Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Halloween's Sugar Demon ;-)

Images of Halloween are giving me chills this year. It's not the witches, skeletons, or tombstones that have me shaking--it's the processed sugar and gluten. Piles of it will assault us over the coming weeks, and somehow, I'll have to convince my sugar-free, gluten-free child that he can't eat it.

Some people roll their eyes at parents who are selective about their children's diets, but they're not the ones who live with the consequences. A gluten-sensitive child becomes unwell after the consumption of wheat. Children with neurological problems (and even neuro-typical children) can become agitated after a good sugar buzz. Whether a food allergy causes an anaphylactic reaction or a sensitivity causes stomach pain, the state of our food supply leaves many families struggling to keep their children well.

In past years, my son was young enough that I could scoop his candy when we got home. A year ago, he was assuaged by home-made pumpkin muffins. Now, even though his indulgence is rare, he's an avid chocoholic . When his teacher asked him what vegetable he'd bring to contribute to the class pot of soup, he insisted that he'd bring chocolate. How am I going to manage the candy issue this year?

There were no forbidden foods in my childhood home. My folks happily embraced the joys of Kraft Dinner, Sloppy Joes, and Cheese Whiz on Wonder Bread. As a result, I no longer trust foods that require capitalization. In high school, my best friend (whose mother made bread from scratch) and I would swap lunches. I would have traded my nitrate-saturated Hot Rod for her bran muffin any day and she happily obliged, eager to have a taste of processed meat product. I wonder...will Kieran be the kid who trades my labour-intensive, gluten-free banana bread for his buddy's Joe Louis? By forbidding certain foods, do we run the risk of making them more appealing?

I definitely think so. However, I don't really have a choice. I'd rather have a kid who sneaks a treat now and then (and experiences the unfortunate consequences) than to have him chronically unwell.

But it's not just food-sensitive kids who are affected. Celebrity paediatrician, Dr. Bob Sears, claims that the two weeks after Halloween are the busiest in his office. He attributes this to the excessive consumption of processed sugar, an immune suppressant. Maybe we all need to rethink the gratuitous use of candy at this otherwise enjoyable time of year.

As we discuss my son's latest costume idea--this week, he wants to be a pirate--I wonder if it's fair to let him trick-or-treat only to take most of his treats. Now that he's aware of candy, and longs for it, trick-or-treating seems cruel. Granted, there are many thoughtful neighbours who know our son and have different options: play dough, stickers, pencils, story books, toothbrushes.

Some people are opting out of the candy madness, holding parties at their homes instead. I've considered this, but I think trick-or-treating is about more than candy. It's the thrill of dressing up and going out in the crisp fall air. It's the excitement of going door-to-door and seeing the decorating efforts of our community. It's the buzz in the air as ghosts and goblins surge up and down the sidewalks.

I've found other solutions that I hope will work such as using candy as currency for non-food items. We will also cut down on the number of houses visited and make sure tummies are full by inviting friends over for pizza beforehand. And there are other ways for treats to dwindle before a young pirate can take inventory of his treasure...

So count us in for trick-or-treating. Bring on the candy--I've got a plan. That's what moms are for.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Good-Bye Summer

So, summer's long behind us. We had a great last few weeks and life got so busy with back-to-school that I didn't have time to post some of my favourite photos. We spent a few days at Sauble Beach and once home, "put up" some food. There's been knitting, too.

For my mom...

We always seem to bring windy, chilly weather to Sauble whenever we visit. So...we made a non-beach day into a beach day by flying a kite.

Boy ~ Dad ~ Poppy

Tomato Sauce: This year I had two sauce-making companions. Good times.


My boy modelling girls' socks...who will be the lucky recipient?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Garden of Neglect

For the past three years, I've been experimenting with backyard vegetable gardening. My first year, I had great success with salad greens, swiss chard, and carrots. I planted them in a raised container in our small yard. I only had enough carrots to make one pot of soup, but goodness, I was proud of it. My second year, we grew salad tomatoes in upside down hanging containers. It was so satisfying to grab a handful of fresh tomatoes for dinner.

This year, knowing we were going away for several weeks, I tried to plant things that didn't need a lot of attention: squash, watermelon, late tomatoes, and peppers. When I ordered my seedlings, I specified that I wanted plants that could survive my Garden of Neglect. The combination of great summer weather and friends who took care of my plants while we were away, secured us a respectable bounty.

I worried that my plants wouldn't survive while we were away. However, when we pulled in the driveway, it took me a moment to realize that the huge plant covering my entire front garden was actually a tomato plant. I'd thrown it in there because I didn't have enough room in the back. Now my clematis cowered in the shadow of robust and lush yellow heritage tomato vine.

Rambling squash vines covered a corner of the backyard. A pepper plant was laden with little red chillis. Four huge potato plants and several onions spouted from the compost. There was even a watermelon that grew despite a less-than-ideal location.

Before we'd even unpacked the car, I was out surveying the garden. I picked what was ripe: a few peppers and two tomatoes.

"Mommy's a farmer," my son announced to his father and our cat.

I laughed. I know it's not that easy. Food production is serious business indeed. I'm just playing with gardening. It takes real risk and real knowledge to grow food.

However, even though the yields are small, backyard gardens are important.

Experimenting with food production on a small scale makes one appreciate what it actually takes to do it for a living. I believe it makes people more inclined to buy locally grown produce because they acquire a taste for fresher, more nutritious food. Eating a still-warm tomato that ripened on the vine makes the woody, pink globes offered in January a travesty.

Today's backyard gardens play a similar role to Victory Gardens. The intention then was to preserve resources for the war effort. Now, we can garden to save the planet and our own health. The food requires no fossil fuel to be delivered and it's healthier because you can't find any fresher. If seeds are selected wisely and practices are kept organic, the average person has more control over his or her consumption of GMOs and pesticides.

Growing food in the backyard connects us to the earth. I've written before about how we have to be involved in our outdoor environment to actually care about it. Using our suburban yards more mindfully to grow food rather than grass connects us to the rhythms of nature.

Whether we nurture a few herbs in a pot or plant enough tomatoes to can sauce, using our yards to grow food nurtures body, soul, and planet.