The Foodie Outcast? 9

I know I said that my next post was going to be on the benefits of nutrition and how it really helps with a lot of the “symptoms” of pregnancy (you know, the whole morning sickness, swelling, food aversions, etc etc etc).  And with that being said, my pants are totally on fire.  But I promise that my next post will be on the importance of nutrition, I swear!  In the meantime, I’m going to address something that seems to come up a lot:  how do I keep my family eating as cleanly as possible?  The answer:  I can’t and I don’t.

The reason why I can’t keep my family eating as cleanly as I’d like is purely for the sake of keeping my sanity.  Believe me, as someone who NEVER follows the latest diet crazes, to come across Paleo made SO much sense to me.  Probably because as a scientist, I understood the reasoning for why our bodies worked the way that they did using the materials that our bodies absolutely need.  Materials like fat, because Lord knows, after so many years of staying away from the stuff, who knew that it was essential for basic things like hormone regulation?  Okay, so maybe Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf.  My husband (a chiropractor) had always been on my case to eat less gluten but I never listened to him, but then again, if he actually worked out the biochemical reactions and reasons as to why I should avoid it, I probably would’ve (I’m THAT kind of person).  Unfortunately, just because my husband told me I should eat less gluten didn’t mean that he was ready to jump on board the Paleo wagon.  In fact, while he agreed it was the healthiest way to be eating, he absolutely refused to give up a lot of the unhealthy foods.

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It’s hard when you’re a small cog in the big machine known as your “Family”.  Most of my husband’s family live in the South Bay while most of my dad’s side of the family live in the East Bay.  There’s at least one get-together per family per month.  And these family get-togethers are always centered around food.  Especially on my dad’s side, where my uncles and aunts owned their own Chinese restaurant (they’re all retired now) and still enjoy cooking a lot of the same foods they used to cook at the restaurant:  green onion pancakes, barbecued ribs, roast pork, soy sauce chicken, chow mein, etc.  While hanging with my in-laws is a bit better when it comes to more Paleo selections, there’s always the ever present crackers and chips with the appetizers, there’s the flour in the gravy, and there’s the Asian sauces that are used for marinades and vegetables (sauces that contain gluten and high fructose corn syrup).

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My husband’s concern that we (or rather, I) would end up alienating ourselves from our very social families is a well-founded one.  How can we eat healthier without making ourselves the outcasts of both families?  In the beginning, I went the route of Whole9.  Just by refusing to eat the foods that were present and letting the results speak for themselves, I would end up inspiring those around me to eat healthier and therefore BE healthier.  Unfortunately, this didn’t work out.  My husband and I were arguing a lot over things like common courtesy and manners on things like what my parents-in-law made for dinner one weekend and how it was rude that I didn’t eat much of anything there at all.  The fact that I’d lost fat (bear in mind that I was considered to be a generally skinny person before) and that my seasonal allergies had completely gone away (or that I wasn’t going through the pains of my period anymore) wasn’t serving as much of an inspiration to anyone.  Because really, how can one visually see on another person these effects?  It wasn’t as if I was suffering from morbid obesity nor did I have any outwardly visible symptoms of other conditions (except for eczema, but that’s another post).

In addition to my not physically inspiring anybody to jump on board the Paleo wagon, I was myself going crazy trying to tell my in-laws and everyone else to NOT give my son any kind of gluten or “sweets”.  It’s definitely hard when your parents don’t really understand English and your own fluency in your native tongue/dialect is questionable.  I can tell you that I’ve pulled my hair at the countless times that my in-laws gave my son pizza from Costco or some of their sandwiches or even the stupid snacks they have laying around (like croissants, crackers, etc).  I can’t begin to count the times I’ve gotten incredibly frustrated at finding out that my son’s lunch that day was just plain fried rice with an egg, without so much as any kind of vegetables or meat in there.  And just like those times are innumerable, so are the times I’ve just dumped the bowl that my mother-in-law gave me to take home for my son to eat for dinner because of the simple fact that there was simply no nutritive value in that food whatsoever.

After going back and forth like this for almost a year, I thought that I had things worked out to the point where it was manageable.  I had all the right foods in my pantry and in my fridge.  We were bringing lots of goodies to family functions that were even Whole30-compliant!  Then my husband and I moved into a bigger house in a better part of San Jose (the part where the public schools don’t have metal detectors) and with that, our house occupants also grew.  We’ve always had my husband’s cousin living with us as our roommate, but with the new house, we’ve also brought on his (cousin’s) younger brother as our other roommate.  And since my mother-in-law helps us with taking care of my son, she’s also moved in with us and currently stays with us Sundays through Saturdays.

We DO have a full house! (Image courtesy of ABC Family)

I encountered a lot of problems in the beginning because of the kinds of foods I was buying.  Of course the meats I bought was significantly more expensive than the ones you can get at Lucky’s, Safeway, or even Ranch99.  And the way I cooked sometimes earns an upraised eyebrow because it’s not the traditional way of cooking our foods (slow-cooker and roasting as opposed to plain old stir-fry).  It’s definitely hard trying to stay on the clean foods straight-and-narrow when four out of five adults in the household are still into eating instant noodles, croissants and breads, and all the other stuff that aren’t healthy.  I’ve even tried making it so that I could come home early enough to prepare a completely clean dinner only to find that my mother-in-law generally beats me to the punch by having all the ingredients to dinner prepared by the time I get home (which is sometimes 3 in the afternoon).  But in the end, I can’t fault her or anybody else in my household because she means well and she’s just trying to help take the load off of me.  I’m not kidding when I say that it’s been incredibly taxing on my mental health.

In the end, I decided that the easiest way to go is to keep as gluten-free a household as possible.  I’ve made it a point to pick out some sauces (like oyster sauce) that do not contain any HFCS or gluten that my mother-in-law can cook with.  To sort-of prevent her (or the cousins) from picking up bread, I buy gluten-free bread (the best one we’ve gotten thus far is from Mariposa Baking) and other baked goods from Zest Bakery.  And instead of pissing off my entire household on what I don’t want myself or my son to eat, I have to relax the rules a bit and say that a little bit of white rice is okay (as is pho and vermicelli and “fun”, the broad flat rice noodle).  When my mother-in-law makes that fried rice with just egg and soy sauce (which I’ve swapped out for Tamari and coconut aminos), I’ll actually  recook the whole thing and add in a crapload more meat (usually Aidell’s chicken apple sausages) and vegetables.  At dinnertime, I make it a point that rice stays off his plate.  And of course, whenever I get the chance, I’ll be the one to make the meals, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

With so many non-Paleo people helping me take care of my kid while I’m working, I know I’ll only drive myself totally batsh!t crazy thinking about all the stuff that he’s eating while I’m not there (ah, if only I could be a stay-at-home mom!).  Preparing the foods for him ahead of time will not help because just as I’ve thrown stuff away as soon as we get home, the foods that I’ve prepared will also just sit… and sit… and sit until I have to throw it away.  I have to take a page from my cousin and his wife who wrote up a really good post on what they do for their kids.  Also, Stacy and Matt (of The Paleo Parents) wrote a good section in their book Eat Like a Dinosaur on how they and their kids deal with non-Paleo foods in the school and social environments.  In the end, I just can’t prevent him from eating some grains and sugars here and there.  Just as my husband pointed out, I can’t make myself or my son a pariah but I can definitely teach him as much as possible about what foods are healthy, what’s not, and why they make a difference.

9 thoughts on “The Foodie Outcast?

  • Kris

    Love this series, thanks for writing it Daphne!

    This post touches on a lot of issues that have come up between my wife and me as we plan what having kids will mean. Though we don’t have quite the tangled situation you do, we still wrestle over what to do about family gatherings and holidays, whether and how to make room for traditions involving “bad” foods, etc.

    Probably our biggest struggle, though, is just between us. My wife “doesn’t believe in” Paleo, that gluten or peanuts or vegetable oil are bad. She has tied a significant degree of her enjoyment of life to indulging in food, and specifically stuff like bread, pasta, sweets, etc. and it causes great upheaval when we battle over this and what it will mean for our lives with kids. I don’t think it’ll change her mind seeing your next article about pregnancy and nutrition, but I’m looking forward to it regardless!

  • saulj


    I am really glad you chose this topic to post about. There is something about nutrition, raising children and a few more topics that makes some people lose their f***ing minds. I am not sure why it is but asking someone to reduce the bread gets an inordinate amount of resistance. What is super important is that people like yourself talk honestly and openly about the struggles. I think if Susan and I had any issues with what food we ate, our marriage wouldn’t last long. That kind of low level stress is a killer. It’s not that the relationship would end because of food, but I think it would infect the relationship in a way that would allow other things to become more important than they really are. Ironically, it’s like obesity. Very rarely does someone die of obesity, lack of strength or even diabetes. They die because the primary system can’t work anymore and when the back up system is forced to do all the work, it just gets worn out and can’t recover.

    From a purely nutritional perspective, I believe that the more good food, the better. The important thing is that your children know what you think they should eat. When they grow up and they make their own choices, they will have that information. In the end, it is what we eat over the years rather than what we have for a few meals here and there.

    From a family perspective, is the mother of the house not in charge?!?!?! Is that a Hispanic rule? I’m confused… People, if you want to live a pain-free life, listen to the mother of the house, even if they are wrong. You might think you’re getting away with something but in the end you will suffer. 🙂

    Thanks Daphne for a great post!

  • susan

    Gosh, Daphne, your post just highlights many of the reasons that eating ‘clean’ isn’t as easy as some make it out to be. The layers to this are complex!
    You are doing an amazing job and I commend you on letting go some of it so that you can stay sane.
    Thank you for giving so many good examples of things that can be done under less than optimal circumstances!

  • Joe

    I totally agree with everything Daphne wrote. It’s extremely difficult to “change” old habits – especially when those habits are ingrained in one’s culture. If the person has an open mind and is willing to engage in a healthy dialogue on nutrition, many will agree that paleo just makes sense – period. I think that it’s a combination of stubbornness, being brainwashed by the BIG corps / BIG pharma / media, and one’s fear of recognizing that what they thought was right may actually be wrong that prevents many people from accepting change (despite what their common sense tells them). Basically, they would rather not know than know.

    What to feed our body is a decision that we all have to make every time our hunger center is activated. Armed with proper nutritional knowledge, we hope to make many more good decisions than bad ones. Some people will draw a line in the sand and immediately change their nutritional lifestyles accordingly while others will do it one step at a time. I tend to fall into the latter category. I find it difficult to do anything “hard core”, but I do try to make many more healthy decisions than unhealthy ones. Maybe it’s my poor will power or maybe it’s my hectic work/lifestyle? Who knows. Even if you’re not 100% compliant to your nutritional philosophy, it’s much more important that you are at least armed with the correct information. As long as you have this knowledge, it will be your compass. You can get sidetracked (like eating the mini scone that your coworker bought for you – whoops!!!), but as long as you practice your philosophy

  • Joe

    Hmmm….Tyler moved in bed and I accidentally pressed “published”. Sorry….
    Anyway, I was saying that as long as you practice your philosophy more often than not (preferably, much more often than not), my opinion is that you’ll be fine. I have Daphne to thank for being such a great role model for our little Chubster and me. The fact that you have found a ton of healthier ingredients to supplement or to completely replace what we have in the kitchen, has made an enormous impact. I think that what is cooked at our house is much more paleo compliant due to your influence (intentional or not). Even if you can’t change old habits 100% of the time, it doesn’t mean that people are not taking mental notes and making incremental changes due to your positive influence. So, even if it’s not totally apparent to you, you have definitely made a huge impact on how and what we eat. Thanks hon.

  • saulj

    Great comments Joe! Just to be clear, Susan and I are not Paleo compliant. We give it a good shot and I would say that during the week we are pretty on it. But we still have ice cream and beer, which is essentially liquid bread (Saul), on the weekend and dark chocolate most days. I think you are right being on it more than off it is a huge benefit.

    Also Joe pointed out something really important which is there is very little training in nutrition or exercise education regarding how people learn and change behavior. The majority of the “teaching styles” are really just different flavors of do it harder and do it more. Not everyone learns the same way and change often takes longer than we expect, but looking back I think it is truly amazing what can happen in just a few months or years.

    Thanks to both Daphne and Joe!

  • Gwyn Gordon

    Daphne, thanks for an honest and insightful look into the challenge of family dynamics when one generation is evolving and learning, and the older generation just doesn’t get it. You hit it on the head: our parents and other relatives mean well, and are trying to help. We aren’t ungrateful, per se, but it must seem that way: nothing they cook is “right,” we don’t eat enough at family get-togethers, we ask them not to buy treats for our kids, and on and on….

    These and other social pressures are, it seems to me, why it is so challenging to eat Paleo consistently. In a vacuum, it’s not that hard: keep a clean kitchen, cook mostly your own food, rejigger recipes, and off you go. But our relatives, friends and coworkers are constantly putting pressure on us, intentional or not, to conform. Susan mentioned that the “social setting” theme was repeated over and over as the most difficult part of the recent Whole30. Family is a social setting, and when so many interactions and traditions revolve around food (hello, Italians!) it’s a setup for frustration on both sides.

    I don’t live with my relatives, but they come to visit quite regularly. When they do, I grit my teeth and try to minimize the damage. Stocking the house with only Paleo ingredients is the only way to fly – although dang it, they go shopping, too! I end up doing most of the cooking for everyone, which ironically makes it more work for me when they are here. But the childcare makes it an even trade, right?

    Thanks for the reminder that the “more often than not” mindset is good enough, and to hold the line as best I can, when I can.

    PS: Saul, the Mother Of The House Is In Charge Rule is cross-cultural but they conveniently forget it when the daughter becomes a mother. Or they pull the “That’s what grandmothers are supposed to do” card (meaning spoil the grandchild). Argh!

  • saulj Post author

    We are going to be seeing a bunch more of my mom in the near future. I wish it was just her, we went to her house this weekend and raided her candy jars. 🙂 But it is very different that she has candy there, we can always leave. Agreed, social gatherings and trips are the hardest part of eating clean.

  • Katie

    We don’t even have kids yet but can (sorta) empathize cause we have the same problem with family, our dogs and dog toxic table scraps!!

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