What Makes Food Real?

Remember the Velveteen Rabbit?

The Velveteen Rabbit was looked down upon by the other fancier, more modern toys, that believed they were “real”. He was seen as shabby and “not real” because he was a simple, old-fashioned toy.  But the old Skin Horse shared his wisdom with the VR, telling him the real secret to being “real” was to be really and truly loved.

Well, as you know, the VR does get really and truly loved by his boy, and in the process gets covered in nasty scarlet fever germs and tossed in the bonfire pile. Along the way, he meets some living rabbits, and finally understands he can’t be real unless he is alive. Thankfully for those of us who love happy endings, the Nursury Magic Fairy grants the VR his wish before the bonfire is lit.

Real food is like the Velveteen Rabbit. For decades, grocery stores have been filling with convenience foods, instant foods, and imitation foods, pushing raw, fresh real foods off the shelves. Think about this the next time you walk into your grocery store: the produce, fresh meats, cheeses and dairy products, as well as the deli counter, fish counter and bakery, are along the walls. What’s filling up the rest of that valuable real estate? For a long time now, cooking “from scratch” has been seen as old-fashioned, a time-consuming (read: wasting) chore, definitely not modern. Convenience foods are the height of modern, the latest artificial flavor or color, packaging not to be ignored, quick, easy, and well, convenient to the “modern cook on the go”. Taking advantage of our desire to save time, work, and money, and of our attraction to the new and different, the food industry has convinced us to throw real food on the bonfire pile.

Real food is food that is or has recently been alive. It is food that we “really and truly love” by sniffing, touching, washing, peeling, chopping, tasting, cooking, savoring. When was the last time you picked up and sniffed a big beautiful lump of monosodium glutamate, disodium guanylate, and hydrolyzed corn protein, to enjoy its fresh fragrance and glorious color? Right.

In his excellent book, “In Defense of Food”, author Michael Pollan gives many suggestions on how to identify and eat real food, but one of the most simple and easy to apply is:

“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

Time to play Grocery Magic Fairy and rescue real food from the bonfire. Start small: read the label on your bread. Your great-grandmother’s bread recipe had flour, yeast, sugar, milk or water, salt and maybe an egg for tenderness. Maybe some oatmeal for texture and flavor. What’s in your bread?

Before your head explodes when you think of making all your own bread, breathe. You don’t have to do that. There are breads in the grocery store that are pretty close to your great-grandmother’s bread. Just read the label before you toss it in your cart. The store’s fresh-baked bread is probably not too far off the mark; you can always ask them what’s in it. With allergies on the rise, food sellers are used to this question. Another (really delicious) option is a local bakery. Bread is usually baked fresh each day; day-old bread, just as delicious, can often be had at half-price, and you’re supporting a local business that will actually appreciate your patronage. Not only is that real food, it’s local food too. Bonus!

Now, go love some food and make it real.

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