A Love Story

By Jaime Collins, Director of Marketing and Communications

I am in a long-term relationship that’s really good for me, but it hasn’t always been like that. It was a rocky road for many years.

The relationship I have now is healthy for me because I not only really enjoy our time together but also know that this relationship nourishes me like no other can. And though I do make some sacrifices, this relationship does not require me to surrender anything that’s important.

I’m talking about my relationship with food, and it took some time to get to where I am today. Like any relationship, there have been ups and downs along the way. Mostly because I was careless of the joys good food brings me and the difference the right food makes in my life.

You see, I grew up in Platteville in the 60s and 70s and learned to eat the same Midwestern meat and potatoes diet nearly everyone else ate back then. The basics my parents served up weren’t so bad. It was largely what they learned from their parents. And as a population, we were, indeed, healthier back then by almost any measure. In my family, for example, we picked vegetables from the garden every day in summer, and it seemed we always had a fresh salad and a vegetable to eat with a home cooked dinner.

My personal problem was, like so many others around me, I wasn’t paying any attention to this relationship, and I was easily led astray at a tender young age by a narcissistic food industry eager to make a profit and by a food culture all too willing to aid and abet. Even though my friends and I were surprised when the 10 cent candy bars and other sweets sold at the swimming pool went up to 15 cents, the price increase didn’t stop us from finding the spare change every day to get our fill of chocolate covered confections. And whenever we felt like a soda, we had little grocery stores, like Moon’s and Reynold’s, all over town we could ride our bikes to and fill up on more sugar.

Then fast food came into our lives. That was followed by enterprising food scientists, something the millions of TV ads for fast food and processed food never mention. Food scientists are the chemistry whizzes working in laboratories behind the scenes, hired to engineer crispy, salty, sweet, fatty, high calorie concoctions in ways that more of us would crave more of. All this engineered poison was sold to us with billions of dollars in advertising. Not entirely truthful advertising that really never has the best interests of its audiences at heart.

For me, it was all a quite ill-informed process, void of any mindful decision making. I wasn’t out to damage my health. Even if it hadn’t been sold at the local swimming pool, my parents were still going to stock our cupboards with giant Hershey bars, so I could slather peanut butter all over a big tablet of chocolate for an afternoon snack. Kept me quiet and out of trouble, I suppose. Even that peanut butter was loaded up with sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oil, now well known for causing heart disease. It wasn’t long before Hardee’s and Cool Whip, and Mars Inc. almost entirely replaced my wholesome garden grown veggies.

Since those days long ago, I’ve learned a few things. Like how making mindful decisions about what I eat helps me eat better. Because one thing a little health research makes perfectly clear, taking all our cues from the food industry or from the culture they’ve created, makes us all sick. Literally sick. There is no broccoli or bock choy or rutabaga industry working hard to persuade us to eat their products.

I also have the enormous privilege of working with people who really know nutrition – our own Southwest Health dietitian, Joan Bahr, for one. And her celebrity counterpart of national fame, Zonya Foco. They are both amazing sources of food knowledge, and I’ve had the good fortune of learning from them both. They have informed me and inspired me. And most importantly, they helped me discover the value of REAL food.

Real food is exactly what it sounds like. It’s not stuff that HAS ingredients. Real food IS the ingredients. It’s food that’s made by the Earth. Real food is what we used to eat decades ago. It’s food that’s not out to make a profit from your eating more of it because it’s not out to sell anything. Real food isn’t always the easy way, but it can be quite simple. It’s also not fake, and it doesn’t contain things that require an advanced degree in chemistry to even pronounce.

Apples, avocados, asparagus. Berries, beats, beans. Citrus, cabbage, cauliflower. These are your real food  A, B, Cs.

The moral of my story is we all have a relationship with food. And if yours is feeling phony, it’s something that will make a big difference both your enjoyment of food and in your health. Plus, you really can just start today changing what you eat. Sure, there are a many great and wonderful things to learn about cooking and eating real food, but no one needs hours of education to get reconnected and begin a better relationship with what’s always been there for us all along.

You can find real food in the produce section at any grocery store or farmers’ market. Or in a bag of plain nuts. Or a can of beans. You’ll also be able to find more articles and info about real food on our Southwest Health Facebook page. Or in upcoming presentations in the coming months as part of Southwest Health’s My Healthy Life series of programs. And in future articles on the Healthier You page of The Platteville Journal.

Real food is right around the corner waiting patiently for us to see its beauty and fall back in love with it once again.

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