Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food by Megan Kimble
About the Book
Megan Kimble was a twenty-six-year-old student living in a small apartment, without even a garden plot to her name. But she knew that she cared about where her food came from, how it was made, and what it did to her body—so she decided to go an entire year without eating processed foods. Unprocessed is the narrative of Megan’s extraordinary year, in which she milled wheat, extracted salt from the sea, milked a goat, slaughtered a sheep, and more—all as a busy, broke city-dweller.
What makes a food processed? The answer to that question went far beyond cutting out snacks and sodas, and led to a fascinating journey through America’s food system, past and present. Megan learned how wheat became white, how fresh produce was globalized, and how animals were industrialized. But she also discovered that in daily life—conjuring meals while balancing a job, social life, and even dating—our edible futures are inextricably tied to gender and economy, politics and money, work and play.
Backed by extensive research and wide-ranging interviews, and including tips on how to ditch processed food and transition to a real-food lifestyle, Unprocessed offers provocative insights not only on the process of food but also the processes that shape our habits, communities, and day-to-day lives.
What factors in Megan’s decision to go unprocessed resonated with you? After reading the book, did you feel inspired to try to eat unprocessed or differently? What moments in Megan’s journey inspired you? What choices might you make differently?
What do you think would be the hardest thing about going unprocessed? Which food group seemed hardest for Megan to unprocess, and are there any foods you simply cannot imagine going without?
Megan writes about how consumer dollars affect the food system at large, through the “multiplier effect.” Imagine how dollars might reverberate in your own community. How might you change your own spending habits?
People often think that eating organic or unprocessed is more expensive than eating conventional or processed food. Are you convinced by Megan’s argument that fresh, unprocessed foods don’t necessarily have to cost more?
Unprocessed explores many ways in which our food system is flawed. If you could change one process in our food supply chains after reading this book, what would it be?
For ideas on unprocessed book club snacks, head over here.
Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food by Megan Kimble
Book Club snacks
Make a night of it!
Cheese and crackers.
Any artisan cheese will work—double points if it’s from a local cheese maker! Unprocessed crackers are trickier to find. I love ak-mak sesame crackers, which contain organically grown wheat, honey, cold pressed sesame oil, butter, sesame seeds, yeast, and salt. Instead of crackers, consider serving your cheese with apple or pear slices. You can also add other snacks to a cheese platter like: almonds, dates, figs.
Roasting vegetables caramelizes their sugars, so they become sweet and so full of flavor—much more interesting than your average raw veggie platter, but still basically finger food. Roast whatever you’ve got in your fridge—you can toss almost any vegetable in olive oil, salt, and pepper and it’ll be delicious after half an hour in the oven. Think: zucchini or carrot spears; eggplant rounds; cauliflower florets. You can also make baked sweet potato fries: cut sweet potatoes into thick, fry-sized slices, toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake for 45 minutes. Serve with mustard, hummus, or pesto.
I can eat pesto with a spoon, but it’s a nice dip to accompany those roasted veggies. You can make pesto out of any green thing. Pesto is a sauce usually made by mixing basil, garlic, pine nuts, and olive oil. But the word pesto means literally anything that’s been pounded. I like making pesto with hardy winter greens, like Swiss chard. Combine sautéed or blanched greens with a few cloves of garlic, salt and pepper, a generous pour of olive oil, a tablespoon or two of nuts, and pulse in food processor for a minute or two. Serve with toasted whole grain bread.
Remember, simple is best!
Buy fresh fruit, whatever is in season, and make a fruit salad.
If it’s summer, roast sweet corn on the cob and rub with chile powder and lime juice. Or serve sliced summertime tomatoes with basil, onions, and fresh mozzarella.
If it’s winter, think about what you can serve with hearty whole grain bread—local cheeses or locally made charcuterie; pickled produce or roasted root vegetables.
Whip up a batch of oatmeal coconut almond butter rounds—I often make these on any old Wednesday night, but with a little extra effort on presentation, they’re a great party snack. In your food processor, mix a cup of oats, half a cup each of shredded coconut, almond butter, honey, plus a spoonful of cacao powder. Pulse until the mass combines and becomes kind of gooey. You might need to add more almond butter or honey. Roll into bite sized pieces, and sprinkle with cacao powder.
Book club isn’t book club without wine. Seek out local wineries in your region or state. Check out the winery passport app in iTunes to find local wineries, or ask at local liquor stories if they carry local wines. If you can’t find a local wine that fits your taste or budget, buy a bottle made from organic grapes—they aren’t always certified organic, but the label should say.
If your book club is more of a beer drinking crew, you’re in luck—there are now micro breweries in every state of the union, according to the Brewers Association.
A review of A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography by Kayann Short for Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built + Natural Environments.
I always believed that I was lucky to be raised without weather. I grew up in the mountains above Los Angeles where it was either sunny and warm or sunny and cold and sometimes it rained. We played basketball outside on Thanksgiving and camped on the beach for Christmas; when it did rain, traffic accidents piled up on the freeways because no one remembered to slow down to accommodate the weather. I was, of course, living in the ignorant bliss of the urbanite. In A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography, Kayaan Short sets us firmly in a world where the whims of weather matter. Short co-owns and operates Stonebridge Farm, an organic, community-supported agriculture farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. A Bushel’s Worth is the memoir of this place—it is as much Short’s story as it is the story of a community, of a piece of land that’s been farmed continuously for more than a hundred years.
I have a complicated relationship with bread. Or rather, I have a totally simple one. I love bread but bread does not love me back. I love bread but bread leaves me wanting more, leaves me hungry, unfulfilled, needy. A freshly baked loaf of bread smells intoxicating and so I eat it like I’m intoxicated (in great quantities).
So—I don’t often make bread at home. Although I go through bouts of bread baking, usually, my bread comes pre-sliced and in a crinkly plastic package. When buying bread, I always look for products made from sprouted grains. A grain is, of course, a seed, so its sprout is an attempt to form a new plant; this attempt breaks down long starch molecules and growth inhibitors, making the graim—and thus, its vitamins and minerals—easier for your body to digest. Fermenting grains into sourdough has nearly the same effect, so whole grain sourdough breads are a good choice, although harder to find. [Read more…]
This article was published in the Sunday, June 22 Op-ed section of the Arizona Daily Star.
Lorien Tersey is a rare Tucsonan who tends chickens legally. She and her husband live on an acre plot tucked near North Country Club Road and East Glenn Street, so she can easily comply with the current zoning regulations that mandate all chicken coops be set back 50 feet from property lines.
Most people who tend chickens in Tucson don’t have this luxury of space. If your chicken coop is within 20 or 30 feet of your property line, it doesn’t matter how many chickens you have — they’re all illegal under Tucson’s current zoning code.
The city is trying to fix that. A proposed update to the urban agriculture zoning code would codify much of what is already happening in backyards and community gardens across the city.
“The zoning code related to agriculture is of a different era,” says Jim Mazzocco, the planning administrator for Tucson’s Planning and Development Services Department. An era when commercial agriculture reigned, when there would be no reason for residents to produce their own food.
“No one was thinking that there would be this integration of urban areas with agriculture as some part of them,” says Mazzocco.
At Mexico In Season, a Chipotle-style restaurant in South Tucson, when you order a burrito, your tortilla comes reinforced—before carne asada or frijoles negros, your large, stretchy tortilla is reinforced with a smaller, stiffer whole wheat tortilla. (You know, to maintain burrito integrity). At Taqueria Pico de Gallo, the corn tortillas are so thick and filling that two of them filled with nopales or carnitas are enough to send you leaning back after dinner, too full for dessert. At Boca Tacos on Speedway, your carne asada arrives cupped in tiny tortillas—small as a palm and cheap enough to order a handful without breaking $10.
In Tucson, the tortilla reigns supreme. And every tortilla is different—thick and moist; thin and dry; large and stretchy; stiff and flakey. It is one benefit of living 60 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border—the diversity of tortillas you encounter when eating out. While many local tortilla makers have managed to get their products stocked in local markets, it’s a whole different endeavor to find an unprocessed tortilla sold in the store. Tortillas are intended to be eaten fresh, moments after their making, which is why so many store-bought tortillas contain ingredients added to “maintain freshness.” As tortillas age, they also harden, which is partly why you’ll see so many vegetable gums added to tortillas stacked in a baggy–to keep them pliable and bendy by the time they make it home to you.
It is officially gazpacho season. It’s not yet gazpacho season when you get your first summer tomato, but it is when you get another six after that — tomatoes so ripe, so juicy, so sweetnow, that you have to capture their flavors immediately. For me, the capture of summer’s bounty comes in the form of gazpacho.
In Tucson, the season of gazpacho begins when it hits 100; when it hits 100, I stop checking the weather — it is just hot — and start making gazpacho. It wasn’t until my second summer in Tucson that I tried making this cold tomato soup sourced from the plains of southern Spain, where the summer heat rivals even Tucson’s.
I’d been hesitant about gapzacho. Cold tomato soup? No thanks, I’d rather have a salad. But good gazpacho is so much better than a salad. For one, it’s like a salad in a blender — no chopping required! (Or, at least, very little, and with minimal consequence, as the blender corrects any errors.) And, unlike a salad, gazpacho elevates its ingredients through combination. A juicy tomato combines with a crisp bell pepper; an onion integrates with olive oil. Keep in mind you don’t want to create a tomato smoothie — you want to pulse your blender until the ingredients are integrated but still chunky.
I stumbled across this lovely little tale in an article about french toast in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.
“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing that you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.
If there is a way to express how I see the world, it would be this one. I believe in breakfast.
I still can’t believe how much Swiss chard burst forth from the seeds I planted all those months ago. It is magic; it is amazing. But, after two months of continuous bounty, it is also very much a lot of Swiss chard.
I’d been experimenting all week with tostadas—which, in my mind, is anything baked on top of a tortilla. On Monday, I made tostadas de nopales from the prickly pear pads that had come in my CSA share—a delightful reminder of the desert’s natural bounty. Two corn tortillas (Ezikel Sprouted Corn); a swash of enchilada sauce (homemade); a scoop of black beans (organic, from a can); diced nopal pads, plus garlic, salt and pepper, and a hearty sprinkle of mozzarella. Thirty minutes in a hot oven and the tortilla became crispy, the perfect plate for the melty beans and gooey veggies.
Last week, I accepted an offer from William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, to publish my book, Unprocessed.
Here’s the announcement from Publishers Marketplace:
Founding editor of Edible Baja Arizona Megan Kimble’s UNPROCESSED: My Busy, Broke, City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Food, the story of her year-long journey of eating only whole, unprocessed foods, intertwined with a journalistic exploration of what “unprocessed” really means, why it matters, and how to afford it, to Trish Daly at William Morrow by Mackenzie Brady at Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency (World).
Yup. That happened.
Are you feeling a little shaken after learning what’s really in salad dressing? Did seeing what’s really in marinara sauce stir your pot? Yeah—me too. But never fear—dressings are sauces are easily replicated at home. In fact, they’re one of the best places to start eating unprocessed, simply because they’re so easy to make and such a huge improvement over what you can buy in the store, both in terms of taste and chemical-free quality.
I have a friend who says, “Food is just a way for the sauce.” Chips are just the way to the salsa, lettuce, a receptacle for dressing, and pasta, a means for marinara. While it might be true that good sauce often masks crummy food, it’s also true that great sauce can transform and unite good ingredients. My love for sauce—for dressings and condiments—is why I spend the extra $2 to buy artisan mustard at the Co-op; why I buy balsamic vinegar so well aged it becomes viscous and sticky.
Sauces and dressings are also swimming with surprise processes. High fructose corn syrup in mustard? You bet. Sugar in savory marinara sauce? Almost every time. Modified food starch in salad dressing? What do you think makes it so clingy?
Sugar is the number one processed culprit in sauces and dressings; you’ll often find it in sauces you wouldn’t think to be sweet (or want to be sweet), but it’s there nonetheless, hiding in wait to trick your tastebuds into delicious submission. Thickening agents, like guar or xanthan gum, follow quickly behind. In fact, almost all of the two dozen dressings and sauces I looked at—which ranged from ranch dressing to marinara sauce to mayo and mustard—contained some sort of gum.
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. When I go to bed at night, I know what I’m having for breakfast the next day (and I might be looking forward to it already). These days, my favorite breakfasts rotate between thick, Greek Yogurt-filled smoothies, almond butter on toast, and chia seed pudding. Five years ago, my favorite morning meals rotated between chocolate croissants, Kashi GoLean Crunch, and almond butter on toast (I like almond butter).
For me, breakfast is a good time to quell my sweet tooth with natural sugars, which is one reason I almost always start my day with fruit. Evidently, I am not the only one with a sweet tooth that roars in the morning. Breakfast foods are chocker block full of added sugars, from brown rice syrup to Sucralose, maltodextrin to high fructose corn syrup. This annoys me to no end, mostly because these sugary foods are wrapped in healthy seeming packaging. If I wanted to eat nothing but flour and sugar for breakfast, I’d just have a pancake, thanks.
When shopping for breakfast foods, the first thing to watch out for are added sugars. Buy unsweetened foods and add the sweetness in yourself—I slather my Greek yogurt in honey, but I know I’m consuming less sugar (and chemicals) than if I were eating honey-flavored Greek yogurt. Fiber and protein will help keep you full until lunch, both of which are found in fresh fruits and whole grains, but not in fruit-flavored foods and ultra-processed corn or wheat.
Yesterday, I was at the YMCA, struggling through my crunches on a floor mat, when I overhead the following conversation between a woman, still in her work clothes, and a man, who had just stepped off the treadmill. Having arrived to my floor mat midway through their conversation, I never learned how they were acquainted, although they’d clearly made it to the neurosis-sharing stage of any relationship.
“I didn’t even want the red vines,” she said. “I don’t like red vines.”
“Well,” he said, “Why’d you eat them?”
One of the hardest parts of unprocessed eating is unprocessed living—that is, eating unprocessed even when life throws you a processed curveball. Life is messy, unexpected, and complicated. When you leave the comforts of home—as most of us do all day, every day—you leave behind the processes you’ve undone in your kitchen and enter into a world that is most decidedly processed.
The food you find in life’s in-between places is often not the kind of food that make you go, “Oooo!” At gas stations or in vending machines; at work, in hotels and airports—the foods you find are not only not fresh, they’re usually packaged with enough preservatives to endure a long (or very long) wait on some shelf until you, hungry wayfarer, come to rescue them.
I remember when learned that wheat flour comes from a wheat berry—when I learned the source of floating flour was a hard kernel, hidden below a spiky petal of fiber. It was a moment of striking clarity—it almost had a sound, a satisfying zing, finally understanding how this becomes that. (Sometimes the simplest revelations can be the most enduring.) I first made flour because I wanted to feel, for myself, that transformative zing. I wanted to know if it was possible, on my own, to process descrete kernels into the soft dust that floated through my kitchen and settled on my eyebrows.
A stalk of wheat looked like a matted feather duster, like a skinny girl hanging upside down on a jungle gym. Nestled at scalp of this wild splay of hair are wheat berries, the seed of the stalk, the source of our food. Flour is simply that kernel, all ground up.
I’m feeling pretty heady on the heels my first garden harvest. Today, I weeded, turned soil, planted one tomato start, and then, with a deep breath, started snipping. When I arrived home with two whole bundles of rainbow chard, buoyed by my improbably bounty, I thought: This deserves documentation. In a reckless burst of chard-confidence, I thought about writing a blog, befitting my how-to series, titled: How to grow a garden.
Indeed, I typed those words. I hit return. And then, as I sat and stared a blank screen, I realized: I don’t know how to grow a garden. In fact, I realized, I’d be better off writing about how to not grow a garden.