This post was written for Real Food in Little Rock.
Ah....where do I start...to tell YOU where to start??!! My own food journey started over eight years ago and continues on and on and on, as I read and educate myself further. And then find a WAY to apply that knowledge. Sometimes it's the application part that is the hardest. Certainly, it is often the part that takes the longest to achieve. I will admit that at times it's easier to revert back to our old ways. Because they're familiar and normal by the world's standards. They're accepted. But I can never stay in that pattern for very long. Because I feel its effects. And it doesn't feel good.
I'm one of those people who questions everything and spends a lot of time looking things up on the internet and in books. (I'm pretty sure all our physicians hate me.) I read because I want to know stuff. The very idea of having "the wool pulled over my eyes," especially so someone else can get rich, offends and upsets me, especially when it comes to my family's food and health. I guess that's the "mother bear" in me.
My food journey actually began when I had my first baby. It began because I had a baby. While I've always leaned a lot toward environmental concerns and natural, earth-friendly products, when I became a mother I became even more concerned with natural living. For instance, I was adamant I would breastfeed. So much so, in fact, that I endured six solid weeks of torturous pain from thrush (I didn't know what was wrong with me) because no way was I going to quit nursing! Of course, after I survived that I had to figure out what I would do when it came time to feed my baby solid foods.
So I suppose it all began with baby food. I was very concerned with what would be going into my baby's body. After doing a little research, I purchased the book Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron. And while I do not agree 100% with her methods of feeding babies (or believe all she has to say about what's healthy), it was a remarkable resource for a young, first-time mother. I learned why commercial baby food should be avoided, how to read labels, ingredients to avoid, how to choose, cook, and store many vegetables new to me, and how to make my home a safer place by making my own household cleaners. I also learned about organic vs. conventionally-grown food. IF I bought a jar of baby food, I only bought organic. But even then I knew it wasn't the best stuff to be feeding to my child, so most of the time I made everything myself. I made cereals, fruits/veggies, crackers, you name it. And perhaps it was just coincidence, but that baby of mine set a record in our pediatrician's office as the only child ever to make it to the age of three having never been prescribed an antibiotic!!!! (That and to this day the child will eat anything!)
About the time that baby was three I was introduced to the book What the Bible Says About Healthy Living by Dr. Rex Russell. I devoured it...so to speak. (Y'all, I hope you'll forgive my nerdy humor. I can't help it.) I knew I couldn't do everything the author suggested all at once (though I always wish I could), so I picked the easiest possible things (for me) to eliminate from my diet. I decided to start with shrimp, other shellfish, catfish, pork, etc. after learning what those animals eat and how they digest their food. It was enough to keep me away. I also began to buy less and less processed food items. For many reasons, there would be no more hot dogs in my house!!
Then I had a third baby and ended up with thrush again. Only this time I had a much worse case of it. And I couldn't fight it off. (Thank you, refined sugars and grains.) Many, many weeks went by with no improvement whatsoever while on pharmaceuticals. Finally, the doctors cut me off. No more meds! They suggested I see a doctor of internal medicine to check for autoimmune disorders. I, being the rebel that I am (yes, I admit this), refused to believe it. I did my own research and learned about the healing power of phytochemicals.
Raw garlic (and lots of it), probiotics, blueberries, cherries, cranberry supplements. All worked together to heal me. After this experience I was forever changed. I began to look at food for nourishment and health rather than for simply my enjoyment. Since that time, I've learned much more as other books have come my way: The Maker's Diet by Dr. Jordan Rubin, Real Food by Nina Planck, and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, being the top three.
I've made many, many changes over the years. It's truly amazing how vastly different we eat now than we did when we were first married. I don't always do everything the way I should, and I struggle sometimes because I know about so much more and want to do better in those areas, but I can only do a little at a time. This is important, because I don't want to get overwhelmed and give up. All this to say, if you want to get started on a food journey and don't know where to start, just start somewhere. Do anything. Pick the easiest thing you could possibly accomplish and get good at that first.
Some things to start with:
1. Work toward a more UNprocessed grocery list. If it comes in a bag, box, package, or can, you probably should try to avoid it, with the exception of just a few things.
2. Stay away from trashy, rancid meats like hot dogs, bologna, and other deli-style "meats."
3. Switch from refined, synthetically-iodized table salt to Real Salt. It happily still contains all the minerals your body needs (unlike regular salt). It's so nice to be able to say, "Salt away! It's good for you!" with no worries. I've also found it takes less of it to get the same results than ordinary salt. (And you can buy it in bulk at Whole Foods.)
4. Buy your eggs from local farmers who let their hens eat at free-will all day on a pasture. And eat lots of them. You'll thank me for this one!
5. Throw away all vegetable oils, including canola, sunflower, safflower, etc. Use olive oil for salads and the like. But for cooking, use good, unrefined coconut oil.
7. Find yourself some raw dairy. Try to drink raw milk every day. Use lots of butter and cream. Eating fat is GOOD for you!!
8. Use natural, unrefined sweeteners. I use raw honey, maple syrup, and Sucanat. (Sucanat compares cup for cup with sugar, and you can buy it at Whole Foods, online, or through a co-op.)
9. Watch Food, Inc. It will change your life. Meat at the grocery store is scary, scary stuff. Look for grass-fed beef, pastured, free-ranging poultry, and wild-caught fish. The animals are healthier and happier this way, and you will be, too.
Take it one step at a time. Changing a lifetime of bad eating habits is going to take a while, so be patient both with yourself and with the process. If you're in the central Arkansas area (and even if you're not), I would encourage you to check out the Real Food in Little Rock blog for advice and information about obtaining and preparing real food.