Do you ever wonder if organic is worth the money? Or is local better? And if you can only buy a few top-quality grocery items, which ones should you choose—grass-fed beef or organic carrots? This series is for you!
And it’s for me too. Because life has changed for my little family. Our new home in Farmington, New Mexico, comes with some baggage—state income tax, high utility bills, and remoteness—while my husband’s job doesn’t follow the same generous raise schedule we enjoyed before. My toddler eats adult portions and, oh yes, there’s a bun in the oven, due before the end of the year.
We are blessed with more than we need, and yet, we have limits. We can’t buy it ALL, even if we could figure out what the “perfect” ALL looks like.
For you and for me, the critical question is not, What does “perfect” look like and how can we achieve it instantly? but rather, How can we work within our unique limitations to nourish ourselves and families with healthier food?
As you can tell by the title, this is not a series for the shoestring budgeter struggling to afford anything beyond coupon-able Cup Noodles and Hamburger Helper. Real, whole food—beans, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, eggs, and meats prepared at home without boxes or cans—is always the first step and often an enormous financial hurdle. I don’t minimize that. It is a luxury to debate between wild-caught or farm-raised salmon.
Still, I want to write to those of you who, like me, generally have the resources to buy basic unprocessed foods plus a little extra, but can’t afford everything at top-quality. Our food decisions matter, both personally and collectively. Where do you put your food dollars first? Only you can answer that question, but by sharing with you how we do it, I hope to make your job a little easier.
It’ll go something like this:
- Defining your food mission or guiding principles
- Understanding what terms like conventional, organic, pastured, local, etc. mean
- Putting it all together for easy, peaceful decisions
Getting Started: A Mission Statement
Confession: Until I started this article a few months ago, I never wrote a food mission statement. I only tried it because I found myself a little muddled as I wrote. But, WOW, the exercise was so helpful I’m sorry I didn’t try it sooner!
If you’ve never made a family food mission statement (and, seriously, who has?), please give it a try. Just 5 minutes. Jot down what’s important to you and then, when your time is up, pick your top 3 or 4 and loosely rank them.
Nothing simplifies decision-making like clearly defined principles.
You don’t even have to get rigid about it. These aren’t the Ten Commandments, after all. They simply reflect your current thinking.
Here is my working Family Food Mission Statement:
Within my current limitations of money, time, and energy, I aim to
Maximize the “good stuff” in our food to build personal wellness
And minimize the “bad stuff” to avoid extra stressors,
While cultivating gratitude and pleasure—never fear—
With an eye toward collective wellness and the Creation’s integrity.
I’ll break that down.
Putting the “Good Stuff” First
I focus, first, on the positive act of nourishing and feeding our bodies for optimal health. We Americans may be calorie-rich, but we’re nutrient-poor. So I seek out foods that offer much besides just protein, fat, and carbs. I want vitamins and minerals and all the other “good stuff” in real food we have yet to identify. I want riches in our diet!
This is the opposite of the dieter mentality, of simply staying within a caloric allotment or saying no to carbs. Have you ever experienced the difference between daily goals for what you DO want to eat versus what you DON’T want to eat? It’s astonishing. My putting the “good stuff” first is as much for our mental and emotional health as it is for our physical vitality. It’s a better way to live to work toward what you want.
Less “Bad Stuff” = Less Additional Stress
I can’t avoid all toxins and irritants; it’s impossible. There are always the ones I don’t know about, that aren’t labeled (nanoparticles of metal in organic milk, anyone?), that can’t be controlled or avoided. And it’s crazy-making to try. Our struggle with my son’s eczema finally drove this point home to me! Why do 30% of babies have eczema these days? Why are autism rates skyrocketing? I don’t know, but I know it’s bigger than me and my choosing organic apples or not.
There is one thing I can certainly do, however: give our bodies a break sometimes. It’s really just another way to nourish the body—with rest. Skipping industrial food add-ins, pesticides, and questionable “new” foods all make a difference. Our bodies are working overtime to handle everything thrown at us from conception onward, so why add to that load?
Gratitude & Pleasure, Not Fear
I once ate a meal as a guest that was brimming with industrial food-like products. While I appreciated my hostess’s gift, my fear overwhelmed my gratitude, and I shuddered with the conviction that I was poisoning myself with every bite. What a tragedy! I was poisoning myself, but not with the food. My attitude was far more toxic, not only for my spirit, but also for my body.
Our culture, both mainstream and “alternative,” reinforces fear as a motivator for food choices. “Saturated fat will kill you!” “No, stupid, it’s the artificial preservatives that are going to kill you!” “No, it’s the grains that will give your kid leaky gut and eczema!”
I’m so happy to say that I’m finally leaving this mentality behind. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m not out of the woods, but every step down the path feels like FREEDOM. I now see fear as the biggest enemy of all.
I really care about quality, but I care more about a grateful heart. Food, whether conventional or organic, is to be enjoyed and appreciated; likewise the relationships built around food. Period.
Collective Wellness & the Creation
My husband and I are committed to more than our personal health. As we’re able, we make food choices that benefit health at large in our country and the well-being of animals and the planet. So buying grass-fed beef is, for me, about so much more than the awesome nutrition (goal #1) and the purity (goal #2); it’s about the dignity of the animal, environmental health, and even about sending a message with our money that may, in time, improve the health of the average American. I see it as a way of circulating our resources in a healthy way, of contributing even as we consume.
Within My Unique Limitations
ALL of the above goals fall within this ultimate guideline. I am not willing to achieve them by going into “debt” in any way—in money, time, or energy (health)—and so harm myself or my family. This can be tricky with health issues because the body needs good food to heal, and yet the body is resource-poor in making that happen. I know firsthand the other things that have to go to make room for healing. To balance that, however, I now have vision for joyfully doing the best that I can and then . . . resting in that.
It is good enough.
Since I first drafted this mission statement in February, I’ve used it countless times. It helped me decide whether to use grass-fed beef in a meal for someone I know doesn’t care a flip about it. It guided me to buy conventional cucumbers and strawberries and not worry about it. It reminded me over and over to move back into gratitude from the fear circuit, especially during my lousy first trimester followed by 6 weeks of illness. (Talk about sub-optimal food!)
I love it. I love that I thought about what matters most to me at a peaceful moment so that when I’m in the grocery store, I can bring my best thinking to the dilemma, and not just fleeting emotions. I love that I’m more conscious and more peaceful in food decisions. I love that I can keep returning to it, no forgetting. I love that I can continue to refine it as I grow.
It is a powerful tool in my toolbox.
I wonder what a food mission statement could do for you. Would you give it a try? What would yours include?
Next up: Understanding what conventional, organic, pastured, local, and more mean