What is food? The definition that pops up on Google is “any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth.”
However with modern technology the definition has become skewed, and much of what passes for food these days may help us maintain, but has absolutely no nutrients . Walk into any store and behold the rows and rows of brightly colored packages and it is easy to be confused.
What started so innocently as a way to help families have more time together in the nuclear family era has become grotesquely warped, and the results of many of these science experiments are sold in corner stores across America. In order to stay true to our roots and nourish our bodies, it is important to be aware of what we are putting into them. I’m the first to admit that while I enjoy cooking wholesome meals from the Farmers Market, I do love being able hop into the nearest store to buy something easy to eat.
Not all packaged foods are bad, but it is important to cultivate a sense of awareness about the food we are eating and the companies we are supporting. Not even getting to deep into organics (buy whenever possible) and GMO-foods (avoid at all costs), here are some easy things to ask yourself to ensure you are still buying real food and not brightly colored human pellets. I hope this helps when braving the fluorescent lit aisles of your nearest grocery store.
- Does a five year old understand the ingredients? Your resident five year old will know what chocolate, bananas, flour, water, butter, tomatoes, and honey are, but try to tell them about sodium citrate, maltodextrine, or crystalline fructose, and you’re likely to get a blank stare. Even regional natural ingredients like ginger or huitlacoche can easily explained in five year old terms: “Ginger is a root,” and “Huitlacoche is a mushroom that grows on corn.” I’m 29 and I don’t think I completely understand what maltodextrine is (nor do I want to…)
- Will it go bad? Food is meant to decay and turn into fertilizer so more good can grow. If your “food” won’t break down by itself left unattended in a warm room, chances are your body will not be able to break it down either. Have you seen the experiments where fast food is left out for years and it didn’t grow mold, get stinky, or really change in any way? Having that many preservatives usually points to lack of any nutritional value whatsoever. Yes, there are real foods specifically designed to be stored, like rice, grain, and dehydrated food, but add moisture to any of those guys and you can be sure some nice green fuzzy stuff will be growing on it in no time. And I would like to give a shout-out to super food Raw Honey, which is naturally anti-septic. However, as a general rule: real food is meant to decay!
- Will bugs eat it? I was working at a small organic tea lounge years ago and a salad was served to a little girl made of organic mixed greens. The little girl was delighted to find a small green caterpillar in her salad, and took it home with her. This made me think about how this would never happen with conventional lettuce. If a caterpillar or ant (who aren’t exactly known for their finicky eating habits) wouldn’t want to eat your food, maybe you should ask yourself why. Did you know that many bugs won’t eat refined carbohydrates? If bugs won’t eat your “food” chances are you shouldn’t be eating it either!
- Could you have made it 100 years ago? One hundred years ago our grandmothers could bake cakes, juice oranges, fry fish, make tea, and more, but good luck trying get them to make homemade high fructose corn syrup or Chocolate-Flavored-Coco-Puffs. Real food can be made without commercial intervention.
- Do you feel good eating it? Simplest rule. Of course we are all entitled to occasional indulgences… but overall the food you eat should be enjoyable, but also make your body feel good. When you pick up a box of cereal, a can of soda, or a bunch of spinach, how does it make you feel? Follow your gut (pun intended).