As part of our move to a healthier (and simpler) lifestyle, we are working on removing processed foods from our diet.
Being vegan means we consume and wear nothing that is or comes from any other animal, but being vegan does not necessarily mean we are healthy. There is plenty of vegan junk food and highly processed vegan food. Our goal is to eat and enjoy real food, minimally processed, with minimal ingredients. We like quick, delicious, healthy meals. However, we also eat a lot of highly processed foods such as vegan “fake” meats, Daiya “cheese”, vegan ice cream, and various vegan milk replacements (soy, rice, almond, coconut, etc.).
Processed food is delicious but it is filled with mysterious ingredients and that bothers us. We cringe at unpronounceable ingredients and vague terms like, “natural flavors”, “artificial sweeteners”, or “may contain one or more of the following…”). Mystery ingredients are sometimes a way of masking undesirable ingredients, such as chemically enhanced colors or genetically modified foodstuffs or other things a company would basically not want to admit to putting in your food. Rather than taking an approach of transparency, it appears food labeling takes an approach of, “If it does not specifically say something is not there, then you should probably assume it is”.
For example, if a label says anything other than “100% Organic” (such as “Certified Organic” or “USDA Organic“), then either the product itself or the constituent ingredients in the product are probably GMO-laden.
We generally avoid GMO food because we like that organic food has required special treatment and attention. As foodies, we want the best, most delicious, and most ethically chosen food available, GMO or otherwise.
Here is where we split, though. Michael is not opposed to GMO foods. Despite the paranoia driven by foodies with good intentions… the science, Michael says, has not shown any health risk, side effect, or reduction in quality compared to “natural” non-GMO foods. We use “natural” in quotes there because, truthfully, nearly all food is genetically modified. Since the dawn of agriculture, farmers have sought to modify the genes of crops by cross-pollinating, splicing, or otherwise creating hybrids or heirloom varieties to weed out the undesirable traits of the food they grow. If we ate the same corn as our great grandfathers’ great grandfathers’, we would find the taste nearly intolerable compared to the sweet, soft varieties carefully pushed forward until today.
Nicole believes there is a drastic difference between farmer’s genetically modifying food as grown on the farm compared to what happens in a lab. This is a point of contention between us so you should do your own homework or talk to us about your side (but don’t talk to Michael unless you have peer-reviewed literature from a credible source to back your claims).
The way we have approached our move to natural, whole foods is to stop replacing processed foods in the kitchen as we use them. As much as practical, we buy groceries from local farmer markets. This is surprisingly inexpensive and more fun than spending an hour zombie-walking through big-box stores. We enjoy seeing healthy, consciously driven people at the markets working their way from booth to booth of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables and artisan gifts. We often make a lunch date of it, too. There are always a few food vendors with vegan options!
We do not have strict rules for what constitutes “processed” food. After all, even raw, shelled walnuts are technically processed (they were de-shelled). We do the best we can while being practical in a fast-paced city, and we do make some intentional exceptions (for example, Michael enjoys locally crafted root beer, which is obviously highly processed and we eat peanut butter, also processed–even the natural kind).
For now, we are mainly focusing on staying away from canned food and boxed food (except cereal… cereal is manna from heaven, it doesn’t count as processed).
For the last couple years, this plan has worked wonders for our health and peace of mind. We recommend creating your own process for un-processing your diet.
Better food for a better body; a better body for a better mind!
Or, put another way: If you care more about the quality of your car or clothes than the quality of what you put inside your body every day… then you are probably doing health wrong.