Real Food, Part One: Knowing the Difference Between Real Food and Fake Food

Real food doesn’t have ingredients, real food is ingredients.- Jamie Oliver

Let’s play a game.  You play it every time you even consider putting something in your mouth.

It is called Real Food or Fake Food.  You might know it by the title Is This Edible?  We’ve done this before.


How did you do?  You don’t think about this game much.  In fact, it isn’t much of a game at all (despite how flippant westerners have become in the last few generations) because it is a matter of life and death.  Literally.  A body can only handle being wrong about this so many times before it is sick and then dead.  

We are all going to die.  I hear it all the time.  If you really don’t care when that happens or if it is at the end of a prolonged sickness, then continue playing with the most common strategy and you’ll live with the most common version of health and die the most common type of death.  According to the CDC, that means:

Heart disease: 614,348

Cancer: 591,699

Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 147,101

Accidents (unintentional injuries): 136,053

Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 133,103

Alzheimer’s disease: 93,541

Diabetes: 76,488

Some of us would rather skip the prolonged illness so we stack the deck in our favor by eating real food.

What does that mean??

Every time you put something in your mouth, you have weighed it against your definition of food.

What is your definition of food?

You don’t think much about it anymore.  It starts when you are young.  You try eating the dog food, an adult stops you.  You try eating rocks and they either bother you or an adult tries to remove them before you swallow.  You try a booger and an adult slaps your hand or a kid teases you.  Gross but true. You taste something you don’t like and your parents reintroduce it a dozen or so times until you develope a taste for it.   As long as you don’t get sick, the training is mostly cultural because many tastes can be developed.

So what guilds the adult you?  Again, it is mostly cultural.  You have tastes but they are trained, tricked and pressured.  This can be done for the better but in western culture, it is primarily to your detriment.  

So write down your definition of food.  Do it right now.  I’ll wait.

What qualifies something as worthy of being put in your mouth?

Think about this.  You don’t eat chalk, tubes of lip balm, boogers, rocks or dog food anymore because they don’t fit the definition you have developed.  Most people do eat unidentified animal products that have been killed just before their lives would have ended from illness.  How is that different from commercial dog food?  People who eat it can’t tell the difference but they are relying on what culture has made acceptable.  

What about produce intake?  Humans are designed to primarily consume produce.  We culturally fall short here, as well.  No matter what the package says, adding individual nutrients to garbage does not make it equivalent to whole foods.

The actual definition of food is any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth.  Something that nourishes, sustains, or supplies.

Well, that certainly isn’t the one used by people on the standard American diet.

The working definition seems to be anything that is cheap, cloyingly sweet/salty/greasy, average people eat and will fit in my mouth.  No need to know what it is.

Does your definition need to change?  

Once your definition of food is one that allows your body and mind to be nourished and as healthy as it can be, the fake food automatically comes off the table.  Then the label might as well say dog food because you don’t consider it fit for human consumption, no offense to the dogs out there.

People always ask me what rule they should follow.  Should you not eat anything with more than 5 ingredients?  Should you only eat things your grandmother would recognize?  First, there are lots of dishes made of real food that have several ingredients and probably of couple of things with labels.  Second, I have no idea what your grandmother ate.  She could have been from the old country and only had potatoes and beets for most of her life so there is that.  It is a quaint idea though.  She probably knew if something had been grown or not.

This is how I define food:

Real food is what your body can recognize as food and use for nourishment.

Real food is an obvious whole or part of a whole without the interference of reductionist science.   It is replicable by human beings without the help of labs, sterile environments or advanced education.

Real food is grown.

For me, real food is plant based.

But it is simpler than that.  

Ask yourself:

Can I identify this or everything in it?

Can this be  replicated in a home kitchen?

If you can answer both with a resounding yes, then you are probably considering real food.

Once you have a working definition of what constitutes real food you are on your way to reprogramming the brain in your head.  

The next step is the reprogramming of the brain in your gut.

If you read at all these days you are aware that you are made up of more microbial cells than human cells and that your gut biome determines more about your health than we had ever dreamt twenty years ago.  We are still learning about all this amazing microbial community does to keep us alive and functioning but we know that when you mess with it, by say, eating junk, ingesting pesticides or taking other antibiotics, you mess with how well your body functions.

What does this have to do with learning to eat real food?


If you have been eating fake food, you likely don’t crave real food anymore.  You can correct this.  Your body craves what you have been feeding it.  If you eat fake food, you crave fake food in large part due to the microbes populating your gut.  Every time you take a bite you are feeding your biome.  When you feed the microbes that can break down a fast food sandwich and white flour, they thrive and tell you to eat more.  When you feed the microbes that break down leafy greens and other fresh produce, they tell you to eat more of that.

I think of each bite as a vote.  It is a vote for the gut microbiome I want and, thereby, a vote for better health.

So, if you don’t feel like eating healthy and  you are crave garbage, know that it is temporary.   Put on your big kid panties and eat the real food anyway.  You’ll mature into it.

I used to live on the standard American diet.  I don’t any more and I’m happy.  I love real food and would no more eat the stuff from a traditional drive-thru than I would eat dog food.   And it isn’t that there is no temptation.  Some sugary stuff is still tough to turn down.  I give in occasionally.  The other day I ate a cupcake at a farmers’ market and everyone lost their mind.  No one had ever seen me eat something like that before.  (It happens, believe me.  I love chocolate.)  You’ll find your new normal, too.

The plan

Change your definition of food to reprogram your mind.

Change what you eat to reprogram your microbiome.


Next time, in Part Two, we will talk about the logistics of living in the US and eating outside popular culture.

Chew on this

The Local Vegan’s 30 health and wellness tips are great suggestions for a better life.

If you are interested in learning about the food system check out Food Tank the food think tank.


Love from the farm

Happy eating!  Katy


Any food that requires enhancing by the use of chemical substances should in no way be considered a food.-John H Tobe


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