For Gina, and anyone else looking to eat real food.

20131105-054949.jpgI have a friend Gina who told me yesterday that she has decided to stop eating processed food and is starting down the path of eating real food. She told me that she’d watched a video on youtube that had opened her eyes to what’s in processed food. I can’t recall the name of the video, but I’ll ask her to comment here with the title or the link.

I was happy for her, although I know how overwhelming it can be to try to make this change when you’ve been part of the traditional food system for so long. This change in perspective is huge when you’re coming from McDonald’s for lunch and Kraft Mac and Cheese for dinner. I didn’t want to start peppering her with advice and things she’d need to know right there at first. One, because I hate unsolicited advice, and two, because it’s too much too soon. So today I came across this blog post for how to get started on real food and I thought it would be a good start for her on making the transition. And since she likely isn’t the only one who is making some sort of eating transition, I posted the blog post here for anyone else to read.

A few things that aren’t mentioned in this post that I feel are noteworthy when making this transition.

  • Many of the changes I’ll reference here are ones that need to be made over years. Much like committing to go to the gym and finally get in shape for New Years, you have to make changes over a long term to make them stick. It takes 60 days of consistent action to form a habit. That means if you’re going to join a gym, you have to be diligent for 60 days, going very consistently, for it to stick. It’s the same with eating habits.
  • If you have a reluctant spouse or kids, it takes quite a bit longer to effect change. We kill our own animals, raise our own veggies, and are to the point where it’s not unusual to sit down at a full course meal and realize literally everything going into our bodies was grown and produced by us on farm. We didn’t start here, and we didn’t get here easily. It took many years and quite a few conflicts and countless unfinished meals. Start small and just try to take a new step each week, or whatever pace works for you.
  • Many people recommend to throw out all the stuff in your pantry. Those folks don’t have the budget worries that some of us have I think. Most people only have a weeks worth of food in the house anyway so you can make a change quickly enough without filling the trash can. Don’t start by dumping food, start in your buying. Slowly you’ll eliminate the bad and replace it with the good.
  • So what do you buy? I have a few simple rules on what to buy and what not to buy. First, if there is something in the ingredients list I cannot pronounce, it doesn’t go into the cart. Second, if it has more than 7 ingredients, that’s the next elimination. Those two rules will eliminate about 90% of what is in the grocery store. I also will not buy anything “Low.” Low fat, low salt, reduces calories. Basically anything that says the food industry has changed the food to comply with some reduction based on the latest trend. That even includes all the gluten free stuff that is popular now.
  • So what does this leave to buy? All the things that don’t have a New York based advertising campaign. Things like meat, cheese, vegetables, milk, flour, sugar, eggs, herbs. You know, food, actual food.
  • Here is the big “uh oh” of eating real food. It requires cooking. A lot of cooking. Processed food means convenience food. Real food isn’t convenient. It requires time on the stove. I happen to love cooking so to me this is a positive. You’re getting back to the lifestyle of your grandparents. You’re controlling what actually goes in your body, and you’re developing skills that are life skills. Cooking your own food is probably the biggest thing you can do to take control of your diet. No MSG sneaks in when you add your own ingredients. 
  • Fat is good. This is another one that is a big mental shift. We’ve been told all our lives that fat is bad for you. There are many articles now detailing why low fat is all bunk, here is a primer to get started. If you can accept that fat is good, then cooking at home becomes a lot more fun. Now you can make food that is considerably better than what you can buy. Better for you, and tastes better too.
  • You can’t eat perfect, accept that you can’t have it all. Even with our ability to produce so much of our food, I still eat at restaurants. That means that I eat meat that was produced using GMO corn and soybeans. I also eat veggies that were GMO based. I can’t only eat my food, at my home, 100% of the time. You can be a hermit or you can embrace the fact that you’re 50% healthier, or 75% healthier. Small changes still make a difference. Celebrate the victories and enjoy life.
  • Eating healthy is more expensive. I know this can be debated but usually it is. This is the one thing I mentioned to Gina yesterday. I could see a bit of the fire go out of her eyes when I told her. It doesn’t HAVE to be, but to not be you’ll need to change more than what you eat. You have to change your lifestyle.
  • A relatively easy change to make is to start a kitchen garden. Eat what is in season, eat from a 99 cent pack of seeds for 3 months instead of from veggies from Chile in February. Gardening has all kinds of benefits besides diet, more than I can detail here. That’s another post.
  • Learn to can. This is something we’ve been doing for a few years. It takes work in the season, lots of work. But it brings convenience back to cooking. Our dinner last night was a pork shoulder from the freezer from our own pigs. Beans we’d canned from last summer, served cold right out of the jar, and zucchini pickles made from last summers zucchini also served cold. We have a bunch of sick kids and this was an easy dinner to get onto the table. Everything on the plate was from our farm and the total prep time for dinner was about 10 minutes, all of which was rubbing spices on the pork shoulder and dropping it into the crock pot that morning. Of course there was a day of canning for the pickles and a day of canning for the beans back during the summer, but we’ve saved more than 16 hours of cooking one meal at a time over the winter and eaten well during.

All of these changes have happened over a decade for us. You cannot get there overnight but it is worth the trip. There is a ton of conflicting information out there about diets and food. Sometimes I think the “real food” movement is just a way to throw up your hands and do what makes sense rather than trying to sort out all the different studies and counter studies. If so, that’s good enough for me. I’ll be in the kitchen cooking  a real pork roast, with a real glass a wine in hand and I’m perfectly ok with that, studies be damned.