On October 1st, I joined over 350 people on the October: Unprocessed challenge. Basically, in this challenge we have pledged to give up processed foods for the month. Processed foods are foods that have ingredients that you wouldn’t keep in your kitchen to make food or ingredients that were created in a laboratory. Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with readily available, whole-food ingredients. “It doesn’t mean that you have to be able to make the food — but that the food could be made in a home kitchen by someone who knows what they’re doing. If it needs high-powered, industrial equipment, or could only be made in a laboratory, then it’s out, ” Andrew Wilder explained.
At the same time, I pledged to consciously reduce the amount of new single-use plastic I bring into my life, inspired by Fake Plastic Fish. Single use disposable plastics are product packaging that is used once and discarded. Bags, wrappers, containers, utensils, cups, bottles, containers, etc. I now question every item that comes in plastic and it’s potential long term benefits or harm. Do I need toothpaste (cap is plastic)- yes, do I need chips from a plastic bag- no!
I am 20 days into both challenges and here is what I have learned so far:
1. If I am not eating fresh homemade meals or using store bought products (ie pasta sauce, soy sauce) to make my meals, I must read the ingredients label carefully. There are a lot of hidden, unnecessary ingredients in prepackaged/prepared foods. For instance, when you pick up a loaf of bread, you assume the ingredients are just water, flour, yeast and salt. However, if you read the ingredients label you might find 10 other ingredients. Real bread usually comes in a brown bag fresh from the bakery, not pre-sliced in a plastic bag. Therefore, by choosing whole foods over processed/pre-packaged food, I am avoiding plastic.
2. Breakfast is the toughest part of the unprocessed food challenge. I love cereal. I survived exams in college on cereal alone. Sadly, most breakfast cereals are fortified with crap. Even though over the years I cut out processed cereals, it’s really hard to completely avoid processed ingredients. I started examining what other cultures eat for breakfast. I found that Persians eat feta cheese, dates, flatbread, and nuts; South Indians eat savory dishes such as upma and dosas, Koreans eat rice, soup, and eggs, and Jamicans eat ackee, callaloo, and mackeral. All of these foods are whole foods- whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seafood, and meats. We stopped eating cereals and started eating non-quick oatmeal, upma (Satish grew up with it), eggs (standard for us), and fruits. Cereal comes in a plastic bag inside of a cardboard box. I haven’t bought cereal in the the last 20 days and thus have not introduced new plastic in the form of cereal. Healthier Plant = Healthier Body.
3. We eat a lot more fresh fruit, nuts and dried fruit. Fruits for breakfast with nut butters and cheese, fruits for in between meals, and fruits to satisfy the sweet tooth. Fruits do not come in plastic packages, unless if you shop at Costco or Trader Joe’s.
4. No power bars. We only ate power bars when we were 0n the road or lazy. Well 99.5% of the power bars out there are fortified and have unnatural ingredients. Though, Lara Bars are made with only whole food ingredients and don’t claim any health benefits on their packaging. We decided to forgo all power bars due to packaging. It’s easier to eat fruit, which doesn’t come in any packaging.
5. Plastic is everywhere! The barrista will put a straw into my drink faster than I can blink my eye. I have told a bartender that I didn’t want the thin black straw in my drink, yet he mechanically put it in my glass. I have not forgot my reusable grocery bags once! Nor have a succumbed to buying plastic water bottles when thirsty. I carry by stainless steel bottle or use the water fountain.
6. When at the grocery store, I only shop around the perimeter. This is because all whole food ingredients are usually lined around the perimeter of the store and the processed foods are conveniently located in the center. Yogurt, cheese, and milk caps all come in plastic and I have not found alternatives yet.
7. I have started questioning more details whens dining out or grabbing food to go. Does the restaurant make their own sauces or use an industrial sauce? Where do the poultry/seafood/meat come from? Will the “doggie bag” be placed in cardboard to go box or a plastic container? Does the restaurant use disposable utensils or steel utensils? Does the restaurant recycle and compost materials?
8. We are saving money. Fruit and vegetables are cheaper than ice-cream, chocolate, and chips, and they can be used in many ways. We eliminated these items completely and were able to save money on our weekly grocery bill. Also, produce seems to have gotten cheaper at the Farmer’s Market. Last month, I paid $3/pound of heirloom tomatoes, this month I have paid $2/pound. Non-heirloom varieties are even cheaper!
9. Eating unprocessed foods and avoiding single-use plastics almost go hand-in-hand. I have failed several times on these challenges but I am not quitter. First of all, I broke down and had a cupcake made by Elizabeth Falkner at the Blog Her Food 2010 Conference. Dessert is my biggest weakness, but I have been strong and resisted 95% of the time. That is an achievement for me. I have also switched to Mascovado sugar, which is completely unrefined.
This is just a short list of the major changes/observations I have made on this challenge. Again, I was never big consumer of processed foods to begin with but this challenge has made me more consciously aware.
If you just discovered October: Unprocessed, go here to find out more and take the pledge. Don’t worry if you missed the start date! You can start your 30 days today, or simply join in for the rest of the month.
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