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The Real Food Movement

Healthy eating has always been something I’ve strived for. I may have a sweet tooth, but for the majority of my eating, I’ve wanted to eat nutritious food.

To some extent, I’ve followed the culture when it comes to “healthy eating.” No fad diets for me, but for many years, I followed the various mainstream ideals of fat-free, low-fat, low-carb, heart-healthy or whatever else was the current trend. I paid attention to the nutrition facts on labels, but not so much to the actual ingredients.

So what changed?

Over the last few years, I started to learn more about food and about the way our body was designed for it, and the way it was designed to nourish us. The more I learned, the more I began seeking out ingredients I could pronounce, or better yet, eating whole foods, rather than packaged ones. I suddenly began to be skeptical of powdered packets of flavoring and meals-in-a-box (we still occasionally eat some of that, but I’m much more aware of the ingredients now).

Photo by ilovebutter

And then I learned that there was actually a movement of eaters that was promoting and enjoying this way of eating. Instead of following the cultural idea of “nutritionism,” and eating processed “food-like substances,” to use Michael Pollan’s terms, eaters were going back to the ways of previous generations for food preparations. The movement has a variety of appellations, but is most commonly referred to as Real Food.

Nina Planck is a pioneer in this food movement; in reading her books I picked up a few simple characteristics to a real food diet.

Real Food is:

  • old and traditional
  • whole, complete and intact
  • diverse (as opposed to processed American foods which can primarily be traced to four major crops: corn, rice, soy and wheat)

Eating traditionally also entails eating more locally and seasonally. More great information about the movement and what it entails can be found at the Real Food Challenge, a student-based campaign and network. Another coalition of eaters concerned about the quality of the food we eat is the Slow Food organization.

I could go on and on here about the enlightening things I’ve learned, but one of the biggest things that I’ve personally taken away from my own bit of research is that fat is not our mortal enemy, like the media, and often the government, makes it out to be. I’ve switched my whole family back to whole milk, after learning that among other things, the milkfat helps the body absorb the calcium. My views of pasturization have also changed, as I’ve begun to question the cultural norm. And I’ve learned the value of grass-fed animals and their effect on the animal products we consume.

I have a lot more to learn and implement for our family, but knowledge alone has changed the way I shop, prepare and consume my food. It’s amazing how much more nourishing food can be when we leave it alone and eat it as is, instead of processing the nutritional value right out of it, and then “fortifying” with nutrition.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

Many wonderful books and cookbooks have been written to encourage a real, traditional, nourishing diet. Some authors who have inspired me are Michael Pollan, Joan Gussow, Barbara Kingsolver, Sally Fallon, Alice Waters, and Nina Planck, whose book Real Food: What to Eat and Why is a great starting point for learning more. I also recommend the movies Food, Inc. and Fresh for great visual learning aids.

We are also lucky to have a slew of knowledgable researchers and cooks in the blogosphere, many of whom are contributors here on Simple Organic and on other Simple Living Media blogs.

Are you a follower of the Real Food movement? What/who has inspired you in your food journey? What would you like to learn more about?

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  1. Musings of a Housewife

    I discovered this “movement” about a year and a half ago, and I have embraced it wholeheartedly. I had some health problems that doctors couldn’t seem to diagnose which are all but gone now that I’ve changed our eating habits. I make most things from scratch, we drink whole raw milk, we buy from local farmers that raise their animals and produce sustainably and we feel so different now. It’s a shame that the cultural norms have strayed so far from what is natural and healthy. I hope we can take some of it back. Thanks for bringing attention to such an important topic. I also highly recommend Nina Planck’s book as a starting point.

  2. Amy

    We are slowly moving toward eating “real food.” I find myself more and more shopping the outer rim of a grocery store and buying less and less from the middle. We’re still drinking two percent milk, but once my son is weaned and I have to buy whole for him, I think we’ll all switch.
    Thanks for posting this – I’m looking forward to seeing what others have to say about it!

  3. annie

    We are indeed a Real Food family. Michael Pollan was the first one who got me thinking when I read The Botany of Desire 8 or 9 years ago. Then, after hearing people from the Weston A Price Foundation speak every year at the organic agriculture conferences here in Texas I began to think differently about fats.

    About 4 years ago I decided that I was going to let myself eat as much grass fed butter, lard, whole milk, etc. as I wanted for a year. If it turned out to be a bad idea and I gained a ton of weight, I’d just go back to eating low fat dairy, etc. However, if I saw no deleterious effects then great! I’ve always been a believer in feeding my body what it tells me it wants and so it was hard for me to feed it low fat all those years when my body wanted fat (mostly, I just did a bad job at eating low fat and figured I’d change my ways some day or die of a heart attack). So I started eating as much fat as I wanted and my weight didn’t change at all.

    At first especially I went overboard on the fat. Since I had always tried to limit the fat I used I didn’t always know what the appropriate upper limit for fat in any given dish actually was (we had some unpleasantly fatty soups and casseroles before I figured out how much butter to use for sauteing the vegetables).

    It’s been about 4 years and in our home we eat entirely whole foods. Everything from bread to pie crust is whole wheat, we use Rapadura, honey, and other whole sweeteners if needed, the chickens out back give us grass fed eggs, we eat lots of beans and vegetables (some of which we grow ourselves) and all our meat is grass fed from a farm a few hours away or hunted (or fished). I regularly use pastured lard I rendered myself from our meat supplier, olive oil, and pastured butter. We used to make our own yogurt but no longer have a local milk supplier. Within the next few years I think we’ll get our own ruminants. It will be nice to have grass fed milk, yogurt, and cheese as well.

  4. Elizabeth E.

    I love your blog and although I subscribe on Google Reader I don’t post many comments. But I just had to say something about this post. I love it!

    You are so absolutely right that it is much more important to look at what food is made of rather than what the food’s nutrition facts label says. In fact, the best foods for you don’t even have one of those labels on them because they are fresh fruits and vegetables!

    In the past 15 years I’ve given up refined sugars, converted to only organic dairy, reduced our meat consumption dramatically, learned how to make from scratch everything from marshmallows to pie crust to falafel in order to support healthy living. I think it’s important not only for our bodies but for our communities and our families to eat in a mindful way. Mindfulness in eating reduces obesity more than any fad diet ever could.

    I believe it’s also important to cook from wholesome ingredients at home in order to teach my children how to eat. My almost 3 year old knows what all the fruits and vegetables are is because he helps me when I’m cooking. My 6 year old requested spinach soup for her birthday dinner because she helps me cook it and by being part of the process makes the food taste better.

    Eating (and serving) healthy whole foods is an act of love. It makes me happy that my kids love spinach. It makes me even more happy that my mother is stating to learn (through me) what quinoa is and how to cook it! I started a food blog recently and my goal is to help people understand that good healthy cooking can be easy, fun, and delicious. And sometimes a little decadence is ok too.
    ( my blog is )

    • Nicole

      gotta have a little decadence, sometimes. 😉

  5. Mac an Rothaich

    ”It’s amazing how much more nourishing food can be when we leave it alone and eat it as is, instead of processing the nutritional value right out of it, and then “fortifying” with nutrition.” your quote

    After reading that I could clearly say ‘Oh I am part of this movement!’ I have been saying similarly for years; leave the food alone! I am looking forward to checking the resources you offered more in depth and thanks so much for the encouraging article! We have had so many people look at us like nuts for how we eat (lotsa good fats and don’t worry about calories and such) that it is nice to hear similar views to ours on the food subject from someone else out there!

  6. Megan

    I’m right there with you, sister! We are trying some new things in our diet this year (experimenting with grain-free and sugar-free), but we are definitely continuing our focus on whole, healthy, REAL food. It has been a bit of a revolution in our house. A very, very tasty revolution. 🙂

    • Nicole

      That’s the crazy thing– who knew eating “healthy” could be so delicious?!

  7. Stephanie @ Confessions of a Trophy Wife

    I was introduced to the Real Food Movement earlier this year and we have slowly incorporated a lot of Real Food into our diet while getting rid of processed foods. I was inspired by a lot of the same authors you mentioned as well as some great documentaries, one of which is Food Matters, which wasn’t previously mentioned in your post.

    It’s actually kind of mindblowing as you learn about Real Food because it basically takes everything you THINK you know and turns it on its ear!

  8. Irene

    I came across this blog recently and I love it. I’m not the type to chime in with comments. But, This was wonderful! I never knew I’ve been part of a movement and come from a long family line of them. LOL… ie’ “Real Foodies”.

    This is a great blog-post of modern insight with a new list of books to read. Thank you for sharing, and it’s easier than people think it is to do. I go by this method; if I can pronounce the ingredient then I can buy it. Haha’

  9. Steph (The Cheapskate Cook)

    Definitely a huge fan of the Real Food movement! After my mom discovered real food most of my high school diet consisted of organic produce, goat’s milk products (raised on our small farm by yours truly), fresh eggs (raised by my sister), and a collection of locally grown meats, including some we raised ourselves. I loved it – well, I could leave the milking of the goats at 5 AM to other people.
    Now I live in a metro area and have been feeding our little family mostly real food on a shoestring budget for several years. Still love it, and I’m looking forward to finding more local food sources this year in a new city.

    • Nicole

      What a great legacy your mom started for you! Milking goats at 5am does sound a bit rough though! 😉

  10. Jan J.

    I have been working hard over the past couple of years to improve my family’s diet – single mom with two daughters (adopted from China). Years ago I switched to skim milk because I drink a lot of milk and was worried about the constant reports of the evils of fat. When I went back to whole milk and even adding more butter into my diet I did not gain any weight. I do not believe fat is our enemy. I believe the processed and enriched and messed-with foods are our enemy. I get frustrated we cannot buy raw milk here (illegal) and that I do not have the budget to buy more organic foods and grass-fed meats. But I do the best I can by at least eating almost everything from scratch, using real foods. My children let a bag of oreos go stale recently as they said they tasted “fake” now that I fix all our sweets from scratch – with a lot of oats and whole wheat. I found out two years ago I had flaming diabetes – blood sugars around 500. I do not follow the ADA diet – I cut the processed foods and reduce grains of actually any kind but eat a small amount of whole wheat and my sugars have dropped to little more than 100 at worst. I am happy more and more we are hearing of these things in the media rather than the myth that low-fat/low calories is the way to go. Keep spreading the word of REAL food!

    • Nicole

      Hi Jan! I’m an adoptive mom, too. 🙂

      Hopefully the larget the movement grows, the easier it will be to come by Real Food!

  11. Kait Palmer

    I started looking into the “real food” movement as a way to help my hormone-related migraines. Since switching to organic dairy and grass fed meats, the intensity of my migraines has significantly decreased!

    I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, then I moved on to Omnivore’s Dilemma and after that I was sold. We eat about 75% organic, and what isn’t organic we still try to make “real food.” Our days of those Campbell’s dinner-in-a-box are gone!

    What’s hard is trying to convince people this isn’t some “hippie” movement or that organic is a “fad” and there’s no real difference. That it really does make an impact on the earth and your local economy to eat local, in season, real food.

  12. Danielle

    This movement is the first kind that actually makes sense to me, common sense. I have been a long time believer in making food from scratch, but now I pay more attention to what my ingredients are. No more processed, packaged food of any kind (if I can help it). I’m trying to buy as much locally as possible and eat seasonally. It’s way better for my family. I don’t need research to tell me the whole foods that you can pronounce are better than the stuff coming in a box with 30 ingredients on the label. I’m so excited to see this becoming more wide-spread. It’s high time.

  13. Courtney

    The move, Food, Inc., did it for me. It opened my eyes and changed many of my shopping and eating habits. Like you, I now search for items with the fewest ingredients, and ones I can pronounce. I avoid, for the most part, packets and pre-made boxes of food. I buy organic when I can, and I try to avoid products with lost of packaging. I’ve got more to learn, so maybe I’ll check out one of the books you mentioned. Thanks!

  14. Julie

    I love this movement; so logical it’s a wonder people are skeptical.

    I like the made-from-scratch approach (and we embrace it whole heartedly ’cause it just tastes better); I would love to cut costs, though. Organic, for the most part, is unreasonable with a large family, and food allergies further limit our choices, but I am constantly thinking of ways to pare down without cutting nutrition.

  15. Alicia

    We just watched Food, Inc. last week and really liked it, but I’ve been on the real food bandwagon as long as I can remember.

    Our family’s version is more vegetarian-based (and largely vegan) but it’s the same basic principles — we garden organically, we buy local, we get our eggs from a friend’s backyard chickens, we cook from scratch, we pay extra for sustainably grown food, and so on.

    If we only benefited health-wise from this, it would be well worth it. Add to that, that it benefits the environment, sustainable farming, the health of those who live or work where our food comes from, animals, farm workers and the world we all share, and it’s sort of the only decision I could make with a good conscience.

  16. Mel

    I recently read Eating for Beginners: An education in the pleasures of food from chefs, farmers and one picky kid by Melanie Rehak. It is written like a novel and gives a good look into where food comes from. I really enjoyed it.

    • Nicole

      Thanks for the book rec, I’ll put that on my to-read list!

  17. Caitlin

    I am newer to this movement but am right there with you! I am currently reading Real Food and feel so enlightened! It’s echoing everything I have been reading/learning/experiencing. Good for you!

  18. Renee

    What a great find! Your perspective is very similar to mine and I feel lucky when I find other blogs that are similar but different. I’ve been encouraging my own readers to look at Nina Planck’s book. I think it is just a fabulous and very readable introduction to food politics. I recommend Nourishing Traditions as a great cookbook for folks to follow up on what they’ve learned. I think of the adoption of Nina’s food perspectives and local living as a journey, one we’ve been on for a few years now. It’s a fascinating space to me as I learn from others about why they make the choices they do along the way – things like organic vs local, or raw vs organic vs local vs store bought milk. Throw in economics and access, and this journey isn’t straightforward. So that’s what I write about. This blog is an excellent resource, great photos and well written. thanks!

  19. Sofia's Ideas

    When we began making changes, I was not aware of any movements. We never paid attention to “diets” because it was never a concern for us. Our journey towards whole foods began with the autism diagnosis given to our two eldest children. We made a decision very early on that everything we would do would be non-invasive. And that led us to dietary intervention. What we learned (and continue to learn) through self education has completely changed our lives. I honestly dont know where any us would be (health wise) if we hadnt started this journey when we did. 🙂

  20. Danielle

    I’ve just been reading Nourishing Traditions, so I am trying to incorporate more “real” food into our family’s diet as well. I was already making most everything from scratch, but we’re taking it even further now with soaking, culturing, and sprouting. We already used coconut oil, but now we’re incorporating grass-fed butter and whole raw milk.

    I’m still trying to figure out how to make the budget balance, though. I don’t want to compromise on the important things, but I certainly can’t do all organic (plus organic produce is limited in my area). We were able to find a local raw milk farmer, and the milk is reasonably priced. Other local things, however (eggs and chickens, for instance) aren’t really cheaper than the free-range ones in the store–why is that?

    While we’re figuring it out, I’m trying to remember to slow down and take things one change at a time. It’s tempting to want to do it all at once, but my energy and time are limited with 4 small children. So for right now, we’re soaking our grains and flours, culturing raw milk kefir, and making yogurt/yogurt cheese. My next goal is culturing vegetables, then starting some sourdough, and (when I can afford it) getting a grain mill to grind my own sprouted flour. As with any of the changes I’ve made in our home, it’ helpful to take baby steps. When you’ve mastered one thing, it doesn’t seem so challenging to add something else.

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  22. Beth

    I’ve started leaning in the Real Food direction myself the past few years. We’re not off packaged foods entirely but I’m down to buying mostly condiments and Grapenuts for my husband.

    Even in Wisconsin it’s hard to get 100% pasture raised chickens and eggs. I buy directly from local farmers as much as I can but even so the chickens only have access to the pasture. And raw milk? Illegal. There are ways of going about it but since I live in the city I really don’t have the time and energy to put into obtaining it.

    Speaking of raw milk, we still haven’t made the transition into full fat dairy products. I don’t drink much milk but I buy 1% for my husband and kids. Both my husband and I are overweight and even though I *know* our milk and yogurt consumption isn’t the problem I’m having a hard time making that leap. When my husband was a child he was on the allergy diet for a long time (Seizures, long story) and around adolescence his parents moved to rural Wisconsin and started buying raw milk. He gained a ton of weight and has been overweight since. It’s likely there were other factors at play but the correlation is a barrier in terms of convincing him whole milk is healthier to drink. I also have to admit I worry a bit about our kids. They’re not overweight now but it’s probable they will inherit our weight problem. It’s complicated.

    And yes, I know we need to set a good example by dealing with our food issues. It’s just not that easy. I feel like I’m making progress but sometimes I don’t think my food problems will ever go away.

  23. hermes birkin 30

    Nice job. I love such food. We need health food.

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