Sunday, December 9, 2012

Shut up about your organic lifestyle and keep your photos of beautifully prepared food to yourself. I'm not kidding.

     Here's the thing.  I'm not deliberately poisoning my kids.  Yes, they are teens, and we occasionally have moments where we are not blinded by a glowing ball of family love, but I am seriously concerned about their health and well being. As an invested, loving mother, I read books about food, articles about nutrition, blogs about lunch time and snack time and the most important meal of the day.  I know organic is better than inorganic. I know local food leaves less of a global footprint and is usually better for you.  I watched Food, Inc. I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, about the year she and her family tried to eat locally, and were surprisingly successful. I've read the Michael Pollan books.

     But here's the other thing. I can't remember the last time I bought organic, locally grown food.

     Because here's the third thing: I'm broke. All the damn time, I am broke.

     My daughter's first semester of college? It's on a credit card.  God knows when I'll be able to pay that off, let alone the next four plus years of tuition. My high school kid came home last month with the class fees bill in one hand and a cookie/magazine fundraiser in the other. It took the entire year, last year, to pay the two hundred dollar school bill. I have to find eighty dollars for a track uniform and traveling money, before February.
     My car? It's a piece of crap Toyota mini-van, twelve years old, with a semi-functioning muffler. The drivers window takes thirty minutes to roll  up because of tweeky wiring. The side door that is supposed to open and close with a button? Busted. It's been fixed two times already, and I can't afford any more mechanical expertise. The front light is hanging out after a driver's ed type learning experience. Don't even get me started on the gas mileage. So that's the car situation.
     My dishwasher is broken, the sprinkling system is broken, the side window on the house is broken. I try to repair what I can (fixya.com type pages are consulted more than a few times a month), but even home repairs take money. The laptop is broken (bought new with a warranty from BestBuy, who refused to fix it, may they rot in bankrupt hell). Are you getting the picture? Many things need money, only a few things get it.

     The girls are savvy; they don't ask for money unless it's absolutely necessary. They are old enough that they know it could be much worse, that many, many people are in a very bad way. They help out, they bargain shop, they do what they can. They are better than good kids, they are great kids. If you knew them, you would adore them. They are the opposite of a bad generation. They know just how far a dollar doesn't stretch. They study, they volunteer, they do chores. Like many terrific people, they deserve better. But when my kids come to me and say they need five bucks for this school project, ten bucks for that one, and come on mom, it's only a few bucks for the school dance/game/team supper/etc, I have to re-budget the week, and sometimes it's the difference between macaroni and cheese out of a box and a real supper with real food groups.
      That decision, the one between boxed pasta and real food? That is the point I'm trying to make. I know how risky it is to feed growing children crappy food. I'm well aware of the potential consequences. Indeed, the idea of certain inherited health problems descending on my children puts the fear of God in my heart. I very much appreciate the gravity of the subject. I think pesticides are a menace. I have no desire to decimate the bees and butterflies. My personal garden is one hundred percent pesticide free. Of course this means that I'm fighting bad bugs and plant decimating fungi with homemade quasi-effective homemade remedies like mouthwash and chewing tobacco, because I can't afford the more effective store bought organic solutions.
     There is a marvelous, independently owned natural food store just down the road from us, full of locally grown food and organic products. It does very good business with the community at large, but not, unfortunately, me. I can't afford to shop there. I can't afford the organic food anywhere. I'm trying to afford enough food for growing teens, period. The the food system is broken: it is absolutely true that it's cheaper to eat crap food, I can attest to that first-hand. I spend hours looking up the 'healthy and cheap' recipes, and hours more searching out bargains at Wal-Mart and Aldies. I wish healthy and cheap were synonymous, but mostly they aren't.
     Lately, I have started to resent all the books, articles, movies and blogs about organic food and pure eating, with their close up photos of beautifully prepared food and articles waxing rhapsodic about the latest supper party with cherished friends and consummately prepared recipes 
     I didn't realize I held anything more than guilt and envy toward any of it until I realized, a few months ago, that I had jaw pain from gritting my teeth while reading yet another summary of a blogging mommy who had changed her family's life for the better because they went green. I became fully aware of my angst after reading a list in a respected health magazine that listed  the ten fruits and vegetables that should never be eaten unless they were certified organic. I'm sure they didn't intend readers to snarl "Eat this, motherf*$%#*" after being illuminated with helpful advice, and I'm not saying I did, but I can't say I didn't, either.
     Listen, I love food. Who doesn't? I love cooking, eating, talking and reading about food. I don't, however, love shopping for food. I don't shop in stores where the food is beautifully presented and the grocers are smiling and helpful and delighted that you are there with them. I am always amazed at the hordes of people who do shop in places like that. Apparently they are doing okay in this economy, because some fruit, bagels, chicken, and rice can set you back sixty dollars in these happy bastions of gastronomy. I, on the other hand, shop in stores where people pick stuff up, stare at it for a minute, and then reluctantly put it back on the shelf. We all wear crappy clothes and look tired. It isn't a joyful experience of choice and prosperity; the stores have bad lighting, no music, hostile, overworked staff, and discounted, dented groceries. There isn't an organic section, but there is food that is significantly less money to buy than anywhere else, so I don't care about the decor or the lack of choice. Even so, even having found a shop that is within my budget, my stomach hurts when I shop. I spend a lot of time looking up recipes, writing out lists, budgeting every extra cent to lend to the grocery bill, and still walk the isles with a stomach ache and gnawing regret.
     I'm done with blogs, shows and magazines that warn me of the dangers of inorganic food and the upsetting facts of the American diet. I know, okay? I KNOW. We're all fat and unhealthy and don't eat enough fruits and vegetables and we're raising children who don't know how to eat. Goddammit, I know all this. I'd be happy, nay, delighted, to go back to the days when my kids were young and ate broccoli and hummus for snacks. The only thing I worry about more than money is my kids future, specifically their health and happiness. But I just can't afford to feed them the way they deserve to be fed, and take care of them the way they should be taken care of. Like I said before, many things need money, few things get it. In the meantime, don't tell me about the dangers of this and the poisons of that, because the one thing my kids are not, is hungry. They eat enough, if not the right things, and that is a blessing that lets me sleep a little at night. Don't take that away from me, too. It's not much, but it's what I've got.