The first aha moment I had about real food came about four years ago. I was babysitting for a 15-month old baby who had just started walking. He had also started putting bananas into his mouth like logs into a wood-chipper. I intuitively assumed that his little body knew it needed potassium to help with all of the exercise he was getting. When I told my Mom (who had alternated between the Atkins and Weight Watchers bandwagons for years without success) about it, her response was “oh no you shouldn’t let him eat too many bananas, they’re very fattening.” To me, the idea that a toddler following his own hunger cues would end up obese was ludicrous. The idea of telling any kid NOT to eat fruit was nanny blasphemy. The idea of planting the fear of being fat into a helpless baby’s self-esteem was diabolical. I realized that my Mom (and so many others) had stopped seeing the forest for the trees – or in this case, the food for the carbs.
After that, I started noticing other things too. Another woman I know (who, in the interest of honesty, has actually had tremendous weight loss success with nutritionism-based programs) wouldn’t use cooking oil, but would instead spray butter-flavoured petroleum from an aerosol can onto her pans because the label showed it had no calories. Again, my intuition kicked in and told me that something was amiss.
Then I discovered iTunes U and downloaded a phenomenal talk by renowned chef and food activist Alice Waters. She talked about nutritionism (though I’m not sure she used that word) and gave what was, for me, a paradigm-altering example. When we think only in terms of nutrients, of chemicals, it becomes possible to label Froot Loops as being a source of essential nutrients. But the very idea that a Froot Loop, the poster-cereal for industrial, processed, artificial food, could be in any way “essential” to our well-being is beyond laughable. And yet I knew people who thought exactly that.
Food became something I started to think about more regularly, but after 20-odd years of nutritionism brain-washing, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know where to start, what specifically to change or even where to get answers to those questions. Then we started planning for pregnancy and there in the parenting section was Nina Planck’s Real Food for Mother and Baby. My real food immersion began.
Next came Michael Pollan’s In Defence of Food. His eco-angled take on the food issues fit me to a tee. I started reading the ingredient lists on my food and ignoring the nutritionism labels. I started thinking about where I could easily switch from processed to home made from scratch. But most importantly, I started thinking about what I would be feeding the precious Little Man I was growing. His life began and so did my life as a real food eater.