What is Real Food? What is Sustainable Living?

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Be sure to scroll down the page for our Ten Real Food Goals!

The author at three years old "helping" her daddy work on the tractor

Both my husband and I grew up in homes where meals were made from scratch and our parents were intentionally thrifty, frugal, and creative in their household management.  Both of us more or less emulated our parents as we came into our own as adults, and yet somehow, a few years into our marriage, we found ourselves feeling oppressed by our grocery budget, frustrated that we were tied to a grocery store to provide us with our daily sustenance, and woefully unprepared to take care of our growing family in case of emergency (as we quickly found out one weekend in winter when we had a young babe-in-arms and our city water was deemed undrinkable and concurrently the heat in our apartment building was shut off). These on-going conversations and the water-shut-off catalyst was enough to catapult us into rethinking our entire lifestyle.


What is Real Food?

I don't know when the jargon “Real Food” started making the rounds, but it has become a catchphrase for pretty much any food that is grown locally and purchased in season, whole and organic foods, foods for which the purchaser has a relationship with the grower, and for foods prepared in traditional methods. In other words, Real Food is “real” food as opposed to manufactured and industrialized food.

(Click here to read “Traditional Foods in a Nutshell.”)

I've always been rather naive when it came to ingredients in packaged foods – “Surely,” I thought, “they wouldn't use anything that wasn't actually an ingredient.” But as I learned more, I realized I was sorely mistaken. Artificial growth hormones, genetically modified organisms, high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated and hexane-expelled oils, potassium bromate and other chemical preservatives, monosodium glutamate, food dyes… these proliferate in our modern foods and lurk even in “natural” food products. It can be overwhelming to sort through the myriad dietary options we have, especially when life is busy.

Real Food cooking can be categorized two ways:

1. Plain, old-fashioned, from-scratch cooking using single ingredients (e.g. using recipes that call for “mushrooms” not “cream of mushroom soup”).

2. Using traditional preparation and preservation techniques that take good food and make it better, nutritionally speaking. These types of preparations create enzyme-rich, nutrient-dense foods that become “super-foods.”

Beyond cooking techniques, though, Real Food hearkens to a deeper purpose. In a day and age where the lettuce sitting on our shelves most likely traveled thousands of miles to get there, we have a picture of a food system gone terribly wrong. Food costs have sky-rocketed because of the high transportation costs, the money I spend to purchase my produce doesn't support either my local economy or the grower, food additives and genetically-modified ingredients are wreaking havoc on our bodies (extremely high rates of cancer, early menses, high rates of infertility, all-time high numbers of autistic children, and out-of-control food allergies, to name only a few), and because the food has to be picked before maturity due to the time in transport, the nutrient value suffers.

Real Food is thus tied very closely to sustainable agricultural practices. Nutrients in plants can only abound when there are nutrients in the soil to draw from and the soil has been well-aerated, either by roots from a previous crop, earthworms, or the freezing/thawing patterns in rich agricultural areas such as the American Midwest and the Canadian prairies. These conditions only come about when the land is intentionally- and well-cared for. In meat, eggs, and dairy products, the food products are optimally nourishing when the animals are raised on pasture and allowed access to the grasses, sileage, and grubs for which their various digestive systems were designed.

Real Food boils down to these things:

  • Real foods provide deeply nourishing meals for you and your family. Flavor and nutrients abound, while harmful additives, genetically-modified ingredients, and chemicals are (thankfully) absent.
  • Real Food ensures that you pay a fair price for your food and that the money you spend pays the grower properly for their labor and their quality product. This in turn enlivens your local economy and invests in continued sustainable agriculture.
  • Eating real foods deepens your appreciation for the natural world and deepens your enjoyment of food. When you enjoy food as it comes into season, you are able to enjoy the full, deep, sometimes explosive flavors each food naturally has. (Just think of the joy of eating a deep red tomato in July or a ripe, juicy peach in August and compare them to the colorless, rock-like versions we find in January.) Barbara Kingsolver revels in the joy of eating in season in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and if you haven't read it, grab a cup of tea and savor it from cover to cover.
  • Real Food means knowing where your food comes from. Buying sustainably produced food ensures that you receive food that is safe for your family and grown or raised in ways that are acceptable to you.

Nourishing Joy's 10 Real Food Goals:

Real Food Goal #1: Eat Single-Ingredient Foods
Real Food Goal #2: Eat More (Good) Fat
Real Food Goal #3: Know Your Sources and Buy Local
Real Food Goal #4: Rethink Your Sweeteners
Real Food Goal #5: Find a Few Super-Foods You Love
Real Food Goal #6: Kiss Processed Foods Goodbye (and develop a new love affair with their traditional counterparts)
Real Food Goal #7: Soak, Sour, or Sprout Your Grains
Real Food Goal #8: Eat Something Raw at Every Meal
Real Food Goal #9: Eat (At Least) One Cultured or Fermented Food Each Day
Real Food Goal #10: Develop a New Rhythm (or What to Do When Good Intentions Go Awry)

All of this ties directly into sustainable living, as eating real foods is the only way of sustainable feeding (and sustaining!) ourselves.

What is Sustainable Living?

“Sustainable living” often is used in reference to our societal eco-footprint, but in our family, we also use it to mean practices that can be sustained over time. What is financially sustainable? What are sustainable activities, such as gardening and fixing up our home, that will yield long-term benefits, especially if we take the time and the care to do them well? What activities can we do ourselves, such as composting or preserving food, that won't require us to depend on others (or a salary) to acquire the food we need? What are practices we can do for our home and our health that will prevent greater cost later?

Sustainable also means that we try to “work smarter, not harder.” For example, my husband is a certified Permaculture Design Consultant. Permaculture is a way of dealing with landscapes and gardening that emphasizes observing the land to see what grows and happens naturally and then mimicking those patterns with edible and soil-nourishing plants. It also focuses heavily on practices that create fertile soil quickly, attract water, and maintain a natural balance of soil nutrients. In terms of sustainability, we find these methods sustainable because once you take the time to observe the natural habitat of your yard or garden and build in structures that create a balanced, fertile landscape, it becomes more-or-less self-sustaining and our work decreases from year to year. This for us is sustainable (and very welcome!).

So, basically, sustainable living focuses on frugal, intentional, health-promoting lifestyle choices that are able to maintained over a long period of time. We hope that here at Nourishing Joy you will find ideas and inspiration for what will help your family find the sustainable practices that will work for you!

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