Defining Real Food


In my first post about reversing the process, I explained that I’m on a mission to get the factory out of my pantry and I promised to explain what I mean when I say I try to eat as much real food as possible. Like I said before, this is a little hard to talk about because I really don’t want to offend anyone but the commonly accepted definition of food now includes what I would call real food and what Michael Pollan calls, “edible food-like substances.”

Humans have been producing food for thousands of years without synthetic chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Humans were gathering for elaborate feasts long before scientists were engineering food in laboratories, and still today when you have healthy soil, you can build a sustainable farm. You can raise healthy animals for food, milk and eggs, and you can grow all sorts of food bearing plants, depending on your geographic location. You can grow food for yourself and if you choose, you can grow food for other people. It’s the circle of life and it includes people and animals and seeds and plants and soil and water.

We give scientists credit for all sorts of advances in food and agriculture technology, but we are presuming a lot when we call each new industrial process an advance. Science has given us synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers, genetically engineered seeds, and farms which can grow an enormous amounts of one thing with relatively little manpower. Science has given us pasteurization, hydrogenation, homogenization, irradiation, and shelf-stabilization. Science has given us food that can be mass produced and stored for long periods. Science has given us factories which produce packaged foods in numerous varieties using very few real ingredients which are highly processed and mixed with a lot of different kinds of chemicals. Science has given us food that is convenient, predictable and loaded with flavor, never mind if it’s frequently artificial. Science has given us food which requires no work if you don’t count the dollars you pay for it or the non-communicable diseases you might develop from eating it. I don’t mean to hate on science, but science has given us food our forefathers wouldn’t recognize as food. Science has given us food that is not real food.

Real food is food someone from one hundred years ago would recognize. Real food does not require chemicals or laboratories or factories. Real food is nurtured by real people living real lives on healthy soil. Real food comes from farms that grow more than one thing. Real food does not come in colorful packages with ingredients listed in fine print. Real food doesn’t require any fine print.

Since real food and not real food have been so co-mingled in our lifetime, I have provided two lists below. The first list includes real food, which I try to eat more of. The second list includes edible food-like substances which are not real food and which I try to eat less of. I’ve eaten all the things on the second list and I used to eat them all with regularity. Now, while I make plenty of allowances out the world, I make far fewer allowances at home, but reversing the process has taken me more than a decade and it wasn’t one single choice I made one day.

Gradually, over the years, I’ve started eating and cooking more real food. It’s not as convenient, but real food is not about convenience, it’s about nourishment. Real food is nourishing not just in the ingestion, but in the preparation and each time we make a choice in that direction we are supporting ancient traditions.

In my next post, I’ll write about my first steps towards real food and my journey down this path, but for now here are two lists which will help clarify what I mean when I say I try to eat more real food. Neither of these lists are complete, but they are a good start and should give you the idea.

Real food includes:

  • Organically grown fruits, vegetables, grains, rices and nuts
  • Meat and eggs from organic pasture raised animals
  • Raw whole milk and cream from pasture raised cows
  • Butter made from raw cream
  • Oils from olives and nuts
  • Naturally rendered animal fats
  • Fresh and dried beans
  • Home canned vegetables and preserves
  • Fish which swam in wild waters
  • Bone broths
  • Naturally fermented foods
  • Cheese and dairy products made from raw milk

Not real food includes:

  • Hydrogenated oils of all kinds
  • Synthetic trans fats like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • Hydrolyzed proteins
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Canola oil
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Artificial flavors
  • Artificial colors
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Natural flavors (which are not natural)
  • Pasteurized dairy products
  • Other pasteurized foods
  • Chemically grown fruits, vegetables and grains
  • Industrially canned food
  • Irradiated food
  • Meat and eggs from industrially raised animals
  • Farmed fish
  • Anything bleached, homogenized or irradiated
  • Cheese and meat products that require the word product because the aren’t actually cheese or meat
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Preservatives like sodium benzoate potassium benzoate
  • Food grown from genetically modified seeds

More about Wanda Shapiro • Novels by Wanda Shapiro

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