Third Thursdays: Whole Foods, Hold ‘Tudes

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The ever-fabulous (and fun) One Hungry Mama is our resident Mother on a Mission, aiming to get us eating and serving good, healthy, colorful, fresh food at home. As OHM puts it, “Kids change the way we cook, but they don’t have to change how well we eat.” So, every Third Thursday of the month, OHM + MMM will be chopping it up in an e-mail exchange about good food and even better family.


From:     Ms. Mary Mack
Subject:  Whole Foods, Hold ‘Tudes

Date:     July 15, 2011 5:43 PM EDT
To:       One Hungry Mama

Hey, OHM-

Ever since QB was born, I’ve been very serious about the quality of food he eats. My husband and I were healthy eaters  — I was a vegetarian before getting pregnant — and we were always quite aware of the ingredients in our food. But with The Youngster, we’ve been sure to go hard with organic and whole foods.

I’ve noticed there’s a level of eye-roll that comes from some folks when I ask if the milk is organic or if the chicken is grain-fed. Curious, how do you deal with the “Oh goodness, relax, Mother Organic! It’s not going to ruin your kid if he has regular milk” attitude that can come your way?

Talk soon,


__ __ __ __

From:     One Hungry Mama
Subject: Re: Whole Foods, Hold ‘Tudes
Date:     July 18, 2011 5:57 PM EDT
To:         Ms. Mary Mack

The eye roll. Yes, I’m familiar with that move. I’ve gotten it many times after asserting food choices for me and my children. I’ve often thought to myself, “Oh, I’m that mom.” Actually, I’ve thought, “Oh, they think I’m that mom.” It’s frustrating and annoying. Sometimes I want desperately to launch into the many reasons why; though my decisions may seem extreme, they’re actually quite reasonable given the facts. Other times I just don’t care or figure there’s no point.

Five years and two kids into this motherhood gig, I’ve come to learn that judgement from our colleagues — other parents — is an inescapable part of the job. And though I work really hard at not judging other parents, I’ve also come to learn that my own judgement is hard to permanently keep at bay. We are so deeply invested in our parenting decisions and never really know if we’re doing the right thing. What works for one parent-child combo may not work for another. This makes us constantly vulnerable and it’s hard not to reflex into protecting ourselves sometimes. Throw in the emotional nature of feeding and the class dynamics that swirl around food in this country, and you’ve got the makings of an ugly judge-a-thon.

Imagine this: You’re a parent who doesn’t know, doesn’t decide and/or have the resources to choose more expensive, organic foods faced with a parent who does. What’s more likely? That you’ll think:

“Hey, that’s great that they take such great care of their child; my kids don’t need that.”

Or, “That’s so silly to spend the extra money on organic since there’s nothing wrong with the ‘normal’ foods that I feed my kids.”

I’m not making excuses for the judgements — we all need to stop so that we can rely on and learn from each other. I’m just trying to imagine where the judgement comes from so that I can compassionately walk away, unscathed and with my own judgement in check.

We Americans have lost our connection to real food. Go into a supermarket and compare the number of foods offered in their natural state to the number of manufactured foods packaged for convenience. This simple exercise demonstrates how hard it is to know what’s good, what’s real, what’s healthy.

We don’t have a government system that watches out for us in this regard or that helps us make smart food choices; labels are meaningless, defined by big business marketing; and the way that farming subsidies work in the U.S., healthier options are the more expensive options. It’s a complicated mess and many don’t have access to information that will help them understand — and trust — that they should trade in their cheaper convenience food for more expensive sustainably raised/farmed foods. Others can’t afford it. And some just don’t believe that natural, sustainable foods are better. I don’t get it but, hey, some people don’t believe that Elvis is dead either. Go figure.

At the end of the day, we have to be confident in our decisions and, in the same way that we don’t want to be judged, not judge others. If someone gives you the eye roll because you will only eat local, humanely raised ground beef, just assume that they don’t know, don’t get it or don’t agree, none of which should be any skin off your nose. Perhaps if the perp is family or a friend you can ask questions to learn more about why they rolled their eyes. I’ve found that sharing my knowledge has been helpful to some friends. I’ve also found that others are not convinced. While I disagree, I keep in mind that, just like me, they’re trying to do their best by their kids.

Here are some resources to help better understand the multitude food options available these days:

* The (2011) Dirty Dozen/Cleanest Dozen
These lists rank the most and least pesticide ridden fruits and veggies. I find them invaluable for budget planning: scrimp by buying conventional produce on the cleanest list and save to buy organic product on the dirty list.

* The (2011) Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health
This ranks proteins by their carbon footprint and also gives invaluable tips for adjusting your carnivorous ways for better health and a healthier environment.

* What organic means to me
Scroll past (or join in) the giveaway on this piece to see why I believe organic is important. Want more? Here’s an FAQ I wrote on why organic is important, especially when feeding small children, while working with a nutritionist on the baby food brand I developed back in the day. The facts say it all.

* Organic vs. Local: What’s a Parent to Choose?
What’s the difference and should parents be leaning towards one over the other?

* Fooducate
An AWESOME iPhone and Android app that allows you to scan foods, see what’s really inside (with an easy-to-understand grade ranking) and make a healthier decision. Don’t have an iPhone or Android? You should still check out the Fooducate site and blog. It’s packed with invaluable information about supermarket foods.

* An interactive guide to food labels from the Mayo Clinic
Roll over the different sections of a typical food label to learn more

* And one quick tip: don’t trust front-of-package food labels (e.g., “Heart Healthy!”), as they are NOT regulated. All of the regulated info about a packaged food will be on the back on the package with the ingredients and nutritional information.

I’d love to know if your readers have other resources or tips for dealing with being that mom (on either side of the fence). Ask them to share — I want to listen. No judgement, of course.

Talk more soon,

Ed. note: Well, you heard the woman, friends. What tips do you have for being the whole foods mom? How do you contend with people’s eye-rolling? Leave it all in the comments!


Every Third Thursday of the month, One Hungry Mama and Ms. Mary Mack will be talking food, family and finding the delicious balance that can be found in between it all. Join our discussion by leaving a comment below!

  • 1
    Nailah says:

    This is an important topic, even for people with no little ones. There are so many facts that support eating whole, organic foods and it makes it a whole lot easier if you have those healthy habits instilled into you as a youngster. Thanks for the helpful links!

    • 1.1

      I agree that it’s important for everyone—great point! It’s funny, though, how having children changes you. So many people start to prioritize the work it takes to lead a healthier life once they have kids. Hopefully, those who don’t motivate before having a family will do so afterwards.

  • 2

    Hi Gals,

    I get the stares, he comments and the eye rolls whenever I’m making food choices that appear to be fussy or “yuppie” as my family would put it.

    WTF? Yuppie?

    Anyway, when other parents question my choices or (more often) make fun of me for the food choices I make for my family, I can’t help but think that they do so because they think I am trying to appear better than them. Like, my decision to feed my kids organic is some sort of way to elevate my status on the playground. “Oh, those are organic graham crackers with no HFCS. We just have the Teddy Grahams. What’s wrong with these.?” I honestly do my best to tell people why I make the choices I make without being preachy. I’m not trying to school anyone but am happy to share whatever I do know becuase I find it interesting. If you ask, you’ll get my answer. I do my best to make them understand I do it because I feel strongly about this topic, not because I feel like I’m a better mother.

    Organic is DAMNED expensive. I get that. I don’t have a money tree. I spend more money on groceries than anything else in my life and I do so because what we eat as a family really matters to me and I’m willing to go without in other areas to make sure we can eat this way (most of the time).

    Happy to chat about this with you gals. Nice to be in such amazing company. Excuse me now while I press “Submit Order” on my Fresh Direct delivery HA!


    • 2.1

      TOTALLY! This is what I’m talking about, Christina… feeling like other people’s parenting choices undermine your own. Or, on the other side of the fence, feeling like you’re better because you’re “in the know.” The truth is, though I hate to admit it, I’ve come across some parents who do know what I consider the facts and still don’t make changes. I guess it’s not their priority but, instead of coming from a place of understanding that we can’t always be perfect, I think: oh my god, how can they have this info and *not* make (what I believe are) better choices?! So we’re all perpetrators sometimes. To me, it’s like, but this is your child’s BODY, their health. But, then again, my kids spend some time with a nanny and some might thing, oh my goodness, why is she not with her children all the time since she can be—that’s her children’s emotional well being. Zen patience, deep breaths and compassion are needed all around, right?

      • 2.1.1

        Fo sure! We do what we can and focus on what we feel is important. WE make the decisions and WE deal with the consequences. but our choices should be our own so that at the very least, we know we did it on our own terms. Eff the naysayers. XOOXOX

  • 3
    Anne says:

    Thanks so much for the links and tips. I try as often as I can to buy organic and to at least be fully aware of what I’m feeding my 14 mo. old son. It does become a financial struggle to buy one pint of organic blueberries for $4.50 vs. 2 for $3 for the conventional ones. The words “dirty dozen” always ringing in my head as I make the decision. I hope that eventually there won’t be the choice and that we will be able to find a way to feed all of our children in the most responsible way regardless of how much money we have to spend on food. In the meantime I will continue to try and make the best choices possible. Thanks for helping to make the choices a little easier!