Monday, March 4, 2013

Judgment Day

Last week I was chatting with a friend; a very smart woman who has her PhD in psychology and also a deep interest in holistic nutrition and health.  We were volunteering at the school book fair; between class rushes and calculating the cost of a moustache eraser, a One Direction poster, and the newest Geronimo Stilton, we talked about food.

Specifically, we discussed how much time we spend shopping for, preparing, cooking, and generally thinking about food.  It is startling, really, the hours and hours per week I log just to ensure that my family has healthy, nutritious, and generally pleasing meals and snacks.  But then, I don't have a job.  It's not a hardship for me to spend hours a day on food related activity because I'm a stay at home mom with school aged children.  This is not everyone's reality.

My friend told me about some new research relating poor nutrition to psychological issues, and it's fascinating, really, how our mental and emotional health can be impacted by the food we eat.  I pay a lot of attention to nutritional values and our diet and how everyone in the house is feeling.  I have the privilege to do this, because I'm not working long hours to pay the bills.

It's pretty easy to be a snob and say that everyone can do this, everyone can achieve optimal health through nutrition but that's not exactly true.  It's easy to say make your health a priority, nothing else really matters, but if you're a working parent who is scrambling to make reasonable lunches every day and to get dinner on the table every night before the children collapse with hunger, then perhaps sprouting your own grains and making your own almond milk is a stretch.  Sometimes, we all need to reach for the more convenient option.  I have a lot of time to prepare meals and bake things and make my own condiments from scratch, and yet sometimes, I grab a prepackaged fruit leather.  I can fully understand how people, busy people with kids and jobs and day-to-day activities, value the more convenient option.

Here's an anecdote from a few weeks ago: I was grocery shopping, and I had a cart full of yummy things: coconut oil, Perrier, fruits and veggies, and a case of tetra-pak almond milk.  I saw someone I knew, a friend, and headed over to chat.  She looked right into my cart and informed me that the almond milk I was buying - which was for my consumption only - was the wrong thing to buy, was something that should never be consumed, and I should put it back and get the fresh substitute in the dairy aisle.


I could have, I suppose, explained my reasons for purchasing almond milk in a tetra pak, rather than fresh.  I could have explained my lack of fridge space and time to dash out every couple of days to get a carton of fresh, I could have explained that yes, I do know that fresh is better, but that I made  a conscious choice weighing all the costs and benefits.  Of almond milk.  I could have done that but I did not.  Instead, I merely walked away feeling judged and also indignant that someone could have made the mistake of thinking that what was in MY cart was THEIR business.

Recently I overheard a conversation about a woman in the grocery store who was filling her cart with on-sale Lunchables.  Now.  Personally I think Lunchables are vile, I think they are unhealthy and gross and expensive.  However, when I heard the vitriol being spewed about this woman, this woman with the cart full of Lunchables, this woman who wasn't there to give her side of the story, I felt angry.

Here's the thing: I don't know one single thing about that woman's life.  I don't know if she feeds those Lunchables to her children every day or if she doles out one a week as a special treat, I don't know if she works two jobs or has six children, I don't know a thing about her, and neither do the people who were talking about her.  I know, I realize, that it doesn't take much time to put together some whole wheat crackers and meat and cheese, to slice up some fruit, but some people, some days, might not be able to do that.  I know there are myriad healthier options out there, and that making lunches - while annoying and boring - does not take that much time, really.  But whose business is it?  It isn't mine, it isn't the people who were discussing her choices, it isn't anyone's but hers. 

One person's tetra pak of almond milk is another person's Lunchable.

I know how I felt after my almond milk experience: strangely upset, unfairly judged, and also embarrassed.  I can only imagine how I would feel if I knew complete strangers were talking about the way I feed my children as a form of abuse. 

As parents, I think we all try to do our best - and sometimes our "best" might not be perfect.  It might be far from perfect.  But we all want to do right by our children, and support from the community, rather than judgment, is what is needed.  


  1. I'm making my own almond milk and just watered my own sprouts not two minutes ago, but I agree with you. Should I care if you're drinking Tetra Pak milk? No I should not. So drink away, my dear!

    1. I only use it on my cereal, and for certain recipes, so I REFUSE to feel bad about it!

  2. This fits well with a post I'm working on as a not-quite-rebuttal to an article I recently read. Why are so many people so very, very douchey? Do I think we should all be trying to eat in as healthy a manner as possible, as well as feeding our children that way? Of course I do. Do I get it perfect all the time? No I don't. And I'm at home with school-age kids too, so I'm sure as hell not judging people who have less time and fewer options. Also, full disclosure - when my husband is away I often buy the kids Lunchables (the ones with the nitrate-filled summer sausage) for one day. The means they probably get one every six weeks or so. Do I think this is going to scar their health or psychology? No I don't. But I left a basket of laundry for Angus to put away in his room and two of my bras were at the bottom - from his expression when he returned them to me, THAT's probably scarred him for life.

    1. Bra thing - made me laugh.

      OMG your kids get Lunchables once every six weeks? DOOOOOOOOOOM. Just kidding, I buy my kids a chocolate bar when I do my once a week grocery shopping. Sometimes even MORE THAN ONE. DOOOOOOOOOOM.

  3. Oh, this is a topic that's near and dear to my heart, and you've handled it so well.

    I *do* think giving our children the most nutritious food we possibly can is very important. But it's that "possibly can" bit that's key. One of my dayhome kids is what I think they call "food insecure" - her parents simply don't have the time, the cooking know-how, or the money to feed her much beyond convenience foods and peanut butter sandwiches. I do not judge them. I know that they are doing the best they can, and she is a happy, seemingly-healthy little girl with a sunny disposition - so there you go.

    I freely admit though that I do - inside my head or possibly on Twitter where the people in question can't hear or see it - judge people who consistently make unhealthy choices for their kids. I'm not talking about treats sometimes - hell, my kids get those, so do I, life's not worth living if I have to eat rabbit food 100% of the time - I'm talking about parents who day in and day out feed their kids garbage even though they DO have the time, money, and wherewithal to do better. That does make my head sprout invisible judgment horns. I'd be lying if I said it didn't.

    I do not, however, accost people in the supermarket and criticize what they've bought. Good dear jesus, that is SO NOT MY BUSINESS. (And really, if you're so self-righteous that you need to chew someone out for buying almond milk because it's in tetra-paks - dear me. Come shopping with me sometime. The sheer moo-cow delicious buttloads of dairy in my cart would probably cause the poor thing to faint in outraged horror.)

    1. I like the whole 80%/20% thing, eat as well as possible 80% of the time, the other 20% drink wine. Or something like that. Well, maybe not 20% of my diet is wine. But I wonder what percentage it IS. Question.

      I do feel for the kids of the food insecure, because it's a cycle, you know? Poor muffin.

  4. I'm always amazed at how much cheaper it is to buy junk.

    Decent amout of green grapes not on sale? $8.00.

    Gigantic bag of chips? $3.00.

    We need to focus on feeding our families the healthiest we can with the means we have. We need to encourage and fund school breakfast and nutrition programs to supplement the diets of kids whose parents do struggle. And, really everyone: Keep your eyes on your own grocery cart.

    1. I KNOW. It's so cheap! I was buying pop for a Christmas party. I never, ever buy pop. I was stunned at how cheap it is! Like, $1.50 for a 2L.

  5. This is a great post. It really nails so much..not just about food but parenting judgement in general.

    We were in line today behind a man who had a roast chicken in one hand and five chocolate bars in the other. And my kid was right at hand level and he's amazed, he's going "Wow. WOW. MOMMY LOOK AT ALL THE CHOCOLATE BARS" The man glanced over his shoulder at us. I said, "When you are an adult you can decide how many chocolate bars you want to eat, too." Done. Man smiles, kid smiles.

    Imagine being someone who *just had* to pipe up and say "Oh my, that man is going to kill himself with chocolate isn't he!" What a horrible pressure you would feel all the time to correct all the perceived wrongs in the world. Isn't it so much easier to live and let live? Help when it's warranted and butt out! the rest of the time.

    1. I agree, totally. I could not be one of those people. It must be tiring, policing the world.