Losing Prop 37 Might Be the Best Thing That Could Have Happened to the Food Movement

Photo via Food Babe

I did everything I could, even from as far as North Carolina, to support the Yes on 37 Campaign to label genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) in foods. I posted links, I wrote blog posts, I talked to friends and family and I even volunteered for the campaign to cold call 10 people in California to talk about the issue and let them know how they can get involved. I’m as frustrated as anyone that we’ve had these ingredients in our food for so long without adequate research on their health effects. In my opinion, they are unnatural, foreign products and deserve safety testing. There is nothing I’d like more than to have them out of our food system. But I also know that sometimes small victories create a false sense of achievement that results in a cause stalling out before it truly matures. For this reason, I think the best thing that could have happened after the successful and far reaching campaign, was for it not to pass.

Before you get mad, keep reading. I will put this in perspective. I’m a goal focused person by nature. But I have also learned that sometimes the goal I set is not the best — or even the main — goal in the end. And I’ve also had enough experience falling short of goals to be able to appreciate the successes along the way.

What was the goal of Prop 37? To get food companies to label products that contained GMOs.

That was the immediate goal of the campaign, but the goal of the crusade is bigger: To raise awareness that a great deal of what we eat looks like food, tastes like food, but isn’t food. And might actually be poison. We don’t know.

This is an important crusade for many reasons. Obesity, cancer, diabetes, immune disorders are all on the rise. These diseases are largely preventable but diet and exercise are not working. People aren’t just giving up and ignoring their health. People are actually trying their damnedest to lose weight, subjecting themselves to dangerous surgeries, crash diets, fad diets, etc. While some are losing weight, there are a lot more who are trying their best and still not losing weight– maybe the are even gaining more! On top of that, people are getting very sick at younger and younger ages, with no reason behind it. Something is going on and we don’t know what it is.

Why? Why all these health problems?

1. We have lost an understanding of what our bodies need to function properly.

2. We have lost the knowledge of how to feed ourselves for our health vs. for our enjoyment.

3. We are eating, breathing and absorbing a grotesque amount of chemicals every day.

Companies are taking advantage of our trust and using ingredients that have not been researched for safety. If we want to make choices for ourselves, we need to know what we are really choosing between.

As far as I’m concerned, the campaign made great strides at raising awareness of these issues. The conversation about food, food politics, the real food movement, Big Food, GMO’s, and sustainable agriculture hit the big time with stories in big news outlets including Michael Pollan’s article in the New York Times Magazine.

The campaign also helped propel some real food leaders, like Michael Pollan, Robyn O’Brien and the Food Babe to celebrity status. Celebrity cred is worth more than street cred, and the non-GMO movement has earned plenty of both by now.

Additionally, new organizations like Food Democracy Now, Just Label It, and the Non-GMO project have built strong foundations of supporters and are positioned to build on the momentum of the campaign.

The campaign itself was a massive success. It was executed brilliantly, using social media, grassroots efforts and individual volunteers to spread the word to others. This aspect of the campaign is the most exciting to me as it inspired thousands of people to step out and volunteer for something they believed in. These people became advocates and humanitarians, volunteering for the cause — and not the check– at a time when interests with big money were trying simply buy people’s minds.

The simple fact is that food-industry groups wouldn’t have spent as much as they did if there weren’t so much at stake. For them. For us. The amount they spent bought them another 5 years at least. But it buys us a kind of credibility we never could’ve bought ourselves — RESISTANCE. Think about it: every time one of their paid-for ads told people to “Vote No on 37!” someone, somewhere asked “so… what’s proposition 37 all about?”

And there’s more good news. Our opposition spent ALL THAT money just to fight a little bit of labeling. And a little bit of labeling is only the beginning of the solution. Real change doesn’t come from words — either here or on a little label — it comes from awareness. I wonder how expensive it will be for them to resist the whole shift in consciousness we’re ushering in!

Of course, the conversation needs to continue, and I believe it will, with or without food labeling. First of all, the companies that are responding to the consumer demand for non-GMO foods are already submitting their products for certification with the Non-GMO Project. And the consumers who desire clean food are buying it. Voting with our ballots happens annually, voting with our forks happens three times a day. And we are voting. We are doing the daily work.

The failure of Prop 37 illustrates that when people come together to fight for the common good, there is no such thing as failure. Prop 37 missed a target… that target was a label. But it succeeded in reaching several important goals, those of raising awareness, inspiring people to get involved, creating passion and energy around an issue and taking it onstage in a national debate. People who did not even know that food was genetically modified are now changing their behaviors, eating organic, and cooking at home.

So all those things are good, but why do I contend that it is great for the movement that GMO’s were not, in the end, labeled?

Here’s why:

Reaching the goal of food labeling would have created a false sense of accomplishment because food labels have little to no impact. Food labels do not protect human health. Food labels will not require food companies to be honest about how those ingredients affect the body. Food labels will not require Big Food to assure us the products are safe, nutritious or sustainable.

Labeling is simply, and obviously, the right thing to do, but it is such a small part of the picture. Food labels won’t protect anyone.

There is already a long list of approved additives, preservatives, fillers and other ingredients that are questionably safe in our food. Many of these are plainly labeled on the box. Most to all of these are completely ignored by the majority of people.

Simply labeling doesn’t ward off the dangers. It doesn’t make it easier for companies to study the health effects of the foods. It doesn’t do anything to change behaviors. It simply adds a label, a piece of fine print, that won’t get a second glance by your average consumer.

The real heart of the non-GMO movement is in educating others about how to kick the dependence on processed foods. How can we start cooking at home? How can we eat more whole foods? What do we use to substitute the ingredients we’ve been using for years and decades so that we can still eat the foods we like? How can we introduce new foods into our routines? How can we support more sustainable practices and habits?

These goals can only be achieved by the individuals who are excited and motivated to share this information from the goodness of their hearts, with others. These are the volunteers, friends, family members and acquaintances who have a whole food lifestyle and are willing to help those around them who are beginning on the journey.

Avoiding GMO’s isn’t easily achieved. It’s not like avoiding the sun by staying indoors, or like avoiding caffeine by buying caffeine free soda. Avoiding GMO’s requires an education in a new lifestyle. People must research, plan, prepare foods from home. They need to study labels, not just read them, to find out what the contents are in different products. They need to learn how to prepare foods from scratch. They need to open up time and space in their schedule for the extra learning, shopping and cooking they will need to do. Avoiding GMO’s is a process in changing the way we eat, one meal at a time.

Thankfully, those of us who are concerned about GMO’s have all been on the same journey. There are very few of us who were raised on organic farms with no processed foods. Most of us, even some of the most “healthy” of us probably ate a lot more processed foods than we’d like to think about. We’ve probably consumed far more GMO’s than we’d like to think about. And we probably had someone along the way to help steer us in the right direction.

The Prop 37 campaign created a huge force of individuals who are passionate about food and willing to stick their necks out for something they believe in. They are modeling the behavior and eager to help teach the habits that can change lives and health outcomes. They are devoting their spare time, spare energy, and if they have it, spare money for something they believe in. In addition to the health rewards, they are likely reaping tremendous spiritual rewards as well. There is really no greater satisfaction than in extending a hand to help others. And now we have a huge movement where we can pass it on. We have our momentum. And we may be defining new goals to take the movement further. But the burn of losing the campaign is going to do more to activate and accelerate it than a win ever would have.

How To Talk About Sandy and Global Warming Responsibly

This post was written by guest writer Christopher S. Johnson, who is one of my favorite people and who has shared sage advice and wisdom on the climate with me and now he is generously sharing with you too.

You wake up in the morning after having gone to bed angry the night before — a fight with a partner. The alarm failed to ring and now you’re a full hour late for work. *There is no coffee.* You realize that your favorite shirt has a stain set in it from this past weekend’s dinner party and you have to put on another shirt that is slightly too tight, and keeps your muscles from relaxing. You jump into your car and begin to drive in a very frustrated fashion, trying to make up for lost time. Then, BANG, you hit an industrial sized nail in the road and take on a full flat tire, and on the side of a busy highway to boot.

What’s the difference between your handling the flat tire on this morning, instead of another morning, where everything else was perfect? What would be the difference in how you reacted to the tow truck driver’s condescending attitude upon his arrival to the scene? And what is the difference in driving style and the impact with the nail? THAT is the difference between storms, and storms with extra heat and moisture. It may have happened anyway, but climate change exaggerates, irritates, tips hands, and loads the dice a certain direction. It makes events worse and more likely.Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth is a Senior Scientist at the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. In his article, Hurricane Sandy Mixes Super Storm Conditions with Climate Change, he says, “The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be….”

Dr. Trenberth added this about Sandy specifically,

“The sea surface temperatures along the Atlantic coast have been running at over 3C above normal for a region extending 800km off shore all the way from Florida to Canada. Global warming contributes 0.6C to this. With every degree C, the water holding of the atmosphere goes up 7%, and the moisture provides fuel for the tropical storm, increases its intensity, and magnifies the rainfall by double that amount compared with normal conditions.
Global climate change has contributed to the higher sea surface and ocean temperatures, and a warmer and moister atmosphere, and its effects are in the range of 5 to 10%. Natural variability and weather has provided the perhaps optimal conditions of a hurricane running into extra-tropical conditions to make for a huge intense storm, enhanced by global warming influences.”
As some of my friends already know, I’m a conservative on this issue. I avoid talking about hurricanes and tornadoes (things that spin) in the context of global warming because they are extra-complicated and difficult to evaluate compared to heat waves, droughts, and deluges/floods (which are easy to associate with global warming). And I also usually concentrate on thinking about the more serious future effects rather than the present day. But enough meteorologist and climatologists are connecting the dots here with the unusual added heat feeding this storm. It’s real and tangible. It’s not something to snidely joke about at your political party’s national convention like we saw last month.-Christopher

The Scariest Thing About Halloween This Year

This post is part of the 2012 Green Halloween® Blogfest. If you would like more information about how to have a greener and healthier Halloween, please check out the posts linked up to this Green Halloween page. 

There are a lot of things to scare us this year on Halloween.  For starters, there are the typical threats of razor blades in apples, errant drivers, boogey men and mean-spirited teenagers.  Then, add in the new threats of lead-tainted face paints, lead, phthalates, and cadmium in a wide assortment of Halloween decorations, toys and accessories. On top of that, we can add in the fears over the abundance of sugar treats made from GMOs and laden with High Fructose Corn syrup which has proven high in mercury and our every day fears and anxieties balloon into monstrous proportions!

Monster!

Do you cringe when you see your child pop a Tootsie Roll in their mouth?  I know I have.  I immediately think “cavities! sugar! GMOs! Oh my!”

Then I look at their costumes, store-bought, flimsy, probably toxic, definitely too expensive and I feel like banning all future Halloween celebrations. And while I’m at it, let’s cancel the Easter Egg hunt and Birthday Parties.  Let’s just hide in the house with the windows open to improve the air quality, or wait, leave them closed to improve the air quality?  Every direction I turn in I’m bombarded with a new toxic threat from the air, the water, my couch, my fridge.  And now I’m stressing and stress is bad!  GAHH!!

And this leads me to the scariest thing about Halloween:  We might forget to have fun. These seasonal celebrations are some of the best parts of childhood and even parenthood.  Holidays bring us together, they help mark the years and seal our memories in our mind in a regular pattern that we can call upon in sweet moments of reflection or laugh out loud sessions of remember when with friends. On top of that, Halloween is the silliest holiday of them all and are a perfect opportunity for you to gain a little ground on the cool factor with your kids. (or lose a lot if you have teenagers, but teenagers need to be humbled, so … win win.)

I am doing my best to reduce my kids candy intake this year as I have in the past.  I have more available to me this year than last year as I have a handy list of non-GMO candy I can use to “swap” with my kids.  I’ve also been through the experience of removing the candy from the house a couple of days after Halloween enough times that it is no longer a battle as my kids know this is part of the process in my house.  (I usually take the candy to work for the break room).  I love the idea of the Switch Witch and wish I’d heard of it a couple of years ago when I could have used this cute story to remove the candy instead of the story I’ve used: “Because I said so.”

I am inspired by stories of parents reducing waste on this holiday filled with what seems like endless, bite sized wrapper trash waste.  One mother I know has decorated a bag of clementines to hand out to the ghouls and goblins who come to her door.  Another friend is handing out spooky stickers and glow in the dark bracelets and necklaces.

I applaud the parents doing their best to reduce their kids toxic exposure to Halloween costumes by making their own.  If I had a shred of crafting creativity and if I had some more time to devote to costume making, I would love to be that mom with the one of a kind costume hand crafted for her child. I’m not that mom.  Incidentally, I met that mom (or one of them) last night at a very creative Halloween party.  Her daughter was running around in a too small Tinkerbelle costume after flatly refusing to wear the creative, time-consuming, brow wrinkling, sleep losing masterpiece costume her mother had worked on for the bulk of the month.  That made me feel better.  It did. But I still applaud that mother’s efforts.  She is fighting the good fight.  But she is also doing something else that I admire, she is not letting her daughter’s rejection of the costume ruin her fun.

The truth is there comes a time when trick or treating is upon us, the sun starts to set, excited kids are running around disguised as dogs and princesses and Ninjas and football players and trains and Elmo and everything else under the sun that captivates them.  Eventually, all the wigs have been placed, the flashlights are on, the doorsteps are lit and we need to let go of our worries and embrace the fun!   There is only so much we can do. If we have made our best effort, we have done our best, and now we need to stop cringing and researching and worrying and start enjoying the silliness of Halloween.

The scariest thing about Halloween is that all our worrying and preparing and researching will make us forget to have fun on the silliest holiday of the year!

My top 5 tips for getting your Spook on this year.

1. Let them eat Candy!

Whether you are lucky or determined  enough to have found non-gmo, organic, waste-free treats and convinced all your neighbors to do the same or if your kids bags will be filled with junk, let them gorge their silly sugar high selves on it on Halloween night.  Dentists agree that the day-to-day sugar indulgence does far more harm to teeth and bodies than the occasional night of gluttony.  We need to fight the everyday onslaught of sugar, candy, empty calories, but when it comes to the big Holidays, we need to let our utopian dreams take a back burner for one night.  Let them eat Candy! Then on November 1, get rid of it.  Hopefully they feel sick enough from the candy they don’t put up much of a fight.

2. Throw a Party!

Don’t count on your friends to go the extra mile to make their party green and don’t judge them if they don’t.  Hey, at one point we were all new to this. Let’s be good to each other!  A great way to introduce your friends and neighbors to your passion for a Green Halloween is to throw a party yourself and use it as an opportunity to casually talk about why you made your food choices or costume choices.  Set up a craft table to let kids and parents make their own face paint.  Offer Unreal foods or other Non-GMO treats.  This is a great way to control your environment while also spreading the word in a non-threatening way.

3.Seize the opportunity

While I love the idea of the Switch Witch and while the “Because I said” so line has worked for me, don’t let these flourishes or dogmas let you miss an opportunity to have a frank conversation with your kids about brushing.  If your kids have teeth, you or they need to be brushing them.  Take this candy fest and use it as an opportunity to talk about or remind your kids about why brushing is important, how to brush their teeth and for how long.  It might also be a good opportunity to swap their toothbrush for a new one from the Switch Witch.

4. Dress up!

If you think your kids love seeing their friends dressed up in fuzzy outfits or decked out in fake muscles or long hair, just imagine their glee when serious Mom and Mr. Rules Dad break out the Cindi Lauper wig and neon stockings or the Superman leotard.  Yes, it is our job to teach our kids the rules and enforce the rules and instill healthy habits and discipline.  But it’s also our job to teach our kids to enjoy the moment, not take themselves too seriously, enjoy the community of friends, laugh play and live with abundant joy.  You can’t really show them how to do that lurking in the shadows in your blue jeans and winter coat checking emails on your iPhone, can you? No.  Don’t be a party pooper.

5.  Keep up your new exercise routine!

What?  You didn’t realize you just went out and got your needed 30 minutes of exercise?  It’s true! Tricked you!!  If you went house to house with your kids, chances are you got at least 30 minutes of intermittent walking into your day.  Good for you! Wasn’t it fun?  Now, you don’t need to dress up or knock on all your neighbors doors this time.  And you don’t have to stay out as long, but do take a walk with your kids after or before dinner. Then do it again and again.  It’s a great way to get ready for the next to gorge fests this season while getting a jump-start on your New Years Resolutions!  Don’t give up on November 1. You already started!  And you didn’t even know it!

Last Night I Did Something I’ve Never Done Before

Last night, I did something I’ve never done before. I snuck upstairs after the kids were in bed and I called 10 strangers on the phone.  I have never made cold calls, for any reason, ever before in my life.  Well, there was that time as a kid I dialed at random, giggled into the phone then hung up.  But this time, I wasn’t going to hang up.  This time, I was talking to the strangers.  I was trying to show my support and share information with complete strangers who live on the other side of the country.

You see, I volunteered to help CA Right to Know reach out to their database of people who had expressed interest in volunteering to support the Yes on Prop 37 campaign to pass a law to have genetically modified foods labeled in California.  Apparently, the response had been so great that the campaign needed volunteers to contact the volunteers.  And this could be done from anywhere, by anyone.

Volunteering is not new to me.  I learned the value of giving back, giving up and giving it your all from my mother who volunteered with her garden club, at the hospital, in schools, in parks.  I volunteered when I was a kid, in college and after.  I’ve volunteered in many different capacities with many organizations for many years. I currently volunteer as a Food Ambassador for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.  And for the past 10 years I’ve been a volunteer with the Junior League.  Volunteering is just what I do when I have the time.  But with all my years volunteering I have carefully avoided the phone.

“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time’ they just have the heart.” Elizabeth Andrew

I would have to say that on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being not that busy and 10 being very busy, arguably too busy, I would be a 15.  But I am also the kind of person that when someone asks for help, I try to say “Yes, I’m here. I’m showing up. What can I do?”

And with the vote on Prop 37 so near, the importance of  transparency in our food system, of raising awareness of the state of our food system and the need to educate people to pay attention to their everyday choices, I wanted to help.

And so I helped in a way that I was able.  I called strangers from 10 PM to 11 PM, in my dark office, wearing my pajamas while my kids slept.  I expected to reach voicemail, dial tones, annoyed people, irritated people, and interrupted in their dinner people.  (Time change of 3 hours meant it was possible and likely they were eating dinner.)  Essentially, I expected to reach me on the other end.

I do not like telemarketers or cold calls or robot calls.  I rarely answer my home phone and I never give out my cell phone.  If I don’t know who is calling, I don’t answer and sometimes when I do know who is calling, I don’t answer.  I’m not a fan of the phone.  If I do answer and it is a robot, I hang up immediately.  If it’s a person, I wait for them to take a breath, tell them I’m not interested and hang up.  They could be offering me a million dollars and I would never know because I don’t like to be interrupted by calls.

So, I was bracing myself for the rejection and for the feeling I may have wasted my time in a fruitless task.  And guess what?  People answered.  Those smart, passionate, active people in California who were on my list answered their phone when a stranger called.  I tried the script, “This is Kathryn, I am a volunteer from North Carolina calling for California’s right to know Prop 37 …”  And the script felt all wrong but no script felt more wrong so I stumbled through with the script and then took a breath and said, “Do you have a minute for me to go over some of the volunteer opportunities and for me to tell you how you can sign up?”

Yes, always yes.  These voices on the other end breathed out yes like FINALLY.  They have been wanting to give their time, they were desperate to volunteer for the effort and finally, here is this stranger from North Carolina telling them the details.

And there we were on the phone, kindred spirits.  Volunteers.  We shared an interest in health and food and in advocating for transparency, advocating for information, advocating for each other.  We wanted to give our time and energy freely to a cause that meant something to us.

I called 10 people.  I reached voicemail for 4 and talked to 6. Of the six, I talked to one who had what sounded like 10 kids in the background, but maybe it was just 2 or 3, it’s so hard to tell.  Kids can be so loud when mom gets on the phone.  But she was ready to volunteer.  “Tell me where to show up,” she said.

Another struggled with her English.  I had a hard time understanding her but when she said, “I want to help educate my community.” I knew her heart.  I knew. I knew!

The last woman I spoke to was full of energy.  She was excited and passionate.  “I get so many emails” she said. “You guys are sending me so many emails!” I braced myself thinking she was about to complain about the volume of emails and my jaw clenched. “And I read every single one of them!” She exclaimed. “I’ve been waiting to find out where to go and what to do! Thank you for calling me.  Thank you!”

She and I got to chatting, across this great country, on the phone (what is that? A phone?  That old thing?) She told me about what it’s like in California right now.  “The ads are on TV and radio,” she said.  “All day long, sometimes it is one commercial after another telling people that labeling will increase their food costs by $400 to $600 a year.  There is so much money behind supporting the campaign against labeling, over a million dollars a day on ads.  It’s almost the only thing we hear about.  And the only way to counteract it is with the people, with volunteers,” she said. “Like you.”

“Well, I’m not really, I mean….” And right there I almost diminished my own efforts because who was I, really? In my PJs? In my dark office? Calling strangers at night? Compared to her, with her pickets and her flyers, her passion and her voice, her feet on the street volunteering.  But I stopped myself because my role was important too.  Me, losing sleep, calling strangers, being uncomfortable, reading from a script, sending follow up emails and putting myself out there to do something I’d never done before, had never thought I’d do, for a shared cause. I was just like her, a volunteer.  It was an hour of my time given freely to a cause I cared about that needed me.  And when you’ve worked with non-profits you find at some point, there are more people willing to give money than give time, so any time spared, is valued.

I am a volunteer.  And as a volunteer every effort from the person stuffing envelopes to the person organizing events to the feet on the street volunteers building homes, digging gardens, folding clothes and feeding bellies, every volunteer is priceless.

“Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.” Sherry Anderson

My experience leaving clumsy voicemails, sending pre-written follow up emails and talking to perfect strangers was a good one.  It reminded me of a valuable lesson.  People do answer their phone. They do show up.  They WANT to help.  Just give them a task and they will give themselves to it fully.  We all care about something, if we are not giving ourselves to it on occasion, we are really missing out on some fantastic experiences and some amazing people.

Dear Parents, Cupcakes and Sports Don’t Mix. Love, Me

My experiment in oranges was a huge failure just like my attempt to host a healthy school birthday party was a failure.

But before I tell you about that, let me introduce myself.  I’m the most unpopular mom in the world.  I’m the mom who is trying to get candy out of the class room and cupcakes out of sports.  I’m not entirely sure I wanted this role, but here I am.  And I can’t say I understand how we got in the situation where we started giving kids candy bars for everything from standing in line to finishing their homework or taking a quiz.  But this is where we are.  There’s no denying it.  In my kids’ day cares (and they attended 5 over the years) they would be rewarded with skittles and M&Ms for sitting still and watching a movie while waiting for their parents to pick them up at the end of the day.

Now that they are both in school, the candy and junk food incentives have continued into the classroom but have graduated from 2 mini skittles at a time to snack sized candy bars and gift certificates for fast food desserts.  But even worse, the junk food has entered somewhere I never thought it would: Kids Sports.

Why do we enroll our kids in sports if not to foster healthy habits like a love of physical activity, team work, good sportsmanship and camaraderie?  Or are we enrolling them in sports as a way to keep them busy while we attend to something else, or as a means of meeting other parents or just because that’s what parents have always done?  We’re losing the lesson of sportsmanship by elimination of losers and winners by giving only participation prizes. And now we’re losing the focus on healthy habits by serving these kids junk on the sidelines and junk after the game.

Sliced oranges and apples with old-fashioned water or reduced sugar  drinks are non-existent on sports fields.  And when they do show up, like they did yesterday at my son’s T ball game, kids show that they would rather starve than eat them.

Kid carry oversized bottles of Gatorade or worse, soda, and snack on cupcakes after games.  I know we love our kids and we want them to be always happy.  So happy all the time it’s like we are afraid that even a moment of disappointment or sadness in our kids means we have failed as parents.  Well, happiness or sadness is not the real barometer, because there will be plenty of sadness and disappointment to go around when these kids grow up obese, dependent on insulin, with mouths full of cavities and wonder how they got that way.  And I’ll tell you how they got that way.  Their parents.

On the day I brought oranges slices for my child’s T ball team, other parents at the park carried in trays of cupcakes. That’s right.  Trays of cupcakes.

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We may not be able to control everything that goes on with our kids, but we do control of what they eat. If the junk isn’t there, they won’t eat it.

Here are just a few reasons we should pay attention to all the places we are unnecessarily inviting junk food and excessive sugar into our kids lives (and consequently inviting a host of preventable health problems into our kids’ lives.)

Tooth Decay

“Over 50% of children will have some tooth decay by the age of 5 and that oral infection is the number one chronic disease in kids.”  LA Times July 1, 2011

“Oral infection is the No. 1 chronic disease in children — five times more prevalent than asthma — and experts estimate that more than 50% of children will have some tooth decay by age 5. LA Times July 1, 2011

Tooth decay is more than just a painful inconvenience.  Treatment is costly.  Because of the cost many parents postpone treatment and then the child ends up with an intrusive procedure that may require sedation, severe tooth damage in permanent teeth and even tooth loss.  Dental problems lead to poor concentration, poor eating habits as children avoid foods they need to chew, missed school, problems with speech among other things.

Tooth decay, like many of the chronic conditions facing our children, is preventable.  Brushing is not enough.  The secret to reducing tooth decay is to reduce the amount of sugar kids are consuming.

Obesity

“31.8% of children and adolescents are overweight or obese; 16.9% are obese”  Centers for Disease Control

“Our kids are growing up overweight and malnourished from a diet of processed foods, and today’s children will be the first generation ever to live shorter lives than their parents.”  Jamie Oliver, Food Revolution

Aside from the social stigmas of being obese and overweight, there are tremendous long-term health consequences, among them diabetes, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and depression.

Diabetes, Insulin Sensitivity and Sports Nutrition

We think of kids as being little balls of energy, but they do have specific nutrient needs, especially after exercise.  Just like adults, kids need to replenish their nutrient stores and hydrate their bodies after exercise.  In the 30 minutes directly after exercise, a high protein, low-fat snack with water is optimum.  Proteins help repair and build muscles and water is best for hydration.  Many sports drinks, like Gatorade or PowerAid are loaded with sugars.  Further, “consuming sugar within this post-exercise window, will negatively affect insulin sensitivity, according to Dr. Mercola.  With the rates of type 2 diabetes in children rising, insulin sensitivity and diabetes are serious topics that can’t be ignored.  “In the last 2 decades, type 2 diabetes (formerly known as adult-onset diabetes) has been reported among U.S. children and adolescents with increasing frequency.” Centers for Disease Control

While I am focusing on the big offenders, like cupcakes at sports events, sugared milk at lunch, candy incentives in the classroom and soda in sippy cups, the problem of sugar is so rampant that if we are not making conscious choices every day, with every meal and every snack, sugar will win and our kids lose.  It is unfair to these kids not only to allow these problems to continue but more so, to encourage and support them. As parents we have an obligation to our kids and to our community to commit to health, to lead by example and to foster habits that will help our kids grow up to be successful.

One day at a time

Today started like nearly every other day.  The alarm goes off at 5:30 and I am in complete denial.  It goes off again at 5:37 and I am annoyed. It goes off again at 5:44 and I finally admit to myself that I need to wake up. By the time I get out of the shower at ten after 6, I feel like I am running late.  I dress quickly and go to wake the kids. Then I race to the kitchen to let the dog out.  I start making breakfast, which in my house, is slowly moving toward something healthy like oatmeal or fruit and yogurt or homemade granola, but still admittedly sometimes contains Organic Pop Tarts, Organic cereal, raisin bread or English Muffins.  I can give you my list of pros and cons on each item, but now is not the time for that.  And truly, it used to be conventional, sugar coated cereal, a gooey muffin or a conventional poptart in the car.  I’m happy to have progress. Besides, we’re racing to make lunch.

It’s Waste Free Wednesday, but honestly, I try to make every day waste free day.  Once you have the accessories (reusable food baggies and containers) it’s so easy to be waste free that it seems silly to do it only one day a week.  I do understand that buying the accessories is a HUGE hurdle, an approximately $100 hurdle, but can assure you that these products are quality and really will save you gobs of money in the long run.  I’ve had my laptop lunchboxes since my daughter was very young.  I can’t remember if I got them when she was 1 or 2, but I’ve had them forever and they look just like they did the day I bought them.  Again, I digress.

I let the dog in. I go back to rouse the kids again.  One is standing in front of her closet in a daze, half asleep, wondering what to wear. The other has buried himself deeper in his blanket to block out the light.  I shake him a bit and look for the air hole in the blankets so I can peek in.  “Wake up sleepy head, ” I say.

I hustle back to the kitchen and put the food on the table.  “It’s getting coooold!” I shout. The dog starts banging things to get my attention so I feed him.

The kids come to the kitchen.  My daughter is dressed for summer although it is in the 50s. I send her back to put on long pants and socks.  My son is in PJs carrying his blanket and his stuffed bear.  He throws himself over the stuffed arm on the couch and lays there.  I nudge him to his room and help him get some clothes on then send him to the kitchen to eat.  I check on my daughter and find her sitting on the floor playing with her teaset dressed like Cindi Lauper.  She’s simply added multiple layers of summer clothes to her outfit.  I help her peel off the layers and put on something appropriate. We go to the kitchen.

After I finish packing lunch, I race back to my bathroom to blow dry my hair and slap on some make up so I don’t scare my coworkers.  it is 7:05 and we are late.

We pile into the car. Get your backpacks and lunch boxes!” I remind them every single day and every single day they climb into the car without them.  But I am happy they are getting into the car and there is a chance we will make it on time.  All it takes at this point is someone remembering they have to go to the bathroom or that they need a show and tell toy or the dog squeezing between their legs and running outside for the whole day to fall apart into a domino of lateness, panic and stress.

But we make it and I am grateful.  And as I’m driving them to school, sitting behind other cars filled with kids, I think to myself; “It’s no wonder this switch to healthy, non-gmo eating and living is just unthinkable for so many.  We are all in such a rush.  We want peace. We don’t want to fight with our kids.  We don’t want to fight with our spouses (if we have one), we don’t want to fight with ourselves (which we do all day long anyway, like it or not) and we don’t want to fight with our food.  We want to get hungry, get food, get filled and get on with it.  But the food landscape has changed and now we need to read labels, reconsider our choices and rearrange our lives to squeeze in more time for cooking and preparing and storing and shopping.

Then the light changes and we we’re off again. Within minutes, the kids are hopping out of the car and hustling through the gate and up to the school.  I turn on the radio and start running my daily list through my head.  I look at the clock to try to determine how to squeeze it all in.  How many minutes will it take to get to work. How many minutes to park and turn on my computer?  Will I be late to my 8 AM call?  Should I call in from the car and potentially lose the call in the elevator or just call in a few minutes late from my desk?  Then the gas light goes on in my car and I’ve got something new to fit in.  And it goes like this all day until now after 10, when I’m exhausted and ready for bed and I can’t even remember the rest of the day, but it is done. And it will start again in 7 hours. Good night!

The Oatmeal that Nearly Killed Them and the Cow that Saved the Day

The weather started to get crisp and cool in the morning so last week I boiled water in the tea kettle and poured it over wholesome oats.  To make it fun, I put almond milk in the moo moo cow and put sliced bananas and raisins in little bowls so the kids could garnish their oatmeal with all the enthusiasm they muster up when garnishing their own pizzas.

They lumbered out of bed with their blankets and animals, climbed onto the couch and reached for the remote.  I had to remind them it was a school day, even though I knew they knew that, because if it weren’t they would have hopped out of bed an hour earlier and bounced around the house making noise and clanking things together.

They dragged their feet coming to the table, sat down, stared at their bowls of creamy oatmeal and declared that not on their life would they eat that.

“I’d rather starve.” Said my oldest, while my youngest made hacking sounds.

“It’s oatmeal,” I said. “You need to try it.”

“No no no no no!” Heads shaking back and forth.  They were adamant.
I wasn’t going to back down.  I would bring in reinforcements.  I went to the cabinet and got the brown sugar and maple syrup.

They looked at me like I was crazy.  Brown is one of their least favorite food colors. In fact, they would prefer to avoid eating anything that is not white, yellow or orange.

“Just eat it,” I said.

“It’s going to make us sick!”  said my youngest, with a look on his face as if he were looking at a pile of trash.

At this point it went through my head what a huge battle we have against the food companies marketing to our kids.  When oatmeal, a food that is natural, wholesome and incredibly good for you is flatly denied and labeled as nearly poisonous by kids who would prefer on any day to scarf down a bowl of lucky charms or fruit loop believing that those artificially colored, overly sweetened food like substances that rodents and insects won’t even touch because they have been sold an image of happiness, we are in trouble.

Finally, my daughter, who can sometimes be reasoned with, and who can’t resist the pull of the moo moo cow agreed to take a bite.  One bite.

I watched her, and as the spoon hit her tongue she winced.  I stared her down and she put the spoon in her mouth.  A couple seconds later, I asked her to take another bite while her brother started to cry.

“I already had one!” She protested.

“One more.”

She had another one.  Her younger brother was watching carefully in between big elephant tears.

I poured my coffee and took a deep breath.  When I turned around, she was scooping another spoon into her mouth.  Her brother had his arms crossed.  She looked at him. “Try it,” she said. “It’s like, with every bite, I like it more.”

He did try it, but he is stubborn so he only had two bites and he fought them like he was eating fire ants, while my daughter finished them.  Three days later in the car, my son was complaining that his stomach hurt on the way to school after he’d eaten an organic pop tart and my daughter said, “You should really have oatmeal.  It tastes good and fills your belly without hurting it.  Really.  You should just try it.”

I will try again this week.  According to the Mayo Clinic, kids often need to be exposed to a food 12 times before they will try it.  This is probably even true for my daughter as I’ve been trying oatmeal on her for years and this was my first success, but I hope my son will be easier to win over.

Baby steps, kid steps, grown up steps.  This is all a process for all of us.  Slow and steady and we will get there.