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Real Food is the BEST.

Tofu and Brown Rice. Not anymore!

Healthy eating has come a long way since I first started my journey in 1981. Then, the term health food conjured up images of bean sprouts, plain brown rice and bearded young men with glassy eyes and silly grins who wore homespun shirts and sandals. Fringe fanatics were gaining popularity claiming outlandish things such as, molasses and dried mulberries would cure everything from dandruff to polio.

See my blog Confessions of a Confetti Head – Hippie Dippy Hope for a belly laugh story of my days as a sticks and twigs eater.

Now, although there are some die-hard “sticks and twigs” devotees, healthy eaters generally take a more rational approach. When people come to my house for dinner, they are often surprised and may comment, “I thought you were into health foods. You call pot roast, and cheesecake health foods?” My reply is that it can be. The truth is that gourmet chefs have been cooking health food for decades. I call it “REAL FOOD.”

Food doesn’t need to be plain and raw in order to be healthy; it just has to be real. The problem with our food is that it is usually processed, laden with refined sugar, unhealthy transfats, artificial flavorings, texturizers, and colorings. Food like this might look good and even taste good, but it all smoke and mirrors.

Real food is as natural and unadulterated as possible. It contains no fake ingredients that try to mimic real ones. A die-hard Real Food cook uses only the freshest, organic vegetables, real butter and cream, fresh seafood and fish, hormone free meats, and organic grains. Their herbs and spices are fresh, or dried naturally, eggs come from free-range chickens, poultry is raised without hormones, genetic modifications, or antibiotics, soup stock is never from a can or hermetically sealed box.

I know that sticking to this 100 percent of the time is nearly impossible. However, with that goal, we can get closer than if we give up and stuff our faces with Whoo Hoo chocolate-covered chicken lip extruded chips (artificial chocolate flavor, partially hydrogenated chicken lip fat, red dye no. 6,523, butyl-para-chresol to preserve taste).

To a dedicated Real Food eater, margarine is a fate worse then death, boxed brownie mix, a crime worthy of imprisonment. Packaged sauce and gravy mixes are too horrible to think about, and canned, condensed soups are deserving of thumbscrews.

Natural, or as nearly natural as possible, ingredients can not only promote health, vitality, and long life, but make food taste better and look better. The finer the ingredients, the finer the finished dish. You won’t see an Iron Chef using a boxed cake mix or cooking with canned cream of mushroom soup.

Eating Real Food is not as easy as succumbing to the just-add-water-and-mix world, but the results make it a labor of love. Cooking can be an expression of creativity, beautiful and rewarding. Cooking creatively is best done with the finest ingredients possible.

Once you taste the difference between lemonade made from frozen concentrate or a box of powder and lemonade made from lemons—you know those strange yellow things that come sliced on  your fish in restaurants—you will wonder what ever made you think you were previously drinking lemonade. The same goes for orange juice. Frozen concentrate is slimy and bitter. Fresh squeezed orange juice is a Mariachi party in your mouth.

Eating healthy, Real Food is more expensive, as are most things of high quality. Silk is more expensive then polyester, diamonds cost more than rhinestones. It is the same with food. Real Food will treat you right, enriching your life with health and vitality. So, in the long run it can be less expensive because you might not need so much medication or medical treatment later.

The consensus of those who study such things in more earnest than I ever have is that the American diet of fast, quick, prepared “foods” laden with salt, the wrong kinds of fat, and refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, plus a plethora of questionable chemicals is responsible for the epidemic of clinical obesity in the country, plus playing a major role in many of our chronic health issues.

I had a friend once upon a time who was smart, clever, witty, and inventive. Unfortunately, she was also hugely obese and didn’t understand why. She claimed not to eat very much. I believed her until she took a temp job for a mutual friend of ours doing data entry. I also helped out and was there many days while she was working. It was amazing to watch her typing away, totally unaware of how many bags of chips, cookies, candy bars, and cans of soda she was consuming. Because she was focused on the data entry, she wasn’t registering just how much she was eating. And, she knew next to nothing about the difference between real food and junk.

If you aren’t armed with the right information, it’s easy to fall prey to the advertising, which shows a product looking perfectly delicious. The picture of apple pie on the frozen package would fool any unsuspecting customer. Get it home and cook it and it looks as much like the picture on the box as Mt. Shasta does to an ant hill.

The majority of “quick and easy” foods are full of dies, thickeners, thinners, stabilizers, artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, refined sugar, too much salt, and more. When the factory wizards are through, the resemblance to real food is that of a child’s finger painting to a Rembrandt masterpiece.

Fortunately, the kind of foods discriminating taste buds prefer are among the healthiest. Julia Child, well into her senior years and still healthy and strong, loaded on the butter and cream at every opportunity. She lived to be 92.

I’m not going to bore you with statistics and research data. You can Google that yourself and read until your eyes glaze over. I’d rather talk about common sense. The effects of eating “fake” food on our health is staring at us at every turn. Compare anyone who lives on mostly fake food to anyone else who lives mostly on Real Food and the difference is astounding, even in young people.

When I was in France, I stayed with friends who had a teenage daughter, Sophie. She was allowed only one soft drink a week. She ate, as most of the French do, astoundingly fresh, wonderful food. The difference between her and most of the American teens of her age I knew was that Sophie had a beautiful, clear complexion, shiny hair that didn’t need hair products. Her energy level was vibrant, not kinetic and nervous, and her mind was sharp and quick. Plus, she had never been sick a day in her life. I observed this in a lot of teens in France. I don’t know if it’s still that way, but that’s what I observed then. I know this isn’t a scientific study, it’s just my opinion, based on what I saw during my stays there.

I had two “aha” moments in my life that demonstrated the value of Real Food. The first one happened when I was watching a talk show (I forget which one). There were going to be two guests—Gary Null, a health evangelist, writer, and lecturer. No matter what your personal beliefs of Mr. Null’s larger than life opinion of himself, there is no denying that he has benefited from his own food philosophy. The other guest was an M.D. who was saying that eating right and exercising had no effect on health at all. He even said that exercise was dangerous to health. Okay. I have an open mind tinged with skepticism. I was willing to hear the man out.

Well, when Gary Null came onto the camera, he was a fit young man, full of energy and vitality. His mind was sharp and vibrant. He talked about the benefits of eating natural foods, and exercising in moderation. I thought, who could argue with that? Apparently the next guest. When Dr. Whatsits came out, he shuffled. His body was bent and stiff. He looked older than the age he said he was. His voice was graveled and his whole appearance screamed BAD HEALTH! Watching the two of them on camera, it was such a stark comparison that the M.D. lost any credence he had with the interviewer and with the call-in viewers.

Another “moment” was when I was in dire poor health. I had a condition that would have killed me if something hadn’t intervened to wake me up to my eating habits. I was in my early thirties and a sugar addict. I also ate boxed mixes, easy-frozen foods, processed meats, and other ugly food. Oddly, I gardened and grew some of my own veggies and I had high tastes for gourmet food but I has also recently settled down after a decade of partying, drinking, living on canned spaghetti and whatever sweets I could shove into my mouth. I had destroyed my already delicate health and was paying the price.

Through an odd set of circumstances, I was slapped in the face with the fact that my eating was killing me and I changed in an instant. I altered my attitude about food and cleaned up my act. I felt better, stronger, and more alert than I had in a many years.

That change brought as many questions as answers. All the health “hype” of the day was  telling people to cut out fat, sugar, white flour, red meat, and dairy.  “Wait a minute!” I screamed. That doesn’t sound right. People have been eating all those things for a bazillion years. Well, maybe not the white flour and refined sugar, but everything else. My grandmother, who was healthy her whole life (she died at 91) was the white flour and sugar queen. Did I mention Julia Child and her butter fetish?

I was NOT going to live on rabbit food. Extreme diets just didn’t feel right to me. they still don’t. As usual in my life, serendipity stepped in. I bought a cookbook of small town recipes. I’ve long since lost the book so I can’t cite the title or author. The author went around to towns across America and interviewed the best cook in town. They were mostly women in their 70s and 80s, still vibrant, healthy, strong, and with a sharp mind.

BUT WAIT! The recipes were for all the wrong foods—fried chicken, pie crusts made with lard, cakes, cookies, and other forbidden foods. There were big, hunkin’ roasts, mashed potatoes with cream and butter, cheesy goodies, candies, and more.

If this was wrong, how did these women escape the terrible doom that the health gurus were saying was our dismal fate if we didn’t live on brown rice, skinless chicken, and raw veggies?

Simple. The food they ate was REAL. These were women who grew up eating food without all the junk. Their chickens were hormone free. Their butter was without artificial coloring, flour was organic. There were no genetically modified foods. They didn’t eat colored, preservative-laden foods. They ate Real Food. To be fair, they also led a low-stress life and had an extended family and social life.

So I cleaned out my cupboards, discovered where I could buy meats and poultry that weren’t full of antibiotics, growth hormones, and other nasty stuff. I found a place that cured and smoked their own hams and bacon—the old fashioned way. I grew a bigger vegetable garden, ground my own flour, and even made my own ketchup. I bought raw milk right off the dairy farm (legal in Texas), and skimmed off the heavy cream for butter, sour cream, and cream cheese.

If I couldn’t make it myself, I found a reliable source. I bought eggs from an old man who ran a small, organic chicken farm. I would walk up to his gate and ring the bell. He may have been old, but he stood tall and straight as he ushered me into the back.

“I’ll take four dozen large.”
“Okee, little lady. Brown or white?”
“Doesn’t matter. Whatever you have.”
“Follow me.”

I would trail after him as he gathered the eggs then took them to the candling shed where I would watch with fascination as he candled the eggs. If you don’t know “candling” is, it means, he would hold each egg up to a bright light to see if it had a chicken inside or if it had any cracks in the shell.

Those were the best eggs I have ever tasted.

I learned how to keep bees for honey. Fascinating creatures. No, I was never stung. That’s a question I often receive when people find out that I kept bees. Although the man I bought supplies from was probably stung—a lot. He was a little confused most of the time and a bit strange.

At the small, family run dairy farm, I would bring my two-gallon glass jar at milking time. In the little room with the big stainless steel mixer (to mix the cream and milk together), I would put my jar on the little stool under a spigot, turn it on and fill my jar. On a shelf in the corner was an old cigar box for the payment. I think it was $1.00 a gallon.

Now, I’m not expecting anyone to go the extremes I did. Remember, I was trying to heal my body—and it worked. I’m just hoping that this story helps people discover the wonderful tastes and health benefits of Real Food.

There are wonderful ways to have it without huge time and labor. You don’t have to be a farmer to have a couple of pots of tomatoes growing. You can make shopping choices. Buying a hormone-free, free-range chicken is no more labor intensive than buying one pumped full of junk. If you have any yard, you can grow dwarf fruit trees with little or no labor, or choose to shop in places that offer organic produce.

In future blogs, I will offer you the benefit of my years of experience, triumphs, and failures to maybe add to your Real Food experience.

I welcome tips, stories, and questions, so leave a comment.