The last time we visited our pediatrician, she asked me sugar sweetly: Are we staying away from processed foods?
This is like asking an 11-year-old if he flosses every day. Um, yeah, sure, I said. Here’s what I wanted to say:
“Look, I was good out of the gate. I offered breast milk and water, no juice. We introduced the jars of carrots before the applesauce. We set out fresh fruit not fruit snacks. We did a lot of things right. But in the end, chicken nuggets and fish sticks won the day.”
Feeding my family in this century requires a level of First World hyper-vigilance that exhausts me. I understand the food pyramid, the antioxidants and the antibiotic-resistant food supply.
I can even tell you my sons’ friends’ allergies so when they snack at my house they don’t go into anaphylactic shock. Evidently, that’s not enough. At Hy-vee, the friendly loudspeaker intones the new vocabulary of food: local, whole, raw, grass-fed, organic, vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free.
Remember when food was just food? Not a political statement, not a boycott, not the underlying cause for some disease? When my mother grocery shopped in the 1970s, the only thing she had to worry about was did she have enough money in her little white envelope to pay the cashier. Often, she didn’t.
What I don’t have is room in my head for all these food rules and time in my schedule to abide by them. In her recent book, “The XX Factor: How the Rise of Working Women Has Created a Far Less Equal World,” Alison Wolf describes the time-use diaries of two women living in 1965, the year I was born.
One woman spent about two and a quarter hours preparing the family meals; the other used 107 minutes. Wolf writes: “Today, even women with children at home average less than an hour a day on preparing food and clearing up; for employed women it’s just over a half-hour.”
Nutritious food takes time to select, make and even eat — none of which fits easily in our well-meaning busy lives. Sure, when we hit QuikTrip on the way to piano lessons, we buy the kids the apple slices and cheese sticks for a holdover snack.
But when we get home exhausted after the game that ran long, the frozen food-in-a-bag is looking fabulous for dinner. Convenience foods, despite their enigmatic ingredients, give us space to make more than dinner.
We can offer our families a banquet of adventure, beauty and laughter — not neglecting the staples of faith, friendship and rest. Can’t we then be forgiven for shirking the food rules now and then?
Opportunely, making the right food choices might not be up to us anymore. Our health insurance providers will do the thinking for us.
I figure the National Security Agency has already compiled records detailing my food buying habits, knows all about my fling with marshmallow fluff and has my appetite algorithmed.
I fully expect that one day I will roll up to the cash register, swipe the PIN pad and instead of asking me whether I want cash back, it will query: You are purchasing a potentially insurance premium-raising food item. Do you wish to continue?
I will grudgingly pull those two Hot Pockets out of my cart. But the Lean Pockets? They stay.