Real Food: My Experience

About a year ago, I discovered this website called 100 Days of Real Food and got really into it. In a nutshell, it’s all about one family’s goal of eating only real food for 100 days (nothing packaged/processed, food with no more than 5 ingredients and only ingredients that were recognizable, etc.). What I got out of reading through their archives was the fact that eating real food isn’t just about eating more fruits and veggies (though that’s a big part of it). It’s about recognizing that a lot of the foods we think are healthy, aren’t. A lot of the everyday, ordinary, packaged foods that we buy and eat are packed full of chemicals. Many of these chemicals are actually banned in other countries, or are just not tested for safety at all.

What’s really become clear to me is the fact that food companies are gigantic corporate conglomerates and their priority is to make as much money as possible…which makes sense. That’s what big corporations do, look for ways to increase their bottom line. Unfortunately, since these companies manufacture the food we eat, this poses a problem for us. The more reading I did, the more I realized how similar Big Food is to Big Tobacco. Like Big Tobacco, Big Food creates addictive substances with very little nutritional value, packed full of chemicals of questionable safety, and is less than transparent (and often downright deceptive) about it. They also take foods that are nutritious in their natural state, like say, almond milk, and throw a bunch of questionable stabilizers, preservatives, thickeners, etc into them. Then they employ all sorts of tricks through labeling and packaging and marketing to make people think that the food is still wholesome and “natural”. It’s misleading.

In short, the more I read, the more disgusted I felt. I decided to try to make changes. Not even so much for health, as out of anger towards Big Food. I checked the ingredients label on everything I picked up in the supermarket and didn’t buy anything that listed ingredients that weren’t regular, everyday things that I recognized and would cook with in my own kitchen. This meant that I couldn’t buy a surprising number of things. Items like bread, crackers, soy milk, and much more…I had a really hard time hunting down versions that didn’t contain things like carageenan, high fructose corn syrup, artificial dyes, malodextrin, and infinite other shady things. I wouldn’t buy anything that wasn’t organic. I wouldn’t casually eat a Dunkin’ Donut if someone happened to bring some to work. I had to go to three or four grocery stores on each shopping trip to find ingredients that I needed for cooking that didn’t have weird ingredients in them. It felt like I was cooking every minute. And look I know, first world problems, but honestly, it was annoying, inconvenient, and expensive. And then you know what I realized? It was hard, because food companies have made it hard. They make it hard for consumers to find anything in a grocery store that is not stuffed full of chemicals and preservatives. Is this because of all of the money exchanging hands between the food companies and the chemical makers (whoever they are)? Probably. Is it also because it’s easier and cheaper for them to make foods that are stuffed with tasty chemicals, and then in turn that tastiness makes them more money because we keep buying the “delicious” products? Yup. Doesn’t that make you angry? It should.

Following the “real food” regimen was hard for other reasons too. I don’t love cooking. I do love boxed cereal. The hardest thing was that if you really and truly read the INGREDIENT label on packaged foods (not the nutrition label, the ingredients label), you realize how much food you cannot eat (if you’re truly being strict about avoiding additives). I kept it up for a while, and then I got complacent and slowly slid right back to my old ways. Not cooking. Lots of takeout. Lots of Crispix.

Then my sister sent me this article, and it sort of sickened me. I think reading about this stuff is probably the only thing that motivates me, because it makes me mad. The article is about all of the incredibly bad stuff that is (needlessly) in a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, and the hoops the author had to jump through to even get Starbucks to reveal what the ingredients were. Highlights from the article include the fact that Starbucks, despite thousands of customer requests, refuses to use organic milk or even OFFER it. Instead, they use “Monsanto milk”, i.e., milk from cows raised on genetically modified feed (the seeds for which come from the gigantic corporation Monsanto). I just can’t help picturing the big corporate suits behind Starbucks and Monsanto striking their deal to keep Starbucks using the GMO milk and not organic milk, despite the fact that customers want organic milk, it’s better for everyone’s health and the environment, and it tastes better. Other highlight: Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes have caramel coloring added to them-a possible human carcinogen. Which by the way, is needlessly added to a lot of processed food, including frozen yogurt at a certain chain that I (used to) frequent.

After reading that article I felt disgusted again, but at a different entity: myself. I totally slid back to my old ways out of laziness and complacency, and I have no good excuse for my poor behavior. I’ve read a lot about the food industry, so it’s not like I’m in the dark. I’m lucky enough to be able to afford to buy organic food, though believe me, it’s not fun to shell out $15 for a mere pound of grass-fed, organic ground beef. I know I’m never going to be perfect, but I’ve decided that I need to start putting a lot more effort in. Bottom line is, I need to start cooking again. I’m never going to be the person who won’t enjoy a treat like a restaurant meal, a macaron or an ice cream cone (that’s a laugh). What I need to be better about is what I buy in the grocery store and eat on a typical weekday at my apartment. I need to realize that just because I eat a bowl of Crispix, that doesn’t mean that my goal of eating real food is just shot to hell and I should give up entirely. I need to make small changes, because that’s better than no changes at all.

Since writing this post (it’s been sitting in my drafts for a while), I have already made a few changes. I’ve been cooking a lot more, eating more oatmeal, homemade meals, and actual vegetables (shocker :). I haven’t had fro-yo or takeout as of late (formerly two of my biggest food groups). I also bought a cold-brewer so I can start drinking organic coffee again. I certainly haven’t cut out sugar (don’t know if I can ever do that), but I’ve been making dessert at home instead of eating something processed. Believe me, I’ll never be even close to perfect when it comes to this stuff, but I’m trying to feel proud of myself for just making a few positive changes and steps in the right direction!

For more information on the topic of the food industry and real food, check out these resources:

Leave a Comment

  1. Alexis wrote:

    I think this is my favorite post of yours to date, Jackie. The fact that this stuff even crosses your mind is a victory. beautifully written 🙂

    Published 9.13.14 · Reply
  2. Marine wrote:

    I wish you the best of luck and courage to do so. Michael Pollan's Cooked was very inspiring to me, even though in France/Belgium it may be less difficult to find 'genuine' products. It is still difficult, and many of my coworkers or friends seem completely addicted to processed foods and sodas for instance. But eating real food worths it! I'm less sick and my skin is glowing 🙂
    Last summer, when I was in NYC and then in Arizona & California, the most surprising thing for me was to see that summer fruits, like peaches, apricots etc. are very well hidden in the supermarkets, enveloped in huge packages, hard, and tasteless = not mature at all. When someone searches for organic or just fresh, genuine food, I understand how hard it can be!!
    And don't forget what M. Pollan said: "eat food, not much, mostly plants". And ENJOY! "Bon appétit!!"

    cheers from Belgium!!!

    Marine

    Published 9.13.14 · Reply
    • Yes, I think that other countries are definitely better about offering fresh, less processed food. The US seems to really be backwards and behind on this. Michael Pollan has the right idea and I can only hope that it starts to catch on more and more. Thanks Marine!

      Published 9.16.14 · Reply
  3. Alex wrote:

    I love this idea, it's amazing to think about all the horrible things that gets put in some foods and going clean would probably do such wonders to someones body.
    -Alex
    http://www.monstermisa.blogspot.com

    Published 9.13.14 · Reply
  4. Sienna wrote:

    it's mind boggling to think about all the things they add into foods, especially ones you think are healthy. i try and eat as natural and whole as possible, so much better for you!

    Published 9.14.14 · Reply
  5. What a fantastic article! Thank you so much for sharing all of these
    Wonderful resources and information with us.

    Published 9.14.14 · Reply
  6. Pam wrote:

    Great post! You hit on so many problems we have as a country. If you talk to any Europeans they shop fresh… mostly at outside markets… for only what they are eating that day, or maybe the next. Like you said, the food industry has made it easy for us to be lazy–bulk food, processed food, fast food. That said, it's hard when you have lots of mouths to feed and differing tastes. And even harder when you have children who are inundated with all the "bad food" from media, friends, etc. It's also, like you pointed out, expensive. Thank you for being honest about that! And the fact that it's tough to stick to eating clean! Love your blog!

    Published 9.14.14 · Reply
    • So true! Europeans have a whole different lifestyle than us when it comes to food, and I really think the more we follow their lead, the better! As you pointed out, it's the convenience factor that I think trips a lot of people up (myself included). So happy the post resonated with you! Thanks for the lovely comment.

      Published 9.16.14 · Reply
  7. Ali wrote:

    Good post! And you inspired me to make pasta salad again. I think it is just about balance and yes, trying to cook at least once a week. That way you can enjoy take out, ice cream, fro yo, whatever now and then, instead of the mainstays of your diet. Which gets old fast too. But so does cooking all the time. The food industry needs to just make it easier for us, but we can vote with our $$.

    Published 9.15.14 · Reply
  8. Thank you Ashley! It's all about staying motivated, and I think reading the 100 Days of Real Food and Food Babe blogs really helps me with that.

    Published 9.16.14 · Reply

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