This is the next in a series about reducing your reliance on supermarkets and industrial food. In case you missed the others, they are:
There was a time when our family was completely reliant on the supermarket. We had no idea where our food was coming from and we were powerless to take care of our own basic health needs or to do anything about rising food and fuel prices.
Today we eat in ways that are much healthier and more economical both for us and for the places and communities our food comes from. And if extreme weather were to cut off our family's access to town, we'd be able to go for many weeks (barring serious accidents) without needing the supermarket or the pharmacy.
A big reason for all of that (besides our efforts over the years to learn to grow lots of our own food and to use simple, natural remedies to take care of our health) is that we've learned to reject convenience foods and replace them with carefully selected and prepared whole foods, which is the topic of this post.
What would be helpful?
Before we go on: this post is in the nature of an overview, with some hints and tips thrown in. You may find this is enough to prompt ideas or jog you into action to take more steps on your own journey.
But if you find yourself wanting more detail, please comment at the bottom and tell me what would be helpful for you. In the coming months I'll be investing thought and time into creating more practical, step-by-step, "hand-holding" style resources and I'd love to hear what would be most helpful to you for where you're at right now.
With that said, let's get started...
Why buy whole foods?
Heavily processed foods, obviously, give you heaps of convenience. You get to eat them right out of the packet or with very minimal preparation. But convenience foods also cut you off from nature, from the sources of your food, and give you:
- less nutrition,
- more additives,
- more packaging,
- higher cost per meal,
- less empowerment (convenience foods are habit forming in two ways: 1, their ingredients interfere with your body’s innate intelligence about what is good for it, and 2, you come to rely on them as a quick fix ),
- gradually declining health and energy levels, and
- the nagging awareness that you’re buying from giant conglomerates that are squeezing the life out of farming communities, and the biodiversity out of ecosystems, around the Earth.
In the long run you're paying for that cheap convenience with your health and well-being, not to mention what industrially produced and processed foods do to our ecosystems and communities.
When you buy whole foods, you do have to prepare them yourself. There’s no getting around the fact that in order for you to eat nourishing food that doesn’t cost the Earth, some planning and organization is required on your part.
But that's really the only downside, and I've found that it's at least as much about planning and organizing as it is about spending more time in the kitchen.
And in my opinion, it’s worth it. When you do put in the effort to buy more whole foods and learn to use them, you’ll get:
- better nutrition (so much so that its impossible to state the difference in one small bullet point)
- gradual restoration of your body’s innate intelligence about what you need, vs what the food industry wants you to want
- a feeling of empowerment: as you learn to use whole foods you'll also be learning to be more in charge of your own eating habits, enjoyment, and health, and less reliant on anonymous giants who have no interest in your health
- a sense of satisfaction in knowing you’re taking better care of the Earth just by how you eat
- a sense of re-connection, perhaps even of home-coming, as you engage with your food closer to its source
- positive knock-on effects in other areas of your life as all these things begin to strengthen you in subtle ways
A whole food example
Here’s an example from my life of buying a whole food and using it in ways that help me feed my family well without spending my entire life in the kitchen.
I buy organic brown rice and cook 1 to 2 kg of it at a time.
Whole grains are more nutritious than processed ones, but they can be problematic to digest and get the full nutritional benefit from unless we know how to prepare them properly. So I have a preparation and cooking process for brown rice that involves a few steps and some forethought and planning.
The process requires my presence in the kitchen, but not a huge amount of hands-on time; I can be doing other things while the rice is doing its thing.
The result is cooked rice that’s highly digestible and nutritious, keeps well in the coldest part of the fridge, and can be used in different ways as a base or a side in a variety of meals.
I don't bother freezing it (in fact I'm not sure what freezing would do to its texture); in nearly 15 years of doing this I've never had my cooked rice go off before I could use it all up in my family of four.
A few other ideas
Legumes/pulses (such as dried beans or lentils) are relatively economical to buy.
(Unfortunately, pulses/legumes are among the crops routinely sprayed with glyphosate--Round Up--to desiccate them before harvest so it’s important to get them organic if you can manage it. The increased cost of organic pulses brings us closer to what real food really costs when farmers reject the industrial cheap food model and insist on something healthier. And on the upside, dried legumes do keep – so once you're comfortable using them you can consider buying organic in bulk for a better price. Best of all, if you live in parts of the world that grow them, buy your legumes directly from a farmer and cut out the industrial supply chain altogether.)
Like whole grains, it’s important to learn how to prepare legumes before cooking to increase their digestibility. Once you have the hang of it, legume preparation fits in with other kitchen routines and the pay-off in improved nutrition is well-worth it. Left-overs from bulk cook-ups of legumes can be refrigerated, frozen, and used in a myriad of ways in subsequent meals. Wisely prepared and combined with other whole foods, legumes can be a simple and nutritious whole-food staple in your kitchen.
There’s even a recipe for chocolate brownies that uses cooked dry beans in place of flour. Search the internet for “recipe for black bean brownies” and you’ll find a plethora of options. (I credit Katie at KitchenStewardship.com for first introducing me to this idea, and she’s an excellent resource for all things whole food, real food, and healthy eating.)
Cooking in bulk for frozen meals
When you go to the effort of cooking any meal that can be frozen, cook much larger amounts and freeze some for easy, home cooked “convenience meals” on other days.
Cooking veggies in bulk
When you cook any kind of veggie, Its almost always worth doing double or triple, or as much as you can fit in whatever cooking vessel you're using.
The excess can go into bubble and squeak, frittata, be reheated under the grill and served topped with grilled cheese, or be quickly reheated in a fry pan and served with fried eggs on top or scrambled eggs mixed in.
Having already-cooked veggies at hand makes it easier to increase your veggie consumption, something most of us could do with, and it's hard to go past the all-around nutrition of a pan of fried garden greens and homegrown eggs.
(It’s really ok, even beneficial, to cook and reheat your veggies, including greens. Read more here about cooked vs raw.)
Teaming up with a friend
Team up with a friend, cook in bulk, and swap portions. You and your kids will appreciate the variety, and you’ll get ideas to expand your own repertoire.
If you’re not already practiced at bypassing processed foods, here are some action steps for you to try...
- Sit down with a cup of tea, your notebook, and Google (or preferably Ecosia.org rather than Google).
- Choose just one type of whole food that appeals to you, to work with initially. If you need to, look up the basics for how to store and prepare that food. Scribble down 2 or 3 meals in which you could use that food as a main ingredient over the coming week, or whatever time frame makes sense for you.
- Put that food item on your shopping list. Then prepare it in a basic way and in sufficient quantity for the 2 or 3 meals you listed. (Don’t buy it in large bulk quantities yet, and don't cook any one meal in bulk for freezing until you're confident your family will eat it happily - The last thing you want is a freezer full of meals your family won't eat.)
- Pat yourself on the back. You’ve just prepared the foundation for several meals and taken a step away from reliance on convenience foods.
If you are already practiced at bypassing processed foods:
- Take stock of your meal planning as it relates to your supermarket habits: Are you already doing all you can to streamline your processes? Are you as efficient as you can be? Are there any areas where you could work smarter instead of harder? What about nutrition, are there areas where a little more attention to detail might yeild a boost in nutrition?
- Pick an area (just one!) where you know you can do better, and note down what action you want to take.
You're not trying to be super-human
Remember, no matter where you are on this journey, you're not trying to be super-woman or super-man. The objective is just to live a life that feels as right to you as can be.
In the context of your current circumstances, and with the goal being health for your family and for the ecosystems and farming communities that feed you, what could feel a little more “right” for you?
Was this helpful?
If you found yourself wanting more detail , please take a moment to comment here and tell me what would be helpful for you.
During the coming months I'll be investing thought and time into creating more practical, step-by-step, "hand-holding" style resources; I'd love to hear what would be useful for you.
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