Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Conscious Shopper Challenge: Limit Your Special Occasion Foods

The past few weeks of the Conscious Shopper Challenge have focused on greening our groceries. Here's the last challenge in this series:


Photo by jronaldlee

When I sat down and planned out all of the challenges at the beginning of the year, I didn't really think about when I'd be writing them. Two weeks before Thanksgiving and the big launch into the season of gluttonous eating may be the worst possible time to suggest that you start limiting your special occasion foods. On the other hand, since eating healthy is something many of us struggle with year round, now may be as good a time as ever to start thinking about it.

"Special occasion foods" is the term I use to describe foods that provide little nutritional value - things like chocolate, coffee, sugar, alcohol, fast food, and soft drinks that are appropriate for special occasions but not so valuable for daily consumption. Many of these foods are also served with a side of health, social, and/or environmental issues, such as:

  • Chocolate - heavy pesticide use, low wages for farmers, and child labor (sometimes even slave labor)
  • Beer - heavy pesticide use, possible health side effects
  • Coffee - deforestation, pesticide use, water use, low wages for farm workers, coffee cup waste
  • Sugar - soil degradation, soil erosion, water use, low wages for farm workers

Choosing to limit your special occasion foods is valuable not only for your health and the health of the planet, but also because they're budget-suckers, leeching away money that you could be spending on healthier foods. If you're having trouble buying organic or locally-grown foods and staying in the budget, examine how often you're consuming special occasion foods and where you could cut back. Keep special occasion foods special by saving them for treats rather than consuming them every day. If there's a category or two that you're not that keen on anyway - why not just let it go from your life. And if you must buy it, look for local, organic, and fair trade options.

I have to admit that of all of the challenges so far, this may be the one that's most challenging for me. I have a major sweet tooth that gets really angry if I go too long without feeding it, so for me learning to moderate my special occasion foods has been all about finding balance. Two other pieces of advice that have been really helpful for me:

  • Don't eat something if you don't really love it. I don't really like candy or cake, but in the past I always ate it if it was offered to me. Finally at some point, I realized what a waste of calories that was. Now, I decline cake and candy and stick to desserts I really enjoy, and if I take a bite of something and my first thought is "eh...," I put down my fork. (Okay, most of the time...none of us are perfect.)
  • Remember that there will always be a next time. I have been in many many situations where a food tastes so good that I want more and more...and then I'm stuffed and feel sick and put on a few pounds. Now, when I feel like going back for seconds, I remind myself that there will be more opportunities to eat _____. This is a great mental reminder at Thanksgiving or other holidays that come around every year.

How do you limit your special occasion foods?


Kate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shona~ LALA dex press said...

We had a 40th b-day party for my boyfriend over the weekend + I got all the party nosh at Trader Joe's. Last night I was eating a bowl of Gorgonzola roasted crackers (not something I would normally eat) + thinking "ALL THIS PARTY FOOD NEEDS TO GET OUT OF MY HOUSE"

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

There was a comment here earlier about whether or not this challenge was really relevant to going green. Considering that there are better options such as shade grown coffee and organically grown cocoa, should we even try to limit our special occasion foods? The comment has since been removed by the author (not sure why since it was a valid comment), but I'm going to address it anyway.

First, the Conscious Shopper Challenge is not just about going green, but about going green without spending a lot of money, and as I say in the post, special occasion foods are a drain on the wallet without providing nutritional value. If you're spending $20 a week on fast food, that's $20, you're not spending on organic fruits and vegetables.

But also, eating too much of some special occasion foods (particularly high sugar foods, high fat foods, soft drinks, etc.) is bad for our health, and I look at green living in an all-inclusive sort of way - not just what's good for the planet, but what's good for us.

I hope that clears things up, and sorry I didn't address it well in the post.

panamamama said...

I get my coffee from farms I've personally visited in Panama. Makes me feel better. I'm trying to cut back but it's hard! We spent last Thanksgiving with just my family in a cabin and didn't have room to take a lot of the junk we normally would have made. It was PERFECT. One pie, one small turkey (local) and just enough that we had lunch the next day. Want to try and do that this year too. It's hard to change sometimes, but it can be a very good thing!

Green Bean said...

Ohhh, this is a really hard one for me. I can go local. I can go organic. I can go homemade. But giving up my chocolate and sugar? That's my weak spot. I do go fair trade and such but still . . .

Sense of Home said...

I have enjoyed this series of challenge articles, this is another good one. I need to limit my intake of caffeine and sugar or my stress level goes up and I just don't feel well, here are some more reasons to limit them. I sure enjoy my weekend coffee though!


Beryl ❤ Lynn said...

REAL chocolate is actually amazing for you! Real chocolate is chock-full of antioxidants and flavonoids.
If you were referring to what Americans call Chocolate.. like Hersheys, Twix, etc then yes that kind of chocolate should be avoided but REAL chocolate has amazing nutritional benefits that you can't get from a lot of other food sources. Check out "Sacred Chocolate"!


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