Thanks to Michael Pollan, Whole Foods, Panera, and bloggers around the world, eating clean is starting to (finally) catch on. We are cleaning out our pantry to make room for whole foods instead of for processed, packaged food-look-a-likes that are loaded with preservatives, additives, and unpronounceable words. We are becoming informed shoppers and learning to quickly find good, clean food for our homes. All this is great. But now that Halloween is coming around, it just leaves me with one question:
Is there room for Halloween Oreos in a clean kitchen?
The answer to this depends on how you define clean eating. Strictly speaking, Oreos (and especially Halloween Oreos) would not qualify as “clean” food. Just take a look at the list of ingredients in Halloween Oreos and you will find that it breaks many, many clean eating rules: Sugar is the first ingredient listed, there are a million unpronounceable words, it even has the word “artificial” in the ingredient list. From that standpoint, these “cookies” are definitely not clean. Sorry, “milk’s favorite cookie,” you go back on the shelf.
However, the question we are asking isn’t whether Oreos is a clean food (it most definitely is not!) but rather whether there is room for it in a clean kitchen.
Okay, are you sitting down? Here is my answer: “Yes.” (with an asterisk)
Here is why:
As many of my readers know, I have been on a mission to eat clean since I found out there were derivatives of human hair in my bagels. Gross! (Horrifying actually). I still get sick just thinking about it (Can someone please go grab me an apple?!).
Since The Bagel Incident, I have learned how to cut out processed food from my diet. It was not easy at first, especially since processed “food” makes up 70% of what Americans eat, but now I feel like I am hitting my stride and whipping up a healthy, fresh seasonal meal is super simple, quick, cheap, and delicious. I even feel healthier, which is an awesome bonus. Plus, ya know, I don’t have to wonder whether I am eating curly or straight hair with cream cheese for breakfast.
Now, I am also at a point where I appreciate fresh food so. much. more. The flavor in them just wows in comparison to the artificial, junk-food-y versions that have been sitting on the shelf for who knows how long. I mean, Chips Ahoy! verses a soft baked cookie fresh from the oven? No contest. Home-baked cookie wins every time! (“K.O.!”)
I also have found that my kids are naturally eating better as a result. Once it was clear that we were eating pasta made with creme fraiche, lemon, and fresh greens in lieu of boxed macaroni and “cheese,” they got on board and now love the pasta I routinely make.
All of these are good things. And they clearly explain why making a commitment to eating clean is so important. Once you get all the processed food off your plate, your palette and health change for the better in a truly inspiring way. I believe that during this initial transitional period, you should skip the junk food entirely (if you can muster the self-will to do it). Sure, it might not be easy-peasy initially, but who ever said doing anything worthwhile was?
With that said, I do not want to be neurotic about eating clean. I feel mandating “eat clean foods only” could make eating stressful, which it shouldn’t be. Over time, I have come to believe that some rules are “made to be broken” in that strictly and inflexibly adhering to the rules no matter what usually results in rebellion, either by us or our offspring. For example, I know a woman who was such a pacifist that she wouldn’t let her kids play with anything that resembled a gun – including toy bubble blowers that had a “gun” shape. Guess what her son did when he grew up? He joined the military. And now his mother thinks he did so because she was way too strict with limiting his exposure to weaponry (or bubble blowers). Was this boy innately interested in battle or was he interested in it because his mother was so inflexible when it came to playthings? I have no idea. But I do know that I want to err on the side of caution when it comes to food. I don’t want to be so strict that my family members (self included!) develop signs of having an unhealthy relationship with food. I don’t want perfection to be the enemy of the good.
Because of that (and solely because of that), I will on occasion allow a poser-food into my kitchen. Maybe it is one bag of Halloween Oreos. Maybe it is the spoils of a birthday party piñata. And when they’re gone; they’re gone. Done and done.
And in the case of the Halloween Oreos, I let them into my kitchen and it was a win all the way around: When I found that the package had been opened, I jokingly asked my husband (who loves sweets) if he had saved any for me. He told me he had had a single Oreo. He told me “You know, they don’t really taste that good. I’m not going to eat any more.” I thought he was joking and ran over to look at the package that had been open for several days. Lo and behold one Oreo gone. I couldn’t believe it.
Upon hearing us drop the word “cookie,” my preschoolers decided they wanted in on the action. Here is their reaction (roughly paraphrased):
Preschooler 1: “Ooooh. What’s that? Is that a cookie? I want a cookie!”
Preschooler 2: “I want a cookie too!”
Dad: Gives preschoolers a Halloween Oreo.
Preschooler 1: Looks at Dad and then Mom. “Mommy, these are orange. Why are they orange?!”
Preschooler 2: “Cookies aren’t supposed to be orange! They’re supposed to be white. Or chocolate.”
Me: “It’s called food dye. Why don’t you try it and see what you think.”
Preschoolers give me and Dad side-eye me and then eat the cookie.
Preschooler 1: “Yuck, I don’t like it.”
Preschooler 2: “Yeah, yuck. Your cookies are better.”
Preschooler 1: “Come on, let’s go play.”
So, yes I think there is room for fake food in my clean kitchen. Just not much.