Friday, May 27, 2011

Fresh - Preserved - Processed

I was having a conversation with someone the other day and they asked me if cream was processed. After immediately saying no, I thought more about it and realized what little communication actually occurs when explaining  which foods embody the term “processed”. I sleep, dream, read, think and eat (no pun intended) food day in and day out, so I don’t have to actively think about whether or not a product is processed. Its common sense. But in making the assumption of knowing a term that embodies so much, I and others could possibly be alienating those we are trying to help. “It’s so obviously processed, you idiot.” Or so I imagine a person hearing a foodies response to a product. I feel like that all the time but about most normal pop culture references “*gasp* you don’t know who so and so is.” No, I don’t know who so and so is, because I don’t spend my time watching television and devouring celebrity magazines but that doesn’t make me stupid and it certainly doesn’t make them or me better than the other. It just means I put my attention elsewhere. And assuming that attitude of superiority is probably alienating many people from pursuing healthy choices. People shouldn’t be afraid to walk into a food coop, or ask questions about food or be afraid to start exercising. Conversely those who have this knowledge shouldn’t act superior to those who don’t.  If fact these are the people who should be most inviting and helpful, because the more people join the healthy food movement the healthier our food structure and environment will become.

Sharing the knowledge I learn as I go about my attempts to make better choices in life was why I started writing this blog in the first place. I am certainly no stranger to feeling stupid about food, or health and welfare. I have come across countless blogs where the writer lords over the reader the fact that they make better choices and you the readers are just peons. I think like any other choices in life, when someone becomes passionate about a choice they are a bit blinded to the rest of the world and this can cause a slight attitude of superiority. “HA! You don’t know what rBST is, what a fool!”

I apologize to you now for anyone who has made you feel stupid about a food choice. Some people just can’t help it, it’s all too easy to feel superior to someone who doesn’t have the same knowledge as you.  But that attitude is not nice and its certainly not helpful and it’s REALLY not helping spread the word about food choices and the impact at large. So I’m starting small today.

Food processing:  takes clean, harvested crops or butchered animal products and uses these to produce, attractive, marketable and often long shelf life food products.

Food preserving: treating and handling food to stop or slow down spoilage, and thus allow for longer storage.

In theory these two things should really be no different. In fact the definitions make food processing look more attractive. But the key difference here is the end products. While both processes start with real food, food processing often involve breaking down foods and extracting nutrients to then mix back in and create new food products. The end result of food processing is things like, pop tarts, frozen pizzas, cereal, energy bars and microwavable meals. Food processing takes a real food breaks it down and extends the shelf life to years. But the only reason this can be done is due to the extraction of nutrients that spoil easily and the addition of heavy preservatives. Hence the mile long list of ingredients on shelved food packages.

Food preserving is a little less invasive to the original fresh food and a little lighter on preservatives. There are hundreds of ways to preserve foods, the most common are canning, freezing, pickling,  fermenting and pasteurizing. These methods require less preservatives, though admittedly store bought canned and pickled foods can still be high in sodium and sometimes sugar. Frozen veggies are usually preservative free and they resemble the original food (always a plus). Lastly fermenting and pasteurizing are left mainly to dairy products, fermenting for yogurts and cheeses, whereas pasteurizing is used for milks and creams.

Original Food               Preserved Food                              Processed Food
Corn                         Frozen, canned or bulk pop corn     Corn Syrup, Corn Sugar Solids, Corn starch
Edemame                 Frozen, or canned soy beans           Tofu, soy lecatin
Raw Milk                  Creams, cheeses and milks             Casien and Whey
Pig                           Bacon, pork chops, pork roast          Meats on frozen pizzas
Wheat                     Whole wheat flours                           Cereals

The point I am trying to get across here is choosing what to eat isn’t always easy or clear. So don’t be afraid to try new things. Walking into a food coop and asking someone to explain the benefits of whole fresh honey may be terrifying to you but I bet the second they start talking they will light up and talk your ear off for days. People like to share knowledge and as long as you can get past the occasional rude person it becomes a lot easier and a lot more fun to shop at places that may have been previously intimidating. And remember there is no such thing as a stupid question.

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