Hey, locavores and whole-foodies: Want to know if a new acquaintance shares your worldview? Simply offer him or her a bag of Doritos. If you get a wrinkled nose or a gagging sound in reply, bingo! Revulsion for processed foods is the great uniter among those of us who believe that caring for the planet starts with looking at what’s at the end of our fork. (It is possible to get a false negative with this test; your new friend might just be polite. Offer a bite of kale-quinoa salad next, just to be sure.)
We have good reason to despise processed foods: Packaged, chemically preserved edibles are often high in sodium and sugar, upping the risk for obesity, high blood pressure, and all their attendant ills. Processed meats in particular are linked to heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer. Nutrition experts almost universally recommend a diet high in whole fruits, vegetables, and grains -- apples over Apple Jacks, in other words.
But for most Americans, cutting out soda, bologna, Cheetos, most cereals, and all other processed foods would be a mighty challenge. After all, a recent analysis found that we spend the largest portion of our grocery budgets on processed foods and sweets. Hey, they’re convenient, and often cheap.
For Grist readers, eating close to the ground is probably old hat. And I, too, have wild success with whole foods in the kitchen. (This is helped by the fact that I actually like stuff like lentils and beet slaw.)
But what about those times when you couldn’t plan ahead? What about when you’re at the mercy of another cook? (You’re putting Fritos on the chili? Nooooo!) What about when you’re really hungry, and your only option for miles is a mini-mart overflowing with cheese dogs and Ruffles? Those, my friends, are the true crucibles for the unprocessed eater.
This is why I decided to dig deeper for solutions to the toughest culinary situations -- the times when I’m at high risk for slipping into the processed jungle. I’ll be tackling these challenges and reporting back on what works.