If I collected pretty purple waves of light every time I said the word “free,” perhaps I’d be the kind of free i really want to be. not gluten free, not nut free, not sugar free, fat free, or buy one get one free, not
Groupon free, but really free. Worry free is close, but not close enough. My desire is the kind of free at least three meters away from a hyphen. mine must be at a certain distance from a noun in order to avoid possible cross-contamination. mine, I’d tell the chef, burns easily, so keep it in a cool, dry place like the yellow bowl high atop the counter where little hands covered in Play-doh can’t reach it.
It’s sad, really, how we’ve corrupted free, compounded it, like mad scientists preparing the liquid version for the old man who can no longer swallow pills. It used to be so pretty: wide orange all-caps. Now free is a deflated nude, the letters warped like old records left too many years in the back storage room of my parents’ basement. I wish I had the key
As we enter the period before Passover, I’m thinking about how eat, what we what, with whom we eat and why. I am meditating on freedom and gratitude.
No, actually, I am not.
I’m thinking about the store-bought chocolate chip cookie I just ate.
For breakfast. (Actually, I had a vegetable wrap first. The cookie was for dessert. Breakfast dessert.)
As I ate the cookie with deep pleasure, I thought to myself.
This is happiness.
Of course, there are chemical reasons why the cookie made me so happy; the main one being white sugar in abundance.
This I know.
And this I shrugged off.
Instead of acknowledging the sugar and the wheat and the likelihood that both would incite the candida surely camping out in my gut or inflame the inner lining of my intestines, I ate another cookie.
I think it was even better than the first.
I’m thinking about eating another one.
But first I’m blogging: To clear my proverbial throat because what I want to say is unclear right now.
What I want to say is that I spent the last two decades a bit too food-focused.
Not without good reason.
I believe, firmly, that food can be harmful. I believe that food is a direct or indirect cause of chronic illness. I believe food is addictive. Food is a commodity that corporations use to control people. Food has been made an idol that we in the #firstworld worship.
I believe food may be used to heal if used properly, but has become deified also by wellness professionals (especially those with books or vitamins to sell) in the guise of healthy living. So many of us are self medicating with chia and gobi and wheatgrass in the same way people are self medicating with xanax and marijuana and vodka on frozen lemon juice ice cubes with mitz petel (I call it “the Hannaton.” It’s amazing and totally gets me through the homework to bedtime madness.)
I consider myself a food activist, and yet I question my focused attention on food.
I question my focus.
I question it.
It’s important to question our obsessions.
For even those of us with good intentions, food has become an obsession.
And I question that.
This is what I want to say.
It’s important to have passion.
It’s important to be mindful about our behavior and
conscious about the consequences.
It’s important to support causes.
And it’s important to share ideas — loudly and powerfully.
But it’s equally important to question our motives.
And the returns on our investment.
I spent three years dairy free. I didn’t eat a drop of cow product. I read labels religiously. My motive, at first, was to nurse my son so he wouldn’t have bloody poop. After I weaned him, I kept it up because I noticed I didn’t have as much mucus in my life. And as anyone who has a lot of mucus in their life knows, mucus-free lives are happier lives. And probably less-likely-to-have-stomach-cancer lives.
Since moving to Israel three years ago, however, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to not eat dairy. Let’s put it this way. Dairy has re-entered my life with a passion. And the passion is called “bulgarit.”
We had to make an adjustment to our lifestyle. No longer was there a Whole Foods nearby to offer us 15 different varieties of gluten free bread. No longer did we have the budget to spend on those items even if there was one nearby. No longer could I find grass-fed beef. No longer could I feed myself and my kids turkey bacon for breakfast anymore. (Ironically, there is pork bacon in Israel but no turkey bacon.) Nut and seed butters are not an option for us. Therefore, the dairy. Oh, the dairy.
My point is: As my life changed, so did my diet. And so did my relationship to food. At first, this created enormous upset in me. For a good year living here, I lived with anger, resentment, and disappointment — all related to food.
I still carry some of that. I carry it on Shabbat when I go to kiddush at our community synagogue and my nut allergic son always ALWAYS hides on the playground because kiddush is not safe for him. I carry it with me in restaurants, on the rare occasion we go out, and realize there is nothing on the menu for my kids because everything comes with sesame or nuts. I carry it with me when I see the planes flying overhead spraying the beautiful vegetable fields with pesticide. I carry it with me when I hear about childhood cancer and in the back of my mind I know it’s because of the water pollution and the air pollution and the planes that fly by.
The activist in me is not dead.
She lives … but a little more quietly.
A little less all-consuming.
She allows chocolate chip cookies…for breakfast.
* * *
When I started to give up my commitment to food a little, I started to notice some things.
There is something inside activism that is closely connected to anger.
There is something inside healthy that is closely connected to unhealthy.
And there is something inside not eating that is closely connected to desperately needing to be full.
For a big part of food activism — if we look deeply and honestly — is about controlling a life that is terrifying. It’s about trying to be certain in a world that is only certain in its uncertainty.
I still believe in activism. And I believe in sharing information.
But sometimes all we have is what makes us happy in this very moment.
This was originally posted as my alter ego, “The Wellness Bitch.” Please take that into consideration as you read it. The WB posts with a slightly different tone. Considering the relevance to my Aliyah experience here in Israel, however, I choose to re-post it, despite the chance that it might incite my friends and alienate my neighbors.
With any luck, though, maybe a few of you will join me in a “Makolet Ban” or an “Anti-Makolet March” or at the very least, one “No Makolet Day” each year.
It’s these moms — the ones who struggle day in and day out to provide their families with their version of “healthy” despite society’s constant roadblocks — that bring me back down off the angry ledge. It’s these fellow moms who struggle as hard as I do; who understand the often daily battles I fight with myself and my kids. The struggle between giving my kids what they want and giving them what I think they need. The struggle between saying yes and saying no. The struggle between choosing to fight a battle and choosing to lose it. The struggle between choosing easy and choosing hard.
I need such a support group desperately here, in my real life community, where I am forced to make choices all the time between what I know is right for my kids and what other moms let their kids get away with.
The makolet is basically a corner grocery store. The Israel equivalent of a NYC bodega. Internally, I like to call it “the kiddie crack house.” Sure, conceptually, it’s nice to know I can run up the hill for a carton of eggs or a package of baking powder, but 99% of the time, it’s the bane of my existence here and representative of something I really can’t stand about Israel: For as advanced as this country is, it is still very far behind in the healthy eating revolution, and in denial that what you feed your kids contributes to their physical and emotional well-being.
Every day here, it seems, the average Israeli child walks out from his preschool and is taken by the hand to the makolet where the average Israeli parent buys his child the average Israeli after-school snack — namely a popsicle, a chocolate milk, a snack pack of peanut butter puffed corn, yogurt topped with candy or just plain candy.
It’s the Wellness Bitch’s worst nightmare. Can you imagine?
For over a year, I’ve tried to make peace with the makolet. My husband and I have tried various incentive plans to get our kids on board with the idea that we don’t feed them makolet crack every day. These are kids who, up until a year ago, were happy to get candy once a month at a birthday party, and whose daily sweet treats included an organic sandwich cookie or a beet-colored fruit roll up. Now, these kids can be seen walking once a week clutching a bag of “Kliks,” slurping on sour gummy worms, or sucking down a spray bottle filled with the EU version of Red #40.
We’ve tried “Makolet Day,” one day a week when our kids get to pick something from the little store. But one “Makolet Day” a week suddenly turns into three when Saba comes to visit, or when the 3-year-old goes home with a different parent for a playdate and the two kids wind up sucking down “Shock-o,” the chocolate milk drink packaged in sports bottles mechanically engineered for preschoolers’ tiny mouths. “Makolet Day” becomes a way of life here when my kids are treated to a “krembo” by their teachers or tutors or soccer coaches for doing a job well done. “Makolet Day” in not just a day here when it’s piled upon birthday parties and holiday celebrations and kiddushim, for which the focal point is sugary, processed crap masquerading as food.
Yesterday, I lost it because my daughter walked out from preschool with a snack bag full of candy thanks to an in-school birthday party (which they seem to have twice a month here). I told her she could have the birthday candy or “Makolet Day,” not both. She agreed. She proceeded to eat a handful of m-n-m’s and then ran to the makolet to pick out
her weekly treat. When I reminded her of our agreement, she had a meltdown. That melt-down turned into a kicking and screaming performance for all my friends and neighbors (Did I imagine the tongues clicking in compassion for my daughter ?)
As I buckled her into her car seat, I screamed out loud in frustration to her and her two brothers, “That is it! No more makolet! I hate the makolet. I hate it so much I am going to come here in the middle of the night and spray graffiti all over the makolet! Do you hear me?? Graffiti!!!!”
Don’t you love days like that? When you are so angry, and yet so defeated, that graffiti is your best threat? (What would I even write? “F-off Makolet?” “Die, Makolet, Die?” And, really, how long would it take before they discovered the English expletives belonged to me?)
Don’t you love it when, in an effort to do right by your kids, you completely do wrong?
Don’t you love it when their meltdowns produce your meltdowns?
Somebody, please hand me a Krembo.
For years, I was luckier than I realized. I had a built-in community and support system in New Jersey. I lived in an educated, middle to upper middle class, health conscious neighborhood. I had a Whole Foods Market ten minutes to the West and one ten minutes to the East. I had a “Holistic Moms” network nearby, five yoga studios to choose from, a “green thumb” and a “wellness” committee at my kids’ schools.
For all that I gained when I moved to a small, country kibbutz in Israel, I lost that wellness-focused community.
And now I have two choices: I can stay angry or I can build…community, that is.
I do both really, really well.
I simply need to choose now, as we all do at some point, which one serves me best.
I recently mentioned to the members of my bi-weekly woman’s group that I think it’s time I start speaking up — getting “my leader on,” so to speak. On the one hand, it’s been nice living in my bubble, the one in which I pretend like I don’t have much of an opinion and don’t have experience leading community efforts for change.
Inside this bubble, I’ve allowed “little Hebrew” to become synonymous for “little voice.”
But the truth is, I have a voice. And it’s loud. And it’s lonely hiding here inside the bubble.