(Un)Processing It All

November 1, 2010 10:46 am
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The Great Work Begins

Yesterday was the last day of October: Unprocessed. We made it!!

First, I’d like to thank everyone who participated.  I’m thrilled, humbled, and incredibly grateful at the outpouring of interest and support this little experiment has generated. By the end of the month, 415 people had signed the pledge and we shared 41 fantastic guest posts!

I certainly hope that you got at least as much as I did out of this project. Although my eating habits didn’t change all that much this month, I really started noticing just how many chemicals are sneaked (snuck?) into packaged foods. I had to eliminate everything with preservatives, natural & artificial flavors, xanthan gum (which is a very common ingredient, it turns out), soy lecithin (the emulsifier used in the vast majority of commercially-produced chocolate), vital wheat gluten, lactase enzyme (more on this in an upcoming guest post), and of course the many numbered food dyes.

Then again, some of these ingredients aren’t necessarily “bad.” From what I can tell, xanthan gum, guar gum, and soy lecithin aren’t generally problematic (unless you have a specific sensitivity or allergy), though they’re not necessarily good for us either. (The two gums are particularly helpful in gluten-free baking, however, so there’s definitely a benefit from them if you’re avoiding gluten.)

Similar to my reasons for not eating high fructose corn syrup, though, I found that by eliminating these individual ingredients, it helped me say “no” to a variety of foods that might not be so good for me.

Then again, it also forced me to skip a handful of foods that I think are good for me! After a fair amount of deliberation, Matty and I decided that vital wheat gluten would be an exception this month, because the products we found it in were good for us overall (seitan, some 100% whole wheat breads) — so that became one of our exceptions, and will continue to be. Likewise, store-bought tofu is usually made with calcium sulfate as the coagulant. Although, strictly speaking, calcium sulfate might not pass the Kitchen Test, it’s not “bad” for us (and actually boosts the calcium content of the tofu).  Instead of eliminating a healthful food, we decided to make an exception and continue to eat tofu this month.

So my big “takeaway” is that I will continue to read ingredient lists diligently (I’ve become a bit compulsive about it, I must admit) — and anytime I encounter an ingredient I don’t know, I’ll research it and do my best to determine if it’s a good, bad, or neutral thing to be putting in my body.  Then I’ll consider the benefits of the food as a whole, and make a final determination.

Although that sounds awfully geeky and time-consuming, in reality it’s not that big of a deal.  We tend to buy the same foods in our grocery store, and repeat many of the same meals (most people make or eat the same ten or so meals over and over again).  So once we find a loaf of store-bought bread that we like (Ezekiel, some Trader Joe’s brand loaves), we can just grab those off the shelf and toss them in our cart as we shop.

I prefer to think of today as a beginning rather than an ending. Throughout this entire month, the farewell in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America has been echoing inside my head. Although perhaps a different context, I can’t shake the idea that, fundamentally, what we’re doing here is the same.

Let’s continue to work together to enjoy real food and the benefits it brings. Let’s change the world. More life. The great work begins.

And now, a little housekeeping:

Since this was my first time “hosting” such a challenge, I’d love to get some feedback. Maybe we’ll do this every October? Maybe we’ll do it twice a year? I’ve put together a short survey, and I’d really appreciate it if you took just a few minutes to share your personal experience, thoughts on the project, and any other feedback or ideas you might have.

Click here to take the survey.

I’ll take your comments very seriously, of course, and perhaps I’ll compile some of them and share them in a later post (with your permission, of course).

I still have a handful of guest posts that I was not able to squeeze into the schedule — so I’ll be sharing them throughout the month.  I’ve also connected with several food producers who have agreed to sponsor some giveaways, so stay tuned for some upcoming freebies later this month!

In addition to the survey, please feel free to share your thoughts here in the comments! Also, if you’ve written a post about October: Unprocessed on your own blog, please post the link in the comments.

5 Comments on "(Un)Processing It All"
  1. Comment left on:
    November 2, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Hi Andrew,

    I took the pledge on 11/01 after reading about it that morning but found that it ended up being more difficult than expected. I did chronicle some of my successes and failures here but I will be continuing my pursuit of eating more unprocessed all the time.

    Thanks for the push and for keeping it interesting all month long…

    Jim

    http://ramblefood.com/

    • Comment left on:
      November 8, 2010 at 6:32 pm
      Andrew says:

      Hi Jim,

      Sorry you found it more difficult than you anticipated — though it sounds like you’ve settled on some excellent rules for you and your family. Kudos! :)

      - a.

  2. Comment left on:
    November 17, 2010 at 4:19 pm
    Damon says:

    Absolute Bravo! To all of you!! It is hard to defy the marketing prowess and sheer presence of processed foods as we try to oblige the needs of our bodies. There is no rule book, nor person I can think of that has all the answers (except maybe our great grandparents). I wish we would have seen your post before we missed it, thank you for your hard work!

    • Comment left on:
      November 18, 2010 at 8:58 am
      Andrew says:

      Hi Damon,

      Thanks for your kudos and insight. Don’t feel too bad that you missed October — you can certainly do this on your own. Better yet, find a couple of like-minded friends, and do it together! That makes all the difference. Let us know how you go!

      Best,
      Andrew

  3. Comment left on:
    June 13, 2014 at 4:11 pm
    Kelly Bray says:

    Thanks I participated in your challenge and it changed my life… I have always been fit and healthy until 4 years ago when I became very ill, I gained over 20kg in 2 years and hadnt changed a thing about my lifestyle. It turned out I had an adrenal tumor and after very risky surgery had it removed, but the weight didnt shift. A switch to unprocessed and Im nearly back to my original weight. It inspired me so much I have gone on to study some nutrition as well as becoming a Personal Trainer/Health Coach. Clean Eating/Unprocessed is my main focus with my clients and I love being able to direct them to your page for recipe ideas… thanks so much for helping to set me on a whole new life path.

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