In high school, I had the same thing for lunch every day: A fudge round, a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, and a carton of milk. Every now and then I’d really mix things up and substitute a cosmic brownie for the fudge round.
In college, my eating habits weren’t much better. Just about every night I’d snack on Tostitos cheese dip. One of the cafeterias had these little slices of heaven called Bosco sticks- breadsticks stuffed with cheese. They were a staple in my diet. Add in the hot dogs, more Doritos, and cheap sandwich meat I could afford on my plasma-donating budget and it’s a wonder I didn’t weigh 400 pounds.
In fact, I’ve been blessed with fairly good genes when it comes to weight. Definitely can’t complain about that, but because what I ate never really affected my weight, I never really saw any point to giving my body good food. If I could stay skinny eating chocolate and chips, why not?
Then I watched the movie Food Inc, among others, and started paying more attention to my diet. Always an animal-lover, I cringed as I watched hundreds of chickens crowded into an itsy bitsy pen. Some of the poor chickens just laid there dead from the stress. Some of the workers dropped-kicked chickens for fun. The way the cattle were treated were just as bad. Every time I bought meat or poultry, I began to wonder where it actually came from and how it got to my store.
I started wondering about other products too. Things like jam or bread or peanut butter- pretty straightforward things. I started looking at ingredients on things. Products like bread had 2,481 ingredients. I’m not a baker, but I knew bread was pretty much flour, water, yeast, and maybe a couple other things. My grocery trips started taking longer and longer as I read the labels on each product I bought- not for the calorie or fat information, but to see what was actually in that product. I started trying to buy products that were made only of ingredients I recognized.
For a long time, I felt good about these changes to our diets. When I was pregnant, I was proud of the way I was treating my body and providing nutrition for my unborn baby. But there was still one thorn in my side.
I do not like vegetables. I don’t hate them all. I enjoy a salad, love green beans, and can dip carrots in hummus or ranch like there’s no tomorrow. But I’m sort of like a 5-year-old when it comes to veggies.
A few months ago, I challenged myself to start eating more vegetables. I know how important they are, and I really WANT to like them. I tried to start with eating at least one vegetable a day. I was doing okay with that, but got bored with the green beans/peas/asparagus rotation I soon found myself in.
Then one day I got an email from work about a CSA that was starting. Do you know what a CSA is? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture. CSAs can come in a couple different forms.
Most commonly, you buy a share of a single farm. A farmer incurs most of their expenses at the beginning of the season, but doesn’t make money until the harvest. When a farm offers a CSA, the members pay a set amount up front. Then from late spring-early fall the members pick up a bag of produce each week. The bag will contain whatever is in season. A CSA provides funds for that farmer when he needs them and provides its’ members with produce for the entire harvest season.
A few CSAs, including the one my work is part of, are a collection of farms. The concept is the same (except instead of paying up front, we get an amount taken out of our paychecks), but instead of getting produce from just one farm, we get it from dozens and dozens of farmers. Good Natured Family Farms organizes all of this and brings bags full of things like meat, eggs, honey, flowers, peaches, tomatoes, lettuce, and other goodies to work each week. Since this was our first time participating in a CSA, we signed up for the every-other week option.
It. Is. Awesome.
I had looked into CSAs in the past, but always shied away from them because I just wasn’t adventurous enough to pay for a bag of random produce each week. I liked the idea of it, but feared that a lot of food would be going to waste.
The CSA that partnered with my employer took away some of that fear, because I knew I would be getting things like milk and chickens- things I KNEW I would eat. It offered variety that a single farm could not. Even if some of the produce went to waste, I wouldn’t feel guilty about throwing away food or money.
But then a funny thing happened. I STARTED LIKING VEGETABLES! One night the husband grilled squash and cucumbers we had received. Usually I would choke this down in the name of healthy eating, but this time it was so good I actually found myself going for seconds! This was a big deal! The items that we get in our CSA packages truly are different than similar items purchased in a store. I started learning that the longer food sits and the further it travels, the less tasty it gets and the less healthy it becomes.
Sometimes the CSA comes with items that we wouldn’t typically buy. Things like cabbage or swiss chard or eggplant. We get a newsletter each week telling us what we will be getting that includes recipes for some of these “weird” items. We also got a cookbook that is so amazing that I am going to dedicate a whole post to it next time. It is a great way to try out some new things, even for a food shy person like myself.
Can you find a CSA near you? It might take a little work, but it’s worth the effort. Talk to those you know who like to eat local food. Investigate where restaurants that serve local food get their items from. Go to the farmer’s market and strike up a conversation with some of the growers. If you are near the KC area, Hen House stores have a CSA program through GNFF, the same people that operate my workplace CSA. There is also an awesome CSA called New Roots for Refugees. Many refugees have little skills outside of farming when they get to the United States. This program allows them to earn an honest living through farming- something that is hard to do when you arrive here with nothing. It is sold out for this year, but you can get on the waiting list for next year now. This website is another excellent link for local eating in the Kansas City area.
If a CSA is not for you, challenge yourself to go to your farmer’s market and pick up one item that is unfamiliar. Then find a way to use it!
I’m still very much in the beginning stages of learning to like my veggies. My nose still crinkles when I think about eating something unfamiliar- but I’m learning to try it anyways, and finding that very often I like it! Being pregnant and breastfeeding has really helped motivate me to eat healthy- it gave me a responsibility that wasn’t there before. When I make unhealthy food choices, it’s not just MY nutrition that is suffering- it affects my baby too. Those things gave me the push I needed, and I soon discovered that I felt all around better when I made healthy eating decisions. It’s still a battle somedays- yesterday I had about 15 chocolate kisses (but they were dark chocolate so that’s okay, right?) and sometimes I find myself grabbing whatever is convenient or cheap- but overall, I’ve come a long ways. No more fudge rounds for this girl. But if there are Cool Ranch Doritos at a cookout, I’m in trouble. I haven’t come THAT far yet. Maybe next year.