because something CAN be made from scratch, doesn’t mean it HAS to be.
In my opinion, being informed about your food choices is the most important thing – and then you can prioritize what works for you. Food is (obviously) really important to me, so I made it a priority to do all of this. But writing is also really important, and I’m supposed to hit 50,000 words by the end of the month (umm..yeah…about that…) and because I was cooking so much, I had far less time to write. Now you can psychoanalyze that all you want, but my point is that sometimes, my guilt pushes me to do too much, and it’s important to recognize limits. I’ll never save the world if I’m not respecting my own time and energy levels.
This post got a little squirrely, but my point is that we should all focus on doing the best we can and NOT feeling guilty about the fact that we can’t do it all. To others out there who might struggle with food guilt – whether it’s about making healthy choices or which products to purchase – focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t and feel proud that you are even aware that these issues are out there. Knowledge is power!
Thankfully, I had the time and resources to get all of that domes this weekend, but I think I’ll be focusing on some simpler things for awhile. I had a great weekend (recap to come) and spent a ton of time with Alex and doing what I love to do – cook and create meals for someone I love.