It's Saturday, today we have one of my son's little buddy's birthday parties, Sunday is Easter and a big family dinner also means leftovers. (Not to mention I'm pregnant, emotional, hormonal and exhausted.)
In the coming weeks, I have meetings, a hospital bag to pack, freezer dinners to plan, shop for and cook, my son's very own 2nd birthday party and, of course, somewhere in there The Big Day when "little pumpkin #2" arrives.
Man...it's easy to see why I can get so stressed out! But that's not my point, of course. My point, or question, is, which, if any, of these aforementioned "occasions" above count as special occasions? And by special occasions, I mean those rare times when I let my foodie freak flag flap away in the wind while I eat whatever's offered, or whatever I want — ham, which I don't normally eat; cake, which I may eat at Easter, but probably not at a birthday party; pasta made with white noodles when someone kindly drops off a meal after the baby's born; crackers made with refined flour because that's all they give you once your water breaks in the hospital.
In a perfect world, nothing would get in my way of eating 100% clean 100% of the time. I'd make huge, nutrient-packed salads; I'd have access to organic meat, poultry, cheese, eggs and milk everywhere I shop and dine; I'd spend hours cooking detailed menus of ornately prepared ancient grains, fresh vegetables, doctored fruit concoctions as "dessert." With all of these occasions and major life-changing events looming, however, I'm trying not to add Remember To Eat Clean to my to-do list. I'm trying to realize, actually, how far we've come.
Since I first remember hearing about Michael Pollan and reading his and Mark Bittman's books a couple summers ago, we've made great strides in the way we eat at our house AND when we're cooking for said special occasions. I only buy organic ground beef and organic chicken breasts, thighs and legs; when I'm bringing an appetizer or a dessert to a gathering I consciously try to make something with whole wheat and/or no sugar. I pride myself on all the recipes I've tried and continue to experiment with that only use honey or maple syrup, and when I can get my kid to sit still in the shopping cart with a bunch of grapes instead of a box of cookies, I'm flying high. If you did an inventory of my kitchen right now, I wouldn't be proud, however — said child is allowed 5 easter eggs with 2 small chocolate bunnies inside each one, which I'll be putting in his basket on Sunday, so there is some lingering chocolate in the house that I could do without. We also have a box of artificially orange crackers in the pantry as his "treat" at Target this week (sometimes I just can't ignore the resounding "No!" as we cruise through the fruit aisle and the kicking and screaming tantrum as we pass the crackers, but I'm working on it) and the last of a container of ice cream in the freezer. None of which, I admit, were purchased for a special occasion, outing, party or gathering.
In addition, none of those items ARE special-occasion items, in my book. A special occasion means, for example, one of my sister's cake pops decorated to look like a little chick for spring. One. Something I won't have again for who knows how long. Another special-occasion food will be our "celebration meal" at the hospital after the baby's born, which you only get to pick from a limited variety of items on the cafeteria menu — but you can put money on the fact that if I push a baby out of my hoo-ha, I'm having some chocolate cake after if that's in the cards. And when it's 10am and I'm home with my 2-week-old and 2-year-old and I realize I haven't eaten anything yet after getting up to nurse every 2 hours for the past 14 days, let me tell you I'll be looking forward to the chicken enchiladas someone made for us even if I don't know how "organic" or "natural" that sauce is.
At this stage of my life, eating clean isn't always easy. I try not to beat myself up when I slip, indulge or just don't think before making a purchase or sampling the goods. But at the same time, these are the most special of occasions — celebrating my son's last birthday before he's a big brother, then celebrating the fact that he's a big brother and, finally, praising God that I made it through another labor and that I have the most wonderful and generous friends and family who bring me juice and make me dinner when I haven't showered or left the house in days.
This is not a special-occasion month, binge or slippery slope. Dinner tonight will be organic hamburgers on whole-wheat buns. Breakfast tomorrow will be my stand-by toast with tea and milk from a local dairy. My morning snack is still an organic apple, and if I feel like I need a decaf coffee "pick-me-up" in the afternoon that may be my one splurge — only because it's processed with chemicals and there's still some left in our kitchen (normally I wouldn't touch decaf with a 10-foot pole). Today is not a special occasion because it's Saturday. Tomorrow is not even really much of a special occasion, because let's be honest, Easter comes every year and it's pretty much always the same. You can fall into the trap of so-and-so's office birthday party includes bagels and donuts, so that's a special occasion. Have one of each. You can get sucked in by the smells wafting from the bakery downtown and stroll in because, Hey, it's the weekend, and we never come here any more. Boom, special occasion. You can write a million and one calories, grams of sugar and ounces of fat off to cocktail parties, summer BBQs, Italian restaurants and spontaneous get-togethers...
...Or you can set an example, and when one of these settings comes up, be that person who brings the fruit salad. Be that girl who doesn't eat cake at the party. Stand by your food values as you hold your glass of wine, vote with your fork and share the recipe for the delicious whole-wheat muffins you brought to brunch. That will make the occasion that much more special.
Next up: The Politics of Food — Who's Sleeping with Who?