Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Defining Real Food

Photo courtesy of Esteban Cavrico

I don't really trust anyone in the "food" industry to tell me what is and isn't a real food.
They are constantly changing what they say is healthy and important to eat. While I find the idea of 'superfoods' very annoying and trendy, I do think they are an improvement over the idea that we can somehow make up for an unhealthy diet by taking artificial supplements. If we truly cannot get what we need to live from our foods then something is terribly wrong with our food supply.

And, I think that is definitely the case. However, that is not what I wanted to talk about today.

Like you, I live in the real world, too. I don't have a two acre, bio-dynamic organic garden from which I can pick everything we eat. I don't have a farm that houses a small number of harmonious animals living out a life of country bliss until the day that their lives are ended (in a humane way) so that our family can have meat we know comes from an animal who has been treated ethically. We don't milk our own cows, collect our own eggs or dry our own salt. I don't make cheese or have summer sausage curing in a shed somewhere.

But I could, if I really wanted to.

That is my definition of real food. Even if it is not prepared by me, I think real food is something I could make myself at home if I really wanted to. For example, I could skim cream off the top of a pail of milk and make whipped cream. I could not make the chemicals and do whatever it is they do to make 'whipped topping', however. (I also could not add all the preservatives and other weird ingredients they add to most creams, so I look for whipping cream that lists 'cream' as the only ingredient.) While I could skim the milk, I could not homogenize it. I also would not skim the milk, throw away the cream and drink the milk skimmed.

I could, if I really wanted to, slaughter a chicken, remove feathers and -- gulp -- the beak, feet and insides and roast the bird for dinner. I could not, however, make a typical chicken nugget. And, I would not slaughter our family's chicken, cut out the two breasts, bone and skin them and throw out the rest of the chicken!! I could churn butter. I could not make margarine. I could make lard. I could not make hydrogenated vegetable oil. I could pick, dry and roast coffee beans (cheers go up from my readers!). I could not make solvent to add to make the beans decaf. I could, however, perform the 'swiss water process', if I really wanted to.

I think it is particularly important to keep these ideas in mind when you are shopping at a natural foods store. I love our local natural foods store and my natural foods buying co-op. However, they do contain lots of factory-made foods. Yes, I could make whole grain pasta and cheese sauce with whole ingredients. No, I could not make whole foods into powdered cheese sauce. Just because something started out with quinoa or organic navy beans does not mean it goes into your body in a whole foods form. It is easy to spend a whole lot of money on foods that, while slightly better than their grocery store counterparts, are really of low nutritional value.

I don't always follow my own philosophy perfectly and I don't always know how everything is made, so I can't always say if I could do it myself at home or not. I just try to keep my philosophy in mind when I shop and do what I can. I don't stress the rest.

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