Category Archives: Food Matters

food politics, philosophy, essays, and issues

McMinnville Saturday Market: Late Fall

This is Tara from Denison Farms weighing my ENORMOUS sweet potatos.

I go to the McMinnville Saturday Market every weekend to buy my produce for the week.  There are two produce vendors there: Growing Wild Farm and Denison Farms.  Growing Wild sells out early so I often don’t get much from them.  I have a horrible tendency to sleep in on Saturdays.  Between the two farms (both certified organic) I manage to buy about 90% of the produce I use each week.  When I talk to people about eating locally and seasonally people ask about both the expense of it and the difficulty of cooking with so few ingredients.  Few ingredients?!  Check out what I find just at Denison Farms alone!

Please do not buy out of season tomatoes.  Look at all the other amazing things they have to offer that ARE in season!

This week I spent $43 dollars and this is what I got: 4 enormous sweet potatoes, 2 giant leeks, 2 heads of cauliflower, big bag of potatoes, 2 bags of prewashed lettuce mix, 1 bunch cilantro, 4 heads of garlic, 2 bunches of collards, 1 bunch of celery, and 2 yellow onions.  That will get us through a week of excellent vegetable eating.  When I got home I made potato leek soup and a pan of roasted sweet potatoes, fennel (from last week’s purchase), garlic, tofu, and potatoes.  That was dinner and it was amazing!

How I shop: most people I know decide what food they’re going to make and then go to the store to buy the things they need.  When you shop farmer’s markets you need to do the opposite; go to the market to see what’s available that looks good to you and then figure out what you will do with it.  You don’t need to know the exact amounts needed for recipes ahead of time.  Generally speaking you won’t need more than one head of cauliflower per cauliflower recipe.  One bunch of collards is generally enough for anything it’s going into.

If you’re not used to shopping this way it may take a little getting used to, but I’m the queen of anxiety (I have trouble with changes in routine and I get very set in my way of doing things) and even I hardly needed to adjust to this.  It’s actually a much more pleasant way of shopping and planning meals.  It’s also the way people have been doing it for thousands of years up until after World War ll.  You cooked what what was available and in season or in your pantry – no one decided ahead of time what they would be cooking because they didn’t have access to whatever they wanted all year long in a store.  Food stores were a lot less stable.

Please consider getting one of these gorgeous cutting boards from Growing Wild Farm!  I have two of them and they are well made by farmer Andre from white oak fallen on his own property as well as walnut and other woods from his friends.  The rustic board in this picture is new and Andre says it’s not suitable as a cutting board but is meant to be a serving board for things like cheeses.  I covet it!

There are a lot of other things at our Saturday Market: duck eggs, chicken eggs, meat, teas, spices, some packaged spreads, honey, bread and pastries, sometimes wild mushroom vendors, chocolates, hand made soaps, used books, art, crafts, vintage clothes, jewelry, knitted goods, sometimes flowers and hand carved spoons.  It’s becoming better and better all the time and I want my community to support it more strongly.  It’s such a pleasant way to do some of your food shopping every week.  It goes all year round and has made my town so much better.

If you have a similar market, especially one that goes all year round, be sure to support it.  Even if you can’t afford to buy all your produce, meat, and eggs from local sources, set aside a small portion of your budget to spend on at the local market.  Every dollar you spend locally makes your community economy stronger, your local food security stronger, and you are directly supporting your neighbors.

Most of my readers here at Stitch and Boots already support their local food producers as much as they can.  I am writing these things because if there’s even one person who comes along who doesn’t already shop their local farmer’s market that can be inspired to?  WIN.  Coming up soon – I’ve got a couple of recipes and will start costing out some of them to show what the food I eat actually costs.

Have a lovely weekend!

GMO Foods: JUST LABEL IT

If I put two heads of broccoli in front of you and I told you that one of them was from GMO seed and the other wasn’t, which would you choose?  Given a choice, would you actually pick the one that is a genetically modified organism with pesticides built into its dna that can’t be washed off?  This head of broccoli is NOT grown from genetically engineered seed.  How do I know?  Because my mom grew it herself in our garden using seeds from a company that has taken the Safe Seed Pledge.

Having a choice is the quintessential American way.  Having a choice in religion, politics, how you deal with your own body, what state you live in, what job you have, and who you marry.  I am aware that a couple of those issues are things we’re still grappling with as a country.  My point is that Americans, when they’re feeling most prideful, love to boast about how our country is so FREE.

So why is it so hard to convince the FDA that we should have a choice in whether or not we consume GMO foods?  All foods should be clearly labeled.  Labeling is how we already choose whether or not to consume foods that have been sprayed with the nasty pesticides that are currently killing off all the fertility in the land.  It’s how we decide whether or not we eat red dye #40, monosodium glutamate, high fructose corn syrup, or propylene glycol (used in both food and antifreeze).  It is vital that all produce and foods that contain GMOs be labeled too.

Here’s a petition to the FDA that you can sign in 15 seconds that demands that all foods containing GMOs be labeled so that Americans can make a choice to eat them or not.

LABEL MY FOOD

Please sign it today.

Thank you.

Fill Your Pantry Event: making local grains available

A few weeks ago my friend Nicole and I went to an event called “Fill Your Pantry” in Shedd, Oregon, hosted by  Greenwillow Grains and Willamette Seed and Grain.  The event brings local farmers together directly with buyers to strengthen our region’s foodshed.   The event especially highlights the availability of grains grown in Oregon which it’s difficult for consumers to buy directly from farmers.  In fact, the majority of grain grown in Oregon is soft wheat which is exported.  People who want local sources for soft wheat, hard wheat, rye, barley, and oats don’t often have access to such products in retail outlets.  Like most events in Oregon it was earthy, funky (held in an old restored church), full of vibrant people, and fiddle music filled the air.  I couldn’t have been more at home.  A building full of bulk grains, legumes in brown bags, garlic, pressed cider, and a truck full of winter squash for 19¢ a pound?  Count me in!  I was in food heaven.  The event was well attended and the energy was great.  Nicole bought a bucket of wheat berries from Lonesome Whistle Farm and I bought a small bag of milled dark rye from them.

Open Oak Farm‘s table of goods.

I bought 20 lbs of milled (organic!) hard wheat from Greenwillow Grains for $15 which is an amazing price.  I bought several winter squash (I’m sorry to say I didn’t note the farm that was selling those), a small package of fresh milled corn flour, and some apple cider.

Nicole browsing the goods at the Lonesome Whistle Farm table.

I couldn’t afford to buy any of the beans as they were much too expensive per pound for my budget but I was happy to read in an article by Spencer Masterson that there were some people there making connections between local food and low income families.  Linn County Gleaners volunteered at the event in exchange for donations from some of the venders.

I’m painfully aware of how many people have yet to understand how important it is to support your local food producers to create a sustainable and solid food system.  People in our country have become so used to the convenience and luxury of buying whatever food they need whenever they want from all over the world.  It’s been a long time since this country has had a war on its own shore.  It’s been a long time since you had to depend on your local growers to supply your most basic pantry needs.  I know that many people can’t imagine anything preventing them from continuing on exactly as they are.

All over the world people understand the importance of maintaining a strong connection with their local growers and producers because they have longer memories than we do and because they have had more wars and natural disasters to teach them this lesson.  I read about the shortage of produce in the areas of Japan directly affected by the earthquake of 2011 and it reminded me of the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco.  The San San francisco earthquake was obviously minor in comparison with the Tohoku quake of earlier this year but I was reminded of the most surreal and profound experience during that disaster: grocery shopping.  My apartment was a wreckage of broken cabinet glass, broken everything, no water for at least a day, spotty phone line access, and two freaked out kittens.  I lived on 27th and Geary right across the street from a Cala Foods grocery store.  I didn’t have much food in my pantry so I ventured to the grocery store the day after the quake and discovered shelves stripped nearly bare of canned foods and bottled water.  I knew I wasn’t in grave danger of starving but it struck me, for the first time in my young adult life, that even in cosmopolitan cities absolutely full of giant grocery stores things other than poverty can happen to disconnect people from sources of food and water.  I remember all the news stories about the fires, the power outages, the destroyed roads with trapped people, the downtown looting, and the fears that food supplies might be cut off from the city for several days and what that would mean.

The farther your food has to travel to get to you and the fewer resources you have in your own back yard the more vulnerable your community is to starvation during natural disasters and human disasters like war.

Nicole, who started the Yamhill County Slow Food Chapter, is as passionate as I am about supporting as many local food growers and producers as we can.  This event was fun and it was productive.  If your own community doesn’t have anything like this, consider starting your own Fill Your Pantry event.

People Are What They Grow

I’ve been living in McMinnville for five and a half years now and when I first arrived I marveled at the obvious love this town had for: lawns, tiny stands of shrubs and/or perennials dwarfed by expanse of lawn, Japanese maple trees (the mini kind with red leaves), and the sameness.  All the mind numbing sameness from house to house, yard to yard.  I had just moved up from a northern California neighborhood filled with a wonderful diversity of garden styles so the sameness here struck me as being stark, sterile, and depressing.

Naturally I’m painting a broad picture.  I’m telling what my impressions as a newcomer were.  It is to be understood that all this time there have been a sprinkling of gardens that have not fit this standard mold, that have stood out with their more interesting styles.  But I promise that those gardens were (and still are) in the minority.

I have come to understand that the garden style here represents the people here very well.  This is a conservative town that likes things to be neat and tidy, likes the diversity of flowers to be corraled in liver shaped segregated (easily maintained) beds.  This is how it deals with people as well.  People are superficially friendly here but any outsider will tell you that it goes air deep.  People aren’t actually that friendly here.  They are not eager to let new people into their inner circles.  There is a hierarchy that, while it exists in all places where humans gather to live, is more strictly observed than it ever was in the city I moved here from.  This orderliness, this silent segregation of people into groups and cliques, this tight containment of plants reflects the people who grow them.

My own garden “style” very much reflects me as well, both my good qualities and my bad.  I rarely weed.  I put my mess of fruit and vegetables where people can see them.  I let my roses run riot.  I let my trees reach out too far.  I eschew order and encourage my plants to live together in a chaos of tangles.  Every once in a while I trim some things, weed a little, pretend to make order.  My garden reflects my mind, which is not an orderly place at all but constantly full of thoughts, of ideas, of questions, of anxiety, and of reflections – all of it in an untidy mess.  What you see is what you get.

I’ve been noticing gardens changing slowly over the last few years.  I’ve seen some lawns ripped out and vegetable beds put in in their place.  I’ve seen more gardens leaning towards permaculture ideals, and more daring combinations of perennials, some of them even edible.  Blueberries as shrubs in the front yard!  I’ve been seeing more herbs, more flowers, more fruit trees being planted.  I’ve seen those liver shaped beds expand, shrinking the obsessively clipped lawns surrounding them.  I’ve seen more lawns go brown in the summer.

Best of all of this is that I’m seeing more and more vegetable gardens being put in front yards.  I am seeing sidewalk strips turn into corn patches.  I am seeing squash plants spilling out toward curbs.  I am seeing more and more food being grown right there in front where all the neighbors can see.  I suppose in some ways this is a sad reflection of our deep recession.  Food prices constantly going upwards is forcing people to see the merit of growing their own food.  Letting lawns go brown in summer is a reflection of thinner pocketbooks creaking under the weight of water bills.  I’m not sad about this.  I hate that people are getting more and more strapped, myself included.  I hate that so many of my friends are enduring hard times, scrabbling for enough money to pay mortgages, some going on food stamps.  I’m not happy for the stress that financial distress is bringing to people but if this is what it takes for people to understand the value of growing food instead of lawns, I can’t do anything but cheer for the transformation.

The apartment building in these pictures is around the corner from my house.  For years it has favored institutionally low maintenance landscaping.  The people who live in it are mostly middle aged to old, no kids, and truthfully they seem a dour motley crowd that rarely smiles back at me.  When I saw these squash plants pop up in early summer I was taken completely off my guard.  I was absolutely charmed.  It gave me a glimmer of hope for all of mankind to see them plant tomatoes against the chain link.  Many tomato plants in the place of azaleas and useless stinky Pieris.  I ride my bicycle past this little patch often and every single time it makes me happy.  It reflects change in a stolid community.

I wonder if eventually most lawns will disappear and give way to a diversity of garden styles and garden plants.  I wonder if McMinnville will ever lose its crazy love for utilitarian shrubs in favor of more daphne, herbs, flowering quince (or even fruiting!), and free range wild flowers?  I doubt it, but a girl can hope.

Food for the Poorest Bird

My lace-cap hydrangea, lilacs, and Japanese Snowball have become tangled with over-eager brambles that reach for bare feet, crawl across our porch, and spread out into our lawn.  It became this Medusa mess through neglect.  While the pages of my novel grew, so did the strength and ambition of the brambles encircling my house that I didn’t have time to uproot or even cut back.  I will admit that the branch-thick canes are mean to step on and I do sometimes worry I might wake up one morning unable to leave my own house like some sucker in a fairy tale.

Then the canes clothe themselves in blossoms, the shower of petals in late spring is like a bridal explosion, and just when I remember that I’m supposed to be cutting them back or digging them up the sprays of green berries swell and hang heavily with clean pure food and I am reduced to a quiet humility.  After all, I invade and take over everywhere I go too but I don’t feed birds and insects and bears and people as I sprawl.  All the scratches and the encroachments are forgiven as I pick fat black berries and eat them warm and lazy.

When I came home from my trip the berries which were (I thought) still hard and green when I left had become luscious and sweet and there were so many of them ripened already that I could dream up a dozen possibilities of what to make with them all while I ate them by the cupful.  I decided to make some jam and my mother requested a dessert be made with some because she doesn’t love jam.  I started picking them yesterday and every year it’s almost the same meditation – the abundance all around us and the abundance we kill off with round up and mowers.  I know we all need some space not over-run with blackberry hedges and in no way blame people for wanting to tame them better than I do, but to name such a generous plant as a noxious weed seems like awfully rich behavior coming from such a poor nation.

I am not rich in money and I’m not, according to all the tarot readings I’ve ever gotten, likely to ever be rich with silver or gold or even the things that stand in for them.  I might lose my home soon.  Like so many people, we’re hanging on.  I was able to take my trip for which I’m deeply grateful.  But not more than I’m grateful to the blackberries choking my porch.  I’ve got six jars of jam, I’ve eaten at least a quart all on my own fresh, and tonight we had blackberry buckle.  All of this food was free to me.  I spent no money watering them or buying them or fertilizing them.  They ask for nothing and give me pounds of organic free fruit.  I know it’s not like having a heifer to butcher up.  I know it’s not like winning the grocery store sweepstakes.  I know it isn’t the same as having a field of wheat or rice.

I don’t care.  It’s my secret joy to see blackberries taking over factory yards, neglected fields, rising up on the banks of rivers, and edging so many miles of blacktop.  I feel connected to blackberries in a way I am connected with no other fruit or food.  They’re scrappy, surviving in a hard-scrabble world; thriving in nutrient starved hard ground producing from this barrenness a rich sweet juicy tempting fruit with the most delicate fragile perfume.

While I picked the fruit of my neglect I thought about hunger and starvation.  I thought about people ripping out brambles to plant more lawns.  I thought about the kind of values that are reflected in our tendency to loath the messiness of food in a landscape.  I thought about all those people in the J.C. neighborhood in Santa Rosa who complained about the horrible messes the walnuts made on the streets.  I collected them every year.  The whole time I lived there I never bought a single walnut in the store.  So many people in our neighborhood bought walnuts when they were literally dropping from the sky into our hands.  They weren’t just any walnuts- they were high quality large walnuts with a truly fine flavor.  Before foraging for those nuts I was ambivalent about walnuts.  I didn’t hate them but I didn’t especially love them either.  The squirrels, birds, Sharon, and I looked forward to gathering those nuts every year.  Food falling from the sky.  Free food showering the streets and all anyone can say is “They make a damn big mess.  I hate ‘em!”

I’ve never lived on the streets.  I’ve never gone long enough without food to be truly deeply desperately hungry but I’ve been hungry.  I’ve had nothing but butter in my fridge on more than one occasion.  I’ve lived on potatoes and butter at times.  I know what it is to not have an abundance of food.  I don’t think you have to half starve to death to appreciate having food but why do so many people not collect the walnuts and blackberries?  Why are they called a nuisance?  I know so many people who plant “ornamental” pears and apples.  I know they’re pretty but there’s so much hunger in the world, if you’re going to plant a tree that could potentially feed you or your community – why choose a sterile empty one?

Is food such a mess that we have come to reject it if it means we have to exert ourselves at all to collect it?  There is such malnutrition and hunger in the world and yet even poor people aren’t collecting blackberries from the miles of thriving fruiting fragrant bushes.  Even poor people don’t seem to value free food unless it’s picked for them and handed to them in a bag.

While I picked 9 cups of berries from my choked porch I felt lucky.  I felt rich.  I thought that even if I lost my home, even if I became literally homeless, in Oregon I would not starve to death in August because of this generous noxious impolite weed.  There is enough here for the insects, the birds, the small rodents, the big bears, and me.  In some way I felt myself break down a little.  It happens every year when I’m picking food and realize all over again how small I am on the big map of the universe.  I am nothing.  My insignificance is colossal.

When we spend so much of our time building ourselves up, trying to become more than we started out, striving so hard to achieve things we dreamt up on quiet buzzing summer afternoons when we were children looking at the world of possibilities like it was one enormous frosted cake and all we had to do was point at the slice we wanted and it would be so.  When we spend all this time reaching and growing it’s easy to forget how unimportant each of us is as an individual.  Our legacy as a collective is so much bigger than each of us separately.  It is good to be humbled.  To become small.  It isn’t at all the same as being humiliated or being made to be invisible or not count.  Being brought to a place of humility is about embracing everything outside yourself.  It’s about acknowledging that every bite of food we get is a grace in our life.  It’s about your body being nothing more than a corporeal bookmark of who you are in this world.  You can’t take your body with you.  It doesn’t matter if you believe in heaven and hell, reincarnation, or neither- your body is a reflection of who you are but it isn’t going to go with you when you’re gone.  So you have now.  You have this minute and when you’re in a state of humility you are no more important than the bees and the frogs but you matter just as much as they do.  Everything belongs.  Everyone belongs.

My spirit is a field of blackberries growing in bankrupt soil producing from nothing a rich harvest of food for the poorest bird.

 

8 Benefits of Eating Locally

I think it’s funny that this is a conversation people need to have.  (And we do need to have it)  In all of human history people ate mostly locally because that’s what was available to them.  With some things reaching them from far-flung exotic places, like spices and other dried goods, there was certainly some access to imported goods but this wasn’t something people indulged in on a daily basis.  Of course, in the earliest days we were more nomadic and sometimes traveled to our food rather than it traveling to us.  Even so, we burned our own fat doing it, we built muscles hunting for our food and relocating on foot.  If we had to do that now there would be no obesity.

Here we are now.  We have become so used to everything in the world coming to our home town without the least inconvenience we actually have to work hard to figure out what is being grown and produced in our own regions.  I think it’s fantastic that people are rediscovering their local industries and economies but it’s surreal that those who do so are sometimes considered extreme or hoity toity for wanting to only eat apples grown locally.  I’ve heard the local eating movement spoken of derisively as though it’s some precious elitist activism and to me that’s really twisted.

There are a lot of reasons to eat what you want when you want it wherever it comes from.  It often costs less, it’s right in front of your face – so why not?  You want what you want and all your life there’s been no shame in eating tomatoes in the winter so why are people getting up in your face about it now?

What’s less apparent to people are the reasons why they should go out of their way to seek only locally produced foods.  If it’s more expensive and they actually have to work to find stuff and also not eat things that aren’t grown in their region what possible motive could they have for doing it?

  • The colossal use (and waste) of fossil fuels in the transportation of food across the world.

It’s a big reason to reduce the miles between you and your source of food.  A huge reason.  A reason with layers.  First of all, our unrelenting use of fossil fuels is polluting the planet.  Plain and simple.  I know some people still don’t believe in global warming or environmental pollution (I can only assume they’re being intentionally blind to smog and landfills and the plumes of exhaust being released in the air even from well regulated trucks on the road) but the fact of the matter is that our use of gasoline to ship produce and packaged goods creates a lot of pollution.  The more we truck food across the globe the more packaging we require and most of that packaging is either made from petroleum or uses a lot of it to fuel the factories that produce the packaging (factories that produce paper products usually run on fossil fuel).

Our incredible hunger for convenience, packaged goods, tomatoes in winter, and treats from around the world is so great that we are burning through crude oil as though we will never run out.  But whether we do it in our lifetime or the next doesn’t matter in the debate.  We will run out.  When we do, without much expense or effort going into alternative sources of safe power- where are you or your children or their children going to get your food when that happens?  Every time you buy apples that came from New Zealand you keep it from the pockets of local growers.  If enough local growers stop growing because they can’t compete in the global food economy, who’s going to feed you when the global food economy crashes and you have to eat what you can find around you?  It’s big, it’s important, and I know a lot of people sleep well at night believing it’s never going to happen in their lifetime.  But we don’t actually know when it will happen.  Only that it will.  So a really important reason to reduce the miles between yourself and as much of the food you eat as possible is because we need to reduce the rate at which we consume crude oil as a nation and we need to make sure that we build very strong food security close to where we live so that if a day comes when getting olive oil from Italy is no longer possible, we’ll know where to get fats to saute our food in.

  • Strengthening your local food security.

If your community is ever cut off from shipments of food from other places, what are you going to be left with?  Does your community have a good source of potable water?  Does anyone in your region grow grains?  Can you even get your hands on them or are they all being exported to other communities?  Oregon produces a tremendous quantity of beet sugar but we export most of it.  This means it’s actually more likely  that you can buy sugar that was produced in Oregon on the East Coast and in Russia.  Does your community have a grain mill?  Do you have a solid quantity of farmers growing a decent variety of produce?  And if so- how well supported are they by their own community?  Are YOU supporting them?  A strong community is one that is self supporting.  The basics of being self supporting (in any context) is being able to provide yourself with your basic needs for survival.  Food, water, shelter, and coffee*.

  • It tastes better!!

When it comes to produce this is unequivocally true.  When you stop eating non-local produce you will almost automatically be eating more seasonally.  You won’t be eating apples from New Zealand in spring and summer.  You won’t, most likely, be eating apples after winter because even good (local) storage apples begin to decline sharply in quality by spring.  Just ask my son who is an extreme picky eater- texture is hugely important to him and there’s not an apple that can last until spring and still be good quality.  Eating seasonally means you’re going to taste produce at it’s peak.  This sounds like a smug little sentiment.  It reeks of cozy cliches but I promise it’s true.  Not only does food eaten in season taste better, a lot of farmers who are growing for their local community don’t have to grow varieties specifically best for shipping long distances which means there is a resurgence of produce amongst farmers that is grown specifically for taste.  If you’re eating local produce it also doesn’t have to be picked early – if you’re buying from farmer’s markets and the produce is actually grown on a local farm it has often been picked that same day you bought it.

  • You get more in touch with the seasons.

So eating more seasonally will also get you in sync with your seasons in a way you may never have experienced before.  If you don’t eat fresh tomatoes that aren’t local, you’ll only be eating them as long as your local farmers (or you!) have them available in the fields.  Fall is marked by the end of the tomatoes, and for some of us it is marked by the frantic canning of as many of them as we can get our hands on.  There will be no more for months.  At first this seems like a  huge deprivation.  No tomatoes on salads for nine months.  No tomatoes on sandwiches for nine months.  Sometimes longer.  That’s hard if you love tomatoes like I do.  The first year it seems like a sacrifice.  However, when the next tomato season rolls around you will look forward to and appreciate those fresh tomatoes in a way you have never done so before.  Your late summers will be more poignant for what you’ve been looking forward to eating and have missed.  All your seasons will be punctuated by different foods.  No longer will you eat all the same foods all year.  Every season will bring special delights.  Late spring brings asparagus and the season is very short.  You will notice the blessings of each season more and you will have more to look forward to with each season.  It may seem, if you haven’t experienced this for yourself, such a small matter that there’s no way it can really change your life.  But it will.  For the better.

  • It will make you a better and more resourceful cook.

The average person shops on whim.  If they want sauteed summer squash they put it on the grocery list and buy it.  Doesn’t matter if it’s mid-winter.  If they see a recipe in a cookbook and they want to try it right now, they go and buy what they need and make it.  If you’re eating locally then you’re eating more seasonally and you’re not going to be able to make whatever recipe you see in your cookbooks until those things become available locally.  So you have to learn to cook with what’s in season.  In some ways this brings things more into balance in your diet.  Foods that grow together go together.  You know what I’ll never see on a plate together in my house?  Asparagus and fresh tomatoes.  Which is fine because when I’m eating fresh asparagus I don’t crave tomatoes anyway.  Different regions will have some big differences in what comes into season when so in the south you might be getting your first tomatoes in at the same time you get local asparagus (if your region even grows asparagus).  I don’t live in the south so they’ll never appear on the same plate in my house.  Maybe this sounds limiting but being limited can spark a lot of creativity.  The produce I eat in the winter is definitely much more limited in variety than what I eat in the summer but I don’t feel limited.  I get more creative with what I’ve got on hand.  If you’re not used to cooking seasonally then you may want to check out some seasonal cookbooks from the library for some guidance.  More and more seasonally arranged cookbooks are being published.

  • Supporting your local economy.

I mentioned this earlier but I can’t mention it enough.  This is vitally important.  For a community to be viable it needs to be producing commodities, it needs to provide jobs for the people who live in it.  Even though it may seem like commuting to other communities for work is a great idea, it won’t be as gasoline becomes increasingly more expensive (which it will) as it becomes increasingly scarce.  You want to be buying milk from the local dairy rather than the one that’s 600 miles away because the money that goes into that dairy’s coffers will then go back into your community via paychecks for jobs in the dairy, and local taxes from their business that help pay for things the community needs, and it will flow back through local restaurants and other businesses the people running the dairy will use.  Every dollar you send out of the community stays out of the community.

  • A stronger connection to your community.

The more you know about who is growing and making your food the more connections you’ll be making to your community.  It happens slowly and it’s subtle but it’s absolute.  To eat mostly locally you will have to do some sleuthing, box checking, talk to people, and you will get to know the people who grow your food.  You will go to the farmer’s markets and you will talk to your grocers, you will probably spend more time shopping at smaller markets that buy more predominantly from local producers.  This will connect you to people.  You will get to know more people and feel more connected to what’s going on in your own community.  You will care more because you will become more dependent on the welfare of local producers and artisans.  The more you support your local producers and economy the more you will also be a value to your community.  People notice.  People care.  Nothing has made me more connected to my community than doing my ten month local eating challenge which turned into a lot of permanent changes so that I remain a strong supporter of local dairies, farmers, and craftsmen.  While I was already a firm supporter of buying from the local farmer’s market, I now put a much larger proportion of my food budget into my own community and also into my own state.

  • The more a community supports it’s local food producers the more accountable they will be to their community in their practices.

If you get to know your local food producers you can raise concerns with them, let them know what’s important to you as a consumer.  You can visit their farms and their facilities to see how clean they are or if they’re being honest about pesticide use.  When both the consumer and the producer know each other, business becomes more personal.  It’s much harder to be an anonymous irresponsible business when you’re being supported by your community.  Food producers should not be able to hide behind corporate shields from responsibility.  I personally know most of the people who grow the produce I eat.  I can raise complaints and questions and make requests and I am more likely to be heard by them than I will ever be heard or considered by a corporate farm two states or a country away from me.  Local producers will feel consumer pressure and respond to it much more quickly than international ones will.  This gives the consumer more control over the food  being produced and the practices used to produce it.  But it also gives the producers more power to create a business that’s supported and revered by the people it serves.

 

Eating locally isn’t a fancy food trend to amuse ourselves with.  Eating locally is a fundamentally important way to strengthen our communities and our connection with the earth that we depend on to keep us alive and healthy.  I think the habit of wild and wanton global eating was the fancy trend that’s made us forget the importance of nurturing what’s right under our own two feet.

*Haha.  That’s what I need for survival anyway.  I don’t even need much caffeine in it.  This is one of those imported goods I don’t ever want to live without.

Eat Local Challenge: setting your perimeters and goals

How strict should you be for your eating local challenge?  This is a completely personal decision.  When I did my 100 mile eating local challenge I planned to do it for a year.  I ended up only doing it for 10 months.  Since I knew I was going to be doing it for many months I tried to design it so that I would really be stretching myself but NOT so that it was impossible to do.  The things I excluded from the challenge were all things that people have been trading for and purchasing from long distances for hundreds of years: spices, oils, tea, coffee, sugar, etc.

I thought about the philosophy behind this challenge and the spirit behind it.  We have learned to eat apples imported from New Zealand because their seasons are reversed from ours which means that just as we should not be eating apples again for six months- voila!  We can have apples that are in season in New Zealand.  Those are apples that have traveled about 6,800 miles to get to you.  Most produce that has to be shipped any fair distance has to be refrigerated.  When you’re trying to reduce the amount of fossil fuel that goes into the food you eat (with the idea that you will become less dependent on it to survive) not eating produce imported from other countries is a huge step in the right direction.

Doing a local eating challenge will inspire you to grow more of your own food and to preserve what’s in season while you can get your hands on it.

 

I’m going to share what perimeters I set for myself with this challenge and then make some suggestions for how you can set your own.

  • Time Frame: one year.  (Though I only did it for 10 months, I went through the toughest two seasons- spring and winter)
  • List of exceptions: coffee (but not tea), spices, sugar, vinegar, baking powder, selected grains (wheat flour, barley, corn meal), Parmesan cheese, oil.

Max’s food is also excepted due to his extreme picky eating, I wasn’t willing to refuse to let him eat an out of season apple since he eats very little produce to begin with.   (Though I did work hard to feed him local too.)

  • Definition of local: 100 miles
  • Foods subject to challenge: dairy, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, pasta, everything that is not on the exceptions list.
  • We do not expect family or friends to cook only local foods for us nor do we worry about restaurants which we don’t eat at often anyway.
  • The Goal: To eat as seasonally and locally as we can for one year. We are not choosing to be extreme in our approach and are allowing some of the basics that we find indispensable and that people have been trading for for hundreds of years, such as spices. What we want is to learn what grows in our own region and when, to learn how to cook according to what is available fairly close by and reduce the over-all miles between us and our food. We seek an edible education.

If you are going to do your own local eating challenge I would decide how extreme to be according to how long you plan to do it for.  If you’re writing a book about it then obviously you need to be very extreme to impress people.  That will mean no non-local salt, among a million other things.  But if you’re like me and you’re simply trying to eat more locally and aiming to push yourself to an uncomfortable enough place to actually learn something then I would make sure you allow yourself to have coffee.  The shorter your challenge period, the more extreme your challenge should be.  If you’re only doing it for a few weeks, and if it’s going to be in the high produce season (summer) I would suggest going even more extreme than I did.  Your pantry is likely already full of things you can lean on.  So force yourself to do without some non-local things you don’t already have on hand that you use a lot of.  This will either teach you to find substitutes or to do without.

For 10 months I didn’t eat any pasta I didn’t make from scratch.  While I allowed myself flours, I did not allow myself any non-local packaged pasta.  As a matter of fact, there are some places that make local pasta so you don’t have to go without.  Portland has several makers of pasta.  I don’t get to Portland often and so I just made my own.  It was pretty amazing actually.  I’ve never had better pasta than what I’ve made myself.  I also didn’t eat tofu that entire ten months.  No soy (except soy sauce).  As it turns out, a friend let me know that there is at least one tofu maker in Portland, so I could have been eating it.

What about ingredients in packaged things?  If you buy corn chips made by a local manufacturer (Don Pancho for us Portland area people), does it count as local if they use cornmeal imported from another state?  That’s for you to decide.  That’s for you to define.  For my challenge I did try to avoid packaged foods for me and Philip as much as possible.  Partly to counter balance the fact that our picky eating son eats mostly food in cracker form.  So I decided that when it comes to packaged foods like corn or potato chips (which we rarely eat anyway) they had to be made by a local company but I wasn’t about to source out all their ingredients.  But I do admire those who have the fortitude to do that level of research and to uphold such stringent rules.  I did not allow myself to buy salsa made locally in the winter – the kind that is in those fresh tubs (not jarred) because part of my local challenge was also eating seasonally.  Tomatoes, unless they’re canned, are never in season in winter.  Ever.  Not unless you live in Mexico.  Or Chile.  Or Australia.

If you’re doing a long term challenge covering multiple seasons, I would give yourself a little more slack because it gets a lot harder to eat seasonally and locally in the middle of the winter if you don’t live in California.

Remember that this is a challenge meant to help you reduce the miles between you and your food, to reduce your own dependence on imported food.  It isn’t about being better than anyone else or feeling the pain of deprivation but about stretching your knowledge of what your own region grows, making yourself get more in touch with what’s seasonal, and will hopefully inspire you to make some permanent changes that support greater local food security and put more money into your own local economy.  Don’t break your back and remember to have fun and take notes to share later.

Food Philosophy: Eating Local

I have agreed to give a talk about doing the 100 mile diet at my local library.  I did the 100 mile diet for 10 months a couple of years ago.  It changed how I eat irrevocably.  I didn’t stick to the 100 mile diet but I did stick with a strong dedication to eating mostly local produce and a determination to seek out as many pantry staples that are produced locally as I can.    Before I write up my notes on how I ate during my 100 mile diet challenge, I want to chronicle, for clarity, how I eat now.  What does eating local mean for me?

First of all, eating local is NOT a contest.  It’s not a “trend” to follow and then abandon just because too many other people are doing it and it’s stopped being cool (that’s a particular species of personality I disrespect in general).    Eating local is something all people need to re-learn to do for the sake of regional food supply security.  Eating locally means eating seasonally which means that your food will taste better and be texturally more appealing (think of out of season mealy apples).  Eating locally supports your local economy and naturally ends up supporting smaller local farms.  Eating locally will connect you to your own community in new (and good) ways.

The best reason to eat local is because it brings greater pleasure to the table.

I am not a zealot about eating locally.  I try not to be a jerk about it.  There are people so serious and dedicated to eating locally that they would definitely not think I’m doing enough.  That’s okay with me because to me this isn’t a contest to see who can eat the most locally.  My rules for eating are not severe, not difficult, yet so many people I know think I’ve taken a vow of food chastity just because I won’t buy most produce out of season.

I am going to try to break it down into lists of how I eat NOW, this is NOT the 100 mile diet:

Imported foods I buy:

coffee, tea, oil, sugar, spices, limes, dry pasta, rice, some dried legumes, condiments, sometimes tofu, sometimes wine (I can’t afford local wines though we have lots of them), some nuts and seeds, food for Max, Parmesan cheese, avocados, fresh ginger, garlic (when the local farms don’t have any), flour, polenta, olives, some juices, chocolate (we consumer very little chocolate), canned tomatoes (when I run out of home canned), canned coconut milk.

I don’t consume a lot of rice, tofu, or wine.  Even though I don’t buy lemons (only on very rare occasions) I do keep limes on my constantly exempt list because I use it for seasoning in cooking a lot and there’s no good alternative.  I don’t buy any other citrus regularly.  Max food is one big exemption I’m okay making so my kid won’t starve to death.*  The list looks long and I assure you it was much shorter when I did the 100  mile diet.

Produce I never buy out of season (and buy strictly locally):

green beans, tomatoes, asparagus, all fruit (except apples for Max), eggplant, summer squash, winter squash, favas, tomatilloes, hot peppers (I don’t even eat sweet ones because they don’t agree with me), fennel, cabbage, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, lettuce**, corn, peas (fresh, though I will eat dried split peas).

Produce I will buy out of season but only from local sources (root vegetables can be eaten all year due to excellent storage quality):

beets, potatoes, carrots, onions, rutabagas.

After doing the 100 mile diet for 10 months I decided to lighten up a little on the rules so that they would be more livable for me.  Every week I go shopping I allow myself a small portion of imported produce.  On my list of exceptions I included avocados and limes.  Here’s how it works: if I want to buy bananas, I can, but I can’ t buy bananas AND avocados.  I basically have two spots available on my grocery list to buy something that doesn’t ever grow here.  The following list is of produce I rarely buy and when I do I can’t also buy avocados and/or limes the same week.  Truth is, I haven’t bought most of those items since doing my 100 mile diet challenge.  I love avocados so much it takes a strong urge for tropical fruit or imported vegetables to oust them from my weekly indulgence list.

Produce I buy only very rarely:

pineapples, kiwis, bananas, tamarind, jicima, most melons, oranges, tangerines, dates, coconuts, pomegranates.

Things I ONLY buy locally:

honey, seasonal produce, walnuts, bread, milk, butter, eggs, most cheeses, fresh herbs (I grow most of my own) and dried herbs, beer, vodka, canned corn (there is a company within 100 miles that cans local corn, I rarely buy canned corn anyway but when I do I only buy from this company whose name I will get and record for those who want to know), fruit***.

I want to note here that I do quite a lot of food preserving so I don’t buy much commercially frozen or canned produce.  I make an exception sometimes for canned tomatoes when I run out of home canned, but I really don’t do that often.  Most years I just stop making anything tomato-y until the season starts again.  I freeze a lot of eggplant and fruit.  So it’s all local even though I’ll eat those out of season from my pantry- I never buy them out of season.

I think that sums of the bulk of my food buying habits.  Enough for now.  Next I want to do a post covering what those lists looked like while I was doing the 100 mile diet.

*He is an extreme picky eater largely because of tactile issues connected to his OCD and ADD, we don’t punish him for it.  I concentrate on keeping his food free of HFCS and preservatives and making his diet as organic as I can.

**This year is the first one I’ve cheated and bought out of season non-local lettuce.  I am determined to knock that off.  It really is worth waiting for it to come back in season.

***My policy has always been to buy Max whatever produce he’s willing to eat whether it’s in season or not, local or not, because he eats so little produce and I’m desperate to get him to eat any at all.  The funny thing is that he’s been learning (without my help) that the red grapes our friend Laurie grows and shares with us are a hundred times better than the ones I have bought him from the store which he now refuses to eat.  He’s discovered that apples out of season aren’t so good either.  This year he refused the out of season carrots, cucumbers, grapes, watermelon, and apples.  That’s all the produce he ever eats.  So this winter and spring he didn’t eat any produce.  Just tater tots.  So frozen potato products was the only “produce” he ate.  On the one hand this is very stressful to me, on the other, it’s proof that once you’ve gotten used to eating truly ripe seasonal produce there’s no going back.

Extreme Picky Eating: The Max Diet

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My kid may be an extreme picky eater but while the number of things he’ll eat is small, his food rules are complex.  Part of what makes feeding him so complicated is the fact that there are distinct cycles to his eating habits which change frequently and suddenly.  I am going to lay out (for your interest, not your criticism) all his food rules and the foods he eats to give others an idea of what it’s like to feed him and, more importantly, how hard it is for him to eat.  Other parents of picky eaters may find solace in reading this account.  Either you’ll realize your kid is way pickier and I’ve got it easier (but feel less alone) or you’ll realize your kid is easier to feed and maybe find things to appreciate about your own experience by comparison.

The Rules:

Only one food on a plate at a time.
  Any condiments need to be in their own container in order to avoid touching the food before it’s time to eat it.

Plates, bowls, and glasses are frequently scrutinized for cleanliness.  Any suspicious speck will contaminate the food on the plate and it will be refused.

Hand washing.
  Occasionally requests are made that we wash our hands before feeding the kid.  This always insults me and is met with a lecture about how my hands are always cleaner than his.  The truth is, he’s not worried about germs, he’s worried about unauthorized foods still being on my fingers such as the essence of cheese which may transfer to his food and make him lose his appetite.

Food needs to be as even and same sized as possible.  This is one of the reasons why he likes crackers and other predictably uniform foods.  Most foods are amorphous and irregular, this is repugnant to him.  Holes in toast, for example, used to be met with panic and then a flood of tears.  Now he is much more polite about refusing to eat toast that isn’t “perfect”.  There must be no rips, shreds, stringy bits, dark specks or anything ruining the appearance of his food.

Texture.  He mostly likes things to be crunchy and firm.  A limp carrot is an abomination.  A stale cracker is unacceptable.  mealy apples or crumbly anything is not okay.  Tater tots slightly underdone are an insult.  Texture is a very serious thing to Max and the wrong texture (such as a wet spot on a cracker) can be traumatic.   

With a few exceptions (which remains a mystery to me) sticky textures
such as jam or soft peanut butter in a piece of bread aren’t tolerated because if he gets it on his hands he panics (and used to cry).  He will eat cornbread with honey on it (this is one of the exceptions) and will immediately run to the bathroom to clean his hands afterward – should there be an impediment to his getting to the bathroom he will freak out.

He does not eat at the table.
  He eats while watching movies.  I fought him from the time he was a baby in the highchair until he was about two years old trying to get him to eat at the table.  He would constantly try to get out of the chair and no food would be eaten.  I would give up and give him a snack while he watched a movie and the movie would keep him still and calm and I found he’d put food in his mouth and not examine it as closely.  This is true to this day.  I don’t care what any other parent thinks of me, if it weren’t for DVDs my child would not have enough distraction to eat.  It’s like needing white noise to sleep (which he also needs).  I am at peace with this.

Flies or insects.
  If a fly or insect is seen in the same room in which he is eating he will lose his appetite for at least an hour, sometimes several.  For some reason ants inside the house, especially in any room he’s eating in, are disturbing to him.  He doesn’t mind them outside but he has nightmares that they are crawling on him in his bed. 

Food odors.  He cannot tolerate the odors of most food he doesn’t himself eat.  He refuses to eat his food in the school cafeteria (a fact he didn’t tell me until I found out because he got into trouble trying to eat his protein bar in the hallway).  He finds most food visually disgusting with special disgust for all pasta dishes, beans, and pizza.  He is usually neutral about people eating salads near him.  He is still very rude in dealing with his strong food odor/visual aversions though we keep working on it.

Temperature of foods matters.  If something like toast is supposed to be warm he will not eat it if it isn’t the right temperature.  He doesn’t eat much food that’s meant to be hot except for tater tots.  I don’t really blame him for not liking his tater tots cold but he’s pretty dramatic about how disgusting it is.  He likes his cold beverages to be really cold, but not iced. 

“Old” water or old anything.  If it takes him too long to drink or eat something (say, longer than a half an hour) he will refuse to eat them because they’ve been sitting out for too long.  This drives me insane.  I do know that water grows stale but he is so sensitive to it that I have wanted to strangle his handsome little neck at constant requests for “fresh” water or new food.

Unopened bags.  He has started requesting that all Goldfish be brought to him in an unopened bag because he believes they don’t taste right when they are opened by us though it seems to be fine if other crackers are put in a bowl by us. 

One left on the plate.
  One of whatever he’s eating that is considered his “real” food (as opposed to snacks) must always be left on the plate.  For years he would always (ALWAYS) leave one tater tot or one carrot stick or one piece of apple.  Even if he was hungry enough to ask for more, one must remain uneaten.  He has, very lately, eased up on this.  I’ve asked him many times over the years why he does this and he would just tell me he had to do it.

Food Cycles.
  There is a distinct cycle to his eating that I haven’t scientifically mapped but I can tell you that at one end of the cycle he’ll have about fifteen different foods in rotation that he’ll eat and at the other end of the cycle he’ll have only two foods in rotation.  There are mini cycles within the bigger cycles.  He’ll eat a few things obsessively until he gets a (literally) bad apple and then he won’t be willing to try that food again for a month, sometimes more.  So what foods he’ll eat are constantly changing.  This makes my head spin and my patience thin.

Brand specific.
  Don’t switch brands on this kid.  He always can tell.  Have him try three vanilla ice creams without seeing the packages and he can tell you which one is the one he usually eats, which one is vanilla bean (which he hated for the specks in it), and which is the off brand you bought because they were out of the usual one. 

The Actual List of Tolerated Foods in the Max Diet:

Sugar toast.  Whole wheat toast with butter and brown sugar.

Egg toast.  (this only makes the rotation rarely).  Whole wheat toast with a fried egg and ketchup.  (this is hard to make “perfect” so comes with a high chance of being rejected.

Wheat hot dog bun with ketchup.

Cornbread with honey.  When he loves it he LOVES it a
nd usually he will only eat  few slices before it’s out of rotation for a long time.

Tater tots.

Apples.  Texture is extremely important.  The slightest bit of browning and he will stop eating them.  We’ve used lemon juice sometimes to help this.

Carrots.  Only likes the “baby” carrots because they’re pretty uniform in shape and size.  Though he recently tried cut carrots again, unfortunately they didn’t taste that great.

Grapes.  Only red grapes when they’re in season.  Mostly just the red grapes we get from a friend of ours.  He’ll eat bowls of those.

Cucumbers.  But only in season.  When they’re good he LOVES them.

Watermelon.  Only the seedless kinds.

Strawberry “milkshakes”
made with milk, frozen strawberries, and a little sugar.

Crackers.
  An ever changing list of packaged crackers (organic saltines, Ritz style, Goldfish, Pop chips, and a few others that once in a while enter the rotation)

Energy/Protein bars.
  This is his main source of protein.  We only buy Luna and Cliff because they don’t use corn syrup and are mostly organic.  Right now Cliff bars are NOT OKAY.  In each bar type he only likes two flavors and usually eats one flavor exclusively until he is sick of it.

Juice popsicles.  Concord grape only.

French fries.  When we go out to dinner we feed him at home and then let him order fries which are not good enough for him to eat 75% of the time.  When they’re good he really likes them.

Peanut butter cracker sandwiches.  I put peanut butter (very smooth) between two natural Ritz-style crackers.  He’s not eating them now but it was a great favorite for at least two months.

Peanut butter “breakfast” cookies.
  I adapted my peanut butter cookie recipe to have less sugar and wheat flour so he would eat something with protein in the mornings. 

Home baked cookies.  A few select recipes I use are approved.

Gingerbread.  He loves gingerbread. 

Ice cream.  All kinds of ice cream (except not fruity). 

Hot cocoa.  I count this as food because I make it with milk which has actual protein in it.  He doesn’t like it often because he hates milk but sometimes it hits the spot.

Frozen yogurts.  But not the healthy natural ones.  He likes the tube yogurts made by Yoplait.  I hate Yoplait for having made them appealing to kids and then putting total crap in them.  Luckily, I guess, he seems almost to have permanently taken this off the acceptable foods list.

Pancakes.
  Ten grain pancakes with a bucket of real maple syrup.

Popcorn.  Not a lot of nutritional value but at least it’s something.

Potato chips.  We don’t let him have these often but he loves them. 

That’s 25 items total that he will eat, including desserts. 

Remember that most of the time there are only 5 to 10 of those items in rotation. 

Right now there are three:  Peppermint Luna bars, tater tots, and grape juice popsicles.

Food is emotional for most people and necessary for everyone.  I was prepared to love my child if he was born without all his limbs, to find charm in him should he be born a dwarf, and forgiving should he grow up to be a jock… but I was not prepared for a picky eater because I believed, as most parents do, that as long as I always put healthy food in front of my kid he would eat what I gave him (barring the usual disdain for broccoli and kale that many kids have).  I believed that it’s parenting skill that makes good eaters, not something mental or physiological. 

Every time Max rejects the food I make for him he rejects a part of me.  He doesn’t see it that way.  For eight years I’ve experienced his rejection of my tireless efforts to nourish his body and mind with good food.  I have compromised, worked hard at coming up with clever ways around his issues, and I have also given up a thousand times.  There have been times when I was so desperate to get him to eat anything that I let him eat crap that I don’t eat myself.  No normal parent will let their kids starve.  Many parents of non-picky eaters love to say that no child will starve themselves so if you hold out and insist they eat what you want them to eat with the threat of no other options they’ll cave in and bend to your awesome parental will.

My child would rather die than eat soggy toast.  I know this to be true.  How can I know?  Because I would rather starve myself to death than eat any kind of meat.  Anyway, I don’t personally respect the kind of parenting that pits a parent’s will against its child’s with starvation as the threat.  I want a better relationship with my son than that.

Now that Max is much older he doesn’t cry over his food issues, we discuss them and we work on them together.  I can’t change the fact that he’s picky, and neither can he, but he is more willing to try new things than he used to be and since he was diagnosed with OCD two years ago we know that many of his food issues are directly related to his OCD and this makes it easier for me to not take his food rejection personally and it helps Max to understand that his many frustrations with food aren’t his fault. 

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Extreme Picky Eating: The Beginning

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Max’s Thanksgiving Dinner

For most parents what picky eating means is that their kids don’t like broccoli or spinach or papaya.  For the privilege of being able to complain that my child won’t eat a few vegetables or exotic fruits I would happily amputate my foot.  You think I am being melodramatic but I assure you that missing my foot would be worth the pain in exchange for my kid eating most things besides a few vegetables or fruits that most children don’t like.  To me that is not picky eating.

For some parents picky eating means their kids won’t eat most vegetables or fruits and prefer a steady diet of pasta with butter, potatoes in any form, chicken, beef, cheese, milk, cereals, breads, rice, eggs, and sandwiches.  I definitely feel for parents with kids who won’t eat any produce but will eat grains and meat and dairy.  I still envy them enough that if I had a ransom to give in exchange for my kid eating such a wide variety of foods, I would happily be poor but able to feed my child.  Sadly, I’m already poor and my child won’t eat most of those foods.

Then there’s the few of us with kids who eat 10 or less food items at any given period of time.  Think about what that would mean to you.  What if your child didn’t like meat, hated nearly all dairy, choked on almost all fresh produce, disliked most cereals, bars, nuts, and grains?  What would you feed your kid?  How would your kid grow up to be healthy?  How would you deal with the fact that your child would prefer it if all food but dessert and a select few other items could simply be swallowed in gel-cap form?  How would you feel?  How capable of a parent would you consider yourself?  Would you blame your child?  Would you fight your child over food every single day?  Would you give up trying?

When my kid first started eating food as a baby he ate almost everything.  He ate pureed greens, carrots, squash, fruit, and cereals.  There were few things I put in front of him that he wasn’t willing to eat.  I mashed bananas until he could eat them himself, he ate almost a banana a day until he was two years old.  He liked peanut butter and jam sandwiches, baked beans with grilled cheese sandwiches, lentil and chard soup pureed and scooped up on crackers, feta cheese, avocado, melon, pears, peaches, and he would even eat potatoes.

The change happened so gradually I can’t possibly say exactly when we realized Max’s palate was changing.  It wasn’t overnight.  Slowly he started rejecting foods he previously liked and no power on earth could make him swallow a banana by the time he was two.  Other things were happening at the same time but the most dramatic was his powerful refusal to wear denim.  Later, when he could talk, he told me it was because it didn’t feel good.  It was rough.  Anyway, slowly his diet whittled down to mostly carbohydrates and we consulted our pediatrician.

The pediatrician said it was a fairly normal stage many children go through.  Her advice was to continue to offer healthy foods at every meal and he would probably grow out of it.  He did not grow out of it.  Another year and another pediatrician visit and more advice to always offer healthy food but not to freak out if Max only wanted to eat crackers.  We already noticed other troubling trends in our child and considering these the doctor told us that we had a choice to make food a daily battle (I was making it a daily battle and crying all the time over the fact that he wouldn’t eat much of what I offered) but warned that I could potentially create an eating disorder by fighting at every meal with my child. 

A child like Max.

She suggested we be careful about choosing our battles with him.  She told me that my job was to never give up offering him wholesome food.  If he chose only to eat crackers he probably wouldn’t die, would most likely grow out of it, and we could give him multivitamins. 

I have never given up trying to get him to eat wholesome food.  I am an excellent cook and the biggest crime I commit in my diet is too much fat.  We eat a lot of fresh produce, whole grains, not much packaged crap, not too much salt or sugar, and we eat a truly varied diet.  To have an extreme picky eater for a child has been an enormous emotional strain on us and on our budget.  Packaged crackers aren’t cheap.  Instead of growing out of the picky eating it has simply grown worse. 

I started writing about this issue on Dustpan Alley and have realized that it’s time I write about it here.  Not for people with kids who will eat some things they don’t like with some applied parental pressure or threats or promise of dessert, I want to write about it for those parents like us, who have struggled so hard over the basic job of feeding our child, who have shed a lot of tears, torn out a lot of hair, and thrown out a shameful quantity of rejected food. 

I get so angry listening to parents telling me how to get my kid over his picky eating.  There is a general assumption out there that if you just keep forcing your kid to try something (they say it takes twelve times) they will eventually like it.  Or that if you just refuse to feed them outside the meals you cook for yourself they will eventually just choose to eat what you put in front of them (“no child will ever choose to starve themselves”).  Or that if a child doesn’t like much food it’s because the parents don’t eat good wholesome food themselves.  Or that they aren’t good cooks. 

There are a lot of assumptions out there about picky eating and most of them are made by people who don’t have picky eaters for children.


I would like to address a lot of these assumptions and offer encouragement to other parents with extreme picky eaters because I need it myself and there’s precious little of it out there.  I can’t do it all in one post.  I will tackle it in several.  In the next post I will write out every single eating issue my kid has so that anyone who doesn’t know the full scope may learn what my kid goes through and consequently what I go through trying to feed him.

I would like to offer some general advice right now:

1.  Never stop offering healthy food for your child to eat no matter how exhausting it is and how frustrated you are.

2.  Give your kid a multivitamin that includes iron.*

3.  If your kid only likes packaged food (crackers and things like that) be careful to read labels and don’t allow any high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, food coloring, or other harmful ingredients into your cupboards. 

4.  Don’t let other parents make you feel like a failure.  I once had a neighbor suggest that the reason my kid didn’t eat healthily was because I wasn’t cooking good enough food.  I have rarely had such a terrible urge to slap another woman as I did at that moment.  Her kids would eat kale raw and she assumed it was her awesomeness as a mother that made her kids like everything.  Most people will view picking eating as a failing of the parents or of the child or both.  Don’t let them get under your skin.

5.  Be compassionate with your picky eater and with yourself. 

*Even finding  multi-vitamin my kid will take has been a miserable ever changing drag.  The flavors of
most multi-vitamins are repugnant to him.  He finally begged for a pill to swallow but the one I found was enormous and the serving size was three a day and he could taste them going down.  I have finally found a multi-vitamin in a gel-cap which goes down more easily and he can’t taste.