The name story, continued

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Today I worked from home, and while that sometimes means I get industrious and cook quite a bit, on some days it just means I’m pretty lazy. Today was one of those days. Outside of working, I didn’t want to do much else, so my meals were simple (but still “unprocessed!”). For breakfast, I had a Lara Bar and a banana, for lunch I had a peanut butter and banana sandwich, and for dinner I had leftover cous cous and roasted vegetables. To top the evening off, I popped some popcorn with butter and salt. All in all, a delicious and easy day of eating.

In much more interesting news for the day, the Eating Rules guy retweeted me today in response to my post from yesterday about how I didn’t like the name of this challenge. If you’re here because of that tweet, thanks for stopping by! If you’re someone I know in real life, I am going to insist that you call me “Mr. Grumpy” from now on.

The Eating Rules guy is actually named Andrew Wilder, and we had a good back and forth about the post on Twitter today, which was very cool of him. He saw my point, but he found the name sparked discussion, which was really the point. That makes sense to me, and he’s certainly generated quite a bit of discussion about it. That can only be a good thing, so I just want to reiterate that I’m totally on board with Unprocessed October, regardless of the name. Anything that gets folks (including me) eating better food deserves all the support we can throw its way.

If you didn’t click on that link about Andrew above, you should. He’s got a great story, and he’s got three food rules of his own (the basis for his entire site) that are excellent guidelines as well. I hope he won’t mind me reprinting them here:

  1. When you eat grains, eat only 100% whole grains.
  2. Don’t eat high fructose corn syrup.
  3. Don’t eat hydrogenated oils, trans fats, or anything that’s been deep-fried.

That’s a pretty good place to start from, no doubt. This diet has certainly pushed me in further in the direction of eating this way this month, so even only 11 days in, I’m calling this a success.

But I still don’t like the name.


This food is not unprocessed


Well, it’s been ten days, and we’ve done pretty well at avoiding processed foods. I have succumbed to sandwich bread and some white rice, and we’ve eaten some meals out, so I can’t be sure every single thing in them was unprocessed, but we’ve chosen as smartly as we can both in terms of where we eat and what we eat when we get there. It’s been an eye opening experience in a lot of ways so far, but I have to admit, I do have one major problem with this entire concept.

I don’t like the name.

Unprocessed is a vague word, and even worse, I don’t even think it describes the point of this exercise. Unless you’re eating fruit you picked off of a tree or raw vegetables, EVERYTHING is processed. If you chop something up, it’s technically processed. Cooking is a process, as is canning or freezing. Fermenting is definitely a process. Refining is a process. None of these processes means that the food is bad for you, and indeed, there are plenty of foods that fall into each of those categories that are accepted under the rules of this challenge. It’s a misnomer, and it’s really starting to bug me.

If we’re really getting to the point, this should be called “Only Food in Your Food October,” or “No Preservatives October,” or “Whole Foods October.” All of those titles are more accurate, but admittedly less catchy. I appreciate the need for a catchy name, but I also appreciate an accurate name, and Unprocessed October does not qualify. I think the real crux of this month is focused (for me, at least) around Michael Pollan’s overall food philosophy: Eat food, mostly plants, not too much. If you really follow that philosophy, diet really won’t be an issue for you.

Despite my grumpiness with the naming convention, this month has produced some nice results for me so far. I had a physical not long before I started this, and my blood work showed slightly elevated sugar levels and slightly high cholesterol. I can’t believe I’m having to think about this stuff already, but here it is. Anyway, my doctor wants me to lose 10 pounds and come back in six weeks. That was about 3 weeks ago, and I’ve already lost five of those pounds.I obviously won’t know about those numbers until I go back to the doctor, but I feel pretty good about it. Also, Celine says my snoring has stopped (NOT THAT I EVER SNORED TO BEGIN WITH).

Not going to list all of my meals, but breakfasts have been Lara Bars and/or fruit and/or steel cut oats. Other meal highlights have included roasted veggies with cous cous, peanut butter toast and popcorn with butter (because our oil in a spray can is processed – how is butter better?). I’ll continue to follow this diet because I like it, but I’ll continue to hate the name.

“Ribollita,” or “I had never heard of this stew”

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I worked from home today, which is nice because you don’t ever have to take off your pajamas. But it’s also not nice, for pretty much the same reason. To make matters worse, I usually work more when I work from home. I start as soon as I have coffee in my hand, and I end up continuing to work into the night. Not having the physical break of leaving one space for another makes it tough to mentally disengage. So today, I created that break with cooking.

This morning, I started by cooking a huge pot of steel cut oats, enough to last me the rest of the week. After that I ate my oats with honey, cinnamon and dried cranberries, along with some black coffee. At lunch, I ate a can of vegetarian chili out of a Trader Joe’s can, and it was actually really good after I added a ton of jalapeños in it. But my best meal was definitely dinner.

I used yet another 101 Cookbooks recipe, this time for Ribollita. Celine found this recipe, as it’s one I wouldn’t have read since I had never heard of ribollita before. It’s apparently a Tuscan stew, thickened with day old bread. Celine had some time this afternoon, so she prepped most of the ingredients. She then went off to a rehearsal, and I tackled cooking dinner.

Now, I am sure that cutting up all of the veggies was a pain, but otherwise, this was a fairly easy meal to make. It took a bit of cooking time (about an hour and a half all told), but it wasn’t terribly labor intensive once the chopping was done. And I’m not kidding when I say this soup is delicious. I tried to take a picture of it for you, but I am terrible at taking photos of food (any tips?). It’s thick and hearty, it has a tangy flavor from the greens and tomatoes, and the mashed beans give it a nice thickness. This is comfort food, plain and simple, and it was perfect for a rainy night in Oregon. It also made a big pot of stew, so this would be a good one to make on the weekend for lunches during the week.

As for unprocessed lessons today, I found out that dried cranberries have sugar added to them, and not all cans of white beans are created equal. I used two cans in this recipe, one was all natural and the other one was not. But we are learning, and it’s very revealing when you start reading labels. Good finds: the Trader Joe’s Woven Wheat Wafers (a Triscuit, basically) are completely unprocessed. TJ also sells par-baked bread that’s all natural. You just bring it home and stick it in the oven for five minutes and you’re done.

My last good find: Breaking Bad. Why did I wait so long? Oh yeah, because it wasn’t on Netflix until just recently. Just started the 2nd season and I’m definitely hooked.

Unprocessed in Seattle

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October Unprocessed has officially begun, and so far I’d say we’ve been fairly successful even with an unplanned trip to Seattle this weekend. Unplanned trips are not good for unprocessed eating, I can tell you that. But we made smart choices whenever we could.

I won’t bore you with all of my food choices this weekend, but they included a fabulous meal at Revel in Seattle, some pasta with a housemade sauce and beer at Elysian Fields, and of course, delicious coffee. I am sure that we ate some preservatives in there somewhere, but this challenge did cause us to make smarter choices even when eating out, so I’ll take it as a win.

Today, we did much better. I started with a Lara Bar for breakfast, and for lunch and dinner we had this Lemony Chickpea Stirfry. We made this on Friday (in September), and way back then, tofu was fine to eat. Turns out, it’s not fine when you’re eating unprocessed, so I picked out the tofu tonight. Is this cheating a little? I say no. Also, this meal would be totally delicious without the tofu anyway, so I’m not sure why it’s even in there.

Much like my friend Taylor, I’ve been surprised at the things that contain processed ingredients. The most surprising so far: water. We bought two different types of bottled water on this trip. Both contained ingredients other than water. On the way up, we purchased Smart Water, and that one is probably our fault because apparently, that is Smart Water’s “thing.” It has electrolytes and whatnot to make you run faster or something. So on the way home, I grabbed a bottle of Dasani, which is a Coke product, and it also has added crap.  Teaches me to trust Coke, eh?

We’ve got some recipes planned for the week, but I’ll wait to share those as they come. I’m enjoying this experiment though, because it’s making us evaluate the foods we buy and try to find alternatives when necessary. It turns out there are lots of unprocessed, ready to eat foods, you just have to be looking for them. Doing this for a month gives me hope that we’ll switch to these new natural brands for the long term, which make us less processed overall. For that alone, I feel like this month is worthwhile.

How’s everyone else doing?

Making plans

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If I’m going to have any chance at meeting this unprocessed challenge, I know I will have to plan ahead. In fact, I think that’s the biggest key to success here. I don’t think I’ll be especially tempted to eat processed foods, but if I don’t plan ahead, I’ll likely find myself in a situation where the choices are eat processed or go hungry. And Matt Thackston doesn’t go hungry.

That means intentional eating, which I predict will be the best thing to come out of this challenge. Simply thinking about everything you eat is a powerful motivator for changing your habits. With that in mind, I’m already mentally inventorying all of the recipes I love that are not processed. Here are some of the things I think I’m bound to eat in the next month:

Breakfast – This is a difficult one for me, to be honest. I commute an hour each way three days per week, and on those days, I’m often eating in the car. That means a granola bar more often than not, and guess what? Most of those are processed. That means either finding a non-processed alternative, or getting up a little earlier. When I’m working from home, I go with steel cut oats, and they are a great choice. I have no recipe for this (it’s basically oatmeal, just takes longer to cook), but the great thing about these is that you can make up a batch on Sunday and eat them all week. They taste the same left over as they do when you first make them. I usually add dried fruit of some sort and brown sugar. This morning, I subbed in honey instead, because I’m not sure if brown sugar is processed or not. I know honey isn’t, so I’m going with that.

Lunches/Dinners – Lunch and dinner run together for me, because we often cook enough so that I can take leftovers for lunch the next day. Luckily, this is where my vegetarian experiment comes in very handy, because there are tons of unprocessed vegetarian meals. Here are some of my recent (and not so recent) favorites:

Eh, that’s a pretty good start. I’m excited to see what the other folks that are doing this with me come up with as well! I hope to pick up some new ideas in addition to the old ones I already have floating around in my head.



Unprocessed October


If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I have a “food thing.” In the past few years, I’ve become keenly aware of how and what I eat, for a variety of reasons. I had a kidney stone, a problem largely influenced by diet, and I never want to have another one. I hit my 30s, and that makes you realize you can’t just eat anything you want anymore, especially when your family has a history of illnesses that are diet related. And we moved to Oregon, where eating well is much more a part of the culture than it is in Tennessee.

Since becoming more concerned with all of this, I’ve come a long way in changing the way I eat. I consume far less meat than I used to, and I eat more vegetables and whole grains. But I still backslide quite a bit, and most of the health benefits I received from my vegetarian experiment have been erased for the most part.

Enter Unprocessed October, a chance to focus on my diet once more and make intentional choices about what I eat. Essentially, the goal here is to not eat anything processed, meaning anything you couldn’t make yourself in your kitchen. It’s an interesting challenge, and one that poses some new hurdles (no white sugar? I’m not even sure how to do this), but I’m excited to take it on. To make this a bit easier and more fun, I’ve recruited a few friends from work and we’re going to tackle this together. Taylor is already blogging about it, and Kelley and Emily are joining the fun as well.

I’m going to do my best to chronicle the process here. I’ll probably avoid the full-on food diary (we’ve been there, right?), but I’ll certainly talk about what I’m eating and post some recipes, or links to recipes as the case may be. I’m also going to use this opportunity to get back to a mostly vegetarian/vegan diet, but obviously that’s not required for the challenge. It’s just the diet choice that made me feel the best, so I’m going to go back to it.

If you’re reading this and would like to give this a go, let me know! I think the more of us that are involved the more enjoyable the month will be.

Forks Over Knives, and food in general

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Things you should know about this post:

  1. I have had some whiskey to drink tonight
  2. I watched Forks Over Knives tonight, which is a pretty amazing documentary

So, if you’ve followed this blog at all, you probably remember when I tried to go vegan. My results were mixed. I eat far fewer meat products today than I did before that experiment, and I consider that a win. I don’t think that meat has to be a part of every meal anymore, and I consider that a win, too. But I still eat meat fairly regularly, and I still consume dairy products regularly (although I rarely drink milk – my main offenders are butter and cheese). So it’s made me a better person, but I still struggle with truly eliminating meat and dairy from my diet.

So when I watch a documentary like Forks Over Knives, I REALLY WANT to be a vegan. I understand the health benefits, and I believe the science behind them is accurate, at least in a “playing the odds” sort of way. Could I still die from a heart attack or cancer if I eat a vegan diet? Sure, but it’s far less likely, and that’s really indisputable. When the evidence is presented in forums such as these (documentaries, books, etc.), it’s easy to see why eating meat/dairy is a bad thing, and it’s easy to declare fealty to the vegan lifestyle.

But we all know this is harder than it sounds.

Why? There are many reasons that affect different people in different ways, but here are my main reasons:

  1. Meat tastes good – This is something that is pretty much ignored in these books and documentaries, but it’s just plain true. Yes, a McDonald’s hamburger is pretty gross, and anything that is a “nugget” is downright repulsive. But a medium rare steak from a choice piece of meat? Well cooked BBQ (preferably from the Carolinas, but I’ll settle for any well cooked BBQ as long as it’s pork [sorry, Texas, but that’s not BBQ])? A perfectly cooked pork chop? A masterfully made burger? Fried chicken from a Southern kitchen? These are truly delicious meals, and I am loathe to give them up entirely.
  2. Southern food culture requires meat – I didn’t come from rural China or an island nation in the Pacific. I came from North Carolina and a mother who is a truly exceptional Southern cook. I know a lot of people think their mothers are great cooks, but most of you are wrong. In most cases, your mothers were good cooks. My mom is a great one. Most of my fondest childhood memories revolve around her food, but it wasn’t until much later in life that I realized how bad for me they were. Even though my mom now understands the health benefits of eating less meat, she is still suspicious of things like “baby bok choy” and “not having gravy.” These things are hard to let go.
  3. Eating well is expensive – Sad, but true. Eating foods that are good for you is far more expensive than eating foods that are bad for you. There are many reasons for this, and a lot of them are poltical, and the whiskey is going to keep me from broaching those reasons. But a cheeseburger at McDonald’s costs less than a head of lettuce, and that is just crazy. Now, eating well likely saves you money in the long run when compared with the healthcare costs associated with poor eating habits, but that’s difficult to see in your paycheck twice per month.
  4. Eating well takes more effort – Frozen and canned foods are easy to prepare. Fresh foods require washing, chopping and longer cook times. Tonight, in order to eat “healthy,” I had a Caesar salad (I tore up Romaine lettuce with my hands, added Parmesan cheese, croutons and store bought Caesar dressing) and a bowl of popcorn. That was my best effort after working a full day and commuting for just over two hours total. You know what would have been easier? Thai takeout. Wendy’s. Pretty much anything on my way home, and most of it wouldn’t have cost me much more than that salad and popcorn.
So what’s the point here? The point is, I want to eat better. But I am fighting my tastes, my culture, my wallet and my time constraints to do it, and at least up until now, I have often given in to one of these (legitimate) excuses. Eating well in America is really hard to do, even for someone that has every advantage. I make enough money to eat well, I am childless, and I’m married to a wonderful woman with a fairly flexible schedule. Yes, I commute an hour each way right now, but I also work from home two days per week. I grew up in an unhealthy (but delicious) food culture, but I imagine most of America had a similar experience. In short, I have every advantage necessary to change my eating habits, yet I find it supremely difficult to do.

As I look around, I can see that I’m not alone in this struggle. Most of us know that being healthy is pretty simple. Eat a mostly whole foods, plant based diet and exercise a little. That is essentially every effective diet and exercise program on the market. And yet that simple advice is so incredibly difficult to follow. I wish there were more honest discussion in the mainstream about this struggle. There are plenty of folks that want to tell you what you should do, and there are also a lot of folks that want to tell you about how simple it is to make the changes they’ve made in order to be healthy. But simple and easy are not the same thing, and I wish there was more dialogue about the ongoing struggle required to make these changes. Personally, I know what I should do, and I know the benefits of doing it. I also know the costs of not doing it. But those facts don’t make the change easier, and everyone seems to ignore that.

I don’t know what my point here is, other than I am continuing to struggle with this. I highly recommend the documentary, and I solicit any words of wisdom you have about taking its advice.

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