They were new parents in the ’70s, and while they weren’t exactly hippies, they subscribed to a lot of hippie-ish behavior when it came to health and wellness. In part because my father was (and still is) a chiropractor, he was a proponent of holistic living long before this was a trendy term. My son recently turned 2. I am hitting my stride as a parent, and yet falling very short of my own parents’ ideals.
I’m not sure: Is it easier to be organically oriented now, with the proliferation of health-food box stores (I’m talking about you, Whole Foods), or was it easier to focus on natural eating and living back in the ’70s and ’80s, when the pace of daily life was slower and there were fewer mindless distractions (I’m talking about you, Facebook)? What I do know is that my parents were pretty much holistic heroes, and I am, in comparison, extremely lazy. Maybe we’re all destined to reject our parents’ belief systems to some degree. And maybe that’s okay.
1. My parents grew a lot of our food in the backyard: tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, green beans, rhubarb, and more.
I might be exaggerating, but I think this garden was about an acre in size. My father had a small tractor with a trailer and engaged in a complex set of watering, weeding and harvesting rituals. Then, my mother spent hours canning this bounty. We even had a dehydrator in our basement, complete with a machine to vacuum-seal the bags.
I, on the other hand, once tried to grow parsley in a pot. It died almost immediately, and I promptly gave up, almost relieved to not be burdened with a so-called green thumb. I saw how much work all this gardening required—maybe they did love it on some level, but the sheer quantity of food they were trying to grow and store also created a great deal of stress. Instead, I buy most of our produce at the local chain supermarket, and they don’t always have organic. And when they do, it’s sometimes just too expensive to justify. Sorry, Mom and Dad.
2. Also, brace yourselves … my parents didn’t have my brother and me vaccinated.
They didn’t trust vaccination, long before this was a hot-button topic. I respect them for this, but I’ll tell you what: Getting through the school system without shots—grade school through college and even graduate school—was like swimming upstream. Getting permission to attend those institutions required all kinds of letters to be written, and all kinds of red tape to be cut.
My husband and I agonized over this, but decided to have our son immunized for several reasons, both medical and social. Essentially, it was a path of least resistance. Initially, in order to opt for a middle ground, we tried to stretch out the pace of the shots, but we soon realized that this meant going to the doctor more, which of course resulted in more co-pays and exposing our young son to the germs of a doctor’s office more often. So we’re now on the standard vaccine schedule recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, just like almost everyone else in this country. Sorry, Mom and Dad.
3. My parents made eating processed sugar seem like a sin.
Forget sugared cereals, we ate shredded wheat as dry as straw, and only sweetened with a light drizzle of local honey. Mostly we ate fruit for dessert—though, occasionally, we got a little cup of sunflower seeds with a bit of black strap molasses poured over it, or, wait for it … a piece of carob, which, if you don’t know, is a sad imitation of chocolate. I remember distinctly that on one New Year’s Eve, we got to drink 7UP! We toasted with it at midnight, and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
Unfortunately, this is also what I thought when I got to college and had a whole cafeteria at my disposal: I ate Oreo ice cream for dinner with Oreo pie for dessert. At night, I’d buy Oreos at the convenience store for a midnight snack. Indeed, during the Great Oreo Rebellion of 1991, I packed on the freshman 15, and then some. I’ve since decided that I don’t want my child to covet these treats and eventually go off the deep end, so he sometimes gets Cheerios; he has cupcakes at birthday parties; and when a juice box lands in his little hands, he drinks it and I let him, as if it’s no big deal. Sorry, Mom and Dad.
4. Finally, my parents didn’t believe in cow’s milk.
They didn’t think the human stomach was meant to digest a product intended for baby cows. Keep in mind that this was in Wisconsin, the Dairy State, so this perspective was practically heresy. Instead, they served us rice milk. As I finished breastfeeding my son, I started to serve him the same thing, until I noticed the sugary taste and carbohydrate content of rice milk (this befuddled me in light of my low-sugar upbringing). Then I read about the connection between soy milk and increased levels of estrogen, and how almond milk is watered down and low in protein, and, well … now we’re of course serving him cow’s milk even though it kind of disgusts and confuses me on a daily basis. Sorry, Mom and Dad.
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful my parents set me up with a healthy foundation. They definitely taught me to think about what I put in my body and, now, in my child’s body. That said, I’m well aware that many kids never have a single bite of organic food pass their lips and they turn out … just fine. In fact, they don’t have any “organic guilt” to carry with them, and that might be a very healthy thing, indeed.