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How to Be An American (Without Eating Like One)

I'm one of those people who is not a fan of most "diets."


First of all, everyone has a diet, it's just a matter of whether or not your particular diet is helping you maintain a healthy weight, gut, mind, and lifestyle.


And let's get real, the standard American diet is really not that great. As much as I love America, our awesome capitalist system and revolutionary industrial systems have created a world in which you can eat as many calories as you want from a variety of sources at any point in time for not very much money at all, but this freedom is not always great for our health.


The thing about freedom is that it's still your responsibility to use that freedom well. While I firmly believe Americans should and do have the right to order the largest size soda they want to, it's every individual's responsibility to determine if ordering the largest size soda is a good idea.


Our ability to influence the food industry is powerful, and I don't think we give ourselves enough credit for this. The organic food movement if previous decades and the slow/real food movement of today have been amazing examples of the power of the consumer in a capitalist system to influence the types of foods that are available.


This is a far more powerful way to influence the food that people eat and the food that manufacturers produce than banning unhealthy food, and it's a far more American way of doing things, too.


I have been a foodie for most of my adult life, but it would be a lie to say I've always eaten "healthy," by anyone's standards.


The same is true for the way I've fed my children, which I'm sure is something many parents could relate to, especially in the land of junk food aplenty.


Kids are fussy, kids are picky, and considering we all want our kids to actually consume calories at the very least, it's far too tempting for any parent to grab the potato chips and the hot dogs and abandon the green smoothies and quinoa for something that kids will actually eat without a fight.


A few years go, like many parents, I was trying to figure out how to feed my children in a more healthy way, and I picked up the book French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon.


Karen is a Canadian woman who moved with her husband and two young children to her husband's' hometown in France for a year, where she learned the ins and out of how the French get their kids to, well, eat everything.


The French are well-known not only for their delicious food, not only for their love of food, but for not seeming to have their health negatively impacted by all this food despite their frequent consumption of many food groups American diet culture has dismissed as "unhealthy," such as dairy, wine, chocolate, and all the saturated fat (French Women Don't Get Fat, another food read, is a great guide to creating a healthy relationship with these "sinful" food groups).


What Le Billon points out in her book, however, is that while the French may have a very healthy collective cultural relationship to food, they also have a much more rigid collective culture that is far more subject to social pressure than North American cultures.


And I, personally, don't want to see Americans act like the French, nor do we need to to have a healthy relationship with food, as individuals.


Because Americans are individual. Americans are free, we are independent, and we are going to drink all the McFlurries and eat all the Twizzlers and inhale all the pizzas we darn well please, thank you, Bill De Blasio can take his soda and hot dog bans and...well, you get the point.


We don't need to change our deep-seated sense of American independence to be able to raise up smart eaters who can navigate a food culture that is literally soaked in monounsaturated fat and how to make good food choices high-fructose corn syrup.


Being surrounded by healthy food and people who will shame you for eating otherwise, like the French, is easy.


Like a Christian needs to be in the world and not of it, we need to be able to be in this world of over-processed, nutrient-devoid food and not let it influence the way we eat. We simply have a bit more of a challenge than the French, if we want to be free to make our own food choices.


This means teaching our kids that the occasional indulgence in something that is absolutely not good for us isn't going to kill them, but frequent indulgence and eating whatever we want very well may. The best way to teach this to our kids, of course, is to practice it ourselves.


This is going to look different for everyone because again, we're Americans, and we're independent, and we all approach things differently.


Personally, I have recently found that after changing my relationship with food for the better over many years, eating a mostly paleo diet is the most effective way to eat healthy.


For my children, I worry more about fitting good, wholesome foods into their diet than I do about the occasional Sprite my husband buys them, and I find that we've been moving away from the "bad" stuff slowly as they outgrow their picky phases and more willingly gobble up salads or meat without ketchup on it.


And even while they're eating hot dogs and chicken strips (organic and antibiotic free, thank you), potatoes, pasta, and corn chips, they're seeing me eat big piles of vegetables, drink green juice, and frequently turn down "unhealthy" foods when we're in settings where more conventional food is served.


They may eat like little kids now, but they're getting bigger, and they are being shown, through my husband and I, how responsible, generally healthy adults eat.


Is my family's diet perfect? No. Is there such a thing as a perfect diet? Not really. Am I making smart choices for myself and setting a good example for my children, without the help of a rigid social structure or nanny state?


Yes.


And I wouldn't have it any other way because gosh darnit, I'm an American.


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