What is real food?
Jamie Oliver, the British chef best known for his television series “The Naked Chef” famously criticized highly-processed foods: “Real food doesn’t have ingredients. Real food is ingredients.” Put differently (and with a bit more lenience) by food author, journalist, and activist, Michael Pollan: “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” (Pollan, p. 148).
Practically speaking, if you want to go grocery shopping for your health (and for real food), you should spend more time along the perimeter of the store than in the aisles. “[The perimeter] is where you’ll find the freshest foods, including produce, meat and dairy. Fresh foods are generally healthier than the processed foods you’ll find in the center aisles” (Mayo Clinic Health System, 22 March 2018).
What is good food?
Certainly, good food should be real and healthy for you. But is that enough?
Some advocates believe we should consider more parts of the food system. For example, the Michigan Good Food Charter views good food as:
Healthy: It provides nourishment and enables people to thrive.
Green: It was produced in a manner that is environmentally sustainable.
Fair: No one along the supply chain was exploited for its creation.
Affordable: All people have access to it.
With two more criteria, I agree with this definition. Regarding real, good food, I’d add, Humane: It promotes the fairest treatment of animals possible. Regarding the food system, I’d add, Participatory: Engagement would result in the populace appreciating sustainable agriculture and its process. While their participation may range from growing herbs on a windowsill to having a number of raised bed gardens in their backyard to volunteering at a CSA (i.e. community supported agriculture), this participation would begin to build community awareness in sustainable food production, storage, and use: planning, growing, tending, harvesting, distributing, preserving, preparing, and composting, and more.
As a pescatarian who eats an ample amount of dairy each day, I know I fall short on a humane diet, especially by vegan standards. But I aspire to be — and, at times, have been — a full-fledged vegetarian. So, I know it is within my power to do better. That said, I cannot imagine a life without dairy. (Although, I could certainly eat less of it.)
On the other hand, in being a decent heirloom gardener who produces a lot of food for my household throughout the growing season, I feel quite proud about my participation in sustainable agriculture. My biggest downfall in this area is that, while I know various ways to freeze produce, I do not know how to can, ferment, or dry it.
Comments are welcome.
How would you define real, good food and your relation to it?