Ever notice how the center aisles of your grocery store are creeping out into the produce, meat, and dairy departments (which are supposed to be the last refuge of fresh foods before we all board the spaceship that will rescue us from climate change, and we’ll end up resorting to a diet of space rations and Tang)?
Bacon is no longer just a fatty cut of fresh pork, cured with high amounts of sodium. Bacon is something you can buy in a box and store at room temperature until you’re ready to microwave it. Brands like Sargento actually brag about how their product is Real Cheese. When certain cheeses brag about being Real, that’s an indication that a lot of cheese isn’t real. It’s kind of like when pop stars brag about playing real instruments. Congrats, you’re a musician. Way to go. The selection of pre-washed and pre-cut vegetables and fruit continues to expand. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is completely free from the processing that comes with technological innovation.
I totally get it. Innovation and improvement has been at the center of human progress for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s what makes us human. Sure, Neanderthals had big muscles and light weaponry, but ultimately the brain power of Homo sapiens outclassed those prehistoric dudemen and allowed us to make it through the growing pains of speciation. Innovation is humanity’s jam.
Sadly though, our brains might be our undoing. We’ve been engaged in a decades-long quest to disconnect from the process of food preparation so we can spend more time on more important things. I could be cynical and say that everyone just wants more time to watch television, but I think the reality is that we are a career-oriented people, and most of our time is spent pursuing whatever professional path we’ve chosen (or whichever path is chosen for us). The bottom line is that convenience has a lot of merit. Convenience foods make our lives easier. They allow us to spend less time in front of an oven and more time interacting with our families and keeping up with our extracurricular hobbies.
Convenience foods have a dark side that is detailed for us on each and every box of instant pancake mix or junk food wrapper: Added sugar. Added salt. Added fat. Chemical flavorings you’ve never heard of because they were just invented in some mysterious lab in central New Jersey. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: These things are unhealthy and you shouldn’t eat them. You should do everything in your power to avoid the allure of convenience and invest time into your meals.
Of course, that means ignoring roughly 95% of your grocery store, and that’s a seemingly ridiculous challenge to heap on the average person who’s just trying to make a living and lead a decent life. Here’s the good news: The remaining 5% of your grocery store is AWESOME.
Often, when telling people about my nutritarian diet, I am confronted with the following, very reasonable question: “If you cut out processed foods, what are you left with? What can you actually eat?”
I absolutely LOVE answering this question. I love it because the answer is so obvious. The thing about processed food is that most of it is an imitation of real food. Jell-O didn’t invent pudding. Kelloggs didn’t invent grains. Ortega didn’t invent tacos. ALL of these things can be made using natural, minimally processed ingredients. The key is learning how to use fresh, whole foods to produce the classics you love most. It takes a little bit of extra time, but the results are always going to be more satisfying than opening a box and tearing open plastic wrap.
Lately I’ve been exploring the awesomeness and versatility of portabella mushrooms. Seriously, these guys will be your new best friend if you’re looking for ways to enjoy old favorites like burgers and tacos in a more healthy way. We’ve all seen a portabella mushroom cap used in place of a traditional ground beef burger. That’s fine, but have you ever tried steaming them, slicing them up, covering them in corn meal, and then lightly frying them in a bit of olive oil? AMAZING, and you can use them as the central element in a stir fry, or as a meat replacement in tacos, or as a main dish with some freshly prepared sweet chili sauce (two parts brown rice vinegar, two parts agave, one part sriracha = SO GOOD). Or just steam them with some sweet potatoes and serve them over brown rice like I did the other night.
Also, everyone celebrates the cap, but what about the stem? Lately it’s occurred to me that the stem, when steamed, has a structure and mouthfeel that’s very similar to seafoods like crab and lobster. I’ve been anticipating cravings for New England seafood this spring and summer, so my next project is to figure out how to use portabella stems as a cholesterol-free seafood replacement. I’ll keep you posted!
Portabella mushrooms are just one fresh food out of many, and I’ve already given you several ideas on how to use them. Outstanding, yes? So many vegetables can be used in a large variety of ways. The possibilities are endless. All you need is a willingness to explore.
Question of the day: Think about what you ate for dinner last night, or the night before. Is there a way you could’ve made it more fresh by replacing something processed?