Embracing Imperfect Eating

I am going to share with you, a poem:

Enriched flour

and cheese powder,

monosodium glutamate

and ammonium sulfate,

silicon dioxide

and yellow number 5

Okay, it is not really a poem. Just a selection of ingredients you’ll find listed on the back of the store brand cheese-its box in my recycling bin. There you will also find the wrappers from a chain sandwich shop and a bargain brand frozen pizza’s box.

It’s the dirty laundry of this food justice advocate. But I air these treason in favor inclusion and the prevention of burnout.

I would love to eat everyday, fresh, local food, free of preservatives and prepared by my hand or a local entrepreneurs’. But let’s be realistic for a moment, I’m on a VISTA stipend, running around to 40+ hours of meetings all week, all while trying to keep up with the activities and people I love. I’m like anyone else, many days, a meal that meets my ideals, just doesn’t fit in. Instead, it’s a handful of cheese crackers while I write a report or a frozen pizza for dinner. It’s not great, for sure, when I buy a 5 dollar foot long at lunch. It really isn’t a good vote with my food dollars. And I know it, and plenty of days I feel guilty about it.

I know I’m not the only person with this sentiment. Some days it feels like it is all or nothing. Always eat healthy. Always vote well with your food dollars. Always stay local. Always buy organic. Always make those laundry list of choice we need to change our food system, or else we’re gonna lose the fight. And while we do need to be conscious of where we spend our money, who we support, and what we eat, this always always always, is a recipe for burnout and alienation. An all or nothing mentality, leads people to nothing.

I’m not to say that in the food justice world there’s people being drill sergeants on all the things we should do. However, there is a large list, which varies depending on who you talk to, and it is your personal life, and comes with a bunch of pressure. It can be overwhelming. And we live in a system with way so many roadblocks to eating a living the ways we want. I think we need to learn a way to embrace our “mess up” meals, so they don’t feel like mess ups.

I think we need to allow ourselves, our colleagues, and all the prospective members of the food justice movement mess ups. We need to not judge one another for what we cannot do at that moment.

I think we need to embrace what I would call a sometimes or a somewhat. We can’t do all things perfect, all the time. And to try to do so will drive you crazy. But we can try to do things right sometimes. And we can try to do things partly right, most the time. And I think there can be a lot of power in the sometimes and the somewhats.

Say your thing is eating homemade, seasonal, and local. You might try to do that every night, that’s 7 meals and a lot of kitchen hours. Or you could do a sometimes. Invite over 7 friends, and thats 8 meals, out of the commercial and shipped industry.

Instead of looking down on a meal of necessity, the trip to the chain restaurant, or the shipped in conventional produce,  lets turn those into intentional actions. Next time you find yourself eating something off that laundry list of do’s, take a moment to think. Acknowledge it for what it is. You’re in a system that makes keeping your ideals difficult. Thank the hands and earth that brought you that food. Enjoy it. And then make a plan. Find a time that you can afford the time, energy, and expense it takes to living up to your ideals. And invite someone else along for it, so you have two sometimes coming up instead of guilt and a nothing.



Elise Springuel is A Presbyterian Hunger Program VISTA serving in Indianapolis who enjoys biking, making things, and spicy food.