Grace. We all need it in every aspect of life. One area that generally lacks grace is the mainstream Real Food Movement. If you are feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, or anxiety-ridden by the heavy-handedness among many (not all) real foodies, you have come to the right place. I am honored to be joining three terrific ladies offering you grace through these four posts on The Real Truth About Real Food:

Real food

My husband is a traveling Christian musician. (Hold on. This does have to do with real food.) Because we are a family that does everything together, we go with him. That, my friends, means 9 people and a 130-pound dog in a super-sized van towing a trailer all over the country meeting people from all walks of life. All walks of life.

Many of the churches we visit feed us in one way or another. We have been blessed with elaborate spreads and honored with humble meals eaten among new friends. We’ve met people who eat their food straight from the earth and those who eat their food straight off the shelves. We’ve encountered people who could afford to eat whatever they like and those who are barely scraping by, living off the church’s food bank until they can get back on their feet. All walks of life, I tell you.

Real Food

One of our tours took us through many poor churches whose members generously shared their meals with us. That experience made me rethink my fairly dogmatic view of what was truly important about food. I felt almost…embarrassed by some of the real food aspirations I held. I also grew downright indignant (to put it nicely) toward the type of real foodies who shout “You’ll be sorry!” at those whose lives necessitate veering from real food perfection. Where’s the grace in that?

Our lives necessitate not merely veering from perfection, but taking some serious detours along the way.

There are two approaches we can take as a family in our current circumstances where eating the ideal real food diet is, simply put, impossible. We could riddle first our minds and then our bodies with disease and infirmity by stressing over the potential health hazards of not attaining real food idealism. This would, naturally, involve struggling to meet what amounts to unrealistic goals for this season in life, wreaking havoc on our budget, and bearing the burden of guilt for our failures. (Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? It’s not. I tried it.) Or we could do the best that we can, ditch the unhealthy stress and guilt, and enjoy the blessings of fellowship and food on the road, however imperfect it may be. Did you catch the irony? In case you missed it, let me rephrase:

Stressing over health is one of the unhealthiest things a person can do.

Also ironic is that one of the most priceless lessons I learned about eating, joy, and appreciation came not from the real foodies, but from those we met on our travels, specifically those who have very little food. (Of course, my hubby will tell you that he’s been saying this all along…and he would be right…again.) Those people are not calculating whether their yogurt was cultured for 24 hours or 6. They don’t have the luxury (or curse) of worrying whether their eggs are farm fresh or whether the chickens consumed soy. They’re not wondering whether their apples are organic and cleansed properly or if they were picked up off the ground and rubbed on a pair of dirty jeans (the only way to eat apples, in my book).

They are grateful for whatever is set before them and they eat it with joy.

Shouldn’t we all eat with joy?

Real Food

I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with being a real foodie. Personally, I feed my family food that is as untouched as possible. We make almost everything from scratch. We minimize the amount of sugar we consume, bake our own bread, culture yogurt, soak nuts, make granola bars, and on and on it goes. Cold cereal–what’s that? Frozen pizza–a distant memory. Store-bought salad dressing–not here.

But you know what? I refuse to let real food be my idol, and I refuse to let real foodies stress me or my family into a state of perpetual anxiety.

I know some people have never had a gram of sugar or a preservative in their lives.  Me? Well, if preservatives actually worked as well on the human body as they do on margarine (and I hope they do), I’d live to be 280 from what I consumed in college alone. I know some parents religiously monitor their children’s toxin exposure. Me? I’m very cautious, but I cannot deny the health benefits of the sheer joy that is served up with my grandpa’s chocolate malts or the occasional hot Krispy Kreme donut. I know some people will refuse food served by others if they know it is not ideal. Me? I totally enjoy myself as I fellowship over food, however imperfect. (Admittedly, I steer toward the healthy, and I dutifully turn down foods that give my nursing baby colic or me…a-hem…flatulence…for the sake of my hosts. You’re welcome.)

Real Food

Yes, there are real allergies out there and real health conditions and overall we should try to make real food a very real part of our very real lives. With that I heartily agree.

But…

We should not sacrifice real living in the process. We should not crucify joy on the cross of food perfection.

When the anxiety of eating becomes so great that the enjoyment and blessing have been replaced by fear, there is a problem. When others (or you) are made to feel inferior, anxious, or guilty because the food on their plates is not ideal, a whole new arena of hazards is being introduced–mental, emotional, joy-sapping hazards. When the food becomes more important than the relationships, there is a problem. When other people are starving and parents are flippin’ out because Grandma offered Junior a graham cracker (assuming Junior is not allergic to graham crackers), priorities are skewed…and not just a little bit.

I’m living in a place called The Real World, and living in that zipcode requires balance. If you’re a neighbor (also living in the real world), and you find yourself needing a frozen pizza or even a GASP Pepsi with crushed ice and a straw from time to time, enjoy! Eat it with a smile, because food is a blessing that not everyone has, and because that smile is good for your health…and stress will kill you faster than corn syrup.

Real Food

I may not be the ideal real foodie, or even close for that matter, and we may not live to be 120, but this one thing I know: the joy and friendship enjoyed over our meals on the road are far better for our health than the stress of striving to achieve unattainable perfection. Who wants to be perfect anyway–it’s lonely at the top, and studies show you live longer if you ditch the stress and loneliness in favor of real relationships with other real people. I’m pretty sure studies would show you live longer if you eat nachos, too, don’t you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts…but keep it friendly. This is a bully-free zone.

Remember to visit these lovely ladies!