Processed Food Addictions

by John Shields

If you’ve just tuned in here, welcome to our merry band of Processed Food Anonymous-ers. We’re a funny lot, trying to free ourselves from the yoke of the multi-national corporate processed food that is sapping the life out of our collective health and our local food economies.

As we have found, this processed world in which we live is totally inundated with products that have been overly refined and stripped of all semblance to real food—and we have admitted that we are powerless over this whole mess. In the tradition of some 12-step programs, we are embarking on the road out of this toxic world of food and non-conviviality. We have come to believe that there is some force or power that comes from bonding together that can bring us to food sanity, and consequently, we have turned over our food choices and diet to that force.

While rummaging through our frigidaires and pantries in a world chock-full of industrial processed food, it is sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees. What’s processed and what’s not? Is there good processed food…better…and just downright bad? This brings us to the 4th Step—Make a searching and fearless inventory of our diet and eating habits. Here the scary part begins. Up to now we have just been acknowledging the state of affairs but now it’s time to spring into action.

And before we get out our pots to make a stock, we first need to take stock. This step is all about really looking at what is going on in our lives around food. A good start is to get a pad and pencil and start going through the frig and pantry. Jot down all the products found on hand. Don’t cheat to make yourself feel better. This exercise is not something that we are doing to judge ourselves—are we good or bad —but to honestly see where we are in this world of processed foods.

We want to look at what kind of food we have on hand: fruits and vegetables—both frozen, canned and fresh—condiments, dairy, beverages, grains, legumes—both dried and canned—cereals, oils, dressings, snacks, sweeteners, sauces, meats, seafood, and breads. Then, go back and make notes next to each product denoting where it was purchased—national chain, small independent, farmers’ market, gift, homemade, home grown. Then, note the origin of the product—is it from a large corporate food maker or small independent (if applicable)? Is the food prepared or processed? Take note and highlight products containing too many ingredients that are unfamiliar to you.

After we make this list, we get a snapshot of how we are buying and eating. Are we buying a ton of high sodium, high/low fat, sugar and high fructose laden concoctions? Are we buying stripped wheat and grain products or whole-grain products?

Maybe, most importantly—Would our great grandmothers recognize this food?

Do the products contain any health claims? Are the bulk of our purchases coming from large chain stores or local independent markets and farmers’ markets?

We can’t break our addiction to industrial processed food until we truly see the scope of our purchasing and eating habits.

Now…after we have taken the fourth step, the action part of the program will kick in, and we’ll be able to share the deep dark secrets of our pantries—cheese doodles, Combos, Oreos, Snack Wells, boxes of Mac ‘n’ cheese and the like—with one another and formulate a plan to turn our eating lives around. It begins with the twelve-step adage of “one day at a time” and “Just for today, I will not eat or purchase any overly- processed food.” The more “one days” we put together, the more changes we can make in our diet and in our lives, and in the health of our community and the environment. Amazing, isn’t it? Just one day at a time, we can change the world.

Next month, we’ll analyze our lists and then take the 5th step of Processed Food Anonymous: Admit to our higher power and to another human being how our food purchasing and eating habits are affecting our families, our communities, and ourselves.

Please keep those emails coming letting me know how you are doing with the program and any suggestions you may have to help us on the way!

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