ColumnPaleo, Clean Eating, raw foods: is our industrial, processed food system forcing us to eliminate?
I can’t go a day without seeing the words “Paleo“, “raw,” “egg-free,” “gluten-free” or “clean eating” show up somewhere. Look at any magazine rack with a couple of food titles and these healthy eating regimes are practically all that pops out at you.
As I am interested in food, I could be on hyper alert to these things, but there’s no denying that health foods and specific diets like Paleo are at an all time high. The question is: why?
First off, let’s address the word “diet.” As defined by Merriam-Webster, it does in fact mean “habitual nourishment,” but thanks to the low-fat and all-grapefruit-all-the-time trends of the ’90s, nowadays it is more commonly used in reference to losing weight. We hear “diet” and we think “weight loss.”
But many of these eating habits aren’t two-week diets that are used to kick start weight loss; they’re lifestyles. They are long-term commitments to eating a certain repertoire of foods.
If you do any reading on people that stick to eating raw food, Paleo, or any other variety of elimination diets, it usually comes down to health reasons; people stick to these food regimes because they make them feel better. I myself am mostly gluten-free, not because I am celiac or gluten intolerant, but because I have found that my body does better when I don’t have gluten as a regular part of my diet. I am not alone. Some people don’t do well with soy, others don’t do well with eggs. The list goes on.
But let’s think about the things that people tend to cut out: dairy, gluten, eggs, meat, etc. At their core, these are not things that are inherently bad for you. Certainly some people have severe, sometimes debilitating allergies, to some of these products, but overall these are standard foods that have been a part of our diets for quite some time. Which begs the question: is it because we live in such a processed society that the things that are supposed to be good for us are not? Are food restrictions the result of the fact that we live in a world where real food isn’t real food anymore?
Not only is there something terribly wrong with the Standard American Diet overall, but individual food items that are supposed to be good for us are so over-processed that ultimately, we don’t know what to choose. Our grains, even the whole ones, have been hybridized to infinity and while you may buy your produce directly from the hands of the farmer, you have no idea the history of the seeds that were used in the first place. So instead of choosing, we’re forced to eliminate.
In fact, there is an entire diet devoted to eliminating and simplifying – it’s called Clean Eating – and the premises are admirable. It’s devoted to food as should food be, “clean” from all the extra additives that have become so commonplace in today’s society. But think about that for a second: has the food industry completely changed how eat, so much so that we need an entire diet to remind us to look at the ingredient list and make sure that it’s short? There are Clean Eating Challenges where you are prompted to eat simple and whole foods. Shouldn’t we just have been doing that in the first place?
Let me break it down for you: all of these diets aren’t diets, they’re just what we should be eating all of the time, and that is a lifestyle. A lifestyles of living well. But when we live in a world of industrialized food production, eating what we should be eating, real food, becomes more and more difficult. It’s not that we’re diet-obsessed, it is that once our bodies have had a taste of what they should have been consuming all along, there’s no turning back.
Making certain eating choices isn’t about restrictions. It is about a celebration of real food. The kind of food that fuels your body and keeps you healthy. So, whether that’s Paleo, raw, vegan, non-dairy, gluten-free, no nightshades, or some combination of all of the above we have to remember that ultimately it’s about feeling good and eating well, no matter how we get there.
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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.
Image: Steven Jackson