A few days ago, I was explaining my nutritarian diet to an acquaintance when he made a remark about the apparently dreadful sounding blandness of my diet. “You just eat plants? What?! You poor dear. That must be horrible, honey.” Boy did this get me frustrated! Putting aside the fact that I think the foods I eat taste divine, his comment got me thinking, what’s really sad here is our nation of over-processed eaters whom have become so far removed from the taste of real foods. The reality at the heart of his comment was that most people have now been conditioned to only enjoy the taste of heavily salted or overly sweetened processed foods.
While this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, Americans are obsessed with the flavors of packaged foods and we are now eating 31 percent more packaged food than fresh, and we consume more processed foods per person than the individuals of any other country. We certainly do love our TV dinners, chips, sweet and salty snacks and ready-to-eat meals. My theory is that if we have to tear open a bag, unwrap plastic or open a box, people will assume the food will be tasty.
I recently read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, which is a sobering account of how far off the deep end we’ve become as a nation of processed food loving peoples. I’m sure any reader will agree with me that a meal of fresh tropical mango and papaya salad with thinly-sliced raw greens and coconut-lime dressing is just not going to maintain its natural flavors (or even stay fresh), if it were shipped from California to Connecticut and then had to stay on the shelf in a grocery store for a few more days after that. While French fries might not be as prone to perish as a tropical mango and papaya salad, those little fritters just aren’t going to maintain their natural freshness or flavors of the original potato either. In reality, almost all of the foods we buy in packages contain artificial flavors produced by food scientists in white lab coats in factories in northern New Jersey. I learned this and infinitely more in Fast Food Nation, and besides being a huge walking and writing advertisement for the book, my point is that our bodies haven’t evolved to eat this artificial processed junk yet and until we do, we need to begin evaluating where our food comes from and what ingredients are added to them.
So, not only do I love the natural, unprocessed foods that I cook for myself, I know there won’t be any of the ingredients that go into producing the artificial flavorings of a Burger King strawberry milkshake, such as amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, anethol, butyric acid, hydroxyphrenyl-2-butanone, methyl benzoate, or other obscure most of us have never heard of. Mind you, there are no real strawberries added to processed strawberries flavorings like this one. As my dad likes to say, our taste buds are adaptable and it takes time to adjust to the subtler flavors of natural plant foods. Once going nutritarian for even just a few weeks, taste buds can change and fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds become more desirable. My mouth waters at the thought of a fresh kale salad with lemon-tahini dressing, a Portobello mushroom burger or chocolate cherry “ice cream” made from bananas and almond milk. I love the taste of the foods I eat, I love that I’m not consuming any ethyl methylphenylglyci-date (an actual chemical used as an ingredient in many artificial flavors), and most importantly, I love being healthy. So who’s with me on a quest to avoid processed foods for good? For all of you already healthy eaters, how do you feel when someone thinks your diet is absolutely tasteless and you know it can be knock-your-socks-off delicious? As our obesity epidemic and disease riddled society continues to flourish, we are going to have to say no to those processed packages and hello to the new age of unprocessed, nutrient-rich plant foods.