I eat high fructose corn syrup. And Red #40. And artificial flavors. And MSG. And all the other food additives that you’ve heard bad things about. Yup. I eat them. Not all that often, and not in large amounts, but sometimes, I do eat them. And I don’t feel guilty about it either.
I love growing, cooking, and eating clean and healthy foods. I am passionate about showing people that healthy eating is not only delicious, but also accessible to everyone. Eating a healthy diet has changed my life and made me feel incredible, and I love sharing that with the world. But, please, don’t get me wrong, my diet is not perfect. And, I do not take for granted that I have a special set of circumstances that allow me to eat as healthfully as I do.
I am fortunate to have a large property where I can grow my own organic produce. And if I didn’t, I have the resources (knowledge, accessibility, finances, desire) that allow me to purchase products that are “clean” and “natural.” Not everyone has those same resources.
With that in mind, one of the most frustrating trends I’ve seen in the healthy food movement is the need to vilify certain foods and ingredients. In my opinion, focusing on one ingredient or one additive or one company is doing a huge disservice to the healthy eating movement. By making HFCS or artificial colors or whatever-hydrogenized-cloric-acid-glustomate the scapegoat, we’re alienating anyone who doesn’t eat a perfect diet all the time (which, let’s be honest, is all of us). Or, even worse, alienating someone who can’t eat a perfect diet all the time for any number of various reasons. At best, this kind of thinking is making people feel guilty about their food choices, and at worst, this mindset is elitist and classist.
So, just in case you haven’t had a chance to learn my Food Philosophy, let me lay it out for you here. I believe that a healthy diet can include kale and birthday cake (yes, even the kind of cake with artificially colored sprinkles inside). I believe there is room in a healthy diet for the occasional Mountain Dew, if that’s what makes you happy (and it so does make me happy). I believe my hundreds of dinners full of healthy, organic vegetables are not erased by a few meals of delivery pizza. And whenever I go to a movie? You better bet I’m getting a bright blue slushie. And I love every tongue-staining sip of it.
And, here’s the kicker, I still consider my diet healthy.
I tried many times to overhaul my eating to be more healthy before I was successful. I thought that in order to be “healthy,” I had to be perfect. And since perfection isn’t possible, I’d inevitably fail (and feel terribly guilty and generally like a horrible person) whenever I’d give into temptation and eat a piece of candy or have some chips or drink a soda or hit the drive-thru. It took years of this all-or-nothing mentality for me to realize that, hey, something wasn’t working here.
It wasn’t until I allowed room in my diet for the “bad” foods I wasn’t supposed to have, that my healthy diet stuck. By giving myself permission to eat junk food in moderation, I was freed from the pressure of perfection. Instead of completely eliminating all the foods that were “bad” for me, I just changed the ratios. And guess what? It stuck. I can eat a healthy diet because sometimes I eat unhealthy food.
I believe that by vilifying certain foods and ingredients, we are making the already tricky transition to healthy eating even more difficult for a lot of people. We’re telling them that they should feel guilty and self-conscious about their food choices, and that is one of the least productive messages we can convey. Instead, let’s give them the tools to make better choices most of the time. Not only is it more realistic, but I’d go as far as saying it’s actually a mentally and emotionally healthier way of eating. By empowering people we elevate them. Shaming people for not eating the perfect diet does nothing but make the shamer feel superior. Which, if that’s how you need to get your kicks, I feel sorry for you.
I believe that choosing a healthier, but not perfect, product because that’s what you have access to is an awesome, life-changing decision. I believe in doing what you can with the resources you have. I believe choosing to eat your favorite, unhealthy junk food a few less times a month is a victory. I believe that every step you take toward eating healthier is something to be celebrated. I believe in the power of small, everyday healthy decisions.
Take for example these two scenarios. Which do you think is more realistic?
(A) Every single family in this country will transition to eating a 100% clean, organic diet. They’ll allocate twice as much money in their budget each month to purchasing special cleaner versions of food. They’ll drive the extra 20 minutes to the speciality health food store (that is, if they have a car, if not, hopefully a bus will get them there, and hopefully they have the extra cash for bus fare). They’ll spend an extra hour a day preparing healthy food, since they aren’t using processed foods anymore.
(b) Slowly, many families in this country will transition to eating healthier foods than they previously did. They’ll one-by-one make better choices, and try to do the best they can for their families within the real-life restrictions they have. They’ll still work within their tight grocery budget, but maybe try to buy a few more “natural” foods each time they hit up the store (the one that is right around the block, not on the other side of town). They’ll try to devote an hour or two on the weekend to prepare a few healthier foods for the week. Each family will start to feel empowered to make healthy work for them.
Of course, these scenarios are hyperbole, but as nice as it would be if we could snap our fingers and make the first scenario reality, it’s much more reasonable that the second one will happen. Let’s put our collective effort into making that happen. Let’s focus on reality instead of perfection. If you have the resources and desire to make your diet hyper-clean and organic, and it makes you happy, that is wonderful. I’m so happy for you! But please don’t assume that is a possible reality for everyone you meet.
I want to apologize if I ever let anyone believe that I eat a perfectly clean diet. I do not, and have no plans to. I try to eat healthy foods that make my body feel good most of the time—and that’s my entire food philosophy. I am so grateful to have the resources to eat as healthfully as I do, and I absolutely understand that not everyone has those same resources—and I hope that many of my recipes are adaptable to many different kinds of situations. My goal here is to empower my readers to feel like they can make healthy eating fit within their reality—please let me know how I can do that for you!