GOOD

The GOOD Challenge: Give Up Processed Food for a Month

For our second GOOD Challenge, we're going to try giving up processed foods for a month. But what are "processed foods" anyway?

In January, my colleague Cord launched a year of GOOD Challenges with a pledge to give up soap and shampoo for a month. (He made it, and reported no ill-effects, although a weekend in Vegas toward the end of January definitely tested his resolve.) This month—which is the shortest of the year, thank goodness—it's my turn, and I'm giving up industrially processed food.


The idea behind the GOOD Challenges series is that each month in 2011, one or more of us at GOOD will tweak some aspect of our lives, to see whether these individual actions can create positive change—in our own well-being, in our communities, and in the world around us.

At first, I actually thought that giving up industrially produced food might be too easy. After all, I already cook from scratch most nights of the week and bring the leftovers to work for lunch, stock up at the farmers' market and Whole Foods, and—a blessing, this—don't have even have a nostalgic weakness for American candy, since I didn't grow up eating it.

But then I reached for a can of San Marzano tomatoes to make a quick pasta sauce for dried spaghetti last Tuesday. That morning, I had poured Organic Valley milk into my tea (made with Yorkshire Tea bags that I smuggle in from England), and enjoyed a Fage Greek yogurt with some defrosted berries. My lunch was the leftovers of a shrimp and sweet potato curry that I had made the night before—using Thai fish sauce and canned coconut milk. During the dreaded afternoon energy crash, I washed down a few squares of Green & Black's dark chocolate with an iced coffee (cold brewed at home using pre-ground beans). Did any or all of these items qualify as industrially processed? Had I failed on my first day out of the gate?

My tomatoes were an heirloom variety, with protected geographical status—but they were undoubtedly heat-treated using a pressure canner to destroy micro-organisms that cause spoilage. My milk was pasteurized and homogenized, the tea leaves had been withered, rolled, dried, cut, and blended to make my tea bags, and my Greek yogurt was made in a factory that can produce 8 million pots per week. Previously, I had no idea what went into fish sauce, but some quick Googling let me to conclude that the year-long anchovy fermentation required to make my bottleful of condiment had probably been hastened along through a process known as hydrolysis.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Everyone from Mark Bittman to Lance Armstrong advocates eliminating "processed foods" from your diet, and it sounds like common sense. On the other hand, given that "processed" really only means "altered from its natural state," does that mean that I accidentally signed up for a raw food diet?

Limiting the challenge to "industrially processed" foods at least means that I can cook. But it's still hard to figure out in practice what makes the grade. As an example, let's go back to my nonfat Greek yogurt: As I mentioned, it's produced in the tanks and vats of an 8 million pot-per-week factory and stored in a "robotic refrigerated warehouse"—but it only contains pasteurized skimmed milk and two live cultures. Does the sheer volume at which the yogurt is churned out make it industrially processed, even though its ingredients are perfectly natural? Or, in other words, does the problem with industrially processed foods lie in the scale or the additives—or both?

In an attempt to get some clarity, I went back to the original goal of these GOOD challenges: trying new things "in pursuit of better health, better communities, and a better world." On a personal level, the Greek yogurt contains no ingredients that are bad for my health and I am not convinced by the raw milk drinkers' arguments against pasteurization. But at the scale of my community and the environment, buying yogurt in plastic pots that have been shipped to me from upstate New York is probably not the best idea.

I've switched to making oatmeal for breakfast for the past week while I wrestle with these questions. I guess that having to do this much thinking about everything I eat is half the point of undertaking a challenge of this sort. Meanwhile, I'm curious to hear what you think: What do you consider to be an "industrially processed" food?

I'll check back in again later this month to let you know how it's going—and if you're brave enough to try this experiment yourself, let me know. I'd love to hear about your experience.

Articles

When former Pittsburgh Steelers' center Mike Webster committed suicide in 2002, his death began to raise awareness of the brain damage experienced by NFL football players. A 2017 study found that 99% of deceased NFL players had a degenerative brain disease known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Only one out of 111 former football players had no sign of CTE. It turns out, some of the risks of traumatic brain injury experienced by heavily padded adults playing at a professional level also exist for kids with developing brains playing at a recreational level. The dangers might not be as intense as what the adults go through, but it can have some major life-long consequences.

A new PSA put out by the Concussion Legacy Foundation raises awareness of the dangers of tackle football on developing brains, comparing it to smoking. "Tackle football is like smoking. The younger I start, the longer I am exposed to danger. You wouldn't let me smoke. When should I start tackling?" a child's voice can be heard saying in the PSA as a mother lights up a cigarette for her young son.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

On Tuesday morning, President Trump tweeted about some favorable economic numbers, claiming that annual household income is up, unemployment is low, and housing prices are high.

Now, just imagine how much better those numbers would be if the country wasn't mired in an economy-killing trade war with China, bleeding out trillion-dollar-a-year debts, and didn't suffer from chaotic leadership in the Oval Office?

At the end of tweet, came an odd sentence, "Impeach the Pres."

Keep Reading Show less
Politics

October is domestic violence awareness month and when most people think of domestic violence, they imagine mostly female victims. However, abuse of men happens as well – in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. But some are taking it upon themselves to change all that.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

At this point most reasonable people agree that climate change is a serious problem. And while a lot of good people are working on solutions, and we're all chipping in by using fewer plastic bags, it's also helpful to understand where the leading causes of the issue stem from. The list of 20 leading emitters of carbon dioxide by The Guardian newspaper does just that.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via International Labour Organization / Flickr and Michael Moore / Facebook

Before the release of "The Joker" there was a glut of stories in the media about the film's potential to incite violence.

The FBI issued a warning, saying the film may inspire violence from a group known as the Clowncels, a subgroup of the involuntarily celibate or Incel community.

Incels an online subculture who believe they are unable to attract a sexual partner. The American nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center describes them as "part of the online male supremacist ecosystem" that is included in its list of hate groups.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture