A Man A-Party

I can barely believe it but my eldest will be turning two next month! So I’ve started the process of planning The Party.

I still think he’s too young to know the difference, but his paternal grampsters are coming up from Cape Town for the occasion and – together with my grandma – they will lynch me if we don’t throw their darling boy a birthday party. Last year we got off lightly with having the family round for tea and birthday cake, but I don’t think that’s going to cut the proverbial mustard this time round.

Ariel loves Winnie the Pooh, so I went down to the local party shop to see what’s available. They had Pooh Bear disposable cups, plates, cutlery, serviettes. They also had throw-away banners and other decorations. And, of course, plastic “goodie bags” and plenty of junk with which to fill them.

But I didn’t buy them. Something didn’t feel right. Too many questions kept popping into my head: Do I really have to buy into cavalier consumerism to throw my son a nice party? Does a birthday necessitate buying – and then discarding into landfills – piles of paper and plastic, Pooh Bear embellished or otherwise?

It just doesn’t seem to gel with the values I’m trying to teach my kids. What message will this send? That when we celebrate, it’s okay to waste? That profligate behaviour is acceptable, just so long as you have a great party? I want Ari to grow up to be an earth child, not a prodigal son! What of planetary responsibility?

That said, I have two babies, a house to run, a job, and now a blog to write – so the convenience of the Party Shop route is definitely appealing. I’m also not particularly keen to martyr myself. I know that parties don’t happen every day, and that a few plastic plates won’t make a huge ecological difference in the grand scheme of things.

But it’s the principle. Each little bit does count. Furthermore, these are the occasions on which memories are made. And more importantly, for me at least, I think it’s appropriate that a celebration of my son’s life espouses the values by which he lives.

What’s a VeggietotMom to do? :-(

Never the twain shall meat

As I see it, there are two types of vegetarians:

The first type, who shuns animal products for moral reasons alone, has no theoretical problem with the taste or texture and is happy to eat ethically acceptable substitutes such as soya sausages, veggie burgers, etc.

The second, who abhors the very idea of meat, sees no appeal in faux flesh products and prefers to cook traditional dishes with vegetables, grains and pulses alone.

I am a veggie-vore of the former variety. While I choose not to sacrifice something’s life for my supper, I have no quibble with the tasty convenience that is frozen burgers, sausies, schnitzels and mince. It will also allow my boys to enjoy all the traditional kids’ grub without feeling left out of the society of their meat-eating peers.

My husband makes fantastic spaghetti and “cheat-balls”, monkeygland “fakes” (steaks), and his legendary “whaddaya mean it isn’t meat??” Bolognese sauce. Our family also puts on a mean braai – with all the trimmings – and I am proud to confirm that meat-eaters have been known to bring, cook, and forget to eat their meat because they’ve been so busy tucking into everything else in our sumptuous spread.

Of course it’s important to feed our kids a healthy, balanced diet. But this doesn’t necessitate eating meat. Whether you’re a fabulous faker or a plant purist, there are many ways to skin a (metaphorical) cat.

There is also a growing number of omnivores who are choosing to increase their intake of vegetarian food, for a variety of ethical, environmental, economic or health reasons. (Chef Yottam Ottolenghi calls these pragmatic vegetarians, and there’s a fabulous review of his new book at:http://www.fairlady.com/blogs/fairfoodie/the-pragmatic-vegetarian )

MEAT FREE MONDAYS

For those who aren’t ready to give up meat completely, there a global movement that’s now reached South Africa supporting Meat Free Mondays, an easy and attractive way for individuals to reduce carbon emissions, slow down climate change, protect the environment, improve their health and show compassion for animals. Check it out at: http://www.supportmfm.co.za/

Perhaps while you’re contemplating your supper tonight, you can spare a thought and appreciate the generous spoils nature’s garden has to offer.

Bon appetite.

 

Mo-o-om, what’s for dinner?

Image courtesy http://www.zazzle.com/animals_are_my_friends_poster-228505690643377345 

I hate it when people ask, “but aren’t you going to feed your children meat?” It’s even worse when the question is accompanied by the wide eyes and open mouth that reflect an inability to comprehend the situation.

I’m so tired of people telling me that a vegetarian diet isn’t a healthy way to raise children. I haven’t eaten flesh for over ten years and am a fit, strong, healthy and happy woman who has borne two healthy, beautiful sons.

My nearly-two-year-old is an eating machine and loves guzzling up his beans, cereals, fruit and veggies. He gets plenty of protein from all the peas, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs and cheese he eats, and his energy levels are boundless. There’s a reason the expression is “full of beans”!

My four-month-old is above the average curve for his weight and length, and I am exclusively breastfeeding him off my hearty vegetarian diet.

Vegetarianism may be an ethical, environmental, economic or religious choice. But it is undoubtedly a wholesome one. People need to realize that it is a growing lifestyle and can be every bit as healthy as an omnivorous diet (in fact, often more so!).

As parents we have a responsibility to ensure that our children receive all the nutrients their growing bodies need, as well as a safe and loving environment in which to learn and grow. That doesn’t predicate the need to eat animals or harm them in any way.

As George Bernhard Shaw so eloquently put it: “Animals are my friends, and I don’t eat my friends”. I don’t know how I could teach my kids to love animals, and then tell them that it’s okay to eat them. It just doesn’t make sense.

When they grow into independent individuals they will have to make their own choices about many things, including this issue. But in the meantime, I have to be their feed-o-meat-er.

 

 

lettuce learn together

I think I’m starting to get the hang of this blog thing. You log on every couple of days, jot down some thoughts, and then phone your mother and beg her to read it so you have at least one “hit”.

In my excitement, I’ve been telling everyone I know about my new hobby. The responses have been varied (“That’s nice, dear” – Mother; “What’s a blug?” – Grandma; “Wouldn’t you rather be sleeping while the baby’s quiet?” – Well-meaning Friend).

I seem to have a lot to say about raising eco-aware children. Kids who understand and respect the bio-rhythms of the earth and who appreciate our small place within it. Well, it’s easy to preach the virtues of such things, but I do sometimes wonder how successful I am at putting them into practice.

And finally, today, I received some proof that my efforts are slowly but surely making their way through the little skulls.

I was reading a book with my not-quite-two-year-old (by reading, of course, I mean slapping the pages and going “Aaah!” at the pictures) when we turned to the page about food. “Can you show me the tomato?”

Ari pointed diligently at the tomato.

“And how about the cucumber?”

He gesticulated wildly at the picture: “Ima! Ima!” (this is cucumber until his tongue masters further phonics)

“And where is the lettuce?”

Ari paused. He scoured the page. And suddenly he lifted his arm and pointed out the sliding door into the garden. “Out deh!” he said triumphantly.

Well!

It made one Veggie-tot Mom’s heart very proud.

grape expectations

This afternoon I was in one of Durban’s more up-market food stores when I saw something I haven’t seen for a while: grapes. Immediately my memory was awash with heady summer afternoons, stuffing myself with luscious grapes, the sweet, cool juice dribbling deliciously down my sweaty torso.

Hooray, I thought, the grapes are back! But when I picked up the package to pop it into my basket, I noticed the let-down on the label: “imported”.

I berated myself for (almost) falling into this trap. I should know that September is way too early for grape season. But then it’s so hard to know what’s supposed to be in season when these days, because we can get pretty much everything all year round – at a price.

There are several reasons why buying imported fruit is a no-no for a Veggie-tot Mom:

  1. It’s expensive. Unsurprisingly, it costs a lot to transport imported goods from faraway lands. But at nearly R30 for a tiny plastic box of small green grapes, I feel there have to be better ways to invest the money, whilst supporting our local economy which so desperately needs it.
  2. It’s got a huge carbon footprint. Loads of precious fossil fuels are used to transport the fruit to our country, usually by air. So the cost to our planet is as steep as the cost to our pocket. Do I really want to responsible for the slow strangulation of our planet because I fancy a handful of grapes? Really?
  3. It’s tasteless. Yes, in more ways than one, but here I’m talking purely about the palate. By the time imported produce reaches our South African shelves, it’s usually spent several days in sunless cold storage and has often been treated with life-prolonging chemicals (which do nothing for the taste, or texture, of the fruit).
  4. It’s not special. When something is constantly available, it’s no longer a treat. Nature in her wisdom has kept her infinite variety cycling with the seasons to intrigue our tummies and our taste buds. Why mess with this delicious system?
  5. It’s not the message I want to send to my boys. As their provider of both physical and spiritual nourishment, I see it as my duty to make choices on their behalf. I want them to experience the pleasure of enjoying nature’s choicest blessings when the time is right.

So back went the box onto the shelf, and I reached instead for a punnet of plump strawberries (which I know are in season because they are blooming in my backyard – I just can’t get to them before the monkeys do!).

Most parents agree that it’s our responsibility to teach our kids about manners, road safety, and respect for their elders. But I think that teaching them respect for our planet is equally important, and a global picture of food an excellent tool for this. It teaches them patience, appreciation, and a sense that food is a miraculous gift rather than an entitlement.

So go local. Go seasonal. And go outside and have some fun.

Round and round the Garden

Leeks for Vichyssoise @R2.50 each: R15
Chives to garnish @R5 per pack: R5
Lettuce for salad @R10 a bag: R10
Rocket for salad @R8 a bag: R8
Oregano for roasting veggies @R5: R5
Thyme for the same: R5
Chillies (cos I like a kick): R2
Coriander to garnish: R5
Parsley for hummus: R5
Rosemary for roasted potatoes: R5
Dill for dill mayo (my best!): R5
Mint to flavour water: R5
Lemongrass for same: R5

A sunny afternoon in the garden with my boys: priceless!

Sorry Mastercard, I couldn’t resist :-)

Spring has sprung in all its verdant glory and my herbs have jumped out of their beds like sportsmen who’ve overslept on match day. The grass is greener on this side for once as little leaves unfold, stretch, yawn, and almost scratch themselves they’re so full of life.

So I’ve decided to reap the benefits, if you will, and invite my family round for dinner. I’ve estimated prices conservatively; I know that at many upmarket retail stores you will easily pay R6.99 for a 30g pillowpack of herbs. But even so, I’ve saved myself a good R80 on fresh produce, plus the petrol for the trip to the store. There’s no fiddly plastic packaging to clean and recycle, and best of all I know it is 100% organic.

And while feeding my family with the very best nature has to offer, I’m also starting to teach my children about the ins and outs of the garden. Not-quite-two-year-old Ariel can already identify mint, and as he sees me do every morning I often catch him clumsily picking handfuls of it and stuffing it into his little plastic teapot. He likes to help me harvest, and follows me around with a miniature basket, grabbing and ripping at my poor plants and leaving a gory trail of lacerated leaves behind him. But save for when he tries to ride his little plastic car bang into the beds, I leave him be. I feel it’s more important to let him interact with the garden. Like the plants, he’s also growing and acclimatizing to his given environment. And as he matures he will learn to treat the earth gently. Hopefully.

 

Raw, raw, raw your boat

Today I bundled up my 3-month-old and headed to Earthmother Organic (on Bulwer Road for Durbanite readers). I love the eclectic mix of organic grocery, eco-retailers and kiddie-friendly cafe with the best freshly squeezed fruit and veg juices in town. But today there was an added incentive: they were staging a raw food buffet.

I’ve always liked the idea of raw food. It’s healthy. It’s natural. It’s simple. But even I was pleasantly surprised by just how yummy and filling it was! I started with a “Zinger” (freshly squeezed apple, beetroot, ginger and lime) and my friend had “The Ultimate Booster” (a bit too green for me – I’m still wrapping my head around spinach in a glass). The buffet comprised various scrumptious salads and dressings, as well as a very novel dish of parsnip rice. I’m not sure I’d believe it to be rice but it was delicious all the same. But I’d have to say the star of the show was the chocolate mousse – a dessert fashioned from pure cacao, maple syrup and the finest fresh avocado. Yip, you read right. Avocado chocolate mousse. And boy was it yummy!

Raw foodies have garnered a bit of a reputation for being extreme. To refrain from such an integral part of modern daily life as cooking certainly does set them apart from the rest. Raw-cus, you might say. Or, ironically, some might call them cooked! But I think they’re onto something. Society at large is a few large steps behind, but maybe we can take a leaf out of their book (as it were).

I’m not sure I’m ready to convert to raw-ism, but it’s amazing to eat food still so obviously connected with the earth. It feels so good to fuel my body with such screamingly healthy stuff. It’s living, it’s growing, it’s organic. Kind of like a blog, I guess. So it’s pretty apt for my first real entry.

Maybe this experience will inspire me to include more raw food in my own diet and that of my family. Hope I don’t miss the boat.