Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Radical Unschooling and Raw Foods

Or substitute "raw foods" for whatever your version of a healthy diet is.

Sound like an oxymoron? It was to me a few years ago.

I easily understood unschooling from an academic perspective, and it didn't take long for me to get it from a discipline perspective. But food and tv were hard to rethink and let go of the control!

Right around E's 3rd birthday, I made the jump and decided that I would not restrict food anymore. Up until then, I was a stressed out food-nazi, manically checking every label of everything that went into her mouth, ripping into my husband for giving her organic crackers or baby food instead of fruit, feeling like a horrible mother if we ate at a restaurant and she had the dreaded evil of evils- french fries!

I let that go (not over night, of course, it was a process that is still on going in some ways) and it felt so freeing. I realized that food was not something I needed to or should *control.* And that's really what it was all about. I had an ideal in my head that I wanted to live out, and the only way I saw to do that was to control the whole situation, my daughter and even other people who came in contact with her. It was under the guise of what was best for her, and I really did think I was doing it because I wanted her to be healthy. But I was over thinking physical health and entirely missing spiritual and emotional health for both of us. As with most things, the key is balance and being her partner, not her prison guard.

The last year has been so interesting watching the choices that E makes about her food. She does eat what some would consider "junk," but when I watch how she makes those choices, it's not about rebellion, fear that she'll never see it again, desperation, feeling deprived, emotional eating.... all the things that are symptoms of restriction. Instead, her choices are based on taste, smell, texture, hunger, experimentation, camaraderie, and enjoyment. She doesn't always make the choices that I would make if I were choosing for her, but every day I see her make healthy choices. In fact, I'm often surprised at how healthy her choices are, because I'm used to seeing kids who are "jonesing for their next fix" and will binge on things or sneak foods out of desperation, and she doesn't need to do that.

Two days ago, E asked for a cookie which she never ate because she decided to have the cucumber I gave her instead. The same day L literally spit out a cookie on the floor when I offered her an orange. Two weeks ago E's special requests at the grocery store were blueberries and Fruit Loops. The blueberries lasted about an hour. I still have some fruit loops in the cupboard. This week she has had some cookies, ice cream, chips, spaghetti (with organic sauce and raw tomatoes), and oatmeal (with nothing but rice milk). She's had FAR more apples, bananas, grapes, berries, melon, cabbage, carrots, pears, oranges, cashews, raw bars, tomatoes, avocados, cucumber, plum, nectarine......

So, back to raw foods. I have been eating a diet much higher in raw foods for the last 6-8 weeks. I tried "going raw" before, and it never lasted long, but I would try to drag my family into it with me. I'd guilt trip my husband into committing to 2 weeks with me or committing to 80% or whatever. I'd be extra vigilant about what the kids were eating (well, really just E since L was not born yet or a little baby at that time). Keep in mind that "extra vigilant" means in *addition* to the food-nazi normal. I always fell off the band wagon, so on top of feeling guilty about my own failure, I felt guilty about letting my kids down.

Now that I see radical unschooling at work in relation to food, I can't imagine going back to controlling and restricting my daughter's diet. At the same time, I am eating a very high raw diet, and trying to provide the same for my family. So, how does that work?

1. I keep my diet ideals as *my* ideals. I quit projecting them onto other people as what they "should" be doing. I'm much gentler on myself too. I haven't made any commitments, I'm just eating what I know will help me feel good- physically, spiritually, mentally- in that moment. This is what helps *me* feel good, but I recognize that it is not the same for everyone. Some people feel great on a Traditional Foods diet or some other whole foods diet, and those people could end up being people in my family.

2. I put relationships before anything else. Eating food is too common of an event to be a stressful one. I would rather see my daughters eating a candy bar, laughing, enjoying themselves and enjoying my company, than eating cabbage leaves, crying, with our relationship stressed and strained, resentment filling the air. Now, I'm not posing those as the only two options! In fact, just yesterday my kids were happily munching away on cabbage leaves freshly picked with their own hands from a community garden. But IF *in that moment* I have a choice between letting my kids eat unhealthy food in peace and joy, or creating a memory full of anger and resentment, I will choose the the peace and joy.

3. Options, options, options! Not restricting food is not the same as an apathetic "eat whatever you want, I don't care." I trust that with a childhood full of options, experiences and information my children will have the ability to make healthy choices, unhindered by feelings of guilt, resentment, or other emotional baggage. I try to keep my kitchen full of quick, easy fruits or raw goodies to grab, and offer those along side other things my kids might choose. For example, today E asked for an ice cream which we have because D has an ice cream truck business. I gave her the ice cream, and spooned a little of it into a bowl for L. Then I put half an avocado in a bowl and cut up some oranges and set those on the table without a word. Both kids ditched the ice cream. L ate a few slices of orange and E ate the avocado and then both got down to play. I didn't even notice until about half an hour later when I saw the ice cream that they had barely touched, melting. I asked E if she was done with it, which she was, so I threw it away.

4. Alternatives. I am lucky to live right down the street from both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, so it makes this pretty easy. If E wants chips, cookies, ice cream, etc. I will usually get it at Trader Joe's. I am well aware that it's still not whole foods, but it is often organic and almost always free of preservatives, artificial colors, flavors, msg, hfcs, etc. Another option is homemade. E's favorite cookies are my homemade chocolate chip cookies which are vegan and made with whole wheat flour and honey instead of sugar. Last week, I learned how to make raw chocolate chip cookies, including raw chips and she liked those as well. Tonight I made raw banana cream pie and strawberry cream pie.

5. Accepting what IS. It's a fact of life that whether we're talking about food or anything else, things will not always be our ideal, go as planned or meet our preferences. I'm learning, though this is a hard one for me, to accept was IS rather than spend time worrying about the future, regretting the past, or resisting reality. It is a reality for me that my husband owns his own business driving an ice cream truck. Yep, I pay my bills with money from the sales of hfcs to innocent children. In some circles, I feel like I'd admitting to being married to a drug dealer! ;) It's also a reality that my paycheck is not enough to eat as much organic as I'd like. Also, my husband does not eat the same way I do, which means that food I would prefer my kids not to have, that they don't even ask to buy, ends up being one of their options in the house because he brings it in.

There was a time not too long ago, when all of this would have had me in a food-nazi frenzy every.single.day. Not anymore. It is not my *preference* for things to be this way, but the only thing that I *really* have control over is my own attitude, my own actions, and my own responses. I choose to model healthy eating to my kids. I choose to take the time to learn how to make alternatives that they will like. I choose to keep my kitchen clean so it's easy to prepare healthy foods. I choose to take the time to offer them healthy foods, and present those in an appealing way. I choose to support my husband's business, and our mutual desire to be financially independent some day. I choose to be kind to my husband no matter what he is eating, to try to find healthier alternatives that he enjoys, and to support his journey.

Ultimately, I have no control over the choices my kids will make when they are adults or even teenagers or pre-teens for that matter. As soon as they are old enough to have their own money, stay at friend's houses, go to the store by themselves, the WILL eat whatever they want. What I can do now, is be someone they trust to give them good advice, not just control them. I can let them make lots of little choices now, and give them lots of opportunities for experimenting with how different foods make their bodies feel now. When they are making those choices on their own, I want them to be basing their decisions on what makes their own bodies function the best and weighing that against science or finances or expectations at social gatherings or all the dozens of other factors that come into play when making choices. I don't want that decision making process to be muddied by resentment and "shoulds" and "this would make mom disappointed" and "I'm going to do it just because she said I can't." A temporarily perfectly healthy diet is not worth the potential emotional baggage.

So, that's how I'm living life as both a radical unschooling mom and a woman who's eating a high raw foods diet.


  1. I am so happy to hear someone else come to the same place I just reached. I am giving up my attempts to control, both in food and homeschool. Radical unschooling and diet are very similar. We create the right environment, teach when asked, and provide classics in books and food. What a happy place to be!

  2. Ah, I can totally relate to this post! :) Thank you for sharing. I think I'm at the same point, although (after moving from Holland to the UK last November) I've gained several pounds/kilo's, due to too much sugar. I really want to go back to no sugar, but need a switch! I'd be really happy if you would share the cookie recipes! :))

    Mirjam :)

  3. I use this recipe http://vegweb.com/index.php?topic=6391.0 for the cookies. It calls for 1 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water, but I use 3/4 cups honey instead and just a dash of water because the honey makes the whole thing more liquid.

    For the raw cookies.... I used a recipe off some website, and they taste great but are too oily. So, I will have to figure out how much oil to use, then I will post the recipe. If you just google "raw chocolate chip cookies" you'll come up with a lot of recipes.

  4. Hi. I just read your response to my question on Walk Slowly Live Wildly, and I hopped over to your blog. Thanks for your answers. They make perfect sense. So now I have a question about this. I try hard not to make my 3 year old eat a healthy diet. But I do teach him. If he asks for a candy, I will allow it, but I remind him not to eat too much. He is so good, then just to have a bite or a few licks, usually. So here's the thing: how would a 3 year old know what is healthy if I don't teach it? AND, we have a family FULL of junk food eaters. We live by my parents and in-laws, and they are more than happy to pass out the junk food. So if I'm not really saying anything, and they are making all the fuss, "Have some soda!" how is he ever going to learn the healthy way? We see them quite a bit. Anyway, I can see that as far as I have been stand-off-ish (I hardly ever say, "no you can't have that") it seems to be a positive. But the teaching of the opposite is coming at him loud and clear.


  5. Erin, my answer to your question got it's own post! :) It's the next one up.

  6. Ok, here's the other cookie recipe now that I have perfected it. Yummy!