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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