In Praise of the Picnic!

After a Mother’s Day Picnic on the beach and then a Food Revolution Community Picnic in the park, I am convinced that the picnic is poised for a comeback.  For healthy eating, social gathering and active interactions, a picnic is perfect!

The potluck brings to mind heavy cream-filled casseroles, dense desserts and underrepresented vegetables, whereas a picnic is often full of crunchy vegetables and juicy fruits, creative finger foods and sandwiches.  The potluck happens in chairs, food on lap and ends in chairs, drinking beverages and talking.  The picnic happens outside, in parks, on sand, at wooden tables on blankets.  And they end with frisbee or kite flying, swimming, swinging or searching for buttercups. In a time when we all spend too much time inside and too little time moving, I think the picnic is the perfect! Here are a few healthy advantages of the picnic.

Advantages of a picnic:

1. Special Diets – Throw in the fact that so many people have special dietary needs from allergies to sensitivities to diet preferences like paleo or vegan and the modern get together really does flourish when you bring your own food.

2. Waste-free – Think of all the tinfoil and saran wrap that covers the dishes brought to a potluck.  Add in the paper plates and forks, and all the dishes served in disposable containers and you’ve got a lot of trash. Consider the picnic and it’s pack it in and pack it out set-up, you see it is perfectly set up for a waste-free meal. Just ditch the tossable bottles and plastic cutlery for your own re-usable favorites from home! In fact, packing your own cloth napkins and silverware is part of the charm!  It does get a little tricky with the plates and cups, but if you use stainless steel thermoses and eat from your reusable food containers, it’s an easy switch!

3. Simple – Elaborate meals and multiple dishes are not well suited for a picnic.  Simplicity wins out every time. And simplicity is a perfect opportunity for sharing your favorite foods and techniques with whomever you are sharing your picnic with.  As cooking and food skills get lost, it’s important to take opportunities to share what we know.  Talking about the sprouts in your pita, hummus, tomato sandwich might seem odd at first, but to someone who has never tried them, you are introducing them to some creative food ideas!

4. Raw Foods – Due to the nature of a picnic that is toted by cooler, many of the food selections are fresh and raw food. Raw foods pack better on a picnic as you eat them right at room temperature.

5.  Less equipment – while some picnic dishes (made with mayo or eggs) will need a cold pack to keep them at a safe temperature, these cold packs are easy to find, inexpensive and compact.  Potlucks often require electric hot plates, heavy ceramic dishes, spatulas, plates, utensils, etc. A barbeque requires many of the same dining ware and disposable products, plus a grill, charcoal, lighter fluid, etc.

Let’s hear it for the picnic!

We Are Training Kids for Addiction in Schools and Day Cares Across America

There has been news all over the place about the dramatically rising rates of obesity, diabetes and pre-diabetes in kids.  These numbers have spiked 25% in the past 5 years.  As a mom, I do my best to give them healthy food, keep them active, encourage them to express themselves, teach them manners and responsibility.  I also want them to have balance and not be left out of birthday parties or events simply because their mom doesn’t want them eating junk food.  But in recent years the junk food, junk entertainment, junk relationship culture has gotten extreme.  It’s not just birthday parties with chicken nuggets and neon cake, or Halloween and Easter with the focus on candy and chocolate, but every day at school my kids are rewarded and treated with candy.  The school lunches are junk, the treats are junk, the parties are junk.  What, really, are we teaching our kids?  It’s a junk filled life.

SCHOOL

School is the foundation for learning. We battle over evolution vs. creationism and completely miss the boat on what the kids need to learn.  At some point, we need to get past how everything started and start worrying about how it will all end.  Right now, it looks like it’s going to end in obesity, diabetes, and cancer.

It’s common knowledge kids learn by example.  We talk of role models, imitation, role playing and yet we send our kids to school where they eat processed food at lunch with sugar infused milk and a super sized desert. Water breaks are limited to a  5 count at the fountain, every holiday and birthday is celebrated with a junk food feast and they are bribed for compliance and submission with candy at every turn.

To match this overconsumption of processed, high fat, high sugar crap, we’ve practically eliminated physical education with only 8% of elementary schools, 6.4% of middle schools, and 5.8% of high schools provide daily physical education to all of its students. (School Health Policies and Practices Study)

As a working mother, I have depended on the responsible care-taking of professional day cares and schools to ensure my kids are safe, healthy, nurtured and educated while I am obligated elsewhere.  While I know there is very little I can do to influence the curriculum at the kids schools outside of changing schools (which I did often) I have always been uncomfortable with the way candy is used to incentivize and reward the kids..

We are selling our kids short setting them up for disease, frustration and sickness by using junk food and candy to control, reward and celebrate them.

It is well documented that sugar is addictive. And the way sugar is used to control, reward and celebrate the kids, is the same pattern of behavior used to create addiction in the brain.  Studies have been conducted on animals and humans showing how the reward centers in the brain respond to addictive substances through repetition and reward.

Further, using treats takes away the value of much of the learning.   The focus becomes the treat and not the behavior.  Children no longer learn discipline and responsibility but are instead trained to value prizes and competition. Add to the fact that sugar has no nutritional value, causes tooth decay and hyperactivity and is now suspected to be toxic and addictive and what are we doing but setting our kids up for addictive tendencies, tooth decay and obesity?

“Opiods are chemicals in the brain which allow us to feel pleasure. Foods high in fat and sugar stimulate the release of opiods.”  Weight of the Nation, HBO.

  • Sugar is addictive
  • Obesity is rising faster than we can keep up with it
  • This generation will live a shorter life than their parents
  • Our youth are being diagnosed with adult diseases like hypertension and heart disease as young as 10 years old
  • Diabetes rising 25% in the past 5 years alone
  • Eating disorders are on the rise
  • Addiction is on the rise
  • Poor health and nutrition is robbing children and families of their health and their future
With these devastating statistics, we are clearly doing something very very wrong in how we care for and raise our children.   With kids spending up to 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, starting as early as 6 weeks old in a day care setting; we simply can’t write off bad nutrition, bad disciplining, candy incentives and junk food celebrations as an unfortunate part of the package. All those little things add up to a great big obesity and diabetes epidemic that is robbing an entire generation of its future.

This is Your Life and It’s Ending One Minute at a Time – Tyler Durden, Fight Club

This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time. — Tyler Durden, Fight Club

This past weekend we watched Fight Club. We were clearing out the attic to get ready for a garage sale and discovered a huge box of VHS movies. To us, this was a defining movie of the angst and frustration we felt as we were beginning to move from the fun and playfullness and hope of childhood into the bleak redundancy of young adulthood. Who knew that our wishes to become an important executive, changemaker, musician, writer or whatever, would require endless hours of doing completely pointless tasks for people appeared to have no passion at all?

In fact, the most difficult thing for me to understand (and something that still baffles me) was watching how hard people would work to get out of doing something. Whether it was an excuse, a lie, delegation, feigned forgetfulness or, the especially skillful.. getting promoted out of or leaving a job 1-2 months before all your critical projects that got you the attention of outside recruiters was exposed as a big fat mess.

The source of our generations angst was described by Tyler Durden here:

Tyler Durden: “Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

And as I watched the movie I was kind of stunned. I do remember that feeling that there was nothing to really define our generation. We were Generation X. Nothing going on, no wars, no depression, nothing to be passionate about. We occupied ourselves with material things. Instead of out-doing the leaders, we were one-upping each other or dropping out flamboyantly. We were either competing to consume the most real estate, cars, clothes, college degrees, etc. Or competing to fiercely avoid the definition and commitment of real estate, cars, clothes, etc.

And what do we have now? Economic bust. Massive war expense and loss of life. Leadership that excels at identifying the problem and identifying weakness in others, but no leaders who communicate vision. No one who will step up to define the goal and lay out the steps to get to that goal. No one who will stand up and be accountable.

Have we given up on goals? Did we create a drama for ourselves to give our lives meaning and then suddenly realize, like the main character realizes in the end of Fight Club that conflict doesn’t reflect meaning any more than violence reflects passion.

So, we have given up on ourselves and on our future. It just seems too hard to get the work done and now we are the excuse makers, the liars, and the finger pointers. We are the ones who are working so hard to avoid accountability and dodge responsibility. We are leaving massive debt, toxic waste, chronic illness, illiteracy and addiction for our kids, but we are too busy pointing fingers to actually fix anything.

But this isn’t who we are! We are strong and smart, squandering our potential. And it is just crazy!

Narrator: This is crazy…
Tyler Durden: People do it everyday, they talk to themselves… they see themselves as they’d like to be, they don’t have the courage you have, to just run with it.

Let’s muster up some courage and be the change we wish to see in the world.

Stand Up for Real Food! Join the Cape Fear Food Revolution!

Cape Fear Food Revolution

According to the North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust, North Carolina ranks 5th in the nation for the highest rates of obesity in children.  57% of all North Carolinians were either overweight or obese in 2007. 26% of youth aged 12-18 and 20% of children 5-11 were overweight or obese.  As with all other states in this nation, these numbers have continued to rise in the past 5 years.  This alarming and has far reaching consequences for these individuals, their families, the Cape Fear community and our economy.

Join the Cape Fear Food Revolution to get involved and help reverse these trends in Cape Fear!

Research has shown that overweight and obese individuals suffer from a host of health problems, miss more days of work and school due to illness, spend more money on health care, live shorter lives and experience disadvantages socially, economically and emotionally.  Being overweight or obese dramatically increases your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer, among others.

We can’t keep pointing fingers at the individuals and blaming them for their condition.  The obesity epidemic has been created by a lifestyle that we all share.  Long commutes, long days, stressful conditions, unfulfilling relationships, abundance of convenience foods, stores filled with boxed and canned foods stuffed with preservatives and additives, unhealthy animals shot up with antibiotics and growth hormone in the food supply, food deserts, absence of nutritional education, insufficient physical education and opportunity for outdoor exercise.  We are all living together in a culture that doesn’t just make unhealthy options available, but actually interferes with our attempts to improve health and wellbeing!  In a pinch, if you need a healthy snack and aren’t at home, it can be nearly impossible to find!  And when you shop for healthy foods at home, you are confronted with aisles and aisles of pre-packaged, processed foods.

We have to stand together to create an abundance of healthy opportunities in daily living to flood out the opportunities for illness.  To turn around the obesity trend and the accompanying health crisis in Cape Fear, we need to join forces to make healthier habits easier, more affordable and more accessible.

While many of these problems are large-scale issues with farming, food production, food distribution and misinformation, these large scale issues do not need to be overcome with large scale efforts and deep pocketed funding.  The most effective way to combat these problems is with small scale changes, repeated, shared and implemented on a daily basis.  Parents, teachers, food service workers, principals, neighbors, brothers, sisters, friends, grandparents, business owners, professionals … We all have opportunities every day to choose health or to choose illness.

Let’s encourage each other to choose health, and if we are in a position to, let’s work to ensure the healthy options are more accessible, more affordable and more convenient than the alternatives.  The truth is, we are not really choosing convenience when we choose fast food, snack food, sugar beverages and inactivity.  We are postponing a massive inconvenience, a massive financial burden and an incredible financial and health crisis.  Managing illness is the most inconvenient and expensive choice of all.

Here are some ways we can all start making a big difference with every day changes:

  1. Stand up for Real Food.  Join the Cape Fear Food Revolution.  Subscribe to the mailing list, Like the Facebook page. Connect with Jamie Oliver’s Community page.  Get Involved!  Being actively involved in the mission to create healthy opportunities makes you a health hero.  We need you! Spread the word about the revolution to invite friends, coworkers and neighbors to future events.
  2. Prepare Real Food.  Commit to cooking a meal at home one more day a week.  Then increase it. Pack your lunch. Pack your child’s lunch.  Teach a cooking class with the Food Revolution or Take a Cooking Class.
  3. Drink Water.  Most people get too many calories from sugar laden drinks like soda and sports drinks.  These drinks are not only linked to weight gain but also to poor dental hygiene.
  4. Eat Local.  Commit to the NC 10% campaign and pledge to spend at least 10 percent of your food dollars locally.
  5. Eat organic.  Pesticides and other contaminants are a real concern and are especially a concern for children. Download the EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 and learn which foods are most contaminated by pesticides.
  6. Meatless Mondays.  Pledge to go meatless on Mondays! Meat consumption is more expensive and linked to more disease than a plant based diet.  Many do not want to give up meat entirely, but research has shown that decreasing meat consumption by 15% can increase your personal health and the health of the planet.  Join Meatless Monday.
  7. Inspire someone else.  Be an example for health.  You don’t have to be perfect or skinny or vegetarian or a doctor or a farmer to be an example for improving health.  Give up soda, pack a lunch, volunteer for a Food Revolution event, eat your lunch with kids at your local elementary, middle or high school and talk to the kids about what they are eating and how they can make healthier choices. Bring oranges and water to your child’s sports events and practices. Carry your own water bottle.  Learn to cook!  When you stand up for Real Food, you show that you care and you are committed to investing in a healthy Cape Fear.
  8. Volunteer.  We will have many opportunities this year for you to get involved.  Teach a cooking class.  Spend time in a class room talking to students about good food and exercise.  Create or care for a community garden.

 “To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world.” Brandi Snyder

By standing together, the small changes we commit to will add up to a big difference in our community and in our own lives.  We can get healthier foods in schools. We can inspire kids to choose better foods and more vegetables.  We can help busy families eat more meals at home.  We can insist on healthier food options on menus in local restaurants. We can build gardens. We can eat local.  We can invest in our community and our future by changing our health prospects one meal at a time.

Mother’s Day – Junk Free Holiday

I am a big fan of holidays. As I’ve gotten older, and as my children grow and change with each passing season, I can appreciate how important it is to celebrate and mark big events. These events are mile markers in our lives. They are the stuff memories are made of. They are points of reference when looking back. They help us connect, celebrate, commemorate, regroup and move on, despite whatever else is going on. The problem is, so many holidays are now filled with junk. Junk sentiment, junk gifts, and junk foods. In my quest to remove the junk from my body and my home, I’d also like to remove the junk from my holidays.

Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate the one person who seems to hold things together. It is a day to show appreciation and affection for the person who dishes out appreciation and affection better than anyone. And in the face of attempting to do what Mom does best … for mom, Mother’s Day becomes a landmine of trumped up expectations, competition, confusion and disappointment. Father’s, especially new father’s, are tasked at either over spending or overworking themselves on gifts and projects. When kids are old enough to be responsible for their own gift choosing, Mother’s Day seems to be that one opportunity to somehow make up for everything you did wrong the rest of the year. So the whole family fumbles and stumbles with gifts and cards and balloons and chocolates and flowers and all mom really wants … is a couple hours to relax and gather her thoughts. Another misfire.

The top mother’s day gifts are flowers, chocolate, a family outing for mother’s day brunch, hand made crafts, jewelry, and spa certificates.

How can we celebrate Mom without the junk? Without the debt? Without the competition?

  1. Take Mom for a walk after dinner
  2. Write Mom a letter of some of our favorite Mom memories
  3. Thank Mom, sincerely, for her sacrifices
  4. Put down the phone or the iPod and ask Mom about her childhood… then listen
  5. Help Mom finish one of those projects that she doesn’t ever find time to work on

What are your ideas? Thank you for sharing!

Tame the Toxic Trifecta in your Home

Home is supposed to be the safest place on earth, and yet our homes are often the source of the majority of our toxic exposure.  Knowing what contaminants and chemicals are in what products and how to remove, replace or reduce them is key to sustaining and improving your family’s health.

Contaminated Water – Lead, mercury, atrazine (pesticide), and other contaminants are in your water.  According to the water and wastewater authorities, there are less than 100 contaminants that are monitored and regulated by our water authorities, yet there are thousands of contaminants in the supply.  Since only a small percent of the total water supply is used for drinking water, it would not be feasible or economical for the water treatment centers to clean all the water to the level of purity needed for optimum health.  Further, once the water leaves the treatment center, the water passes through distribution systems and home plumbing, which may have flaws. For this reason water authorities and health authorities recommend you purify your water at the source — your faucet.  Not all water purifiers are the same.  Reverse osmosis systems are the best but are not affordable for many families.  A quality pitcher water filter will clean your water and reduce pollution from disposable plastic bottles.  Not all water pitchers are the same.  Choose wisely and look for Gold Seal Certification by the Water Quality Association.  Brita and Pur both lost their gold seal certification years ago for removal of lead.

Contaminated Food –  Pesticides on our foods are linked to several chronic diseases affecting kids at alarming rates.  They have been linked to ADHD, Autism, asthma, several cancers and other chronic diseases.  Washing the foods no longer removes sufficient quantities of pesticides because GMO crops are genetically modified to contain active pesticides.  For example, corn—a product that is great use in our food supply – is regulated as both a food and a pesticide.  And this is what you are eating when you eat processed food!  The only way to ensure you are minimizing your exposure to pesticides is to eat organic, whole foods.  In addition to pesticides, there are several other foods to avoid because they are toxic to your body.  Avoid any artificial sugars, colors and preservatives.  Your body struggles to process them and this is a terrible burden on your liver, kidneys and pancreas.  Avoid real sugar.  Our foods are overly sweetened.  Try to retrain your palate to appreciate flavors in food as nature intended.

Contaminated Air –  While we should all do what we can to improve the quality of our air, driving less, eating less meat, creating less waste, etc. indoor air pollution directly impacts our health and vitality on a daily basis. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are found in two to five times higher levels inside our homes than outside.  Use cleaning products without pesticides or harsh chemicals.  There are several natural products available.  Stop using air fresheners and fragranced candles. When the weather is mild, turn off your recirculating air and open the windows.  Indoor air pollution is linked to asthma and allergies and other chronic diseases.  You are in charge of the products you purchase and use in your home.  Use the best without regrets.

Remember, every dollar you spend is a vote in this economy for better health, better ethics and a better future.  Every choice you make can be a choice for a healthy balanced future.