community-through-foodThis post could alternately be titled, “How To Not Be the Sanctimonious A*hole” when eating healthier with family and friends. But that sounds a little too cynical, so we will stick with the intended positive message of this post; cooking and eating together is as much about the food as it is about the community you build around the table, picnic blanket or park side benches. So how do we maintain that community if our food ideals may differ from family and friends? While the idea of community through food may sound cliche, I think it’s all together true. When gathering for even the simplest of events, one of the first questions posed is, “What should I bring to eat?” Some of my fondest memories of all time, with both family and friends, somehow has food at the center. Food is like the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon in terms of building memorable experiences. High school graduation? I still remember we all went to The Olive Garden for dinner afterwards. First meal I had after having my jaw surgery and put on a diet of baby food and smoothies for 6 weeks? Rocky Cola Cafe in Uptown Whittier with my then boyfriend and best friend. One of the best meals of my life with just my husband? 38th birthday dinner at Bestia. I could go on and on, but you get my drift: think of any memorable event in your life, and you’d be hard pressed to somehow not find the tie-in with food, and the moments you shared together eating and enjoying that food.

While my own personal emphasis on food nowadays is of the healthy variety, it doesn’t mean I’m any less concerned about maintaining the important connection between food and community. If anything, I’m even more vested in this ideal since I spend so much more time preparing food now, and so with that we have to tackle an important topic when it comes to eating “healthy.” How do we approach this lifestyle shift with grace and humility, when interacting with family and friends? I’ll share some lessons I have learned from my own mistakes, and also share some experiences I’ve personally had, as the one on the other side – the mom who wasn’t totally health-minded, and some of those encounters which not only hurt my feelings, but quite frankly pissed me off so much I became even more stubborn when listening to what they had to say. It goes without saying that you should trust your own gut and take your own path, as you know your own personal relationship boundaries better than I, so do what you think is best. It’s also worth mentioning that my family isn’t dealing with any health concerns or allergies, so the subject is a little less about worrisome food triggers and a bit more about maintaining peace. But if your child has allergies or some other health concern, then by all means be their advocate and don’t worry about hurting other people’s feelings. That’s just my own two cents. Okay, let’s move on.

Control at home and let the rest go (sort of):
By setting boundaries at home, it allows me to let go of some of the control when out in the real world. This means I don’t bring certain foods in to our home, even for “special occasions”, because in the life of a 7 and 9 year old, it seems like almost every day is a special occasion! Between baseball and swimming, art class and church, 2 sets of grandparents and birthday parties and play-dates, our kids are exposed to special treats that I may not necessarily buy anymore, but I allow them to indulge in when offered. There is a whole onslaught of information out there that sends the message that every single thing has some level of “toxicity”, and while I do my best to limit exposure, I have to keep some perspective and realize that in moderation, my kids are going to be just fine. I do not say this flippantly and I’m not trying to make light of a serious problem, but if every thing caused some horrible disease, we would all be sitting on our death bed with what we’re exposed to on a daily basis. Does that make sense? So I keep our home as “clean” as possible, and let loose a little when outside the home, because it’s just not worth hurting the feelings of someone I care about.

With that being said, I also don’t let them consume copious amounts of junk, and we find a way to work it out so they can eat a little of the “forbidden fruit” haha, but not so much that they lose their minds from the sugar high. If they bring home an overflowing bag of candy from a pinata, we sort through it, pick out a few favorites, and set the rest aside for donation to send the troops, who deserve to eat all the candy they want! And because we feel comfortable with both sets of grandparents, we have put a ban on McDonalds and other fast food places, and are very thankful that they respect our wishes. We did that simply because they were eating fast food with one set of grandparents every week, and it was just easier to say no all together than try and work out a moderation system. Again, I know some grandparent relationships are very sensitive, but we are very close to ours and we felt totally comfortable being honest with them and explaining our reasoning behind the fast food ban, and we knew they weren’t going to get their feelings hurt. Plus, with my dad’s health concerns earlier this year, this whole way of eating has made it a lot easier to work through, as my parents are on the same path.

And what about when we’re eating meals out with family and friends? Well, we accept what is offered to us with an appreciative and thankful heart. I don’t turn down meat that may not be grass-fed, or tell the kids they can’t eat the chicken nuggets. Sure, I may moderate a little of what I eat just because I know it upsets my stomach, and may fill up more on salads or whatever, but I certainly don’t dictate what’s served to us or expect anyone to change for us. In my mind, being an ungracious guest is the best way to not get invited back, and I love my friends and family too much for that. I still recall the time a friend turned down a bowl of grapes I offered her, because they weren’t organic. At the time I was really angry, and while it wasn’t enough of an offense to cost our friendship, it sure put a damper on it for a while.

Don’t start a preaching:
Once you start eating “clean”, you may get all passionate and excited to share with the world how wonderful you feel! How empowering it is to know where your food comes from. How silly and stupid you felt feeding your family all that crap food you fed them all those years! But tread lightly. Your best friend or acquaintance down the street may still be serving their kids all that “crappy food”, and you just insulted them. If you are passionate and excited, start an Instagram account that people can choose to follow or ignore ha (I have a few friends who downright tell me they won’t follow my IG account, and I respect that)! Or write about it on your blog or in a journal or something, but don’t assume everyone wants to hear about your new way of life. And please don’t tell people, as they’re munching on their Oreos, how toxic their snack food is. I’ve been on the other side, I’ve had one too many encounters with health-minded friends or acquaintances who tried to “educate” me and it totally backfired because it just made me more resistant to change. I adopted the “how dare them!” type of attitude, and figured that since I had been eating this way my whole life, I was just fine. If they are interested in changing, when they are ready they will come to you asking for advice. From personal experience, I promise this to be true.

Don’t start making bold declarations you may not be able to uphold:
After I read Eating Animals, I made a couple of loud and bold declarations that “I was never eating meat outside my home again!” And then a few weeks later, one of my closest friends emailed me that a group of girlfriends was going out to eat to a restaurant called 7 Courses Of Beef. She said she had seen that I was no longer eating meat that wasn’t grass fed and organic, so she didn’t think I would be interested in joining them, but the offer stood to come anyhow. I felt silly and sheepishly replied that I would love to come, and I ate the 7 courses of beef even though it wasn’t organic. I felt silly but I learned a valuable lesson: ideals are wonderful, but don’t feel like you have to take your ideals to the grave. I would have missed out on a memorable night with some of my best lady friends if she hadn’t reached out. My ideals are important to me, but so are my friendships. Sometimes I have to choose between the two, and that’s okay. I’m striving for better, not perfection. Plus, crow doesn’t taste very good to eat.

When push comes to shove:
You will most likely encounter some push back from those you care about. Because this isn’t really a diet regimen that people can typically understand or even relate to, they may question the necessity, your motives and how helpful this clean eating ideology truly is. I’ve learned to just scope the field a bit first, and I divulge how much I share based on who I’m talking to. If I’m unsure, I’ll test the waters with a few fairly neutral statements and see how they react before I proceed. But really what I’ve encountered, is that no one really cares, as long as you approach things in such a way to not seem threatening to me. I’m curious what any of you have experienced in this department, because I’ve honestly received a lot of support overall. And I have some pretty kick-ass friends who cook up a mean meal which may not by some standards, be considered “clean” or whatever, but I gobble down with pure delight. Overall, I wish I had more advice to share here, but would love your input!

I’m sure I’ve made other mistakes along the way and I may have hurt some feelings too, and for that I truly do feel sorry and wish I could re-frame some things I’ve said in the past. It sucks, but it’s just a fact that people feel food choices are a very personal matter. As soon as someone invades that space, it feels uncomfortable and upsetting. My job is to try and do the best for my family and the ones I care about, including my parents and some close people I feel comfortable testing the boundaries with. It’s not my job to try and convince neighbor Mary down the street that she shouldn’t feed her family pop tarts for breakfast.

This is such an interesting topic that I hope we can share in the comments how we’ve all tackled some of these issues, or present any questions or concerns we may have. Like I said, this is my perspective and how I’ve approached things, but always love hearing how others deal, so please share.

Today I was presented with a wonderful idea to start a private Facebook group for the challenge, where we can go for a more private supportive experience, ask questions without feeling silly, lend support, post links to recipe ideas. How does that sound? I think it would be especially beneficial to those who aren’t super active on Instagram, where I tend to do most of my business. Let me know and I’ll get started on that.

Also, Pinterest boards of clean eating ideas would be helpful, no? if you have one, please share your link in the comments below so I can go and follow. I have a clean eating board, but I think I may, if I have time, start breaking it down into categories for breakfast, snacks, etc. Thoughts?

Lastly, what other pressing questions or concerns do you have, which you’d like me to add in the post content over the next few days? A few have asked for help with feeding the kids. I’ve written extensively about that on Babble and have shared a lot on IG. I’ll try to sum up some bullet points here. Anything else?

Alright, y’all ready? I’m excited! Get excited too!

  • Erica B

    Hi Andrea – I made a goal for this summer to figure out where my food is coming from. I’m an avid farmer’s market go-er but I know not everything sold is legit. What are some easy first questions to start asking the sellers at the market? I’m starting with veggies as that seems to be the easiest but not sure what questions to ask. Thanks!