Thursday, October 7, 2010

How unprocessed IS unprocessed?

I'm taking part in the October unprocessed challenge from blogger Andrew Wilder at Eating Rules, and have been taken a bit by surprise by the depth to which people are taking the unprocessed concept.

I didn't really think about the concept of "processed" food; after all I process all my food, inasmuch as I cook it. I try to stick to whole foods like fruits and vegetables out of my garden, but I have no problem with flour, wheat or white, rice- white, brown, or wild, pasta from the chain market (and as far as I'm concerned whole wheat pasta is just nasty. Semolina, please) or sugar, although I have switched from standard white (which is usually highly refined beet sugar) to evaporated cane. I never thought about these as being in a category called "processed." I can't make them myself for varying reasons of skill, appliances, time, and philosophy, so I buy them as ingredients and make a meal.

So what this challenge has made me confront is, first, what exactly is a processed food? Raw food enthusiasts will throw cooked food into that category. Fair enough. Flour is processed by definition, and in fact you CAN do this yourself, but does "unprocessed" mean not processed at all, or is flour okay if processed at home? Some "staples" like sugar, really can't be made at home; I can and do switch to honey when appropriate, but frankly, sometimes it's got to be sugar. That's another food, single ingredient, but highly processed by nature.

There are lots of foods like this; processed, outside the home, the process being the thing that makes that food what it is. And I'm not talking about Lays potato chips. I'm taking about pasta. Jam. Bread.

The take away is, a challenge like this makes you think about what you're eating. It confronts you with not only the health, but the social nature of food:I need a miller to process my flour. Since I went SLOW, I actually know my miller, if Facebook counts as "knowing" someone. But I had to think about it. It makes you think about what others are eating. If you step over a line you've drawn for yourself (chocolate) you know you've done it, like cheating at solitaire. Doesn't really matter, but no one's making you cut out refined sugar, and no one knows when you eat it.

Well, except you and your gods.

I made this tonight, with roasted garden vegetables (home grown green peppers, winter melon, radishes and carrots) and penne from organic grain. It's seasonal, local, organic and whole, but is it unprocessed? You tell me.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent point.

    I like Andrew's definition for its simplicity, and also because it does lead to this kind of Talmudic kind of personal and collective interpretation. You've captured it exactly: it gets us thinking, and that's going to lead to different thoughts for different folks.

    I'm watching the vegetarians go in one direction, the GF people somewhere a bit different. Me? Of course I'm thinking locavore and organic, because that's who and how I am -- not because those have anything to do with our working definition. What I am mostly seeing is a lot of people using this challenge to further refine their own working definitions of what it means to eat better, and I love watching that process play out.

    Great stuff - thanks!