This is the first installment of a new monthly column by Lisa Leake, a North Carolina wife and mother who is attempting to eliminate all processed foods from her family's diet. Here, Lisa will talk about her triumphs—and failures —as she tries to turn her grand experiment into a permanent lifestyle change.
I had a plan. If our family of four could go 100 solid days without eating any processed food or refined ingredients (and blog about it) then maybe we could help draw attention to how dependent Americans have become on packaged, factory-made food. Let’s take a look at some of the facts:
• “Diet related disease is the biggest killer in the United States right now here today.” —Jamie Oliver
• Coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer—four of the top ten chronic diseases that kill most of us—“can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food.” —Michael Pollan
• “Our children have the destiny of a shorter life span than their own parents…your child will live a life 10 years younger than you because of the landscape of food that we’ve built around them.” —Jamie Oliver
• “Americans enjoy the cheapest food supply in the world, spending the smallest share of their income on groceries of any country.” — Chicago Tribune Reporter
• “No other nation on the planet spends as much as we do on medical care.” —Robyn O’Brien
Almost more alarming than those stats were the reactions we got from friends and family when we told them about our plan to take a real food pledge: “What will you eat?” “Won’t you starve?” A large portion of our society relies so heavily on packaged and refined foods that they wouldn’t even know what—or how—to eat without them. And we saw this play out first-hand almost every time we attempted to eat away from home during our pledge. Why couldn’t we go to a neighbor’s house without lugging two bags full of “real food approved” items along with us? Why couldn’t we go on a trip without bringing an entire suitcase dedicated to food? As a result, we were quickly learning how difficult it was to seek out the real food in a truly processed food world. We were simply seeking out the fresh, whole, real foods that our ancestors survived on for centuries and somehow that made us the minority that very few understood.
Our family used to be quite average, really. Sure, I’ve always loved to cook, but before this grand plan of mine my cooking oftentimes included white flour, white bread, canned cream of mushroom soup, lots of sugar, and—ahem—even Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Then one day I got the wake-up call of my life. I saw Michael Pollan on Oprah, and they were talking about where your food comes from. I was intrigued because I quickly realized I had no idea where it came from! Prior to that moment I had never read an ingredient label, never stepped foot in a farmers market, and never bought anything organic (at least not on purpose). But thanks to Pollan’s book In Defense of Food, I finally understood the reason you should do all those things, and our positive changes in health that followed sealed the deal. There was no turning back now.
I didn’t want to stop at just overhauling my own family’s diet, though. I wanted to scream from the rooftops to all the other unsuspecting families out there, and I thought our real food pledge and blog could do just that. The idea was to define some real food rules—including no refined grains, no refined sweeteners, and nothing out of a package with more than five ingredients—and follow them no matter if we were at home, at a friend’s house, at a birthday party, dining at a restaurant, or even out of town. Then once our pledge was over we would shut the blog down and go back to our “normal” lives. But our experience ended up having a much bigger impact on me personally than I ever expected. We took our pledge to attract attention, but I was forever changed as a result.
So here I am more than two years later still going strong and—of course—still eating real food and doing my best to continue to spread the message to others. And I am thrilled to now be spreading the message here on TakePart as well. Here, I'll share everything from real food tips to kid-friendly recipes to our ups and downs as we continue to navigate a new path through this processed food world.