October 19, 2010
Last year, I was struck by a simple idea: What would happen if I went for an entire month without eating any processed foods? I had recently started on a personal journey of eating healthier, getting more exercise, and losing that extra 30 pounds. As I became more aware of the foods I was eating, I began to realize that almost every processed food—nearly anything that comes with an ingredient list—is likely to be laden with extra sugar, fat, and salt. And preservatives, flavorings, and artificial colors.
Not all “processed” foods are bad, of course, but I realized that if I could define this nebulous term in some sort of meaningful way, I would have a short-hand way of choosing healthier foods. I wanted to find that sweet-spot where processing increases, rather than decreases, the healthfulness of food. My current working definition became:
Said another way, if you pick up something with a label and find an ingredient you’d never use in your kitchen, it’s processed. I call it the “Kitchen Test.” If you could, at least theoretically, make it in your kitchen, then you’re good to go. There are other words we can use, of course. Real, Whole, and Slow all come to mind, and if you prefer any of those then that’s great, too. Last Fall I convinced a few good friends to try it with me, and it was revelatory.
My expectations and sense of taste were “recalibrated,” so to speak. I started to identify individual ingredients in the foods I ate. I didn’t crave those salty snacks. I found myself often in the kitchen, excited to see what I could cook next. I felt better, too. My friends and I took turns hosting small dinner parties, and shared our stories and experiences. It brought us closer together. Funny how real food does that.
A year later, I decided to try it again. This time, however, I wanted to share this experience not just with a couple of friends, but with as many people as possible. In early September I asked all the food bloggers I could find if they’d accept the October: Unprocessed challenge. The response was overwhelming. Dozens of people—from a fabulous baker to a wedding photographer to a poor girl—enthusiastically came onboard.
A passionate community is building around this project, and I invite you to join us. Don’t worry if you missed the first few days—you can start your own 30 day (or more!) challenge today, or just follow along with us through the end of the month. I firmly believe that we can improve our lives—and the world—through the foods we choose to eat. October: Unprocessed is just the beginning, and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.
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