It’s October!

Now there’s a concept…

Time for beer and candy! Plus, my kids are freaking adorable in costumes. What a great month.

Well let me rain on your parade just a little bit. As my thoughts turn to the many, many occasions this month at which my children will be buzzed on sugar, I also think about the realities of the cheap and abundant candy that is thrown at them like so much manna raining from heaven. And those realities suck.

Because sad to say, the whole candy thing – in particular, the chocolate juggernaut – rides on the backs of, you guessed it, slaves. Or at best, sorely underpaid workers. At worst, forced child labor.

I am going to just let a couple of excellent posts from the very much more popular “Rage Against the Minivan” blog speak for me here, because why reinvent the argument?

This one features several clips from a devastating BBC documentary that will hopefully change your mind about those giant Costco bags of chockies.

This one is a helpful list of steps – starting from the most baby all the way up to the most committed & preachy – for making your Halloween more fair (also I am 90% sure that the organic lollipops I’m buying at Trader Joe’s are the very same as those listed in this post).

I hope you’ll read them, watch them, and implement their suggestions.

As for us, we’ll be doing those organic lollipops and regiving anything the kids receive. Which, if we go by last year’s haul, will be MORE than enough.

Oh and we buy our beer locally…I really hope I don’t learn there’s a whole hops slave trade going on or I just might lose it.

[another “fun” post by RATM is this satire about non-fairly traded coffee…]

Don’t take it out on the kids

So yesterday I went to Chick Fil A for the first time in a couple of months. I didn’t even realize my visit coincided with the possible end of the chain’s support of gay-hate groups, but that’s fine by me.

I wrote recently about why CFA should be a smaller part of my life, and it wasn’t about politics or religion at all – purely about health. But yesterday I was jonesing something awful for the spicy chicken. So I rationalized that going every six weeks to two months isn’t going to kill anybody, and the small amount I spend there (usually under $15) isn’t going to make a dent one way or the other in their business. I fulfilled my craving without guilt, and made my children extremely happy by finally relenting to their near-daily demand for the place.

After we ate and they were safely ensconced in the playground, I noticed that the kids had automatically been given the under-3 toy with their meals. At first, I assumed the restaurant must simply be out of anything else. But then I saw every other kid in the place had a different and cooler toy (some kind of cd…not sure if it was for listening or computer). Since my house is already littered with those little board books, I decided to go ask for the other toy.

Here’s what I was told: “You didn’t buy the right meal to get those. You only bought four nuggets. You have to buy six nuggets to get the over-3 toy.” I’m like, what? I’ve always only ordered four…because that is all my kids eat. The woman patiently responded that this was a new policy: to give an under-3 toy with a 4-count nugget, and an over-3 toy with a 6-count nugget (never mind that I bought two 4-count meals, and therefore 8 nuggets…but I didn’t think of pointing that out at the time).

This concerns me because it raises a health issue. Basically the store is taking the position either that a) only toddlers eat 4-count meals or b) an older child with a reasonable appetite should be treated like a baby.

My children often eat only three of their four nuggets, and that is because I make them first eat their fruit and pouch of applesauce, all the while drinking milk (fries, if any, are last after nuggets). When they load up on the healthier stuff first, then their little tummies are pretty much full, and the nuggets are just a protein chaser.

But CFA is penalizing this behavior, and insisting that if I want my children to receive an age-appropriate toy, they have to have what they consider an age-appropriate appetite.

Is anybody else thinking about childhood obesity? Could this maybe be such a problem because we assume that a “normal” child portion is six nuggets plus fries plus (refillable) soda?

I realize that an older child probably does need six nuggets to feel full (though she will get fuller if she eats fruit and milk on the side instead of fries and soda). But my kid is four years old. And skinny. And frankly, I have no desire to force feed her extra nuggets.

CFA has tried (successfully, in my book) to position themselves as a healthier alternative for kids, offering grilled nuggets, applesauce, fruit, milk, etc. They used to upcharge for these items but stopped that practice a few years ago, which indicated to me a positive move towards caring about kids’ health – making it easy & cost-neutral to give your child something better for him. Now I feel like their commitment is declining…worse, I feel like they are cutting costs at the expense of kids.

And I do not know one parent who doesn’t go there because their kids beg for it. So really, children are among their most important customers. They should be bending over backwards to keep kids happy!

Yes, I know it is ironic to talk about health, especially to complain about it, when it comes to fast food. That was the point of my previous post. But the fact remains, sometimes your kids will want it, sometimes you need a fast and cheap lunch. That’s just a reality of parenting. And I’d rather go there than other places where I really don’t trust the food at all (and have bigger problems with their labor practices than I do with CFA’s charity practices). Finally, I appreciate the fact that at CFA I have several healthier options to choose from.

I just wish my kids wouldn’t be punished for making a choice that is better for their bodies.

[UPDATE: I’ve recently learned this might only be a local policy – if you find that this is not the policy at your CFA, would you mind posting a comment to let me know? Thanks!]
[SECOND UPDATE: OK Now I have been officially shamed by Food Babe and will probably give up CFA for good. Dammit.]

Why I should have stopped eating at Chick Fil A a long time ago

“I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about.” (Dan Cathy)

“Of course, it’s perfectly OK to have the audacity to re-engineer God’s chicken design to make them 95% breast meat, and then drop a couple of strips of bacon and cheese on top of those bad boys, cuz you can’t take everything in Leviticus like it’s the word of God.” (Jon Stewart)

But smarter people ask where it comes from

I haven’t been to CFA since the whole Cathy Kerfuffle, though I probably will not stay away forever. But I have had to ask myself WHY I suddenly stopped eating there, over of all things a man’s personal opinion, when for years eating there has resulted in my participating in or supporting many other actions which I find repulsive, such as:

  • Growing ridiculous numbers of chickens, who are at best living their lives in a crowded dark warehouse eating feed not suited to their bodies, and are at worst genetically modified to produce the type of meat I want.
  • Consuming fats which are likely poisonous to my body and processed food with dubious nutritional content. Oh, and also, meat glue.
  • Eating produce which was almost certainly picked by an immigrant laborer who was paid maybe a pittance, or maybe nothing at all, for his or her work, all the while exposed to dangerous chemicals and backbreaking labor in any sort of weather.
  • Supporting a level and type of farming that requires altering natural processes, damaging the environment, and widespread use of fertilizer, pesticides and their ilk.

Why have I not questioned any of this before?

Granted, these are problems with almost any fast food – scratch that, almost any food you eat outside your home, period. And since reading Fast Food Nation several years ago I haven’t patronized the major fast food chains on any sort of regular basis. But I make excuses for my favorite places, either by virtue of knowing they treat their staff decently (In-N-Out), or because they give my kids books instead of toys and fruit or applesauce instead of fries (Chick Fil A), or because I know they source local and somewhat cleaner meat (Freebirds, Chipotle). I don’t have an excuse for why I eat at Five Guys (someone know something good about them?) but I only go there 1-2x a year anyway.

Anyway, all this to say that there are so many good reasons not to eat at any fast food chain that none of us should be doing it regularly. Certainly not up to three times a week, as I’ve been guilty of doing in the past with CFA (it’s my kids! I blame their addiction to nuggets! And the play structures that keep them amused while I avail myself of free wi-fi!).

This week I’m going to talk about just one aspect of this post: justice. Particularly in relation to the people who tend and pick the crops we eat. And I mean the stuff we buy to cook at home, too, not just what the major restaurant chains have to demand to meet their supply quotas. So if you’re not inclined to think about or change the way you eat, you should probably skip these posts. Because I’ve learned some seriously disturbing information, and I’m about to get all lady justice up in big ag’s ass.

The Five Minute Pitch

Last night a woman asked me about this blog and what I write about. It gave me the opportunity to practice my “five minute pitch” – that is, the distillation of the ideas you’re considering for a book that can be given in an elevator ride. Technically I realize five minutes is too long. But once I get going I tend to keep people’s interest. 🙂

Anyway I failed at being very coherent last night (granted, there was wine involved, which I felt the need to imbibe while speaking so as to underline my points about eating well), so I thought I’d better get this figured out on here and then I will hopefully have a better spiel for next time. And Tina if you read this, hope it clarifies things for you!

Many Christians want to integrate their faith into all aspects of their lives, but often don’t think about how to do that with their choices around food. Yet the way that we shop and eat is so deeply important to our ethics and our general approach to life, and absolutely can and should be a spiritual act. To make it simple, I take as my starting point the three tenets of the Slow Food Movement: food should be good, clean, and fair.

Food being “fair” means that the processes by which it is produced respect the dignity of all creation. This starts with treating the earth well: not poisoning it, tending it with patience, etc. It means allowing animals to be the creatures they were made by God to be: so pigs, for instance, will root in a forest, not be crammed into a crate. It continues up the chain to human beings: paying the farmer a price that reflects his or her work, ensuring that slave or near-slave labor does not continue, and supporting legislation that lifts up the individual, hardworking people who labor to bring us food. Respect and Fairness also means giving all created beings, including the land,
the Sabbath rest it deserves.

Food being “clean” goes right along with this. Christians can think of it as purity, as not polluting our bodies with inventions masquerading as food or poisons that may give a moment of pleasure but contribute to a lifetime of illness. It means having a clear idea of where your food has come from, and connecting to the people (and animals, if you like) who are part of the process. It means personally knowing your farmer and even visiting the farm, showing your children the beauty of the earth and its abundance. Again, it can mean supporting certain types of legislation. And the best way to ensure you’re eating clean food is by growing it yourself: a wonderful way to connect to God’s creative work in the world.

Finally, food should be GOOD! It should taste good, it should make our tongues and our tummies happy! That means we eat real food, not foodlike substances (it means we throw rules out the window now and then, too). We take time to cook and honor the recipes of our ancestors. We use premium ingredients from around the world, that remind us just how varied and exciting God’s handiwork can be.

And it should be good for you, not just in the physical sense, but in the emotional, social, and definitely spiritual senses! Pondering your apple while you eat it will settle your mental state and put you in a place of gratitude and connection with your world. Eating with other people will bring you close together and cement community. And there is a great reason why the Eucharist is the primary sacrament of Christian discipleship: it is through daily bread that we return thanks to our Creator for sustaining our lives, and it is through wine that we return thanks for the grand enjoyment we are given in life! Blessing God for the gift of food makes us priests before him, sharing and stewarding, correcting the selfish error of Adam and Eve who took for themselves alone.

Good, clean, and fair food connects us to our families, our communities, our God, and our best selves. And that is why eating well is, inherently, a spiritual act.

(ok that is probably over five minutes….like I said, I really get going. It’s a work in progress!)