Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Can Food Be Simplified?

One of my goals as a radical steward is to cultivate a life of simplicity. I don't want to get bogged down with material possessions, over-scheduled with unnecessary activities, that sort of thing. I also don't want to be over-thinking every decision and spending hours on the internet researching other people's opinions and viewpoints.

That's why it's a bit ironic that this post on making sense of the food debates has taken me four days to put together. I'm trying to simplify here, not confuse myself further!

From organic vegetables and superfoods to modern agriculture and Federal oversight, from milk to meat and back again, food is a national conversation. Everyone has an opinion, but no one really agrees. There is some consensus on a few key points, however, and the laws of nature and science aren't being altered no matter how strongly people try!

1. Make food important, but strive for balance. Many Americans are actually malnourished even though our country is suffering from an obesity epidemic because processed foods are devoid of essential nutrients. The amount of food we eat, the way we grow it, and the trade relations we have with other countries affect people's lives on a global level. Food is important. We need to pay attention to it. But, we must not let it not become an obsession or a form of control. We must do the best we can in our individual situations, and let go of the rest. Neither the quest for perfect health nor the desire to promote a fairer standard of food production should ever overshadow our quest for holiness or our ability to create meaningful relationships with our fellow man.

2. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. This is Michael Pollan's advice and it is one of the best ways to ensure you are eating what God intended. "Food" means anything that is recognizable as such. Nothing with day-glo colors, like blue oatmeal, or things that are processed past resemblance to their original state, like corn syrup or soy protein granules. Don't overeat, or eat simply for something to do. Try a bread and water fast to determine how little we really need to eat in order to get through the day. If we feel the need to snack on something, we should make a cup of tea or get a glass or water, and offer up our hunger pangs for the less fortunate. Plants should form the foundation of our diet. Occasional meat is good (the sick, pregnant, the very young and the very old probably need meat every day,) some fish is beneficial, but we can get every single thing we need from the vegetable kingdom, with the addition of a few animal proteins like eggs.

3. Avoid additives and processed foods. We always seem to have a scapegoat to blame for our unhealthy conditions. First it was salt, then fat, then sugar, and now carbs. The truth is, all those things are bad for you in excess, but they are also all part of the natural foods God intended us to eat. This article on sugar does a great job discounting some of the myths and presenting the facts in a scientific and complete manner.

To summarize: your body breaks down the food you eat by extracting all usable vitamins and minerals and converting the rest into glucose, a simple sugar. Your liver then converts that glucose into energy or fat depending on your body's needs. Refined sugars and simple carbs, however, are already broken down into their simplest component and stripped of vitamins, so instead of nourishing your body, they are either converted directly into excess fat, or worse, quickly enter your bloodstream and mess with your blood sugar levels. The problem is not with sugar or starches, per se; it's with foods that have unhealthy amounts of these ingredients, or that are made from ingredients that have been overprocessed, stripped of their natural vitamins, minerals, and fiber and reduced to nothing more than empty calories. Besides being a ridiculous waste, it's incredibly unhealthy.

The biggest perpetrators of such food crimes? Packaged goods and ready-made meals. And these foods also tend to contain the largest amounts of trans fats because hydrogenation gives oils a longer shelf-life. One piece of advice I received years ago has made the most difference for me in my attempt to avoid sugar, additives and simple carbs: Shop the outside edge of the supermarket. On the edge is where you find meats, produce, and dairy items, which should make up the bulk of your diet. Enter the aisles only for goods in raw form (whole wheat flour rather than box mixes) or for canned goods that say "low sodium." Buy fresh whenever possible, make it at home rather than getting it from a store, and drink only milk, water or tea (and beneficial alcohols like red wine.)

I am very easily frustrated when faced with too many sides to explore. It's so easy to get lost and discouraged, but it doesn't have to be so complicated. Sometimes simplifying means turning off the outside noise and just getting back to what we know works. Cooking a meal for your family using whole, natural ingredients, and then sitting down together to eat. What could be simpler than that?

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Seeing Things Clearly

I had LASIK eye surgery a couple weeks ago. My mother gifted it to me on my 30th birthday, but since I was a brand new mother (my youngest was only a week old at that time!) I wanted to wait until I didn't have a tiny being completely dependent upon me for sustenance before I went through the surgery. Two years went by, and my mom finally got on my case to get the surgery done, even offering to come stay with me for a week and help me out as I convalesced. (Not that it takes a week, but hey, if she's making the trip she may as well stick around and spend some quality time with the kids.)
Before I scheduled the surgery, I read up on the procedure and the center where I was having it done. I felt very confident in my doctor and his skills (he's probably the best LASIK surgeon in Colorado and has even developed a laser of his own design.) Everyone I spoke with was both kind and knowledgeable, allaying any concerns I had about the procedure itself or my suitability for it.

That didn't stop me from having nightmares as the surgery loomed, or lying awake with vague fears of losing my sight all together and never seeing my daughter in her prom dress, developing an infection that might cause me to lose an eye, or some other equally rare and unlikely disaster.

I turned to my husband for support one night, as we were getting ready for bed, asking him how he felt about my upcoming surgery.
He admitted that he was nervous about the procedure and had some trepidation about how it would all turn out. I was like...ummmm...are you not aware you are supposed to be a rock upon which I can build a fortress of emotional security? You are not allowed to feel nervousness about this!

Which brought me to the realization I should have had from the start: I need to rely on God alone. My husband, amazing man though he is, cannot save me from fears or suffering. Only God can turn my tears into dancing.

That night I had a dream where I died. It's the way of dreams that you don't know at the time that things aren't real. Everything feels real, feels as though it's truly happening. When my group discovered that the Enterprise wasn't going to rescue us and the planet we were on was about to explode, I truly in that moment felt the overpowering panic that I would have in any situation where there was no escape. (Yes, yes, I know. Star Trek dreams belie a deep and abiding nerdiness that can't be disguised. Anyway.) I clearly remember standing there, watching the sky-high ball of flame rushing toward me and knowing it was beyond impossible to survive what was coming. So I didn't bother with fear. I just accepted it and turned my thoughts to Jesus. The flames rushed in and bright light blinded me. I reached out my arms, smiling, peace enfolding me, and looked for my Savior.

I opened my eyes to darkness and crushing disappointment. I wasn't dead, after all. I was just dreaming.

Turns out, the surgery wasn't easy for me at all. I prayed the Hail Mary over and over to get through it, and spent three times as long in recovery as everyone else that day. But it all turned out well: my vision is 20/18 and my eyes are healing nicely. I didn't even really think about the dream while I was on the table or in recovery, but I've put the two together since then. What I struggle with most in this life is trust. Trust in God, in others, in myself, too. The dream was showing me that whenever I am faced with a problem, while the outcome may not be what I wanted, if I turn to God I will find happiness in it.

I've been pondering how this relates to my attempts to discern God's will for my life. In a profound way, it brings me comfort. The details of my future aren't important. What's important is that I turn to God and make Him the center of anything I do. Most importantly, though, it reminds me that things are not all up to me. I didn't want to be blind any more than I wanted to be on an exploding planet, but either way, it's God alone in whom I should place my trust. No one else has the power to save me.

When I think about the dream now, I don't feel any of the lingering fear a nightmare usually evokes. What I most remember is the joy and expectation I felt peering through the white light trying to see God. John writes of heaven:
Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.
They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever. --Revelation 22:3-5
Amen, Lord Jesus!

Picture credit.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I'm writing from my vacation up north in Michigan. My in-laws have a house right on the lake in a little village that used to be a thriving lumber town before the turn of the century. It's just south of Sleeping Bear Dunes and part of the National Lakeshore, which makes it a truly remarkable place with views that bring peace into your soul. Today the lake is extremely windy and agitated. From inside, through a window and while sitting in a patch of sunlight, the lake is lovely. Trying to sit on the beach, though, would be totally miserable.

If I thought about it long enough, I feel like I could come up with some cool metaphor linking the beauty of a windy lake from inside the security of a warm log house with the beneficence of faith sheltering me from the winds of circumstance or something, but you know what? I am on vacation and I just don't have the brainpower! Sorry...

Since I am away from home (and on vacation, have I mentioned that?) I am relaxing my Rule in terms of keeping on schedule. I do have several guidelines for my month up here, though.

(Those of you with kids can read these like the Genie from Aladdin)
Rule #1! I can't completely let go of my prayer life. At a minimum, I want to drag the kids to Mass on Sunday for one hour of absolutely hellish aggravation that makes me question my decision to raise my children as Catholics, pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy daily for my parents, say one decade of the Rosary for the intentions of the Rosary Crusade each night, and offer each morning to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Rule #2! I can't overindulge myself. I can have pie, ONCE a day. I can have ice cream, on a day I DON'T eat pie. Just because my in-laws are generous, fun-loving people does not mean I can take advantage of their munificence and get a new outfit every time we walk around the downtown. It's not a bad idea to keep some level of discipline going with the kids, too. One new toy per outing is PLENTY.

Rule #3! I can't pawn off my children entirely on their grandparents and spend the day blogging...oops. No, seriously. Doob Time and Gin Time need to be preserved. 1/2 an hour a day for each child, concrete, one-on-one activities that they choose. It really is too easy up here to let Grandma and Grandpa entertain them all day. Especially because all four of them enjoy that time so much.

So there you have it. Minimum standards for vacation. I have additional goals of setting out my curriculum plan to begin Homeschooling the Doob when we return, and possibly finishing Pope Benedict XVI's latest encyclical, of which I am 1/2 way through. There's also a book on the 1967 Arab-Israeli war that's caught my attention, and possibly something on Northern Michigan flora and fauna...but more likely I will spend my evenings chatting with my in-laws and watching what passes for news up here. Last night's Top Story: the weather forecast. I kid you not. We are all on vacation up here, I guess!

God Bless you all.

Picture credit.