What is Food?

February 10, 2010 | Comments: None Yet - Post a Comment

Categories: Motivation, Nutrition, Wellness

I was flipping channels one evening and caught a show called Modern Marvels.  The modern marvel featured in this episode was corn.  I had no idea that corn was modern nor that it was marvelous, so I watched.  The narrator went on at length about how corn is dried and ground into different sized meals for different uses while I watched huge machines process thousands of pounds of corn.  At some point in the show a worker poured out a bag of corn meal as the narrator declared, “This meal is ready to be shipped off to be made into food.”  Really?  The corn needs to be made into food?  I thought corn already was food.  I think this is one of the reasons we Americans are so confused about what to eat:  Things that were once thought of as complete in themselves are now considered ingredients.

There is an insightful book written by Michael Pollan called In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, that does a good job of exploring this attitude of commercialized, industrialized food.  He offers advice on how to eat in the very first chapter, “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”, then spends the rest of the book explaining what “food” actually is and how we got to the place we currently are.  Most of the foods we eat today come in bags or boxes, are overly processed so that nutrients must be added back into them and are more “food-like substances,” to use Pollan’s words.  Food has become a vehicle for delivering micro- and macronutrients.  We look at protein, carbohydrate and fat content.  We decided which juice to buy based on if it has enough antioxidants in it, not necessarily which flavor we prefer, if we even buy juice at all because, well, it’s all sugar anyway.  We choose bread based on calorie count and fiber content.  Better questions to ask of your food are, “How many ingredients are in this bread?” and “Would I use these ingredients if I made this myself?”  If you wouldn’t use the ingredients, or worse yet, have no idea what they are, don’t eat it.

Where is real food to be found?  Mostly on the perimeter of the store.  Fruits and vegetables.  Unprepared meats, no marinades you didn’t make yourself.  Whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, barley and wild rice.  Beans, even if they are in a can, just make sure to rinse them well to help get rid of some of the added salt.  Dairy is fine for most people, but small ingredient lists here are the key.  Ice cream is dairy, but how many other ingredients are in there?  High fructose corn syrup?  We all know that isn’t to be found in nature. Read the ingredient list on your yogurt.  You might need to change brands.

Take a look in your cupboards and refrigerator.  How many items arrived directly from the plant or animal?  Count the number of fruits and vegetables, fresh or frozen, and compare that to the amount of grain-based foods you have sitting around in boxes.  How many boxes of Pasta-Roni or instant mashed potatoes do you have?  Is that a box of Tasty Cakes?  As a nation, we are trading our health for convenience and artificial flavors.  You don’t have to.

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