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.