I talk a bit about my view on real food in my opening post earlier this year and it’s admittedly a term that doesn’t mean the same thing to everybody. And I think that’s just fine — this is not an area of scientific precision we’re talking about, this is real life!
As I’d mentioned in that earlier post, much of my cooking in earlier days relied a lot of packaged and “processed” food. Not “junk food” in the usual sense of the word — we ate well-rounded meals, generally fixed by me in my kitchen — but making lots of use of packaged “convenience” items like seasoned rice or pasta mixes, corn muffin mix or bisquik, bottled or packaged marinades and sauces, frozen vegetables with sauces right in the packages, store-made items like quiches or pot pies, things like that.
Even with that, I’d say we tried to stay “conscious” of the current thinking on health and healthy eating. But one of the challenges there, of course, is that the thinking in those realms keeps changing!!
We went through a “milk is bad for you” phase and my husband used soy milk (sweetened, of course) on his breakfast cereal. We knew enough to stay away from the worst and most obvious offenders on those breakfast cereals, opting for “healthier” choices. We ate egg substitutes that touted they were made from real eggs. We used “olive oil margarine” and corn or canola oil since those was supposed to be healthier and tried “low fat” options of many foods. We used turkey bacon and veggie burgers, all in the name of better health.
Now, by what we feel that we currently know, virtually all of those foods would not fit into our real food approach and most we actively believe are bad for our health.
We now drink raw milk when we can get it (which luckily we can in Utah, just not as nearby as I’d like) and organic whole milk at the very least otherwise. We mostly stay away from breakfast cereals (although I haven’t yet broken my husband of this habit completely and plan to experiment eventually with some homemade, whole grain options) and eat a lot more eggs — ideally locally raised, pastured eggs. We’ve gone back to real butter, search out grass fed beef, and use organic options as much as possible.
I received our local supermarket weekly sale flyer in the mail today and looked through it as I usually do. It struck me, as it has before, how thoroughly our diets have changed — although on the surface I’d say the change is only minimally visible — since there is almost nothing in the entire flyer that we buy. They did have organic salad mix on a good sale so I’m sure I’ll buy some of that to use with our homegrown tomatoes and organic kale which isn’t always even available, so I might grab a bunch or two of that for dinner one night.
But almost everything else in that flyer is highly processed, sold in a bottle, can, box, or frozen package, generally filled with additives and ingredients we try to avoid, most have sugars added (including foods you would never think of adding sugar too if you were making them at home) and preservatives, and almost all taken so far away from a homemade version of the same item that it would hardly be recognizable if you were to simply read the ingredients without already knowing what it was.
All that said, though, we do still live in the real world, carrying on a real life, and we are nowhere near fanatics. We actually occasionally eat at McDonald’s (gasp!) or other fast food and just like I described yesterday with my spinach ravioli dinner, I refuse to feel like I’ve failed in any way when food I’ve bought has one minor ingredient that’s only “questionably bad” anyway. And although we generally avoid sugar, we don’t eschew it completely. We eat a small dessert a few times a month and we do hand out candy on Halloween — and eat the leftovers ourselves, yes, another gasp!
Interestingly, those “real world” aspects will cause some folks to criticize and condemn our efforts. We should do so much more, according to some. And, in truth, I find that I am continually working to “do more” — working to eat more “in season” and “local.” We’re actually trying to grow more of our own food. And I keep learning and expanding my knowledge. You’ll read more about some of those efforts in coming posts.
What all this brings me back to is “what is real food?” I have no expectation that you’ll necessarily take my own definition to heart, and I know that as we explore together we may each find that our definition evolves and changes. But, basically, I’m inclined to stick with the ideal of traditional foods, minimally processed, with a focus on items that a reasonably skilled cook could produce in their own reasonably well outfitted kitchen (not to say that you have to necessarily make everything yourself, just that it theoretically could have been homemade!), and that these foods make up a growing majority over time of your diet. And when other “less real” foods sneak in, you let it be what it is, don’t fixate or obsess, and move on to the next meal with the hope that it balances out.
That’s real food (to my view!) and that’s real life.