Translator: Nika Kotnik
Reviewer: Denise RQ Thank you. What do you eat? No, what do you really eat? It’s a Wednesday night, by the time you get out of here,
it might be eight o’clock. You stop at the store on the way home
to see if they have kale. But, is it organic? Is it local?
Is it in season? Do you even like kale? (Laughter) I get it. It is overwhelming,
all of the choices we’re faced with today. All of the things we’re asked
to consider about our food. A little over two years ago,
I set myself a challenge: one year without processed food. The first questions you might ask are,
“Why would you do that?” and “What makes a food processed?” And I’ll get to those. But tonight, I want to focus
on that choice of a Wednesday night, when you’re wondering what to eat. I am a food writer, so on some level,
I’m paid to think about that choice – I’m the editor of Edible Baja Arizona, a local food magazine
based here in Tucson – but I also happen to believe
that these choices matter, that they impact the food system, and we have the power
to unprocess the foods we eat. So what makes a food processed? Of course, all foods are processed. Agriculture is a kind of process, so is
cooking, fermenting, dicing, preserving. All foods are processed
and often, they are better for it. But increasingly, they are not. Study after study has shown
that it less important what we’re eating than how we’re eating it. Think about the difference
between corn on the cob, versus corn chips
versus high fructose corn syrup. Same source, three very different foods
because of their level of processing. I spent a lot of time
wrangling over the particulars, over the many things that we find
on our ingredient labels these days. But for me, what is processed,
comes down to a quote from of all people,
Mr. Rogers, which says, “There is a difference between things
people make and things that are made.” There is a difference
between foods people make with hands, or could bake, and foods
that are made by machines. People can make corn into corn tortillas. People can’t really make
high fructose corn syrup without access to a laboratory
and an advanced chemistry degree. I spent a year thinking about
processed food, I wrote a book about it, but tonight I want to focus
on just three processes. The first is the process of how a food
gets from its source to your table. How vegetables get from the ground,
in Mexico for example, to a grocery store in Arizona. The second process is what happens to you
when you actually eat that food. How your body responds when you drink a glass of apple juice
versus eating an apple. The third process
is a little more complicated, it is the process of how the foods
we buy impact the communities we live in. Often this process revolves
around money; it is the economy of food. And it is this last one,
that of consumer spending that I find the most potential
for un-processing. How does a food get
from its source to your table? This is the Mariposa Port of Entry
in Nogales. It is the largest inland
port of entry in the U.S. In the winter, 70% of produce
on supermarket shelves comes from Mexico,
and most of it comes through here. I like to say that it is the Ellis island
for Mexican produce. A watermelon. How does a watermelon
get from the ground in Hermosillo to a Safeway in Tucson? It starts on a farm, a really big farm,
1,000 acres of watermelon. A migrating field crew goes in there
and harvests them within a day, they pack them up,
put them on a semi truck, 40,000 pounds of vegetables,
and send them north to the border. There’s a flurry of paperwork,
the border patrol, FDA, USDA, and finally, it arrives here
to a 35-degree warehouse in Nogales. There are about 100 of them there, and I spent a few days
wandering through these warehouses. And let me tell you,
the scale is staggering. At this particular warehouse,
during their high season, every single day, they might move
in and out 150,000 melons. I remember standing
in this warehouse full of mangoes, and it being inconceivable to me, how this mass of fruit
might ever just become one mango in one person’s kitchen. The system is vast. And its survival depends on pesticides,
refrigeration, and semi trucks. Compare that to this. This is what I eat. This is one week share
from the Tucson CSA, the community supported
agriculture program that I’m a member of. This produce comes from a farm
owned by a guy named Frank. Yes, we call him farmer Frank. Farmer Frank sends
his two employees out into the field, they harvest enough produce
for about 150 shares, wash it, put it on a truck,
and send it to Tucson. There’s not a lot of storage,
and there are no pesticides. According to a study by USDA,
almost 60% of conventionally grown produce is still contaminated with pesticides,
even after it has been washed. If that’s not processed, what is? You have these two watermelons,
one from Hermosillo, one from near Tucson. What makes one
more processed than the other? Well, the first difference
is how they are grown. Conventionally versus organically, on a monoculture
or on a diversified field. And the second is the process
of how that food gets to you. On average, 91 cents
of every dollar we spend on food goes to the middleman. It doesn’t go to the people
who grow our food. So, when you buy food that’s gone
through this vast system, you are supporting that 91 cents. On the other hand, when you buy food
from a CSA or a farmers market, you are helping to ensure
that people who grow your own food get more than 9 cents on every dollar. Let’s go to the second process. Once that food has gotten to you, what happens to your body
when you actually eat it? Sugar is a good example
of how the what of a particular food is less important than the how. A lot of people ask me,
“Is eating unprocessed hard?” And the answer to that question is sugar. Sugar is in everything. Before I go there,
I will say I love sugar. I have such a voracious sweet tooth,
that when I was a kid my mom instituted a rule
called “One sweet a day”, on which I was allowed one sweet everyday instead of all the sweets, all the days. But sugar is in everything,
apart from that. It is in, for example,
in the Blueberry-flavored flax seeds. The spinach of breakfast confections.
High in sugar. This particular brand of mustard
is evidently a mix of sugar, honey, and a little high fructose corn syrup
thrown in for good measure. Grape-Nuts, a seemingly
sensible solution to breakfast, has four different kinds of sugar
hidden on the ingredient label. And that’s what makes sugar so tricky. It comes in so many different forms
it’s really had to avoid. But what’s important to know,
is that for your body, sugar is sugar. All sugar molecules, no matter the type, are eventually digested
into glucose and fructose. What matters to your body instead
is quantity and speed. How much sugar you eat and how quickly it arrives
through your system. Think about the difference between eating an apple
and drinking a glass of apple juice. In the apple, you have to work
to get that sugar, you have to bite it, chew it, swallow it,
it’s all bound up in fiber and cellulose. so it trickles into your body slower. Apple juice, on the other hand,
is immediate. And that immediacy stresses your body out. But the problem with sugar is
that I’m not alone. We all really like it. It pulls our triggers in ways
that makes us want to eat more. And food companies know that,
that’s why it is in everything. Unfortunately, there has been
a lot of research in recent years that says sugar is simply not good for us. What do we do? What is the alternative? One alternative is to eat less sugar, the other alternative
is to eat fake sugar. Diet desserts. The way that food companies
make desserts diet is they process out the sugar and fat
and replace them with chemicals so that your body thinks
you’re still getting the good stuff. that you’re still getting your dessert. But anyone who’s ever been on a diet,
knows that simply doesn’t work. Eat one brownie made with Splenda
and you’ll want five more before you really feel full. Compare that to the sweets I ate
during my year unprocessed. Home-made chocolate made with raw honey. Cookies made with wholegrain flour,
and molasses, and butter. These sweets satisfy
my sweet craving, they filled me up, and because they were all bound up
in the foods with substance, that sugar trickled into my body slower. A lot of people ask when I tell them
about my year of eating unprocessed food, “How do you feel?
Do you feel differently?” And the easiest answer
to that question is simply, “I feel full.” For me, this is no small thing. I have dieted on and off my whole life: I’ve counted calories,
I’ve done weight watchers, really, I’ve been through the wringer. But unprocess is not a diet. When I eat unprocessed, I eat when I’m hungry,
and I stop eating when I’m full. During my year,
I didn’t gain weight or lose weight, but I ate a lot of delicious food. If there is one take away from sugar, it is that if you’re going to eat
something sweet, make it count. Savor it. Make it your one sweet a day. Don’t waste your sugar on mustard. (Laughter) Let’s move on to that last process. How do the foods we buy
impact the communities we live in? Let’s go back to tonight. Wednesday night,
you’re wondering what to eat. Most of us assume if we want
to have a healthy, sustainable meal, we need to spend more money,
and we need to spend more time. When I started my year un-processed,
I was a very busy graduate student, earning a graduate student salary
of about 18,000 dollars a year. I lived in this tiny little apartment without enough shade
to grow a basil plant. Throughout my year, I saved every grocery receipt
for every run in and run out purchase, and at the end of the year,
I sat down, and I tallied them up. The grand total, the amount I spent
to feed myself in my year unprocessed, was about 4,900 dollars. What that means is the amount
I spent to feed myself three, mostly organic, largely local,
totally unprocessed meals for a year, was about 4 dollars 50 cents a meal. I am aware that there are people
for whom 4$ 50c a meal is simply unaffordable. It is out of their reach. I’m really interested in that,
I dedicated the last chapter of my book to the endeavor of eating unprocessed on the amount of money
that food stamps recipients receive which is about 20 dollars a week. But the fact of the matter is most of us have a few dollars
that we could spend differently. This is the hide of a sheep that I spent two days
helping to slaughter, butcher, and process using nothing
but an 8-inch craftsman knife. Before I’ll go there, I will say
I was raised by two vegetarians. (Laughter) I’ve been a vegetarian
on and off my whole life, problem always being,
I actually kind of liked to eat meat. But I read what we have read:
how destructive industrial meat is to the environment, water,
our soils, how animals are treated. How can I eat meat
in a way that seemed responsible? I spent two days
in very close quarters with this sheep. And, here’s the surprise:
it didn’t turn me off meat. Instead, it made me so grateful,
that I could go to the farmers market and pay to a local rancher
who had gone to the same process with the same reverence respect
as I had and give me meat in return. I could pay money
for mindfully produced meat. Indeed, if there is one takeaway
from my year unprocessed, it is simply that the money
you spend matters. I’m not saying
we should all butcher our own meat, and grind our own grains,
or grow our own food. What I’m saying
is that when you do it yourself, you realize it is so worth the money
to pay someone in our community who’s doing it well. According to a study
by Local First Arizona, if everyone in a community
the size of Tucson shifted 10% of their spending
to a local business, together we would create 140 million dollars
and new revenue for the city. Spending money locally
has all sorts of multiplier effects. Spend 100 dollars at Tucson’s Food Co-op, and 73 dollars
of that will stay in Tucson. Spend 100 dollars at Safeway,
and only 43 dollars stays here. The importance of the money
that we’re keeping here is also that we are withholding it from the balance sheets
of those multinational corporations who are then, using it,
our money, to influence politics, to grow unsustainable food,
to waste energy. In short, to process and sell us foods
that aren’t good for us. But apart from all that, the reason for eating unprocessed
makes sense to me is that it is simpler. I don’t have to worry about
where my food is coming from because I know where is coming from. I don’t have to worry what is doing
to my body, because I feel good. I don’t have to worry about
where my money is going because I know who’s getting my money. It’s one rule, and then
I don’t have to think about it. I can do what I’ve always wanted to do
with food which is simply enjoy it. After all, the point of food
is not to stress us out, it is to bring us together. We have the power
to un-process our food system. Of course, we don’t do anything. You do things, and I do things. You go home to make dinner,
I go home to make dinner. It’s only when you and I decide
to make small changes in our own lives, that big change begins to happen. Join the CSA, read ingredients labels,
go to the farmers market, ask questions of the people and companies
that sell you your food. What do you eat? That’s up to you. But you have the power
to make it a little unprocessed. Thank you. (Applause)