Almost everyone who has ever been a child in an industrialized nation can tell you that the above is not a question. It is the demand or encouragement, depending on your mother or maternal figure, issued to the dismay of all Cheetos deprived children at one point or another. But what is real food? Michael Pollan gives his answer in his book In Defense of Food.
Pollan tells us that real foods are what you find in farmers markets and at the parameters of grocery stores. Real food is what our grandmothers ate. Real foods are whole. Real foods don’t have more than five ingredients in them. What Pollan is excluding is the products of nutrionism—processed products enriched with nutrients touting health benefits.
This is a challenge to reductionist food science, corporate interest and bad food policy that ignores the complex interactions within foods for a more simplistic—add up the parts—approach. But while Pollan aptly calls out the reductionism in a nutrition obsessed food economy, he lays the solution in the hands of individual consumers to spend more for quality, to which even he admits is only possible among relatively few financially secure individuals in the world.
So, why don’t you eat real food? Maybe the better question is who can afford to?
I really enjoyed this “straight to the point” takeaway from Pollan’s book. While our health certainly depends on eating whole foods, our wallets will suffer the brunt. This is a shame, yet there is hope with people like Beth Wheat, who inspire and is an example to us, as she has accomplished creating and maintaining a communal farm.
I would say that a large majority of the population can afford to eat real food. I know this can be seen as a bold statement, but here is why I think so. The book, “The Real Cost of Cheap Food,” by Carolan shows us some of the hidden costs of seemingly cheap food. In terms of affordability, real foods in themselves are more expensive than their processed counterparts. Historically, Americans are spending less of their income on food than ever before and less time in the kitchen as well. The turnaround comes with the increased cost of health care, which totals thousands of dollars per individual during their lifetime. On the other hand, now more than ever, there are countless resources one can use to live a budget-friendly way while still eating a whole foods, plant-based diet. As was mentioned in the interview with Beth Wheat, the farmers market she is at accepts food stamps, and gives double the money back to those who use them at the market! In this way, whole food is becoming more affordable to those on low budgets who are trying to improve their diets.
Next is the question of time, not everyone has the luxury of spending time in their kitchen to prepare meals from unprocessed products. I think, this is where personal choices have to be made. A study came out on the “technology” usage of adults in America, showing that the average adult spends 10 HOURS a day on things like watching tv, browsing the internet, social media applications and more. (http://www.businessinsider.com/how-much-tv-do-americans-watch-2016-6?international=true&r=US&IR=T) I dont count myself out of this equation, I do spend a majority of my day looking at a screen (mostly for educational purposes), but my “leisure” screen time I try to make more productive by doing meal prep with my show running as a sort of background noise. It may prolong the cooking process slightly, but it is just one of the things I do which makes the time at the kitchen more enjoyable.
With food being one of the main things keeping us alive and well, I think that the time and money we “sacrifice” to eat real foods is well worth the long-term cost of health and happiness.
I am now able to afford to eat “real food.” But reading your post snaps me back into when I couldn’t. As a kid that lived in quiet poverty, i remember when we would eat meals that wouldn’t be considered “food.” I understand at this point that all calories aren’t considered equal but when one is hungry, you don’t care. I am more concerned with the quality of food that the public is consuming rather than the quantity. And then with that, the accessibility of the quality over the quantity.
Hi there, I agree with your sentiments. As a child, we never wanted for food but we also never needed to question. Due to a surprise change in my father’s income, we went from being relaxed to being very conscious of every dollar that came and went.
Twenty years later, I can afford to be selective of my diet. I am privileged enough to “shop around the perimeter” but, I also painfully remember what it was like to only afford a couple of $5.99 Little Caesars pizzas a week for our entire meals. From an initial pass at http://www.feedingamerica.org, I am sadly not alone. The fact that in 2014, their study in American diet showed that 57% of those that participated had to choose between food and housing resonated with me. While I truly believe in the virtues (and environmentally sound choice) of a majority plant based diet, I can also see how it is almost impossible for the majority of Americans to afford this. Since taking meat and dairy out of my diet, my cost in groceries (vegetables alone) have went up substantially as the amount I need to consume is much more with plants alone. I might be the exception, but I respect the privilege I own.