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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Shopping the Perimeter

So I'm wondering how many of y'all have seen Jamie Oliver's new show Food Revolution? Because the Husband and I are watching the show, as is the Tongginator, despite the occasional curse word that escapes Jamie Oliver's mouth. Although I'm not happy about several of his language choices, I can almost understand them.

I mean, have y'all SEEN the food our schools serve children these days?!?!?!!!

It's been a shocking year for me, definitely, since the Tongginator began kindergarten seven months ago. Some of y'all may not know this already, but our family eats a very slow food, as-organic-as-we-can-afford diet. And it's not because we are better than anyone else or anything... it's because I am allergic to many preservatives and dyes. These past ten years have seen me grow increasingly frustrated with our nation's food supply. Foods I used to be able to eat 10 years ago are now impossible for me to digest.

My friends and family joke that I only "shop the perimeter" of our local grocery stores because I can't eat 90% of the foods displayed in the aisles. I can't eat just about anything that comes in a jar or can, nor most things packaged in cellophane, nor alcohol (that includes wine, y'all... and yes, I DO whine about it), nor seafood, since the meat packers now sprinkle their catch with sulfites, nor even some brands of crackers, chips and other assorted snack foods. This year really took the cake, however, when spaghetti noodles I used to ALWAYS be able to eat turned up with preservatives that I just can't manage. We actually had to switch brands... of NOODLES.

It's enough to make me want to cry. (And I did cry tears of joy last month when an organic grocery store finally opened up in our local area.)

The Tongginator and the Husband eat more convenience foods than I do, but even then it's not a lot by any stretch of the imagination. The Tongginator brings her lunches to school... lunches that are incredibly healthy and quite tasty, even if they do "look like throw up." During the first six months of kindergarten, I heard an occasional whine from the Tongginator about buying school lunch, but that all ended the day she bought pizza. Suffice it to say that it made her completely sick... she struggled with tummy issues for over 12 hours.

That was the end of any and all requests to buy her lunch.

And it breaks my heart that some children can't opt out of school lunch, as the Tongginator does, and instead must choose between feeling hungry and eating the food served by their school cafeteria.

I feel so frustrated that our society continues to encourage further mechanizing our national food supply. I'm irritated that nearly EVERYTHING contains hormones or preservatives or dyes or, worse, ALL THREE. I'm irritated that the healthiest options are also the most expensive. I'm irritated with fast food restaurants and school lunches and restaurants that use bagged-everything-that-I-can't-eat. Y'all should seriously go out to lunch with me... it ain't pretty.

"Hi. I have an obscure food allergy, so I need to ask you a few questions. On your sandwiches, do you use bagged lettuce or a head of lettuce? What about the meat? Is it real deli meat or 'deli meat' you purchase in bulk and wrapped in cellophane? What brand of potato chips do you have? Are your carrots pre-grated, from a bag, or do you grate them yourselves? Is your sauce from a jar or do you make it in-house?"

Yeah. I know.

This is why I lost nearly 15 pounds during our two-week adoption trip to China in 2005. I survived on white rice and bananas because the language barrier made it nearly impossible for me to communicate my needs. And this is why we rarely eat out anymore. I totally sound like Sally from the restaurant scene in When Harry Met Sally. And I so, SO don't want the servers to think I'm gonna break out with that next move Sally makes in said restaurant. (Rack your brains to remember, y'all... cuz then my comment is funny.)

Now, I know I have a very unique perspective on this topic. My allergies make me sound kinda snobby about food... but it's truly out of necessity. I'm really very nice. Although *blush* I must admit I have food texture issues, too, because of my sensory issues.

(And yes, I realize that all of this makes me very! high! maintenance!)

That's why I'm really interested to hear what Y'ALL have to say. How DO you feel about the current state of most school lunches? What about fast food restaurants? And the ever-increasing convenience foods that fill the shelves of our grocery stores? What about Jamie Oliver's new show Food Revolution? Or First Lady Michelle Obama's recent remarks about school lunches and the passage of the Blanche Lincoln Bill? And what about the horrifically humorous (or should I say humorously horrific?) Fed Up With School Lunch blog?

Inquiring, high-maintenance me wants to know...


Nicki said...

Thank you for making me feel better about my no-peppers-no-red-no-yellow-no-black-no-green-no-peppers at all mantra.

organicnerd said...

I'm a big fan of Jamie Oliver and the new show! I'm so glad the show actually made it to national TV because the topic of food and healthy choices generally isn't made too public. What he's doing is really just the tip of the iceberg, there's SO many changes that need to happen in our food system. The saddest part is that a lot of people don't make changes because they don't realize there are other choices to make and how bad our food system has actually gotten. And to no fault of their own because we're made to believe the FDA is really on our side. I could go on and on but I'll restrain myself! Thanks for posting on this!

Aus said...

Playing a little catch up - 1) onb the Resurrection Eggs - brilliant work there TM - just top shelf!

As for school lunches - we too pack - and yes it drives our daughter nuts (including the daily argument about packing it - and yes - she packs her own!) mostly because I wouldn't feed our dogs what passes for a school lunch....and being a dad sometimes I think I like the dogs better than the kids (but I always ALWAYS love the kids....ya'll know what I mean!) It's really a joke what is served in schools!

And I thought we had it tough with the lactose issue (my bride and two of the girls all suffer from that) - you have no idea how many prepared foods have milk or lactose as a 'binder'....it's even hard to find bread with no milk in it! I feel for ya!

hugs - aus and co.

autumnesf said...


You mean I'm not the only one with obscure preservative and unknown allergies/intolerances?????

Although I have to admit sometimes I get to fed up with the lack of choices that I just eat what I know will make me sick - and spend most of my time sick.

I can't tell you what a relief it was to move somewhere I can get alternatives!!

And I had no idea that they now put sulfites on fish! Good thing I don't eat fish. Hah.

And most people really don't get it!! It takes a tongue swelling, epi-pen episode for them to get a clue.

Havent seen the show but have heard about it. Also there is a book out there called Sweet Deception - its about the artificial sweeteners -- but half the book is really about the FDA. You should read it. VERY eye opening. Not that we haven't figured them out...but it tells the dirty.

Kate said...

Jamie Oliver. Genius. Enough said.

bbmomof2boys said...

I cracked up whem you mentioned the new Jamie Oliver show. Why? Because that's where the T's are with baby H!! And because since he's been married and living up there he's gained about 30 or 40 lbs! (yes, I fuss at him about it - I'm a bad momma!)

School lunches? When the boys were going to school I didn't pay much attention to it. But that was years ago. L is a junior this year so I can't even mention him brining a lunch. When Little T goes I'm going to make her lunches. (and Big T is laughing so hard right now that tears are streaming down his face) *sigh*


Magi said...

I posted about this yesterday. It's such an important subject. I hope it finally gets the attention it deserves.

Kayce said...

I am dying to watch that show but haven't had the time to watch it yet...but I will.

The food in schools is just atrocious and makes me so sad. I pack two sandwiches in Jakes lunch everyday so he can pass one on to someone else who can't/wont eat what is served that day. Recently I went back to Jakes elementary and was surprised to see that after 5 years of fighting for a salad bar they got one. It's a program that will come to schools and put up a nice salad bar everyday...I'll have to look for the name and let you know.

Andrea said...

Back when I was cooking for two adults, I was so good about sticking to the perimeter. I had read Fast Food Nation and watched Super Size Me... the combination of the two confirmed why I had not eaten at McD since I worked there in high school. Now with two kids, the percentage of meals made from Cooking Light are fewer but my girls still eat what we are eating (which is well balanced most of the time). They only get fast food when we are driving through the middle of nowhere. I try and keep the bad stuff as the exception and not the norm but it's not eliminated from their diet. I was raised on processed foods (not my mom's choice...I was quite the strong willed child). I want to train my girls early in life to make good choices so it's not such a struggle for them. If we slow our lives down, they will see cooking good foods as a treat and not an item on the to-do list each day. I am very proud of them for loving as many veggies as they do. I'm also glad that we have introduced new foods from day one. We don't bribe our children to eat healthy. It is expected as much as it's expected they brush their teeth or hold hands in the parking lot. I may not always be the best example, but they are learning skills now that will help them survive what is inside the perimeter of the grocery store.

I saw one episode of Food Revolution and loved it (except for his occasional language). It shows that our poor food choices are usually motivated out of laziness rather than a dislike for the food. Even the head cook admitted the food looked good but since she was there for the money, she did not want to do the extra work to benefit the children. It also saddened me that we now view our schools as the place where children learn to use utensils and identify vegetables. Why aren't parents doing this at home? Do these children never ride in a shopping cart through the produce section? My two-year old can identify broccoli even if she can't say it yet. The food problem seems to be a symptom of a deeper problem in our culture. I'm glad it is being discussed. I'm not saying the UK is doing it perfectly, but it depresses me that we need a British chef and a British nanny to help Americans see how much we've abdicated our God-given responsibility to train up our children.

LucisMomma said...

I understand some of your difficulties with foods (we are not as restricted as you) with our kids on the Feingold diet for ADHD/ADD. (adhddiet.com) That's no artificial preservatives, colors or flavorings. And we are an unscented household--we all smell like people here. The smells really affect our boys (one with asthma, one with symptoms of rage).

I'll have to check out the links in your post; thanks for those.

Carla said...

*waving* We're another "shop the perimeter" of the grocery store. We're another "buy organic when we can and when it's financially feasible" family as well. I learned of the horrors of our foods while dealing with infertility and finding out other information on ADHD and such. *sigh*

I will have to look for the Food Revolution show!!!

and school lunches? disgusting.

Dawn said...

We are picky, too. I made all of our baby food when my kids were little. And, I love veggies - good ones - so my family had no choice but to like them, too, or starve. Then, when my daughter was a toddler, we discovered through trial and error that she also had a lot of sensitivities to preservatives, additives and dyes. (Not quite as severe as yours.) My thinking was that if it was bad for her then it's bad for the rest of us. My kids pack their lunch almost every day. When they do buy, they are lucky enough to have the option of a good salad bar at their schools. And, on the very rare occasion that they choose something other than the salad bar... well, let's just say that they pay for it with hours of tummy issues.

Funny story... when my son (our oldest) was a preschooler and we were on a 500 mile roadtrip, we stopped in a McDonald's parking lot to eat and to use their restrooms. (One of the very few things that restaurant is good for! LOL) TV marketing got the best of my son and my hubby and they both convinced me to let him try a "Happy Meal." I caved and purchased one for him with McNuggets. He sat, tentatively nibbling at one and closely examining it between bites. Finally, he looked up at us and asked, "What is it?" My hubby told him it was chicken. My son gave it another close inspection and then replied, "No, it isn't." A good reminder for us!

Hold your ground, T Mama... you'll all be the better for it!

Love Letters To China said...

You always seem to write about the most amazing post topics. I purchased Food Inc. along with Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma. I can't wait to pop that in our DVD player (read the books) and open up our eyes to what truly is going on in our world. I taped Jamie Oliver's shows and can't wait to get a few minutes (in between a sick kiddo and hubby) to watch them. My daughter is such a fussy eater (it might be a good thing) she would never opt to each lunch prepared by anyone but her mommy.

We don't suffer from any allergies, but I've always been aware of how our food is processed in order to preserve it's life. Luckily, we never eat out at fast food restaurants so my kids really don't even know what the "Golden Arches" represent. I hope all of this media attention starts to open up our eyes to what we are feeding ourselves and kids.

Thank you for bringing this to the forefront. It's so important for everyone to be aware....

Desiree' said...

I hear you, I have many food allergies including gluten intolerance. We have been in many states and about 10 school systems and I hate to say it but VA is the worst of the bunch followed by AL. I wouldn't touch the lunches here. It's pretty sad. In MI they actually had fresh fruit and sandwiches. Allergies are more tolerated there and exceptions are made with the menu. We don't eat out often and when we do like you I have a ton of questions. My husband looks away and I silently hope they don't spit in my food when it does come...LOL

Myrnie said...

We don't have TV, so I haven't seen Jamie's new show...but it seems kind of gimmicky. Maybe that's just me? I mean, yeah kids should know what vegetables look like but I know from spending time with kids a lot of times when you ask a group a question, or ask a kid a question, it's like they forget EVERYTHING. E announced today that she didn't remember her ABC's, and she reads a LOT. :)

But, you know we cook almost all our own food- I buy tortillas, maybe ice cream if it's on sale (once or twice a year.) The kids might get panda crackers when we're at Viet Wah. You know, just a few things. But for the most part we're cooking all day, and wondering why the kitchen is so messy :)

Our 7 Blessings from God said...

I'm usually a lurker, but HAD to comment on this post! We've never done school lunches since we homeschool. My hubby & 2 bio sons have a sensitivity to MSG which is in almost EVERYTHING! We've gone to raising most of our food. It sure is nice to know exactly whats in our food!! No hormones, antibiotics, preservatives, dyes, and NO MSG!

Love your blog... thanks for sharing!!
Mama to 7 blessings:)

Patty O. said...

We watched both episodes of Food Revolution the other night on hulu. I was appalled. Now, we do eat more preservatives and crap than I would like--Danny's sensory issues make him VERY picky and the only sources of protein he will eat, besides cheese and peanut butter, are processed meats (hot dogs, pepperoni and chicken nuggets) I try very hard to get the kids to eat less junk.

We are planning on starting taking Danny to the hospital for a feeding program which I hope will help improve the variety of his diet. Anyway, still, it is so sad that we as a nation eat so much garbage. Who decided stuff like pudding needs artificial colors? And the hormones in meat is so upsetting.

Oh, I don't even know where to start, but I agree with you totally.

Erica said...

I LOVE Jamie's new show. I've watched both episodes and I nearly cried when I saw how crappy the food those kids were eating. And they didn't know a potato from a tomato...seriously???? Or when he showed them how to make chicken nuggets (which I had to leave the room for because it was so gross) and yet they ALL wanted the crap food? We have some serious issues facing our country and the crap food we eat is a big part of it. If we did something about our diets (and yes I am also referring to myself) we wouldn't need drastic health reform measures. So much of our health could be improved if we just worked at it.

Asianmommy said...

I'm so glad that someone out there is addressing this issue of bringing healthy food to schools. It was really telling when those 6-year-old children couldn't identify any of those vegetables.

Aunt LoLo said...

This is...interesting. We're moving away from the "crap food" that Erica mentioned, if only because I'm enjoying spreading my Holly Homemaker wings. That's one way to control what goes into the kids' tummies....but it's not for everyone, definitely.

Kristi said...

I personally love Jamie Oliver and was thrilled that his new show is on "regular TV" cause we dropped cable a few months ago. I have to say how disturbed I was with the chicken nugget experiment. My kids are healthy eaters, more out of survival than any other reason.
I hate that it costs so much to feed my family in a healthy way. I've had folks ask me if I clip coupons as I lament how much our grocery bill is, but when was the last time you saw coupons for vegetables in the circular ads?
Plain sad if you ask me, so we continue to make our budget adjustments in other areas to keep up with my growing eaters...

a little leprechaun said...

HI TM! LOVED the eggs! What a great idea!

School Lunches. I actually used to be a Temporary Coordinator for the school system in Savannah, GA. LOVED the job. But it was extremely challenging. Basically I was over 16 cafeterias. I would go visit them and make sure they were following the recipes, which were designed to be healthy, but they were to use alot of the canned ingrediants given to the schools by the government. I'm not sure if things have changed, it was several years ago when I held this position. Alot of the challenges came from making sure the lunches were healthy, but also to ensure the kids would eat them and increase participation. Participation is key. That is how it was decided how many jobs could be held at the school cafeteria.

But I agree, if we at home teach our children to make healthy choices, it will not be such a shock when they reach school.

I was very excited to see that schools are using fresh fruits/vegetables. And I am happy to hear that they are taking a serious look at the system.

And not to jump on another soapbox, but what about alot of schools cutting out PE. I don't quite understand that. Healthy eating is important, but so is physical activity. Just doesn't make any sense.

Hope your week is going well! I'm really sorry to hear about all your food sensitivities. That's rough.

Please have a wonderful Easter!

The Drinkwaters said...

To take you a bit farther back in US school lunch history...

The great "ketchup as a vegetable controversy or ketchupgate" from the early 80's.

Briefly, there was a proposal from government to recognize ketchup as a vegetable in school lunches in an effort to save one billion dollars annually in school lunches.

I think we ate pretty healthy before our daughter came home. Now we eat even healthier. While we are not super vigilant, we too, shop the perimeter of the store.

Luckily, we do not have the troubles you do with most packaged foods. Do you find it challenging when eating over at friends/family's homes?

La-La-Liene said...

I would honestly like to eat more organic than I do but it can be seriously EXPENSIVE. We have no food allergies in our house so we pretty much each everything, including junk.

During the summer we grow many of our own veggies and love it. I'm hoping by mid-April I can turn over my soil and start planting.

My mom thinks I'm crazy because I won't eat anything but natural peanut butter. She doesn't understand the benefits! Less sugar and way more protein. The sweetness just makes my lips pucker from the other PB. I also buy mostly frozen veggies during the winter because they have very few if any preservatives.

Eriks doesn't buy hot lunch from school for 2 reasons - It costs $5/day for hot lunch and drink. Ridiculous I know but that's what his private school charges. His last private school charged $2.25/day. The second reason is I know I can put more healthy stuff in his lunch and I know he'll eat it and my $5 won't be thrown away in the trash if he doesn't eat it.

p.s. I have a few food texture issues too. I can't eat applesauce or drink juice with pulp. I hate eggs because they stink and because of the texture. Can't remember what else...

Anonymous said...

(Haven't read other comments)
I'm sure you've seen Supersize Me. remember the part where they look at school lunches and what kids eat seriously affects behaviour issues? Makes So! Much! Sense! I hate our culture's gross food.

In France, our kids did school lunches. They were sit down meals with real cloths on the table, served family style. First a salad or soup, then the entree, then cheese, then dessert. Always a basket of bread on the table. It was awesome. Each table had an animatrice--a helper? maybe? Usually a college age woman--to ensure good manners. Subsidized, so we paid about one euro a day per kid.

Now they stay a couple of days, but I just send lunches with them. To get the full-on lunch you have to sign up at the beginning of the year and it's not subsidized so it's expensive. Cafeteria options are pizza and cheese waffles, both yummy, but it's cheaper to just slap some cheese and tomato on a baguette and send it with them.

Sorry for the long comment.

Jericho said...

Its true---our kids do get fed awful things at school. Growing up in a very small school (less than 350 for k-12), I was unaware of the fried, fast-food type junk many larger schools were serving. And now, even my tiny school has purchased some oil-fryers and has resorted to the convenience of fast and easy. That alone, almost makes me want to homeschool. Or at least write some angry letters making the threat! :) Just joining you in your rant!!

Janet said...

I taped the show and watched it last night. I have to say, I was UTTERLY STUNNED. I had never heard of children eating BREAKFAST at school, for one thing. And then the food! Are you kidding me? I could NOT believe it. I had absolutely no clue, I guess because I am a homeschooler and we eat home cooked meals all the time. We have fast food about twice a year because I HATE it with a passion. Even my kids don't like it much.

WHAT ON EARTH are the government and the schools thinking? I can not believe what they feed the children. And that's supposed to be BRAIN food? Whoa. Shocked beyond belief.

I actually called my hubby over to see the children who didn't know what a TOMATO was.

Janet said...

PS- I agree about the GOOD food being more expensive. It should be the other way around!

Georgia Peach said...

OH, yuck. Yes, we saw the Food Revolution. I am convinced that future generations will look back on this era and DISCUSS our food as our biggest blunder.

Big Apple and I were BOTH disgusted and frustrated by the food served in that school. Even more so because we remembered the same types of things on the trays when we were children.

All that to say, we are watching the show. It's hard to watch, but it is important to see what Jamie is trying to do.

Food comes from the dirt. Not from a labratory.

AwesomeCloud and family said...

I don't know anything about most of those topics, but I do enjoy eating lettuce grown in my own backyard. And I know it's free of weird fertilizer-based bacteria because I don't use fertilizer. I'm hoping my cukes and tomatoes don't drown this year, too.

I can eat anything, but my only real problem area is refined sugar. I tried to cure myself of it before Cloud came along so it wouldn't become his problem area too, but I have failed.

Michal said...

I homeschool so I remain blissfully unaware as to just how bad school lunches are. Having said that, however, I am aware of the horrible racket that the American Food Industry is. I can not even get started or I will end up going on and on like a Politico Granola person ( we need those Politico Granola Types so , no offense meant there). So yeah. I have recently become all that I thought I never wanted to be - A Homeschooling Vegetarian Christian (that cusses. like a sailor.).
You can't stop me. I am that wild.
We have watched Food Inc, read Fast Food nation and seen a few PBS specials. And, just this week I had to face the fact that I can no longer eat this stuff, feed it to my kids and husband... We are actually trying to make the switch to meatless slowly, no pork now. Only organic free range chicken and eggs for a while, organic beef.....we will slowly phase things out. We've been off fast food for a long time now.
I am trying not to be one of those "preach-y types" but it's hard to keep my mouth shut. I have managed so far, knowing me, I'll have a soapbox up anytime now....

Cavatica said...

There are sulfites on fish???

This is all interesting. I strive for healthy, but I hate to cook. I mean really hate to cook. Hubs does most of it. I heat things up. We do fairly well and stick to the edges of the grocery store too. Still, there are many times I would love to live from food that comes out of packages. I probably would more if they didn't give me migraines.

Anonymous said...

i really feel for you -- would be so frustrating to have to deal with all those food allergies. (never mind missing out on all that alcohol... oh well. moreforme!) ;)

and i (a-hem) enjoyed your harry/sally reference!

Larissa in Country Western Australia said...

Just found your blog from "We are THAT family" blog. Thought I'd click on the Works For Us link on the side and found this post.

I'm in Australia and we have exactly the same situation here, although more than that, much of our "fresh" fruit and veg come from China now, which is frightening considering the difference in food standards.

Hubby and I have 2 girls we homeschool, all of us have food sensitivities/allergies. I have milk protein and MSG issues. The girls can't have presevatives (the 200 numbers/sulphites and benzoates) or they get sore tummies and lip swelling. Hubby can't tolerate "natural" colour 160b Annatto or he gets the itchies. Yet MANY MANY foods contain these. I wish we had "real" food still, it would make life so much easier!

I found out about all these additives from Fed Up with food additives by Sue Dengate, an Australian Mum who had an ADD child and an autistic child. Removing these things changed much of her life, it's now much calmer.

I can't speak for school lunches here as I homeschool and we don't have a cafeteria system, just canteen where the children order their food in the morning and come back to buy it then eat it in the playground. I know that much of what is sold is still "not good enough" even though there are "healthy lunches" progams by the Govt.

I'm rambling and should go. Love your post on God and Adoption too, we are here to bring Glory to God, in All circumstances. :o) God Bless.

a Tonggu Momma said...

Oh, Larissa, thank you so much for your comment(s). Heh. Yep... I missed this the first time around. It's so nice to meet another mom with food challenges. We have found that the Tongginator's behavior changes a ton (for the better) the healthier she eats. It's not simply sugar, but preservatives and dyes as well. You are so right.

Ellie said...

I'm a first time reader and you have me so nervous about American food! We have been living in Australia for 4 years and in the beginning I was complaining that they don't use the hormones in chicken here (that makes it so much more tender) . . . they are so stinkin' healthy (and green, no pollution at all!) and so now we are too. I guess I need to steer my children away from school lunches - and they were so excited to get to buy them!

You really should move to Australia :)