Over the past few years, I’ve been slowly moving toward a diet based on whole, natural foods, and it gets easier and easier all the time. But there are always things that sneak into the refrigerator and onto the plate that hark back to the factory a bit more than the field. That box of penne purchased at Target, the crackers I pick up when I need an afternoon snack, or the hamburger bought from the stand down the road that probably isn’t using grass-fed, organic beef or locally made buns.
No one has to be perfect, and striving for some kind of ascetic culinary life probably isn’t very healthy, mentally or emotionally. But sometimes it can be good to step back and take stock of our real dietary habits, and to be more aware of what we’re putting into our bodies. When I read about the October Unprocessed Challenge, this sounded like a great opportunity to do just that.
Andrew Wilder at Eating Rules came up with this idea two years ago, prompted by the question, “What would happen if I went for an entire month without eating any processed food?” Last year, over 400 people participated, and this year, it looks to be growing. I decided to sign up.
Andrew’s definition of unprocessed includes anything that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with readily available ingredients. I don’t know exactly what that means for me, but I’m leaning toward a definition gleaned from Michael Pollan: If a package has more than five ingredients, and you don’t know what even one of them is, it’s a processed food. I don’t know that I could make cheese in my kitchen, but I don’t necessarily consider it a processed food (although, that really depends on the cheese, or cheese product, as the case may be).
The point of this challenge isn’t to strive for perfection, or to attempt to reach some kind of holier-than-thou culinary position. It’s to spark thought and dialogue about where our food comes from, and how we relate to it. I’ll be writing about my experiences in an unprocessed kitchen over the next month, and I urge you to sign the pledge, too. Especially if you think it would be impossible. You never know unless you try, and I can’t think of anything more meaningful to try for.