The goal of Cuizoo is to get parents back in the kitchen — and to do so in a way that makes families develop an appreciation for real food. Creative marketing has led us to believe that families don’t have time to cook, that we need processed food to provide short cuts, that cooking from scratch is hard, and that kids don’t eat vegetables. Hell, they tell us we are so busy that we don’t even have time to squeeze a lemon (so wouldn’t you rather buy some Real Lemon lemon juice-esque product?) … and we are so incapable in the kitchen that we cannot make a ham sandwich for our child’s lunch (so wouldn’t you rather buy a Lunchable?).
But the problem is that our families are eating in a way that is not sustainable. And I’m not going all “environmental” on you with that word. I am talking about the real meaning of sustainability — the meaning that says at its core that something not sustainable simply cannot go on any longer. And I believe that we cannot continue down this path. Obesity rates are skyrocketing. Children are getting diabetes at early ages. Food allergies are on the rise. Cancer is becoming a widespread, chronic disease. ADHD and other similar disorders are being diagnosed in large numbers. Our highly centralized, corporatized food system is putting us at risk for massive breakdowns — leading to salmonella in our spinach, e. coli in our school lunch hamburgers, and antibiotic resistance from overuse in massive corporate feedlots.
We are eating growth hormones, steroids, and pesticides. We are eating preservatives that allow shelf stability for years. We are eating genetically modified food — things like tomatoes with fish DNA so they last longer in the store (apparently that’s why that grocery store tomato tastes awful). We are eating pre-washed lettuce that is probably dirtier with bacteria than it ever was with dirt. In short, we are eating a lot of things and very little of it is “real food.”
And we are serving it to our children. And then wondering why they are so picky, or why they are bouncing off the walls, or why they are sick, or why they keep breaking out in hives.
A Child Changes Everything
This is where my adventure began. My firstborn has severe food allergies. We found out when she was about a year old after bouts with eczema, hives, spitting up, colic — you name it. At that point, she was allergic to all dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts. So, the pediatrician basically handed me an Epi-Pen and wished me good luck starting table food with that list.
I was shell shocked. I breastfed her for a year — wasn’t that supposed to decrease allergies? And like most of you, I’m sure, I was dealing with being a new mother and was working full time. I assumed I was supposed to feed her chicken nuggets and macaroni and grilled cheese sandwiches — but there wasn’t a product out there that was safe. I had to read the labels (and still do) of everything. She couldn’t have anything processed because there was always soy or wheat in it. I had to learn about every food additive and how nut allergens can be disguised as “vegetable protein” or some other similar label.
The problem is that once you start reading food labels and learning about various additives and chemicals, you can never go back to eating something blindly. My daughter’s diet was a “whole foods” one and I had to make most everything she ate from scratch. But the adventure didn’t end there. After becoming much more interested in organic produce, my good friend Beth encouraged me to join a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), where you join a local farm and each week they give you a box of fruit and vegetables — many things that you have never cooked and suddenly have to figure out how to prepare. So, I was dropped into the world of local and organic and sustainable and I loved it. It just felt so right. At the same time, I read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan — which was lifechanging.
The Other Side
Never again could I return to the processed world of food. Never again could I give my child a feedlot hamburger made from a sickly, drugged up cow fed a diet it was never supposed to eat. Never again could I hand over a “fruit snack” that was neither fruit nor a healthy snack.
And guess what? Now, my children love heirloom tomatoes with fresh basil. They are learning to eat kale and collards and celeriac and asparagus. They treasure sugar snap peas and edamame. The fleeting early summer strawberries are like religion to us. They are learning to love real food — and I am not pureeing the edamame and hiding it in brownies. They are learning to eat the actual food. (And can I add that I lost fifteen pounds that first summer with no diet other than fresh and local?)
But of course I can’t say it has all gone perfectly. I can predict a food related tantrum whenever I tell my daughter that we are having bean soup for dinner. I have to call asparagus, “asparagus green beans,” in order for my two year old to eat them. Some nights we still order a pizza. And when we take a long road trip, we still get McDonalds occasionally (now I just get a cheeseburger minus the meat… it’s actually decent).
So, my plea to you is to cook. Cook your family dinner. Take a chance and cook real food. They may hate tomatoes the first ten times, but then all of a sudden they might not. Join a CSA or shop at a farmer’s market and let your children taste a real tomato. If someone only fed me cardboard store tomatoes with no flavor, I would probably hate tomatoes too. Learn about the food you are eating. I believe strongly in local organic produce, local pasture raised meat (and eating a lot less meat in general) and I would encourage you to read Michael Pollan to learn more. I am pretty sure you don’t want to hear me preach about those things, but please understand that that is my angle and my preference.
The Great American Marketing Scheme
Above all, I want you to know that we have been hoodwinked. Hoodwinked into believing that cooking and real food is not within our reach — that it is only for people with the ultimate luxuries of time and money. Hoodwinked into believing that working outside the home renders us useless in the kitchen — that we can’t make a pancake unless we have a box of pancake mix. Hoodwinked into believing that what we put into our bodies and our children’s bodies doesn’t matter — that you can put garbage in and expect pure health. Hoodwinked into believing that kids don’t eat real food — that they are born with a preference for chicken nuggets and artificially colored yogurt loaded with sugar. Hoodwinked into believing that eating a real butter cookie is bad for you — but you’d be better off with this low fat, loaded with sugar and additives cookie out of a carboard box. Hoodwinked into believing that real food is more expensive — when we pay for things as silly as terrible chicken broth (you can get it for free from the bones, you know?) or fruit snacks that cost more than a bag of apples.
I challenge you to discover the art and beauty and taste of real food. There is a reason we are supposed to sit at the dinner table and have a meal together — it is the ultimate form of celebration and connection and community. But it doesn’t happen around a plate of frozen fish sticks. That is not celebration. That is punishment.
It happens around real food and my hope is that you’ll give it a try.
And please read, question, and comment. Or contact me at cuizoo at cuizoo dot com.