Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Real Food.

I have yet to weigh in on the 'real food' phenomenon, so here it goes...

I am a big fan of language. Words matter to me and I try to be very measured in what I type or say. Now I don't want to get into the whole sender-receiver model of communication, but it's important that the words we say are understood by the receiver to have the same meaning. So when someone says something is hot, it's important whether the receiver thinks you mean temperature or flavor.

CNN picked up on a blogger's challenge to eat only real food for a month http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/02/23/real.food.challenge/index.html?hpt=C1

Within the article, they define real food as not processed foods. They actually say what real food isn't and not what real food is, which I think is intriguing. They define processed food as: "... any food that has undergone a change of character. For example, edamame would be unprocessed, and tofu would be processed."


Processed foods are foods that have a process applied to them. This includes rinsing, chopping, heating, freezing, beating (as in sheer force aka meringue or butter), or sanitizing. Unless you eat your organic grown veggies whole without cooking them, you are eating a processed food.

Any milk that isn't raw would also be considered processed, and therefore, not 'real'.

This can't be the intended definition of real food though, right? Seems a bit too strict, paranoid, and in many instances - dangerous. What do they really mean by 'real food'?

I'll take a crack at it.

They mean guilt free, non-corporate, and pretty.

These labels that the ironically labeled foodies put forth are a complicated mix of all the vitriol and mistrust they feel about the world around them. You see, they feel the corporations are all corrupt and are conspiring to poison the masses and control them through their fake foods. Let's run down the list of these corporate supported evils, shall we?

Instant potatoes - [gasp] The absolute worst. You should be ashamed if you don't have an hour to peel and boil potatoes, then mash them with cream.
**reality** They are mashed potatoes. They're just drum dried (dehydrated) so that they are shelf stable.

American Cheese Singles - Too lazy to invest in a good cheese slicer? No self respecting foodie would be caught dead with this in their refrigerator!
**reality** Developed in Europe, American cheese is made of the melted remnants of other cheeses. It's now made in a more consistant way, but isn't technically a vat cheese. Whether sliced off a block or peeled from the plastic, American Cheese melts better than most and has a mild flavor profile, making it ideal for sandwiches.

Sugar - Did you know that sugar makes everybody fat, causes diabetes, and probably hates minorities. It's so evil, because it's processed.
**reality** I prefer to use sugar that has been inspected, purified, and separated from most pebbles, dirt, and insect parts. Sugar is a food for fermentation also, resulting in alcohol, carbon dioxide, or both. Sugar sweetens foods, helps it brown when baked, and binds free water - making it safe from certain microorganisms.

The truth.

Real food is anything you eat and digest that offers calories and/or nutrition(carbs, vitamins, proteins, fats). When you hear someone talk about 'real food', your ears should perk up and you should start asking questions. You'll almost always find hidden motives, agendas, and irrational paranoia just below the surface.


  1. Great points. As a real-food enthusiast I'm glad u wrote it.
    Its true: dehydration is hardly processed (instant potatoes), its most likely more "real" than some canned potatoes (is there sucha thing?)

    Health Canada states that Packaging shouldnt convey the impression that "Nature" has, by some miraculous process, made some foods nutritionally superior to others or has engineered some foods specially to take care of human needs.

    Some consumers may consider foods described as "natural" of greater worth than foods not so described...which makes sense if you try to view realfood in an "extremist" sense right?

    My personal rule of thumb:
    least amount of processing while valuing true nutirional integrity :) again: super post!

  2. Processing costs money, so food companies are not going to do something if there isn't a reason for it. Some processes can be streamlined all together as consumer demands and new food science technologies emerge.

  3. Actually no I mean real food by real food. No chemical stabilizers and a whole list of other things. I like tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes. Those that have been bread to travel just do not.

    I think when more people start eating real food...things that do not have a lot of corporate "value added" elements the difference becomes clear.

    Trying to redefine the discussion to the point of absurdity by placing words and valued in other peoples mouth is not a good start.

    Ask any farmer left standing. They all have kitchen gardens for their own families most of the time. I live in ranch land, in a small town of less than 300 people. Nearly all of these conservative folks grow their own gardens...Why is it down home thrift when they do it...and elitism when I do...Something is wrong with this picture.

    I suggest folks read The End of Food by Paul Roberts for a respectful interesting history of the rise of industrial agriculture.

    Also I think there are good reasons for the farmers -- who are left standing after the last 50 years of corporate consolidations to make the choices they do..trying to keep family and farm together.

    Please give your opponents the credit they deserve as concerned citizens. Other wise you just come across as another corporate hack.

    What happens to industrial ag when oil gets stuck at 140 a barrel? That's not paranoia...that a business question. I would like farming families left to survive that...but when I ask the question I get labeled.

    Let's get past that.

    We're not paranoid. We've studied the history of Dow, Dupont, Monsanto and Cargill - I suggest you would benefit from doing the same.

  4. Saying something isn't real food because it has additives in it is a cop out. Everything is made of chemicals, and the chemicals you mention 1.have no effect and 2. make up a very very small amount of the product.

    I guarantee that I could give a sampling of various tomatoes[heirloom, organic, conventional] of similar breed and much less than a statistically significant number of the population sampled could tell the difference.

    I am no corporate hack, maam, and I have the lack of a paycheck to prove it. I take the side of science and reason. In defending science and reason I have noticed the paranoid behavior of many alarmists and hysterics. The only consistent theme in those accusations is the general disdain for corporations.

    You suggest I read The End of Food? I suggest you consult a food science department of any one of several universities around the country as well as some of the ag science departments. Ask academic professionals what they have concluded. If you live near 1 of these institutions, enroll in food science and ag science. Educate yourself instead of listening to paranoid ramblings of other food hysterics.

    Think about it this way: would you walk up to a mathematician after he gave a lecture about calculus and started arguing with him about derivatives and the chain rule? No. You'd be insane to. But then again, you don't learn about math from from a British Literature professor.

    go here: http://www.fst.ohio-state.edu/Personnel_Directory.htm

    And here: http://www.ift.org/cms/

    Ask questions, then listen. Educate yourself and quit acting like a superstitious native.

  5. Hey Sam,

    I am sorry if you took what I wrote to mean that I think you are a hack. I did not. If you are an aspiring corporate hack then the criticism remains. I do not believe all corporations are evil. I do believe that there are a lot of evil corporations and that history backs me up on this.

    I am not a paranoid hysteric I am a person who cares about food.

    I am not a superstitious native *whatever that means.

    And I do suggest again respectfully that you would enjoy that read. It is quality journalism not woo woo anti science ranting.

    You seem to think that environmental departments are not part of the science curriculum of the major universities. Is that what you are asserting?

    And again, you can't convince me that a tomato that traveled days to get to me tastes anything like the ones from my yard. Why would you even try? It's not like I haven't been on the planet for 40 or years running exhaustive tests.

    What would life be without true love and homegrown tomatoes?

  6. I never made any comments about environmental departments, but if I did, I would say this:
    Environmental science isn't qualified to properly comment on food science just as food science isn't properly qualified to comment on environmental science.

    Home grown tomatoes taste better to you because you believe they should taste better. This is similar to what we call the Halo Effect in sensory science and also similar to the placebo effect. Again, I guarantee that you can't tell the difference in a homegrown tomato and a conventional tomato of the same variety in a blind taste test. Genetically they would be the same, so they wouldn't taste different.

  7. You're picking hairs over tomatoes, when I think most people are saying hey, it's probably better to eat vegetables and meat, (as Pollan says "food your grandmother would recognize as food" - I know you hate him, but it makes sense) as opposed to lab concoctions like Twinkies.

    Plus the backyard tomato absolutely will taste different, because you can pick it and eat it immediately, as opposed to a tomato from 1k miles away that might be a week old by the time you eat it. I'm sure you'd admit that age has an influence on taste.

  8. No.

    Twinkies aren't a lab concoction, they're a pastry.

    Tomato flavor depends on variety, ripeness, and method of preparation(sliced thin vs thick, seasoned, roasted, fried, etc).

    A tomato picked by Red Gold might be picked a little sooner than it would be in your garden, so that it ripens in transit.

  9. Nah, twinkies are both a pastry and a lab concoction, the two aren't exclusive.

  10. It's a cake filled with cream. No lab was necessary for it's development. The overwhelming majority of foods were developed in pilot plants and not a lab. And even if something was developed in a lab... so what? It's still made in the plant.

  11. There's no cream in a twinkie, I believe it's all shortening. Yum.

  12. I completely agree with your assessment of real food. The generally accepted definition of food is anything one shoves in their mouth, chews and then swallows. The generally accepted definition of real is non-imaginary. Therefore "real food" is any non-imaginary item which can be shoved in ones mouth, chewed and swallowed. I think a new term needs to be adopted to describe the type of food which supports good health at every level of the food chain from the soil up. Just to satisfy the pedants of the world. Not all food is created equally after all. Any suggestions?

  13. Yes, that is cream filling, JD.

    We have labels for food...plenty of them.
    Vegetables, roughages, proteins, meat, dairy, grain, starch, sweets, dessert, fermented, oils, fats...

    Everything is some combination of those things. People get this perverse sense of satisfaction from saying one is good and another is bad, the truth is that all foods can be good or bad depending on dietary needs.

  14. This is the safety data sheet for Polysorbate 60, an emulsifier used in Twinkies to stop the oils from separating. http://www.sciencelab.com/xMSDS-POLYSORBATE_60-9926642
    Lecithin, a safe, non toxic, naturally occuring emulsifier could easily be used in its place. Chemicals such as Polysorbate 60 may have a negligible effect when consumed in minute amounts but the combined effect of the chemical cocktail we consume on a regular basis in almost all processed foods is largely untested. I guess that's why we need healthcare insurance!

  15. I guess we need a definition of "cream" from you, Mr. Vance.

  16. So, Mr. Vance if what is in a Twinkie is "cream," I need your definition of "cream."

  17. Sam,

    I was at the grocery store tonight and read the entire ingredient list for Twinkies. No cream in Twinkies, at all. But you knew that because you know so much about food and words and how they are used are so important to you. Cream is cream, right?

    The front of the box says 'creamy filling'. Creamy, not cream.

    "Yes, that is cream filling JD."

    Words matter more to someone in that corporation than they do to you, apparently.

    I could throw some links at you and tell you to ask some professors some questions to educate yourself, but you already know everything.

    Keep entertaining us and good luck with the paycheck thing.

  18. http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm

    Twinkies don't use a qualified term to describe it's filling. The packaging says 'Creamy Filling' and therefore is not one of the CFR's standardized terms.

    cream as defined in the Code of Federal Regulations is:
    a)Description. Heavy cream is cream which contains not less than 36 percent milkfat. It is pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized, and may be homogenized.

    a)Description. Light whipping cream is cream which contains not less than 30 percent but less than 36 percent milkfat. It is pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized, and may be homogenized.

  19. So this whole post is just a vent about using the correct term so as not to confuse people. Oh! And here was I thinking it had something to do with eating or not eating healthy food LOL

    Yes we should all be careful to use words which everyone can easily understand and interpret their meaning.

  20. Maybe "primary food" would better describe food that comes straight from the Earth with absolutely nothing added or subtracted. I'm pretty sure that's what people mean when they say "real food".

  21. It doesn't matter what term you use for it, people still mean the same thing. That is what the problem is, this idea that if it didn't grow out of the ground, it's inferior.

    The truth is that it is impossible to label one food as healthy while demonizing another because there are too many factors that go into how nutritious a food is. Beyond that, you still have to treat food on an individual basis. Everybody's health is slightly different, so they may have a different reaction to certain foods than others. Some can live for 85 years eating salad and some live to 85 drinking cheap wine and eating bacon and fried bread. Another example is sugar. People want to link diabetes with pop, but a lot more people drink pop than have diabetes. Everything is relative to the total health of the individual. A marathoner/swimmer/triathlete doesn't worry about sugar intake, they just need fuel. Their body will incinerate a Twinkie, no problem. Someone who is suspicious of Twinkies might eat one and feel sick - a 'nocebo' effect. Someone else might feel an adverse effect, but they never eat sugar or sweets, so it's more likely that their body isn't use to it, not that it's poison.

    All food is real food. If you labeled some foods as primary, I would just be able to give countless examples where non-primary foods are fine. All foods are fine, it's the amount consumed in relation to other foods that matter - total nutrition.

  22. So, in the end, it IS NOT cream. No, it's not. Period. You can debate yourself and change what you mean, but it is NOT cream. Cream is a noun. Creamy is an adjective, so it's not a thing. It's totally different Mr. Vance.

  23. Yes, I believe I just spent time explaining that, so I'm not sure what the point of your comment is other than to be a dick.

  24. I think this is what you were trying to say when we were having our FB discussion a few weeks ago. Reading your very well written article I appreciate your point.

    As a woman who weighs 200lbs and is trying to loose 25% of her body weight I am trying to eat healthier - which means more fruits and vegetables - less sodium - less carbs - less sugar. I understand your criticism of my 30 day cleanse diet but I have an addictive personality and if I do not retrain my body and psyche I will not succeed.

    At one point I weighed 307 pounds and lost 130 lbs (I regained 30 because of poor diet and lack of exercise - too many calories in - too few out).However, I do understand that food is not the enemy and food is not evil.

    I just think that sometimes you unintentionally come across a little rude and judgmental one on one. Your article here says everything you were trying to say to me and I completely get it and it is very intelligent. Thanks for this article!

  25. It's not an article, it a blog. I think this is insulting to people because it is a direct insult to their intelligence. What people need to realize is that you weren't taught this and just forgot...you never learned it to begin with. There is too much science for everyone to learn everything and some things fall by the wayside. Even food scientists that teach masters level food science courses need to look up things because the field is so vast. The trick is building a background of knowledge and knowing how to interpret/research the rest.


Put your comment here, kind sir/madame. Try to cite sources when stating facts and refrain from off topic comments or hateful/nasty rhetoric.