- A Week Without Processed Food
Spending a week neither buying nor eating processed food seemed like a great idea. I’d be spending a week in the River Cottage, getting my food from the farm and not the factory. Leaving behind mass produced and focusing on the true flavour of natural ingredients. It seemed like a great idea.
The first task was defining a processed food. Definitions seem to range from any food that has been chemically altered to anything not just then pulled out of the ground, unwashed and uncooked. To make the week challenging but still possible I decided on these rules: nothing precooked (unless at a restaurant), nothing with added salt or sugar (bye bye pickles and ketchup), and nothing which had been altered from its natural state to change or preserve it. Not only did this include things like curing, so no bacon, but also milled rice and flour and even milk, due to it’s pasteurization.
After assigning my rules, I took to the shops nervous but eager, and stocked up for my week without processed food…
The mornings were always going to be a difficult part of this week. Not only could I not have milk in tea or coffee, but I’ve recently been surviving off milkshakes so I was at a loss of what to do.
On my lazier days I survived off black coffee and fruit but I did spice it up a bit with a Shakshouka. This North African dish of onion, tomatoes, peppers and spices cooked down with eggs baked on top provided a completely different experience from the usual fry up or cereal. It would have been perfect with some crusty bread but… ah well, moving swiftly on.
Lunch and Dinner
Lunch and dinner were slightly easier affairs to manage. After purchasing some unprocessed brown rice and whole wheat spaghetti, it was simply a case of substituting out canned ingredients like tomatoes for fresh ones. The difficulty came in planning and timing. Whilst normally I could grab a quick lunch of canned soup whilst on the go, now everything had to come from scratch and took a lot more effort. Still, sticking to simple recipes like carrot and coriander soup, salads, steak and roast chicken made avoiding processed foods easy, though short cuts like chopped tomatoes and frozen chips were sorely missed.
Definitely the hardest category to replace was snacking. Recently I’ve picked up a admittedly unhealthy habit of snacking whilst working, and with crisps, chocolate and other tasty treats available, I really started to get hungry whilst browsing YouTube and pretending to work. One solution I found was a friend’s recipe of frying almonds in a little bit of olive oil and salt, but generally I cut down on snacks to a bare minimum, which honestly was probably a good thing.
Eating out is not normally something I do on my student budget, but over the weekend it was my girlfriend’s birthday so I made an exception. I was able to find things I assumed were not processed, primarily fresh meat and vegetables, but in reality there would be no real way of knowing if something processed, even as simple as white flour, was used in the cooking. Under this diet eating out is pretty impossible unless you can watch the chefs cooking the food in front of you!
This week proved two things for me. Firstly, it is really easy to get caught up in a wave of quick and easy food products that the consequences might be ignored. Ready/frozen meals might provide quick and easy alternatives to cooking fresh, but aren’t nearly as tasty, and can be full of added, unwelcome extras.
Contrarily, I realised that most of the products we eat in our daily lives are processed, and this is really not a bad thing. Pasteurized milk, white flour and white rice are absolutely fine. Even olive oil and table salt is processed, and whilst it might not be the best products, alternatives can be difficult to acquire and often expensive.
What I’ll take away from this week is that whilst I definitely have learnt to appreciate new foods and have felt the benefits of not snacking, cutting processed food out of my life is not a feasible possibility. I certainly felt that the week was healthier than usual, and it genuinely felt great, especially focusing on fresh food over preserved. However, preparing every meal from scratch was far too time consuming, and having to plan everything far in advance meant that I could never change my plans and I found it too rigid. Whether that says something about our society, or that processed foods are not bad, I don’t know. All I know is I’m off to buy some bacon and some milk with no regrets at all.