Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The Real Food Challenge

by Chiot's Run

This month we're having the Real Food Challenge over at Not Dabbling in Normal, a blog I also write for. It's a great challenge, we're hoping to encourage people to eat fewer processed food and make a few changes in their diets. I thought a few of the readers over here would be interested in joining this challenge or learning about it.

I've always been a cook from scratch kind of girl. I grew up in South America where convenience food was not available. We were excited to get a box of cornflakes several times a year as a "treat". My mom made just about everything from scratch, so I learned to cook this way. Cakes and brownies never came from a box, cookies never came from a bag, doughnuts were made the night before and raised overnight (and were so delicious), and pizza came from our own oven. I loved oatmeal made from oats in a big tin, never the instant single serve packs, they are too sweet and taste kind of raw to me when I had them. All of our birthday cakes were homemade and decorated lovingly by my mom (and they were AWESOME!).

My mom was also an adventurous cook, she kind of had to be. The grocery store was filled with tropical produce like yucca, plantains, mangoes and guanabanas. She was also fearless, not batting a eye when we had to make paella for a group of 20 coming for a meeting. When someone would bring us a freshly caught 20 lb catfish, my mom would cut it up, send some to the neighbors and cook up the rest. As a result of this, I never was a convenience/processed food kind of a person. This isn't to say we never bought chips and candy, we ate our share of Pringles and drank a serious amount of Coke. We had a huge garden whenever we were living in the United States growing tons of veggie and spending all summer canning & freezing for winter eating. My dad's always been a big hunter, so our freezer was always full of venison and other wild game. Part of the reason my parents did is because they couldn't afford to buy processed food. It was much cheaper to grow your own and make things from scratch.

Mr Chiots on the other hand grew up with in a household where nothing was made from scratch. He ate toaster pastries for breakfast, mac n cheese for lunch, and pizza from the delivery guy for dinner and a vegetable rarely crossed his plate. He had a bit of a hard time switching to the made from scratch healthy lifestyle when we got married. We had an adjustment period, merging our two tastes. For a few years we ate a mix of processed food and from scratch (and from scratch made from processed ingredients). Every year we would delete a few more processed foods from his palate. Now he proudly says he can't handle the taste of processed foods because they taste "chemically", we were even able to nix the Heinz ketchup from our pantry (except a bottle of organic kept for visitors), which was the last stronghold for him.

In the past few years we've been focusing on taking our diet to the next level. We switched to a mostly organic, mostly produced at home or locally food chain. We have successfully deleted just about everything made in a factory from our diets. We try to buy things in their least processed forms and use those to cook at home. We now buy wheat berries, grind them and use sourdough starter for our bread. We make ketchup and various chutneys, sauces and vinaigrettes at home. Our butter is made weekly from raw milk cream we get at a local farm. I no longer go the grocery store, I go to the farm each week for milk, eggs, chicken, I hit the farmer's market several times a month, the garden out back produces veggies in the spring/summer/fall, the pantry is chocked full of tomatoes, fruit and pickles for the winter, I use the co-op for bulk grains, sugar and other staples, and occasionally the internet, the local health food store or a Whole Foods for items like fresh ginger and coffee which I can't purchase locally or grow myself. We even tap our maple trees and keep bees.

You may wonder what exactly I'm going to do for the Real Food Challenge since we already eat a mostly unprocessed diet (I know what you're thinking, these people make their own maple syrup & keep bees, what more could they do?). I've been trying to transition to a more seasonal diet for the past couple years, and haven't been doing super well so I figured this would be a great chance to really work on it. The main reason I want to try to eat more seasonally is to reduce the amount of processing on our food even more. I'm sure fresh winter greens are much healthy than the home canned green beans from my pantry. Not only will our diets be healthier if we can eat more seasonally, but I'll save tons of time and energy in the summer by not doing a lot of canning.

Instead of my winter diet being basically the same as our summer diet, I'd really love to get to a point where our diet is different each season. Because we're still in winter here in Northeastern Ohio, it looks like we'll be eating more bitter winter greens (which we're not super fond of yet) and those veggies that store well without processing, like squash (which we're also not super fond of). I think the big challenge for us during the month of March will be trying to find ways to prepare foods we don't particularly like. The good thing is that it includes onions, potatoes, mushrooms and other things we really love!

I'll be blogging about our challenges at learning to love new foods (they say you have to eat something 10 times before you can rule it out as a dislike). I'll also be posting about taking it to the next level. For those of you that eat a fairly homemade lifestyle already, I'll be talking about switching to the least processed options of foods you already eat. Perhaps switching out your morning oatmeal or granola with some soaked oat groats or barley. I'll talk about using wild yeast (sourdough) instead of quick yeast in breads and pancakes. I'll talk about finding places to buy the least processed options of staples like wheat berries, nuts, seeds and spices. I'll also talk about learning cooking from scratch without spending all your time in the kitchen!

How seasonal is your diet?