I’ve heard this same exact scenario so many times in the past couple months that it tells me a few things. First, the impact of large corporations marketing junk food to families is out of control. Almost everyone at Wal-mart (not just moms) have shopping carts full of junk food. I really need to think more about that. Second, we are really quick to judge moms on how they pay for their food, what food they are purchasing and a long list of other things. Being a mom is really hard work and a little help with a lot of grace could go a long way to helping moms make healthier choices. I hear the concerns and realize how valid they are, but I don’t think that those moms are the problem and here are a few of the reasons.
I’ve been one of those kids.
I was raised by a single mom with disabilities and no personal transportation. For most of my childhood we depended on others for rides to the grocery store or had to walk long distances to bus stops. We were never really sure when our next trip to the grocery store would be and this made packaged, light weight and overly processed foods both convenient, easy to carry and they just so happened to be very tasty. I remember the looks we received when my mom used her government funded assistance to purchase our food. Over time I learned to just look at the floor or try to appear as if I was with someone else when we approached the check out counter. If you were wondering if kids notice your looks, they do. Those are some of the hard memories, but fortunately I had others like the neighbor who shared food from her garden or the family who invited us over for delicious, healthy food. Those moments when my body received the nutrition it craved left lasting impressions that helped me make better food choices later.
I’ve been that mom
When we had our first couple of kids we were overworked, overwhelmed and uneducated when it came to healthy food options that were realistic on our budget and schedule. We started our son on whole foods, but somehow as he became a toddler we started to rely more and more on convenient foods. He not only recognized McDonalds, but would ask for it. Junk food became a tool that I used to simply cope with the hard days of juggling full-time work, stress and exhaustion. I distinctly remember the time when a “foodie” pointed out that while we were selling watermelon and tomatoes at the farmer market everyone noticed that we eat a lot of fast food. It hurt. I wanted to do better, but it wasn’t until we changed some of the underlying reasons we were eating poorly and surrounded ourselves with loving mentors that we were able to make that happen.
People really do change when they are ready
A lot of people are surprised that “I haven’t always eaten this way” (unless they knew me in the past). I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all the reasons we have changed our eating habits and what has motivated us to do so. After some personal health problems a few years ago I began to eat healthier before encouraging my family to do so. We spent a lot of time with farmers and I found that limiting myself to mostly fresh, locally grown foods was a great way to keep us on track. It was good timing with movies like Food INC and writers like Michael Pollen becoming well known. It was when Nathan’s mom was diagnosed with advanced diabetes and liver disease that we finally found the courage to drastically change our eating habits. That in turn allowed us to have the energy and mental clarity to pursue farming full time. But this was a process and happened slowly over time. I’m thankful for those who offered me grace along the way and realistic that I’ll continue to need that as some seasons of life are busier and more chaotic than others. It really is a cycle and part of the process of learning, growing and finding our own path.
What to do when we are concerned
I completely understand why you are concerned. I’m concerned too. We aren’t meant to eat this way and things need to change. We are facing real problems in the health and nutrition of our families. Food insecure, under served, low-income, first world malnourished children, government program participants …I’ve decided that there really isn’t a correct way to describe something that shouldn’t exist. Until solutions to the major issues are found there are things we can do to make a difference one household at a time like getting involved in the Food for All Community Garden to benefit the refugee CSA, HOTEL INC providing locally grown food and teaching people how to use it, the Barren River Food System Alliance with support from Community Farm Alliance and the Double Dollars program that launched yesterday at Community Farmers Market Bowling Green. The double dollars program partners private funding from local businesses and individuals with government funded nutrition programs to help real people eat better food and keep more dollars in our local economy. These large systems do not always work, but some of the most caring, loving mothers I know are receiving assistance from government nutrition programs. The education from these programs gives them the support they need to breastfeed, make better first food decisions and many are bringing back family dinner time.
The most important thing we can do is find compassion.