Getting ‘Real’ With Food

By Heidi Jeter
Freelance Writer

“Real food” is all the rage these days, and I will admit to jumping on the bandwagon a few months ago. I’d already been following the 100 Days of Real Food blog for more than a year, but hadn’t yet made widespread changes. After reading blogger Lisa Leake’s recently published book by the same name, I decided to dig deeper into my cupboards and refrigerator.

I want to eat a diet that involves fewer ingredients and a whole lot less chemicals, and I want to teach my daughter to enjoy foods that aren’t loaded with sugar. We don’t eat a lot of packaged foods, but like most Americans we could do much better.

So in January, I signed up for the blog’s 14-week mini-pledge, during which each week you tackle a new real food challenge. These have included such things as eliminating all fast food from your diet, eating only 100 percent whole grains and cutting out all soda and sugary drinks. The idea behind the one-week challenge is that you focus on one part of your diet and try to raise your awareness about that area.

Some of the challenges have been easy because I was already doing them, but the one that has surprised me in difficulty has been eating at least two fruits or vegetables with every meal. I’ve been primarily a vegetarian (eating fish occasionally at a restaurant) for more than a decade and I thought my diet was rich in produce. This week-one challenge showed me how wrong I was.

I’m a carb junkie and the produce challenge really highlighted that. Suddenly I was trying to figure out how to add two fruits to my oatmeal breakfast or two veggies to my evening pasta. This seems easy, but I’m a lazy cook so I really like meals that don’t involve lots of ingredients or pots and pans. I quickly realized that my diet isn’t nearly as produce-rich as I’d like it to be and this challenge continues to be, well, challenging. It’s also made me even more excited for gardening season.

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Growing my own food seems more important than ever in a commercialized world in which unexpected—and unwanted—ingredients show up in the most benign products. For example, I couldn’t find a store-bought pickle that didn’t include yellow dye and most also included corn syrup. Um, why is there yellow dye in a product that should be naturally yellowish-green and why corn syrup in something that’s supposed to be sour? After the frustration of reading no fewer than eight pickle jar labels, cucumbers jumped to the top of this spring’s planting list and dill was added.

I’m still not ready to move to a completely real food diet—and maybe I never will be—but in only six weeks I’ve made significant changes. I’m slowly swapping out all-purpose flour for 100 percent whole wheat and subbing honey and pure maple syrup for refined sugar where it makes sense. I’ve also asked my mother for her delicious dye-free pickle recipe.

The biggest change, though, has been my need to know what’s in my food and where it comes from. And I can’t wait for more of it to come from my own garden this summer!

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