Why should food take centre stage at family gatherings and special occasions? Shouldn't it be about the people we're with and enjoying the special event - not weeks-long preparation and obsession over what's going to be on the dining table?
Our family had finally accepted a couple of years ago that we are paleo (and not changing back, ever) and started trying to accommodate us, which I can't say how much I appreciate because it makes things so much easier on me.
At a recent family gathering for a birthday, I was happily going along with what had become the norm for us all. It was a pizza night, and there were loads of gluten free options and plenty of salad etc, and even a cauliflower-base pizza that was so much tastier than I ever expected (I never did go down the cauli-pizza route personally...)
But the problem is that my kids are not used to eating overly-bulky meals, let alone grains or processed foods like the shop-bought gluten free pizzas and sugary cakes we brought along from a party they went to the day before. And when you add to that the average child's mentality around "taboo foods" loosely translates as "eat as much as you can stuff in while it's there..."it's a recipe for a really long night of hanging over the toilet bowl afterwards.
My kids are used to small, nutrient dense meals that don't fill their stomachs to bursting, but do provide serious nutrition per forkful. When they encounter gluten free "bulky foods" that aren't nearly so full of nutrients but are very filling, their bodies (and taste-buds!!!) keep asking for more because they haven't reached their "nutrient quota" that they are used to hitting at each meal. So they continue eating, refusing any of the healthy options they usually would eat at home, and end up with their eyeballs practically bulging out of their sockets, and still "nutrient hungry".
It's not a fun situation for me to deal with afterwards - they always regret it, always feel terrible, always say they won't eat that much again, and always do because it's the standard fare when they are guests somewhere; not to mention how much these substances excite the brain and create "instant-addiction" that prevents them from being able to stop themselves.
These gatherings are no longer nearly so much of an issue for me personally - I've long since stopped missing bread and cakes etc. I love eating the way I do because it feels right for me, and though I do cheat, I'm careful about what I cheat with because "gluten free" grains really don't agree with me. A bag of Doritos and I'm in agony the next day.
Most people just don't understand that "gluten free" is really a farce - oats, corn and rice are just as dangerous and harmful as wheat, and each contain their own versions of gluten (not to mention these "food" are usually LOADED with cancer-causing sugar and hormone disrupting soy). But for me personally, wheat is the biggest demon, and if I can at least avoid that while allowing my kids to enjoy some "normality" at an occasional event, I can usually live with that, even if I'm not entirely happy with it.
But I'm the only one in the house truly content with living this way. My husband still eats wheat (even though he protests and says he doesn't) and so he gorges on the standard wheat options, while the kids gorge on the gluten free options and I happily sit with my salad, roast chicken drumsticks and slice of cauli-pizza. I try my best to moderate, but they know when I'm absorbed in conversation, and quickly stuff some more in while I'm not looking.
This last occasion was particularly bad for them because it was the THIRD day of them eating things like this in a row.
The first day was my own fault - we'd had a particularly hard week financially and when my husband got paid we decided to "treat" ourselves. So we got pizza and mini Magnum ice creams. The next day, the kids went to a party (that my friend was careful to ensure had gluten free pizzas for them to eat) and even brought some leftover cakes home. And then on the Sunday we had our family gathering.
All three of them were sick that night. And although I knew I was to blame for it all - it's so much easier to accept an offer of a gluten-free option that will avoid them being "singled out", than go to the trouble of making a paleo version for them to take along when I'm so busy as it is.
I was pissed. Not at anyone in particular, but just at society in general and the fact that EVERY. SINGLE. EVENT. always revolves around the bloody food! And not even just food - it's always about the "treats" that people don't usually have; it's that point where you can "justify" it, saying 'It's a special occasion'. I can't tell you how far off the wagon I fall every Christmas just by doing this - and then struggle on into February to get back on it.
Why are people so food-obsessed? (And when I say "people" I whole-heartedly include myself in that!) How can we let ourselves justify feeding the people we LOVE with carcinogenic, inflammatory and destructive "foods" we know are harmful, just because they are (engineered to be) so "tasty"?
Why can't it be about how best to make the time together fun and engaging for all ages of the group; like playing games or having a friendly competition, or even (heaven forbid) learning a new craft together?
I know that food and feasting goes waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back for us humans, and I do believe that sharing a meal with family is just something so wholesome and vital that we all need and cherish. But back then, all that was available was REAL whole foods and in limited quantities - not the prepackaged, GMO, sugar-beet-full frankenfoods we are consuming in huge quantities today.
But what if we could change things? What if these feasts were centred around a hearty healthy ideal that would leave everyone feeling satisfied, contented and clear-minded, rather than stuffed, sluggish and foggy? What if we served "enough" rather than mounding the table with so many different foods you couldn't taste them all without stuffing yourself?
What if we chose real food; based on whole vegetables, starchy tubers, fruits, coconut, healthy animal protein, fats like avocado, olive oil and even real gravy made with traditional bone broth? What if the "treats" were small, personalised, handmade gifts or even a coin-collection for the host's favourite charity?
I personally aim to ensure that the next family gathering we have is less about the food and more about the family. Not exactly sure yet how I'll do that, but I'm damn-well going to try.
What's your take on it? Do you have any "food issues" your family find it hard to understand/respect? How about some ideas of things your family enjoy doing when you're all together that don't revolve around food? Weigh in below!
So much love to you,
Tam x x