Chicago moms learn how to make better food choices

Going to the grocery store isn't as easy as it used to be. We're not talking about the impossible hummer-sized shopping carts: It's the food.

We all try to fill our families' dinner plates with healthy nosh, but really, what's in a name? Is "organic" that much better than "vegetarian-fed"? What about those other catchy labels? Grass-fed, corn-fed, cage-free, hormone-free, free-range.

It sounds more like a line from a Dr. Seuss book than a grocery list. So how do we know what's what?

 
 

Cows, soybeans and pigs, oh my!

Illinois Farm Families has a program that aims to help moms figure it all out by giving them a front-row seat to life on a local farm. Each year a group of Chicago-area moms are chosen to be "Field Moms" who visit farms where corn and soybeans are grown and hogs and cattle are raised.

It shows them what goes into growing crops and caring for the livestock, and the technology and business behind farming.

"We think the best way to answer moms' questions (about food) is to give them first-hand experiences; to let them see farms, meet the people who grow and raise their food and to have conversations about what happens on today's farms," says Lori Laughlin, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Farm Bureau, one of the five organizations behind Illinois Farm Families.

To find out what these Field Moms learned, we emailed and chatted with 11 current and former ones. Here's what they had to say about how the program influenced their approach to feeding their families:

 
 

Beef, pork or chicken

Before Field Moms: Most of the moms bought beef, pork and grass-fed chicken. Some only bought organic and a few had tight budgets restricting them to whatever was the most affordable.

After Field Moms: The majority of moms did not change their buying habits, but said it was more important to know where their protein comes from.

Insight: "I started buying different types of meat from different places and realized that the label 'organic' was not necessarily the best indicator of good quality. Instead of focusing on organic, I now focus on the origins of my meat." - Amy Hansmann, mom of two

 

 
 

Milk

Before Field Moms: The moms bought all varieties of milk, including whole, 2 percent, skim, organic, soy and raw whole milk.

After Field Moms: A couple of moms changed the kind of milk they purchased. Both said they no longer buy organic milk because they better understood the role of antibiotics and hormones in dairy production.

Insight: "After my experience as a Field Mom, I made a few changes. First, I do not buy organic milk unless I mistakenly grab the wrong gallon. I am just not convinced it is worth it." - Amy Hansmann

 

 
 

Food safety

Before Field Moms: Most moms were concerned about or unclear on food safety practices and protocols.

After Field Moms: Overall, the moms came away with a better understanding of federal regulations on food production.

Insight:
"Before being a Field Mom, it was so easy to hear any bit of information on food safety or what I should feed my family and feel paralyzed by it. I wasn't able to see the whole story. By visiting the farms and getting the information firsthand, I feel like I am now much more able to take the information I hear from different sources and put it together to see the bigger picture." - Farrah Brown, mom of two

 

 
 

Food marketing

Before Field Moms: Most moms felt the marketing of food was misleading.

After Field Moms: Almost all the moms felt the marketing was much more misleading than previously thought.
Insight: "I realized that I was susceptible to the idea of 'natural' and 'antibiotic-free' or even the status of the name brand milk. Although the program did not specifically talk much about marketing, some of the things I learned about made me start paying attention to my labels and then to the overall marketing I was seeing." - Amy HansmannBefore Field Moms: Most moms felt the marketing of food was misleading.

After Field Moms: Almost all the moms felt the marketing was much more misleading than previously thought.

Insight: "I realized that I was susceptible to the idea of 'natural' and 'antibiotic-free' or even the status of the name brand milk. Although the program did not specifically talk much about marketing, some of the things I learned about made me start paying attention to my labels and then to the overall marketing I was seeing." - Amy Hansmann

 

 
 

Hormones and antibiotics in our food

Before Field Moms: The majority of moms were very wary about the use of antibiotics and hormones in food.

After Field Moms:
All the moms came away with a better understanding of the regulations on hormones and antibiotics, though some became more concerned and others felt less concerned.


Insight:
"I was getting a lot of information thrown at me via Twitter and Facebook about why I shouldn't be feeding my children genetically modified objects, but when I saw someone who works the land feeding it to his kids, I realized I could feed it to mine. My pockets simply aren't deep enough to feed my children organic and GMO-free foods; that's why I say grace over my meals." - Natasha Nicholes, mom of four

 

 
 

Buying local

Before Field Moms: The moms felt buying local was a great idea, but many didn't know how to begin to do so or worried it would be too expensive.

 

After Field Moms: The moms learned that many items in their grocery store would qualify as "buying local."

 

Insight: "I think it feels even more beneficial to minimize time and distance between the farm and my table. I like the idea of supporting local farmers and feeling more connected to my food. It just feels more natural." - Farrah Brown

 

 
 
 







 
 
 
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