September 3, 2013

5 Ways to Avoid the Food Shopping Minefield. ~ Claire Wilson

I love great food; healthy, beautiful, fresh food.

I have always been interested in good food, but my Ashtanga yoga practice and now having a family to feed, has made me even more mindful and aware of the food my family eats. I have also noticed that whatever reasons bring students to the yoga studio, sooner or later their love of the practice deepens and evolves towards a more holistic and healthier lifestyle. Ashtanga, and many other types of yoga, are athletic and physically demanding. I quickly learned that I could not ask so much of my body without giving it the best fuel. A desire to live a more natural life, to help my children make healthy choices, to have a smaller environmental footprint, and to support small business and local farms, are also reasons my family have made changes in the way we shop for food and eat.

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating. ~ Luciano Pavarotti

Unfortunately, alongside this move towards a more holistic lifestyle comes the discovery that the food industry has made this a quite difficult task. Every time I go to the supermarket it feels as though I’m maneuvering my way through a minefield, expecting that at any moment a product that I once trusted will explode with GMO’s, additives, preservatives and all other man-made nasties. We are constantly bombarded by the many ways the food industry misleads consumers.

Labeling items as Natural, Sugar Free, Fat Free, Low Calorie, to name a few, has become endemic, but what do these labels really mean? If something is low calorie what has replaced the fat that was taken out? You pick up a box of cereal that is marketed as being a “healthy” choice, only to find that it is full of sugar and artificial flavorings and preservatives. It is exhausting. No wonder I put the weekly “big shop” off as long as I possibly can. Navigating the mis-information, finding the free range, cage free, natural, organic, no GMO, fair trade options can feel like a chore.

So, what can I, a yoga teaching mother of two, do about this? I guess the simplest and possibly most effective thing I can do is to vote with my dollars, and I follow a simple strategy for navigating the minefield that supermarkets have become.

1. Not All Supermarkets Are Created Equal.

I sought out my local Whole foods, Earth Fare, Trader Joe’s and smaller, independently owned health food stores. This makes the task of food shopping so much easier, but can also sometimes be rather harder on the bank balance, so:

2. Read Labels A Lot.

Do not trust the packaging or marketing. I always read the labels if I’m are not sure about a product. I read recently that there are actually no peaches in the Quaker Oats Peaches and Cream Oatmeal. The peaches are dehydrated apples, with food coloring and flavoring. When I go home to England it is immediately apparent that the food is fresher, the labeling is clearer and brands I recognize from the States have been forced to change some of their ingredients and labeling practices to comply with stricter food and labeling regulations. Why are these same companies allowed to get away with it here? This is madness and it has to stop.

Via Food Babe Investigates

All I want to do is buy healthy, fresh food for me and my family, food where I know what all the ingredients are and where they came from. I do not want to be buying “food” that has been designed and created in a lab—bread that never goes stale, yogurt whose coloring comes from ground up insects, etc. 

 3. Support Your Local Farmers Markets

Buy fresh and buy local. This not only means great tasting food, but also supports hard working farmers in or close to my community. I chat to the vendors to find out what is growing right now, you’ll get better prices on seasonal fruit and vegetables. In North East Ohio our farmers markets are full of amazing locally grown peaches and sweet corn, which taste better and are cheaper than I can find in any supermarket.

4. Get Involved.

As more and more people are becoming aware of how broken our food industry is, they are taking matters into their own hands and setting up community gardens, gorilla gardening in neglected public spaces, or growing veggies at home. This summer I got the family involved in starting a small vegetable garden at home. Nothing too adventurous this year, baby steps as I figure out the weather and seasons in NE Ohio, tomatoes, snap peas, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce and a herb garden. The children love going outside to pick the ingredients for a salad, or herbs for a sauce. Getting the children excited about the veggies and watching them grow has even tempted my son, the picky one, to try those he previously turned up his nose too.We, also, finally gave in to his request for chickens, so this summer we became the proud owners of 4 tiny chicks that are growing fast and will hopefully produce eggs before the winter sets in.

And most importantly;

5. Cook.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the majority of food nasties are found in processed food. Yes, it’s convenient just to open a box and assemble dinner, but to really make a change in the way my family eats, my husband and I had to start doing more cooking. I will admit that after a busy day the last thing I want to do is cook, but we are getting a little more organized and getting the children more involved, and so far it seems to be working.

The state of our food industry infuriates and saddens me, in the name of cheap food it seems that we have sacrificed all integrity, truthfulness, the rights of animals, and our health. This diet of chemicals and convenience is changing our bodies, and creating an obesity epidemic.

To take back our food, our health and to navigate the supermarket minefield does not need to be more expensive or more time consuming. We all lead busy lives, especially now the children are back in school. It was easier over the slow, lazy summer holidays, but now it will take a little more planning and organization on my part, something that I am working on.

As someone who is trying to learn to love to cook this can be a challenge, but it’s one I’m willing to take.  I truly believe that one of the greatest gifts I can give myself and my family is a healthy, chemical free diet of beautiful fresh food.

Blogs I love and that you may find helpful:

1. http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/

2. http://www.foodbabe.com/

3. http://www.deliciouslyorganic.net/

And watch: Food, Inc.

Like elephant food on Facebook.

Assistant Ed: Judith Andersson / Ed: Sara Crolick

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Claire Wilson