Change is in the air…

Gotta love fall (and I admit, I love it more than most). This fall brings more than changing leaves and winds, but changing lives. I’ve never had a more bittersweet taste in my mouth. HerbanFlavor is now taking a new direction: the exciting news is, we’ll be covering two cities: DC and Boston. The other side of that coin is that we’re now 500 miles apart. Which is hard, to say the least. But there is cooking, eating, and exploring to do, so onward we march.

I (Lindsay) have just started a new job (with the food justice focus I’ve dreamed of) in Boston and relocated less than a month ago. I’m now the Coordinator of the Campus Kitchen at the University of Massachusetts Boston. We are part of the national network of The Campus Kitchens Project, which engages student volunteers in the fight against hunger. In a nutshell, we salvage unused food from the dining halls and other sources, and make it into healthy meals for hungry kids in our community. For more on that, you can follow our Blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Anyway, this post is really about a great initiative by the website EatingRules. It’s called October Unprocessed, and it’s web-wide call to action for all of us who care about food, nutrition, public health, the environment and forging a better food system. For some of you, spending a month eating only unprocessed foods sounds like an impossible challenge; for others, it seems only natural. I think above all, the point is to make us think about what we put into our bodies and the impact that has beyond ourselves.

I’ve taken the October Unprocessed challenge – will you consider it? If you think a month is too much, do it for a week. If you think a month is too easy, try a year. You don’t have to be extremely strict – in the end, it’s about what works for you. As EatingRules points out over and over again, it’s up to you what you consider “strictly unprocessed” and where your priorities lie. The founder, Andrew, defines unprocessed as foods that one could theoretically make in their own kitchen with enough time, equipment and talent. EatingRules also talks about “deliberate exceptions”: choosing ahead of time which foods you know you can’t give up; and the “cheat meal” so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Really, you can make this what you want – the point is to take the time to think carefully about what you’re consuming and what that does to your body, mind and planet. Will you spend just one month (or week) trying your hardest to eat real food?

My unprocessed October: How I do this is different than how you’ll do it – eating is deeply personal – but this is my aspiration for the coming month:

  • WHOLE FOODS: No, not the store – you think I can afford that on my save-the-world salary? No. I mean the literal concept of foods that have not been processed. What does that mean? Think about an apple, a bunch of swiss chard, a bag of wheat berries, a jug of olive oil,  a pound of tomatoes. The bottom line is, as close to its natural state as possible. This means fresh produce, whole grains, beans, nuts, eggs etc. I want to recognize my food as a product of nature and know where it came from.
  • Minimally altered foods: canned and frozen vegetables, whole wheat pasta (literally made of whole semolina wheat, possibly eggs, and nothing else), cheese, coffee, etc. Beer and wine are just fine! Please, above all else, read the ingredient label!!! If your canned tomatoes contain “calcium chloride” or some other unknown, chemical, synthetic ingredient, you should probably put it back on the shelf. Basically, if you cannot pronounce or identify the ingredients, or keep up with how long the list is, don’t eat it.
  • As much local, seasonal, organic and natural food as possible: I am renewing my commitment to the farmer’s market. I’ve been making weekly trips to a farm just 10 minutes from my apartment in Brookline, where I buy the majority of my produce and eggs. It’s also much cheaper!
  • My deliberate exception: sugar. Yes, I know, I consume way too much – at least a tablespoon or two by breakfast, because I put so much in my coffee. And yes, I know that highly processed, bleached white sugar is terrible for you – but it’s my exception, to fit my needs. Having just moved 500 miles to start a new job in a new place, I am quite thoroughly broke, and I simply cannot justify replacing my white sugar with turbinado that costs 4x as much. Now you tell me – why does something that’s endured less processing, and in theory used less energy, time, money, and product, cost more?! In any case – I am also adamantly against wasting food, and refuse to swap out a bunch of perfectly edible goods for their more perfect counterparts – when it’s time to replace them, I’ll think about it.
  • Tricky things: chocolate – I’m a veritable addict. Luckily, I love dark chocolate and only need to read the label to know whether or not there are scary ingredients (wtf is soy lecithin? does that grow in the wild? do you want to put it in your mouth?). Peanut butter – one of my cheap, moderately healthy staples. It of course depends on what you buy: look for PB that contains little more than peanuts and salt/sugar, if that. Nutella – uh oh – “reduced mineral whey”, lecithin and artificial flavor… might be giving that a break until November…

Otherwise, I feel good about the ingredients found in my pantry/fridge – even my honey is local! – so I just have to be extra cautious when shopping, and moreover, when eating out. Luckily or not, I am too broke to eat at restaurants right now. We’ll see what tomorrow’s Boston Local Food Festival brings…!

Updates to come about all my tasty, unprocessed eats! Tell me about your take on this challenge, and follow my Twitter @FemNistKitchN for more.

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