What is a processed food? In all of the helpful advice I read about healthy diets people talk about removing processed foods.
Over the years my definition of processed has changed. I used to think that anything that was added to a recipe was not really a processed food. (Yes even tortillas and canned tomatoes) I thought of them as building blocks and I couldn’t imagine a world where those things weren’t ready made.
It was only as I desperately tried to remove the oils from my diet that I realized how many things that I took for granted as whole foods were actually processed in some way. Canned tomatoes, noddles, skinless chicken breasts, cheese, milk, nuts, butter. I thought of them as whole foods. But in fact pretty much everything you can buy at the grocery store or co-op is processed in some way. Even the fruits and vegetables have to be picked, cleaned and preserved for shipping with chemicals and/or refrigeration.
This realization was uncomfortable for me. I had liked to think of myself as a home cook who did most things from scratch, and by modern standards I am, but I wouldn’t know how to process a live chicken and turn it into a chicken dinner. I know the process of cheese making but I could not turn gallons of milk into edible cheese. I wouldn’t even know how to pick and process many of the vegetables that I take for granted.
I keep moving towards less and less processed food. I buy local milk from my co-op in mason jars which I return for a deposit gleeful that I didn’t fill up my trash can with yet more packaging. The eggs too have a return station for the cartons. But most other things even the bulk section still fill my trash can with plastic and paper. I buy my pork directly from a farmer. It arrives all carefully cut and frozen in little plastic packages. I buy vegetables at my local farmers market. They have more dirt than the ones I buy at my co-op and less packaging since they are not shipped but plastic is still used to take them home. I buy chocolate that is sourced from small farmers and wonder as I pull off the pretty packaging what the factory that makes it looks like.
The shear magnitude of trying to escape from processing is difficult to get past sometimes. So I know when these articles casually drop hints like reducing the amount of processed food people eat that the hint is not hitting people as intended. How can it? There is no such thing as unprocessed food in our country. Unless you grow it and harvest it yourself.
I have decided that instead of unprocessed I will strive for minimally processed with as little additions as possible.