Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Peanut Butter Wars

My family is convinced I'm going to move to a commune. Apparently making your own yogurt and granola gives you that kind of reputation.

Well the joke's on them. I'm no hippie. I like (read: am obsessed with) shaving my legs too much to go completely granola. BUT. The thing is, at the same dinner last week where it was suggested I might, you know, like to take my yogurt and go live in the woods, it also became clear that among my family members (or at least: husband, kids, sister Lis, bro-in-law D, nephews, Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie Anne and Unkie Dave--not that I'm counting), I am a peanut butter pariah.

That's right. It's so tough being me. Nobody understands me at all.

Now. I'm gonna lay it down, not because I think everybody has to be on my same PB page, but so you understand where I'm coming from.

Backstory. (Warning... high-and-mighty factor: medium.) Ahem.

When we found out a few years ago that E is allergic to, basically, food, I started reading a lot about it. And all that reading and research taught me several things:

1) Processed food is almost never better for your body than something whole that grew on a plant.
2) Lots of foods that are processed have things added into them that you don't necessarily want and/or know you are eating.

Now I'm no good at sticking to any kind of strict diet.  I'm also never, ever, ever going to live in a world without cookies. Or chocolate. Or cake. You get the idea. I have to do the best I can in my meals, because I am always--ALWAYS--going to want to eat dessert. And I grew up with a mother who is more brand-loyal than you can imagine. I was raised on Cheez-Its, Oreos and Ho-Hos. I know my processed, high-sugar foods like nobody's business.

But once we started reading labels for E, we realized EVERYTHING has soy, dairy, or wheat added to it. EVERYTHING. Even stuff you don't think would have any of those things in it. All of the sudden he couldn't eat anything. So my first stab at cooking for E meant buying all kinds of gluten- (or egg- or soy- or dairy-) free substitutes for foods we already ate. But you know what? I hate that fake crap. Once you're used to Kraft Mac & Cheese, you're not going to start liking Uncle Treehugger's Soy-flavored Rice Pasta Curls. You're just not. You grew up on Day-Glo orange pasta and you miss those little happy spirals from the blue box.

So my next attempt (and I credit Michael Pollan) was just to cut as much of the processed stuff at home as possible. When E and I first got married, we ate a lot of food that came in boxes. Like Hamburger Helper. And Mac & Cheese. And Pasta Roni. And instant mashed potatoes. Etc, etc, etc. And I cooked a lot of casseroles even when I did cook my own meals: cheese, sauce (usually made from Campbell's Cream of Something), pasta, etc. All those things taste great, but they were all making E sick (and I realized they weren't doing ANY of us any favors). So we switched (mostly) to a pretty healthy kind of cooking that means we generally eat grilled meat, salads, roasted veggies, and fruits for dinner. Do we still eat boxed stuff or casseroles? Yep. Sometimes. But I cut it way back.

Anyway, as I started to cook this way I felt better too. And honestly I don't like the idea of getting wood pulp in my shredded cheese or sugar or soy or preservatives or whatever other crud they cram in my food to make it last longer and/or mask whatever other thing they took out. I try to buy food that looks like food and spoils if you don't eat it. So even though I don't follow any kind of strict DIET, I'm a label-reader and I try to buy things that have fewer ingredients, and simpler ingredients. And (again--I credit Pollan) I don't buy anything with a health claim on it (because usually the health claim masks a bunch of added crap they've had to put in to replace whatever is missing). We don't do great, but we do know more about what we're eating. We try.

Now. The other thing (and this is related to the cookies) is that I know I'm never going to control what we eat when we're out in the world. In our extended families, food is love. And I love food and I love love and I love family meals. And at some of those meals, Jello is a side dish. I don't want us to not eat something when we eat at someone's house. Plus, again, all that food tastes too good. So I figure I can control what we eat at home, and that's probably 80% (85%? 90%?) of what we eat. Because yes, also, we're still going to go to McDonald's from time to time, and we're going to eat cheesy potato casseroles at relatives' houses. But if it's only once in a while, it's better than all the time.

Back to the PB. (finally?)

So the deal with peanut butter is this: Have you read a peanut butter label lately? I'm talking about the Big Two: Jif and Skippy. Jif and Skippy taste like magic. I don't deny this. They are the perfect smooth consistency, as though the little baby Jesus himself invented a snack that could make you feel like everything in the whole world is going to ALWAYS BE OKAY because this peanut butter is hugging you from the inside. But those two PBs both have added sugar and hydrogenated oils. So I don't buy them.

I know, I'm so mean, right? I want peanut butter that is made of the fewest ingredients possible. Hopefully, just peanuts. Or peanuts and a little salt. That's it. I don't need added oil (especially if it's hydrogenated/trans fat-laden) and my kids especially don't need any added sugar. (And Natural Jif? Not that different from regular Jif.) There are all kinds of debates about whether or not peanut butter has enough trans fat to do anything to you. But the FDA lets companies claim 0 trans fat in their products as long as they have below a certain amount--not really 0. And everyone agrees hydrogenated oils are bad. I'd just rather not mess with the added stuff and wait around to see if it makes us sick. It's not worth it to me.

The problem here is that if E had to declare loyalty to a country, it would be the Republic of Shelf-Stable Peanut Butter. He would be mayor of Jif Town. (Don't even get me started on his white bread.)

Anyhoo, nobody likes stirring the natural peanut butter. Yes, it's harder to spread, too. The kids have been eating it for most of their lives because they don't know any better, and I make 99.999% of the lunches around here anyway. I do the stirring. We eat a boatload of peanut butter. So I don't want my kids all sugared up when they're already eating bread and jam. I just don't.

The problem is that recently in a fatigued trip to Target, I gave. I allowed a "treat" jar of Jif into my basket as a ONE TIME special purchase. For summer. For generosity's sake. For being awesome.  I shot myself in the foot in this peanut butter war... E thought I'd declared allegiance to his side, and he entreated the children to continue to ask for future jars of said (less-healthy) peanut butter. Then the other night, he enlisted my family.

And now I know I was wrong. E was right. Jif is delicious and it should be enjoyed by everyone.

NO, NOT REALLY. I asked E how this should end and that's what he came up with.  So I'm not sure what to say, but for now I'm holding the line. My oil-on-top, natural, unsweetened line.


  1. Look for the fresh PB machines at your grocery store. I get fresh ground butter for 1.99/pound (cheaper than prepackaged) and the best part is there is no oil on top if you refrigerate it within a few hours :) I'm with you, who needs all the extras.

  2. I've been on the natural peanut butter wagon for a few years now. It's so much better..

  3. I read said propaganda with jar of Jif in hand, (glorious sugar infested, wondrously buttery goodness in a jar). As I see it, Life is to short to cheat yourself, let alone your adoring family of such an unworldly pleasure. The amount of happiness and forthcoming sainthood your family will adorn and bestow upon you will far out ways any minor health benefits you might derive from breaking out some over churned, under flavored, brown paste in a tub. That is all. Viva La JIF!

    Unkie Dave