This post is part of my series, “Kickin’ It Old Skool: Why and How We Are Old-Fashioned” or KIOS for short. If you’re new to the series, please read my disclaimer before continuing on. I’m keeping a table of contents to this series here so you can see what I’ve already written about and what more there is to come.
For the next several posts, I’m going to walk through specifically what food we eat, our thought processes for why we eat what we do, and how we obtain the food we eat. The following rules are what we use to generally guide the purchasing, preparing, and consuming of all the food we eat, particularly what we buy from the grocery store.
Michael Pollan’s often quoted saying from In Defense of Food has been very helpful to us.
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”
In that same book, he also offers seven additional rules for eating. We particularly try to follow these three:
1. Eat only food that your great-grandmother would recognize (Bread and butter? Yes. Twinkies and Cheetos? No.)
2. Don’t buy anything from the store with more than five ingredients or with ingredients you don’t understand or can’t pronounce.
3. Shop in the perimeter of the grocery store, rather than in the middle aisles. (This helps you to buy ingredients for real food, rather than processed, prepackaged food.)
Taking those four rules into account means that we try to do the following things:
1. We only eat real food, not, as Michael Pollan calls them, “food-like substances.” We attempt to only eat food that exists in nature and can be cooked at home. It’s impossible for me to make Cheetos at home so as much as I crave them and long for them every time I see a bag of them (seriously, I do, I’m wishing I was eating some right now), I haven’t eaten any in almost 3 years because well, they’re not real food. We do eat plain potato chips occasionally (there’s a bag in our cupboard right now) because we could make them if we really wanted to. We try to keep chips as a special treat though, not an every-day snack.
2. We try to eat sensible portions. My sensible portions as a nursing, pregnant mama are not the same as Nik’s sensible portions! 🙂 But we do try to eat just until we’re full, even stopping before we are too full (another of Pollan’s suggestions). We’ve been eating full-fat, non-diet food for four-plus years now and have lost, rather than gained, weight. Eating not too much food works. Plus, it saves money.
3. We try to load up our meals with vegetables and fruit and treat meat as an accent rather than the main idea of the meal. We also limit our meat consumption to dinner and very rarely eat meat for breakfast or lunch. Additionally, I always aim to have at least 3-4 meatless meals a week, so that we’re basically eating half our dinners with and half of our dinners without meat. (We’re better at doing this in the fall/winter/spring than we are in the summer. It’s just so easy to throw some veges and meat on the grill in the summer. I’m trying to come up with some good meatless summer meal options though!)
4. We avoid buying food at the grocery store with weird ingredients that we don’t understand or with long ingredient lists. That’s another reason why we only buy plain potato chips. Their ingredient list is potatoes, oil, and salt. Cheetos? There’s at least 24 ingredients in Cheetos, including MSG, artificial flavoring, and artificial coloring. Go here (the official Cheetos website) and then click on “See Nutrition Label” if you’re interested in reading the whole ingredient list. Even salt and pepper potato chips have weird ingredients (as in, they don’t just add pepper).
Of course, we’re not perfect in this regard. Last weekend, we went to Artscape and a company was giving out bags and bags of of hummus popped chips for free. I was hungry (when is a pregnant woman not hungry?) and so I took a few bags. And yes, we ate them. And yes, there were way more than 5 ingredients in those chips! I did read the ingredient label carefully and there were no egregiously bad ingredients (such as those I listed above for Cheetos). In fact, the chips were remarkably innocuous for being fake food, which is why I took them. I’ll never buy them but I did eat them for free!
We also still buy a couple things that blatantly break the 5-ingredient/no weird ingredients rule, namely tortillas and mayonnaise. They’re on my list of things to replace but it just hasn’t happened yet.
A few posts ago, I mentioned that I’d be writing about what I would do if I couldn’t buy anything locally. These food rules are a great place to start. You can follow all of them and still buy all of your food in any grocery store in America. If you just followed these rules, you would have a gone a long way down the road toward eating sustainably. I would be ecstatic if everyone I knew just took these few simple* steps. It’s where we started and what we continue to do today.
*By “simple”, I mean “easy to understand.” I know they’re not so easy to implement. Preparing real food takes time and planning. Eating real food takes adjusting taste buds, getting used to new food, forgetting old loves. This is hard for adults but particularly harder for kids, who are used to eating all that crazily-colored and delicious food. I still miss eating Cheetos and that’s part of why I’m determined that Ellie will never eat a single Cheeto, at least not one provided by me and not when I can help it. I don’t want her to imprint on any food except for real food. Cherries, yes. Cheetos, NO!
This is the article that the “Eat food…” quote originates from.
Here’s more funny food rules if you need a few more!