People often ask me about the foods I eat and prepare, which products I use, or if I have a holistic solution for an ailment. I entirely blame my husband for this. He keeps telling anyone who will listen that I’m a total hippie, a crunchy granola to the extreme, and that I do everything from “scratch”. He then emphasizes this with “and she makes her own soap”, as if this in itself explains everything. And I suppose it must because I am often looked at curiously as if my approach to a cleaner lifestyle must be bizarre and archaic. It’s not. It’s actually pretty basic and uncomplicated. Adopting a cleaner, more authentic lifestyle has been relatively painless. I love food and I think that by actually taking a more present role in my food preparation I have come to appreciate food even more. I believe that meals should be easy to prepare. They should be able to be put together by anyone, and shouldn’t be just be for culinary enthusiasts. Meals should be achievable, possible, delicious, and either quick or easy, or both if it’s the perfect meal! Quick and easy doesn’t have to be synonymous with processed foods, after all.
Once upon a time…
Let me start by saying this: I have not always been the subject of culinary interest. I was once a canned good hoarder. I had a basement can collection worthy of any fallout shelter. If the apocalypse had happened, rest assured you could have come to my place and I’d have had you covered for at least two years, living large on baked beans, Kraft Dinner, and any kind of cream soup you could think of.
Then one day, things changed. It happened, as things often do, with a little pregnancy stick and two happy lines. I was going to have a baby. And suddenly, without intending to, I became a chemical vigilante. It started with my cleaning products. The ones I used to scrub the tub, which made my hands red and raw and itchy as hell. I didn’t want any baby of mine sitting in a tub laced with that stuff, and frankly, I didn’t even want it to absorb into my skin and somehow end up in her little pristine growing space. I literally tossed out every cleaning product I owned. Then came the products I used on myself. The ones that I had thought were safe because they weren’t tested on animals or contained green sounding things like aloe and botanicals.
I was chemical-free, but still had that grocery store in my basement. I nurtured and loved those pretty cans, with their labels lined up just so. I did do some canning and preserving, but not out of any serious commitment to changing the way my family ate, just because it was fun and I like jam.
I stopped using plastics. Remember when all of a sudden it was like the whole world went BPA crazy? It all went. I replaced as much as I could with glass and stainless. I was feeling pretty good until I read an article about BPA and other toxic chemicals in canned goods.
My beautiful fallout shelter worthy canned good shelf…it had to go, too. And not, I might add just because of BPA, but because of all the chemicals used in processed and canned goods to keep them shelf stable. Things like azodicarbonamide, BHTs (benzoates and derivatives), PFOAs, bromated vegetable oils, MSG, high fructose corn syrups, crazy amounts of salt and sugar. (Look them up; it’s definitely worth being informed about.)
The tower of canned goods went to food shelters and I was left overwhelmed by the fact that most of my recipes would have to be reworked. I had often found solace in the fact that I knew dinner was merely just dumping a few cans in a dutch oven, wiping my hands, and being done with it. But now, I didn’t have those cans to rely on. I knew that beans could, in theory, be reconstituted from dried, but that seemed tricky and somehow esoteric, like it was too late for me because I didn’t get in the know or have Sunday afternoon lessons on how to do it when I was a kid. I also knew that one could make a marinara sauce from fresh tomatoes, but again, it seemed like some magical metamorphosis needed to take place to turn those tomatoes into a rich, deep sauce, and I had no idea if I knew the magic words to make it happen.
So like any individual faced with a crisis, I embarked on a quest to learn those basics that were lost on my generation (or lost on me, anyway). I learned how to make dried beans into edible ones and how to make marinara sauce from fresh tomatoes. I delved into making as much as I reasonably could from scratch. It was easier than I had thought to make my own salad dressings, gravies, soup stocks, and bread. I realized that I didn’t need those cans to make my life easier. It was just as easy to have pantry staples I had made from scratch already prepared and tucked away in my freezer or pressure canned on my shelves; items that I could be confident contained no harmful chemicals.
I know that it can seem daunting at first. But really, all that it comes down to is making the time to be more organized and thoughtful in the way you purchase and arrange menus, which can seem impossible in our busy lives, but I promise you, is entirely doable.
Aiming for a cleaner, slower, more honest lifestyle doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly difficult. It’s doesn’t mean tossing everything out and starting from scratch. It doesn’t have to be cost prohibitive or snobby or mystical. It’s about being more aware of what you are putting in/on your body and trying to make a conscious decision to choose cleaner products. It’s about making small steps and those small steps snowballing into bigger results.
“Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into the water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects”—Dalai Lama
I’m not perfect. We still have days of ordering pizza or grabbing takeout. My daughter does know what pop is, and has had it a few times, much to my chagrin. I’m not aiming for perfection: perfection is impossible and only leads to feelings of failure, which crushes instead of builds up. What I do hope to achieve however, is to constantly aim for a cleaner, healthier and more authentic lifestyle.
Join me in adopting a cleaner lifestyle
Over the next few weeks, I am hoping to share with you how we’ve cleaned up our lives. I will do my best to break it down in palatable pieces because it’s not about a total lifestyle upheaval, it really is about keeping it real, keeping it to a budget, and still having time to do everything else in your busy life. Living a cleaner, more authentic life doesn’t have to difficult and overwhelming and filled with a million rules that you must follow. It’s about taking a closer look at what you are doing now and recognizing how a few changes can improve both your life and the life of your family. Please check back next week as I talk about the first baby steps we made to clean up our act!