Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Bulimic's Rules for Organics

Lately it seems that everywhere you turn, someone is telling you the dangers of not eating organic or of eating genetically modified food.

I am just as pissed off as anyone about the Monsanto Protection Act.  May 25 is marked in red on my calendar and the girls and I will be joining some friends at a local March Against Monsanto.

 I have an eating disorder.  Food has been a really big thing to me since I was 12.  I have had "rules" for food for close to 30 years.  I have "good foods"--vegetables, whole grains, lowfat dairy, beans, eggs and "bad foods" anything fried or high fat or containing refined sugar or simple carbs.  I have learned over the years that thinking comes and goes..."eggs are bad for you" and then they find "Eggs are good for you" or "eat more grains and less meat" and then "More meat, less grains!"....  I have learned that the best approach, for me, is to keep everything in moderation and not listen to any trend but to listen to my body--I know I feel better when I eat more vegetables, grains and beans and I feel sluggish when I eat meat or high fat foods.

When I was 12, 13, 14, I was looking for a way to control my food intake.  I wanted a prescribed diet, something where I could feel ok about eating more than iceberg lettuce and diet chocolate soda.  I read Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe and everything by Adelle Davis.  I drove my family crazy cooking things like Lion Balls and refusing to eat anything that had BHT in it or anything that had been chemically treated or anything that was not from the health food store.

Photo credit

 Frances Moore Lappe and Adelle Davis were the pioneers in raising awareness about carcinogens in our food, air and water.  They advocated strict adherence to eating farm-fresh eggs, free-range chickens, untreated produce and complete proteins.  They wrote of the problems with the American diet in the 1980s, all of the processed foods and refined sugars.  They prescribed an untreated vegetable and grain based diet.
Photo credit

When Jason was in college in the early-mid 1990s, he took classes and worked in a lab that was playing around with plant genetics.  Although he thought genetic modification had its place for plants we don't eat in terms of disease resistance, he felt it was tampering too much with plants we used for food.

Before we got married, Jason and I made a conscious decision to eat organic.  We lived in Princeton, which tends to always be a little more advanced in environmental issues.  We understood simple economics and realized that the more people that bought organic, the prices would come down.  And they really have over the years.  Really.  Seriously.  No joke.  I remember paying $6.99 a pound for organic produce and today I hardly see anything that expensive anymore.

When we moved to rural Connecticut in 1996, we couldn't find organic produce.  Not at Big Y or Stop n Shop or the IGA.  I am sure they all have it now, but 17 years ago, none of them carried it.  There was a health foods store about an hour away, but their organic produce selection was paltry. I had several anxiety attacks.  I'd left my parents, my home, my friends (I was only two hours away, but still...to me it was a big deal) and I couldn't even get organic produce.  I felt like every non-organic piece of fruit I ate was starting little tiny malignant tumors in my body.  I felt like every salad was a binge.  it was a bad time.  But my husband had made a commitment to this job and I had to grow up and deal and reconcile myself to not having organic produce available.  I had to get myself to a place where I was okay with eating non-organic.

Over the years, having kids, deciding to be a stay at home mom, different life challenges and choices, trying to have a healthy relationship with food, I have had to come up with a plan of how to address the organic-GMO debate.

I am sure there are a lot of people who are so strongly passionate and that they will disagree with the way we make food choices, but here it is:
  • if it is less than $1 to $1 more per pound to buy organic, I definitely buy organic.  No brainer.
  • if it is $1-$2 more per pound, I will buy organic if it's on the Dirty Dozen Plus list
  • if it's $3 or more per pound, it depends on how much I need and what else I need to buy, what my budget is for the week
  • I have started to ONLY buy certified organic corn
  • We don't get a lot of sun in our yard, but we do grow enough organic greenst o feed our family all summer and during the year, my Costco membership allows me to buy organic greens at a good price.
  • I usually buy organic milk.  My husband grew up drinking milk all day, non-stop, the way I drink water.  He can go through a gallon and a half a day.  Costco sells a gallon and half of organic milk for $10, I can't always afford $70+ a week for milk; Jason's concession is to have the girls drink organic while he drinks non-organic, although he has recently decided to start drinking more water and less milk (My friends always ask why our fridge looks like a dairy case!)
  • I NEVER, EVER buy vegetables or fruit grown in another country where they have different regulations (I haven't since the 1980s, after learning about it through the Farm Aid concerts--thanks, John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson!)
Photo credit
I learned from Frances Moore Lappe and Adelle Davis all those years ago, before organic produce was sold in the supermarket and GMO was a household word, that eating VEGETABLES reduces your risk of cancer.  Even non-organic vegetables.

My husband works in the plant science industry and when I get a little crazy about this stuff, he quotes all kinds of facts and figures -- the pesticides used today in the US are so much less and so much safer than what was used 20 or 30 years ago.  (other countries are still using DDT and other really bad things, so try to avoid buying produce from Chile and China, etc.)

When I get nuts about GMOs, he reminds me that we aren't eating Velveeta and TV dinners and all the processed foods that we grew up with.

Yes, we try to avoid GMOs.  Yes, we try to buy organic.  But it's physically dangerous for me to get crazy about this.  I could stop eating or start believing every time I might eat non-organic or genetically modified food, it's a binge.  Stress can cause your cells to reproduce oddly and that's counterproductive to eating organic and non-GMO.  More than anything, I don't want to pass my crazy views about food on to my girls.

My girls have been known to eat Oreos and Chips Ahoy.  They've been known to drink Swiss Miss and eat Halloween candy and Girl Scout cookies.  I eat Special K with Red Berries every day for breakfast.  My kids don't eat sugar-y cereal, but I let them eat boxed cereal for breakfast.  I'm not saying those are the best choices, but that I need to keep things in a perspective that works for me.  I've learned this after almost 30 years of dealing with this.  I think it's easy to hear about this stuff and get paranoid and get upset, but I urge you to find a balance that works for you.  It may look like mine, it may look more organic, it may look less organic.  No matter what you do, the fact that you are learning about this and thinking about this is putting you ahead of the game.

Adelle Davis, a pioneer of the organic movement died of cancer at age 70.  My grandmother is 94 and was a heavy smoker and is pretty healthy, she's never worried about eating organic or non-GMO a day in her life.  She probably ate food coated in DDT and she's fine.  Our own genetics play a part in our health just as much as our environment does.

The more of us that buy organic will bring the prices down.  More stores will carry organic.  Organic things will be more readily available.  

The girls and I plan to attend our local March on Monsanto rally on May 25. I do think we should make our voices heard and I do believe we can make a difference.

But we also need to have perspective and not make ourselves crazy.