Real Food is a Real Process
Everyone has his or her own definition of what real food is. Is it the favorites that your mother cooked, what’s growing in your home garden, or what you buy locally from a farmer’s market? Back in the 1980’s the American Beef Association had a slogan that said Beef, Real Food for Real People. Today, Starbucks claims the slogan “Real Food” to describe food sold in their coffee shops. There are probably as many definitions of what real food is as there are ways to prepare it. A site called 100 Days of Real Food recently posted its own definition. It’s broader than mine because it includes dairy, fish, meat and poultry – but does keep processed foods off the list. The author, Lisa Leake, discovered that going 100 days without eating processed food or refined ingredients brought health benefits to her family including more energy, better sleep and fewer colds.
Leake’s story reminds me that food, and the way we consume it, is a huge spectrum, especially amongst families, and even more so with kids. My kids naturally go for healthier snacks, because that’s what available in my home kitchen. Other kids will gravitate toward snacks that are a brighter orange color than the bag they are packaged in, if that is all that’s available to them. It’s all about choices. As parents, we can make our voices heard every time we prepare food for our family to eat.
That spectrum has evolved substantially in recent years. Just a few decades ago, the natural foods movement was considered fringe, but today, being vegan is actually cool. Today, vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic, and real food ingredients and products are available at mainstream supermarkets across America. This natural foods movement rose in response to an epidemic of degenerative diseases. Twentieth-century America saw an explosion of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, certain cancers, and more. Such diseases now plague our children. Most of these diseases can be directly attributed to radical changes in our food supply, changes brought about by the ‘industrial revolution’ in farming.
Today, the message about real food has gone mainstream. We’re hearing from medical doctors and public health advocates that we need to eat more plant-based foods. Contemporary best selling authors, Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman offer compelling arguments for eating far less meat and Jonathan Safran Foer in Eating Animals believes it is best to eat nothing but plants. The United Nations has recommended one meatless day a week as a means of combating climate change; and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health sponsors Meatless Monday, a non-profit initiative that’s working to reduce meat consumption by 15 percent to improve personal health and the health of our planet. Just recently, the USDA’s My Plate has made major changes in their direction by reformatting the outdated pyramid of the last 20 years.
From my perspective USDA’s My Plate represents a shift in the right direction from prior recommendations, but that’s not saying much. Let’s face it; the agency writing this stuff has a stated purpose to promote the sale of agribusiness products. Leaving my cynicism behind, I do like that fruits, vegetables and whole grains comprise three-quarters of My Plate. But why’d they stop there? Most likely because the cereal manufactures won the day at that negotiation table. The inclusion of protein as a food group is an obvious win for the meat industry’s lobbyists. These guys have spent big bucks for generations convincing Americans that protein is the flesh of a dead animal and we can’t live without it. So now we have official guidelines with their code word for protein taking up one-quarter of the plate. On the positive side, beans, peas, nuts and seeds make the list of protein foods. The fact is, all plants contain plenty of protein for a healthy diet and American’s over consume protein, which many experts say contributes to the depletion of calcium. Eating more calcium will never overcome the problem of bone loss and I’d like to see that cup of dairy on the side of My Plate fed back to the calves as the mama cow had intended.
Let me leave you with this statistic to chew on. There are 312 million people in the US and only three percent eat vegetarian, with one-percent being vegan. I understand that this way of eating just might not be in the game plan of many families right now, but now is a good time to start incorporating more plant-based foods into your way of eating. Maybe following the government guidelines set out in My Plate could be a good direction for many wanting to improve what they eat. If you or someone in your family is contemplating such a change, go slow, make the transition gradually. Changing your diet is a real process that takes time.