Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ponder: Keeping Up Appearances

SPONSORED POST: This is a paid post. The Road to The Good Life chose to work with McDonald's for their commitment to providing nutrition information about their food and offering families choices that accommodate allergens and stretch their budget dollars. I am part of the Mom It Forward Blogger Network. All opinions presented are my own.

Growing up I wanted so much to fit in. At home I was happy, at after school activities I was happy, but during school hours I struggled to keep up appearances. Nowadays, I have no problem pulling back the curtain and revealing the magic: how I manage "The Good Life" on a budget (including the times I've almost exclusively eaten McDonald's to stretch my dollars).


We're taught from a very early age the importance of keeping up appearances. Our "lessons" come not from parents or educators, but rather from our peers under their unrelenting teasing. But, we need to stop keeping up appearances and start being real.

Do you keep up appearances?


There are so many opportunities for us to choose to keep up appearances instead of choosing our true selves. For me, keeping up appearances was/is a defense mechanism that began in school.

In junior high, Gunne Sax was *the* brand to have for dresses. Unfortunately, the quality wasn't the best. The other brands with similar style dresses and materials that wouldn't fall apart after the first wash (my mom's requirement) were Laura Ashley and Lanz. Unfortunately, we couldn't afford more than one dress, and graduation activities for eighth grade required multiple dresses. For class photos we had to change out of one outfit and into another, leaving our clothes where people could see the labels. Tragedy of all tragedy was sure to ensure: everyone would know most of my clothes were handmade. My mom's solution? Unstitching and restitching the Lanz label from one dress into and out of homemade dresses. A little slight of hand, bullying prevented.

Some days appearances weren't so easy to keep up. Those were the days of in class holiday celebrations or school lunches. When you're one of few children with allergies, you stand out. I needed to avoid and/or limit cow's milk dairy and refined sugar. My mom regularly signed up for homeroom aide so that she could bring treats I could eat into my classroom. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn't. As the child of a homeroom aide, we were required to assist passing out treats. Invariably, I'd return to my seat to find someone had eaten my portion. Everyone would laugh while I would try not to burst into tears. As I had passed out the only food I could eat the joke wasn't simply fixed by giving me something else to eat. (Our school was big on not playing favorites; everyone had to eat the same thing.) So, I'd go hungry, and I'd get to spend an hour or more watching everyone else eat. On the way home after school, my mom would pull into the nearby McDonald's for a quick snack before dinner.


My favorite school days were hot meal days that McDonald's catered. The menu was simple: hamburger or cheeseburger and ice cream (Missile Pop Popsicle, Drumsticks, or Ice Cream Sandwich) or fruit cocktail. Occasionally I'd get to splurge and have an ice cream. They were my favorite days because I was just like every other kid, we were all eating the same food. As a kid, being just like everyone else is comforting. McDonald's became my de facto comfort food.

The pressure to keep up appearances doesn't end once we leave school. As mothers, some feel the need to exaggerate about how long they breastfed or how easy it was. When I wrote A Mommy's Journal: Tomorrow I Quit, many women came out to support me in private saying that they hadn't breastfed, yet they immediately wanted to be sure I wouldn't out them. Some publicly to this day tell expecting mom's about the joys of long-term breastfeeding (something they didn't actually do).

We're also pressured to keep our children away from devices like iPads until they're five years of age. We're reminded to always be present and to not respond to work email while paying half attention to them. But, real life intervenes, and it's not so easy. To keep food on the table, we need to work in the presence of our children (especially when budget-friendly childcare is unavailable).

Still others question the choice of where we shop, reminding us that it's our social responsibility to vote with our dollars. Walmart is evil to be avoided at all costs. Yet, when faced with the choice of choosing organic ingredients and meals from Walmart versus regular ingredients at a local store for the same price, who isn't going to choose organic ingredients?

I don't view current and past decisions to eat at McDonald's or shop at Walmart with guilt. I don't form opinions about why people shop there or don't. Yes, I read Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (*affiliate link) in my Social Stratification Class at Santa Clara during my undergraduate studies and was outraged at Corporate America's behavior. Unlike classmates with trust funds who could conveniently vote with their dollars, I was juggling three jobs at the time, two at minimum wage, all without benefits, to make ends met. I was just thankful someone wanted to employ me. And, after class would end on Friday afternoons, I'd walk the almost 1.5 miles to the closest McDonald's and splurge on two hamburgers (59 cents each at the time) and fries instead of my usual Taco Bell meal or pizza dinner, entirely guilt free (I would have also shopped at Walmart, but we didn't have one nearby. Instead, I frequented Kmart.).


I still frequent McDonald's. On road trips, it's one place where I know I can eat with my family (they still have dairy-free items). It's one place that when I'm traveling through an unknown town, I'm almost 90% sure will be there in that town if we've hit traffic and Gates is hungry and we need to stop NOW (for example, on our return trip home from Mighty Earthling Campout earlier in August).

Sure, I read the reports of the pink slime, Ammonium Hydroxide additive, in McDonald's meat and felt a little queasy. But did that stop me from eating McDonald's as a treat? Nope. (I'll eat McDonald's between once to three times every month and a half. More depending on how often I'm commuting in stop-and-go traffic and unable to prepare food ahead of time.)

Over the years, the menu options have changed at McDonald's and there's lots more nutrition information available. I like that I'm able to see calorie counts and modify my meal based on what I've already eaten for the day or plan to eat later. This week I was astonished to discover that a small Sweet Tea (something I don't get due to the sugar) has almost as many calories a chocolate chip cookie (only a 20 calorie difference)!

I wasn't aware of the revised children's happy meals until we went to order for Gates in April and found new options: apple slices and gogurt. While I was pregnant and when I'm on the road, I go through the drive through and the menu changes there aren't as obvious (I only know they have cookies, because I'm always asked if I want a cookie). Unless noted otherwise, the following statistics are for the period between August 1, 2012 and July 31, 2013:

  • U.S. customers have enjoyed around 200 million cups of fruit from menu options like Fruit n’ Maple Oatmeal, Fruit ‘n Yogurt Parfait, and apple slices.
  • 530 million individual packages of apple slices were served with a children’s meal.
  • McDonald’s is one of the largest purchasers of apples in the U.S. restaurant industry. In 2012, their U.S. system purchased approximately 90 million pounds of raw apples. In fact, McDonald’s has sold 1.1 billion packages of apple slices since March 2012.
  • McDonald’s USA served over 410 million cups of vegetables to customers through menu options likes Premium McWrap, Premium Salads (alone this items has about 3 cups of vegetables in it) and side salads.
After partnering with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, founded by the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association, McDonald's will be rolling out changes to Happy Meals and other packaging as well as updates to advertising 20 major markets, including the US, by 2020. The goal is to increase customers' access to fruits or vegetables and to help families and children make informed choices in keeping with a balanced lifestyle.

This Friday, I'm excited to get a behind the scenes tour of one of McDonald's suppliers, Chiquita Fresh Express along with other writers. I've seen where wine is made (from small to large facilities), watched cheese be produced (The People Behind the Food Achadinha Cheese), picked pumpkins from the vine, and seen niche organic farms first hand. Now, I'll get to see how apples and spring greens are processed at scale.

Got any questions you want me to ask?
genuinely eden

Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.

DISCLOSURE: This post contains an affiliate link, followed by (*affiliate link). I feature products that I own or that I am considering purchasing. All opinions presented are my own.