Hello, blog! A little over two years ago, I set myself a challenge: I’d go an entire year without eating a processed food. Over the course of that year, as I explored our food system and how we processed food from land, I milled wheat, extracted salt from the sea, tempered chocolate, ate produce fresh off a semi truck at the U.S.-Mexico border, milked a goat, and slaughtered a sheep—all while earning an income that falls well below the federal poverty line.
This blog is a place for that exploration to continue. It is a place for humor and adventure, for travel and domesticity, but above all, it is a place for beginners. On the cusp of my food year, I’d never baked a loaf of bread. Never brewed alcohol, made cheese, or tended a garden. I loved food, of course, and so I liked to cook. But if the philosophy of my kitchen is “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” then the ethos of my unprocessed project might be, “Let’s see what happens.”
Indeed, before I could start my project, I had to try to start my project. I tried to eat unprocessed for two weeks to see how it would go. So, on a Monday morning in October, I sliced strawberries and a banana into a yellow bowl. A cup of Greek yogurt, a douse of Mesquite honey and a handful of flax seed followed. I was sitting in front of my yellow bowl of fruit and yogurt, cup of coffee in hand, a book spread open on the table, before it occurred to me that my flax seed was blueberry flavored. Reaching back into the fridge, I saw that it was, actually, Golden Roasted Milled Flax Seed With Blueberries, or: milled roasted flax seed, blueberries, corn starch, maltodextrin, cane sugar, natural flavors, and soy lecithin.
I stared at my bowl of fruit and maltodextrin. Shit.
Starting is hard.
The night before, I’d done a perfunctory review of my kitchen cabinets. Had peered into my refrigerator and swiveled jars and canisters around to read their labels. This was an unprocessed trial run, so rather than excise, I’d simply quarantined all processed foods—all foods containing an ingredient I couldn’t theoretically make in my own kitchen. On the bottom shelf, Diet Coke nestled against low-fat cheese (sorry, modified food starch), which leaned on Vanilla-flavored yogurt. I filled a Trader Joe’s bag with a half-eaten bag of pretzels, a bar of chocolate (tragically) and a bag of white, twinkling sugar granules clasped shut with a clothespin. I thought I’d gotten it all. But blueberry-flavored flax seed! The spinach of breakfast confections! That, I did not see coming.
Starting is hard—whatever it is. Starting a new way of eating. A new way of buying. Starting new relationships. Starting a blog. (Hello!)
Starting is full of mistakes, of typos and missteps and awkward encounters. When I gave up processed foods, I stutter-started. I tried to eat unprocessed for two weeks and I learned that two weeks without chocolate is a very sad two weeks and, also, processed foods are everywhere. At work potlucks and schmoozy conferences. (Wherein I ate trail mix out of a Tupperware while everyone else ate catered sandwiches.) I started, messed up, learned, started again, stopped, started, and then, finally, after much ado, on January 15, 20011, I started my year unprocessed.
I remember when I first told my father I wanted to be a writer—like, really; like, I actually wanted to put my degree in Creative Writing to work.
“Okay,” he said. “What’s the first step? If you want to write for National Geographic, what do you do first?”
As it turned out, you write for a no-name travel blog. You get paid $25. Then you write for slightly better blog and you get paid $0. A slightly better one pays you $100 and then you slide back to $50. You try and fail (or you never hear back). Eating unprocessed was a little bit like that. You have to start somewhere small to get anywhere. (Still working on that National Geographic byline.)
Change starts on a Sunday, when you decide to shop differently. When you notice what’s in your blueberry flax seed. Which, incidentally, I ate, after a long stare down with my bowl of granola. Greek yogurt and strawberries are not cheap and I was hungry and alone in my apartment. I’d started, at least; started noticing. I’d start again at lunch.