By The Peaceful Plate
Henry, our adopted dog, will eat anything. I’ve caught him with chunks of lint he’s thieved from the laundry room trash. Rocks and mulch from the back yard are prized, crunchy treats. A dirty paper towel or a decorative silk flower arrangement? He’ll take both. Presented with an expanse of freshly mowed grass, Henry goes into “whale mouth” by dropping his bottom jaw and running it along the ground to fill it with clumps of the loose pasture as if he were a large ocean mammal gathering krill. He’s most excited to go outside in the fall because he knows a delightful temptation awaits in unlimited quantity: LEAVES. As with most dogs, Henry cannot be reasoned with. Arguments such as “Rocks are not for eating,” and “Here’s a handful of your real food,” fall on deaf (but cute) ears.
Not So Different
I was reminded of Henry’s love of non-food substances when reading an article on artificial sweeteners at Food Renegade, and I realized that we humans are also guilty of an affinity for non-food. It’s not our fault, really. Non-food is scattered among real food at the grocery store. It sits at eye-level, calling out to us from colorful, ergonomic packaging. It says “I’ll make you skinny!” and “I’ll prevent heart disease and cancer and you’ll live forever!”
Unfortunately, a lot of the products making these claims are working very hard to compensate for what they lack: real food. Let’s take an example. Dannon’s Light & Fit Vanilla Yogurt sounds like something that would be very good for you. I want to be “Light & Fit” and I would bet a lot of other consumers do, too. Yogurt is well known for providing calcium, protein, and those active cultures that placate our digestive systems. However, Dannon’s contains the following non-yogurt ingredients: modified food starch, fructose, kosher gelatin, natural vanilla flavor, aspartame, citric acid, potassium sorbate, caramel color, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, annatto extract, and sodium citrate. Blech.
Have you ever heard an apple announce that it’s good for your heart? Or heard a carrot rant and rave about how little fat and sugar it has? Old-fashioned oats don’t feel the need to boast “100% whole grain”, although that’s exactly what they are. It doesn’t get much lower-carb than broccoli, but you won’t see weight-loss companies advertising the flowery green.
We need to forget about labels and their claims and eat as much “humble food” as we can.
Humble food is something your great-grandmother would have recognized as food. It probably contains ingredients that you can picture in their natural form. A good rule of thumb is that humble food is something you could make. Whether you choose to is a different story. You might have a paralyzing fear of bees (guilty!), so bee-keeping is not for you but you could make honey. You couldpress your own olives, juice your own grapes, and deep-fry your own potatoes.
Some things you probably couldn’t make:
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Chemical sweeteners – e.g. Splenda, Aspartame, Saccharine, Stevia powder
White Flour, Rice, or Pasta – i.e. wheat in which the bran and germ (the nutrient-and-fiber-rich parts) have been removed.
Feedlot beef – sure, you could raise a few cows given enough land, but confining them in a small concrete pen and pumping them full of corn, soy, and antibiotics would be hard for even the meanest among us.
Keep in mind that most real food is not found in the middle aisles of a grocery store. It’s found in the front as sustainably farmed produce and in the back as pasture-raised meat and dairy. Naturally, the shortest path from the front to the back of the store is straight through the middle where those boastful processed items are. Hug the perimeter, read the ingredient lists to look for things you could have made, and remember that rocks are not for eating!
- 10 Reasons Why You Should Eat Local
- A Scrappy Plate: Vegetable Broth
- Local Food Is Elitist? Part I
- How Nutritious are Pecans?
- Local Food Is Elitist? Part II