Did you know that eating real food isn't dependent on eating a set menu, based on particular "health" foods that you have to be able to find or afford?
(did I just hear a collective sigh of relief?)
I feel like I'm on the ultimate real food experiment right now, as our family travels for 54 weeks across every continent, and I have to make meal times happen no matter where we are, or whether I can only find 8 of the 27 items on my usual grocery list because nothing is familiar or accessible.
It's a (mostly) thrilling challenge for me, as I love cooking and sourcing out real, wholesome foods to put on the table.
There have also been days when the thrill of the hunt finds me crying in the dairy aisle because I can't find any yogurt without sugar in it (true story).
Can you still eat real food if you can't find all the right things?
If I can't find plain yogurt, raw milk, virgin coconut oil, alternative whole grains (we have grain sensitivities), free-range chicken and eggs, organic lettuce, fair trade cocoa powder, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, stevia, or sea salt, can we still eat well? Should I just throw my hands up in the air and go buy MSG-laden soup mixes, sugar cereals, and frozen chicken fingers, with a little McDonald's on the side?
I still believe that it's entirely possible for us to eat real food this year as we travel.
Here is a definition that Courtney used to define real food earlier this year:
Real food is wholesome and nourishing. It is simple, unprocessed, whole food. Real food is pure and unadulterated, sustained yet unchanged by man.
Based on her definition (which I would agree with), I believe that you can eat real food no matter where you live, without having to subscribe to any particular diet or style of eating.
You may or may not be familiar with Dr. Weston Price and his work, but he was a dentist who traveled in the 1930's and 40's to primitive people groups all around the world (the South Pacific islands, isolated mountain villages in Switzerland, the plains of Africa, the indigenous people in the Andes of South America, among many others). His primary goal was to learn why the dental health (and health in general) of the American people was rapidly degenerating, and he wanted to study and compare these isolated people's traditional eating habits and their excellent dental health and bone structures to see if he could find the answer.
One of the fascinating aspects of his studies were the vast differences in diet between the cultures he studied... one group ate primarily fish and oats, another raw milk, cheese, rye bread and small amounts of meat and greens, another subsisted on starchy tubers and roots, tropical fruits, coconut, and plenty of seafood, while yet another live solely on meat, milk and animal blood.
What's amazing about those differences is that they didn't affect the outcome. Each people group maintained robust health, strong teeth and bone structure, while consuming their own traditional and local foods that they happened to have available to them. The key was that they ate the most nutrient dense foods available to them locally, in an entirely unprocessed, unrefined, and whole manner.
But what if I can't find...
One question that gets asked a lot on this blog is "What if I can't get raw milk (or grass-fed beef, or organic produce, or gluten/grain-free alternatives or fill-in-the-blank) where I live?"
I say, who cares?
Thing is, you don't need to have this particular diet with a set cast of characters. I know that if you read up on the Weston Price site, or through Nourishing Traditions, or any other number of "nourishing" type food blogs, you'll see the same sorts of ingredients over and over again, and you begin to feel that if you can't get this or that item, then maybe you're not really eating real food.
I find that contrary to Dr. Price's findings, however.
What he found was that no matter where people were, or how limited of a diet they had, or whether they ate milk or meat or oats or pineapples or spinach, the key was that they ate whole foods, completely unprocessed, and that they used ALL of it (ie. they ate the animal organs, they didn't refine their grains, they ate all the cream with their milk, etc.).
Even more important was that they didn't eat the refined, modern, industrialized foods that were beginning to be introduced all over the world at that time, things like white sugar and white flour, canned fruits and vegetables, vegetable oils, etc.
This should be VERY good news to those of you who find yourself in that boat of not having access to this or that particular food.
Can't get raw milk? Eat the best cheeses and butter that you can, and supplement with lots of fish and homemade bone broth from chicken or beef bones. Can't find alternative grains like Einkorn wheat or Kamut or spelt so that you can avoid conventional wheat for your bread baking? Make heavier sourdough breads out of rye or barley instead, or simply consume less breads and focus on eating the whole grains that you can find-- brown rice, whole oats, quinoa, etc. These are just a couple examples, but it's really the principle that I'm getting at.
Here's to eating "real food" wherever you are.
As we've been traveling around different parts of Argentina and Uruguay these past 9 weeks, I've had to figure out how to buy real food when I can't get the things I'm used to buying back home.
There really isn't a market for organics here, nor are there for various types of eggs or any chicken, beef or dairy products (organic, free-range, etc.) other than the standard ones offered, not to mention that they just don't even have some of the foods we're used to eating. My goal, therefore, has simply been to buy foods that are:
- without man-made or industrial "foods"
With this in mind, these are some of the foods I’ve been buying at the store:
(I'll tell you upfront that it isn't perfect, because I'm also working with a wide range of different kitchens from itty bitty barely-stocked kitchenettes, to full kitchens with most of the cooking tools I need. Plus, we're on the road frequently, and sometimes need foods with a little bit more convenience than we might typically eat at home.)
- Oatmeal (they call them “Traditional Oats” and they seem like they’re probably whole oats, but I'm not 100% sure because they do cook faster than the ones I used back home)
- Amaranth or quinoa flour, whichever I can find (and sometimes I can find neither, so we go without flour)
- Corn starch and corn meal (I know, not my fave, but I have pretty much zero other options for anything flour or starch like, so I use these minimally)
- Raisins and dried apricots
- Walnuts, almonds, peanuts.
- Sunflower and flax seeds
- Finely shredded dried coconut
- Honey (just the regular, store bought, pasteurized kind)
- I once bought “unrefined organic sugar” which turned out to be more refined than the label said. More like somewhat refined organic sugar back home, but not like Rapadura.
- Stevia (I found one brand that was just stevia and water- it’s running out and now I can’t seem to find any more, which is very sad)
- Herbal teas (I can find a pretty decent variety- some of the nice ones are imported and thus more expensive, but they make a good treat so I keep a small stash on hand)
- Coffee (I found really nice fair trade coffee once and snatched up a bag. When that was done, I ended up with Starbucks because it was the most decent thing I could find)
- Heavy cream
- Whole milk (but it’s ultra-pasteurized and homogenized- I agonized at first over whether we should even have milk at all and I'll talk more about this in my next post)
- Cheese- They have a pretty wide variety of unprocessed cheeses here.
- Yogurt. 99% of the yogurt here is sweetened. I found one lone brand that makes individual servings of plain whole yogurt, so I buy that up whenever I can get it. We’ve also occasionally purchased sweetened whole Greek yogurt, and also a yummy brand of vanilla whole milk yogurt drink (they like to drink yogurt here) that my local friend told me was local from pastured cows and it was really thick and creamy.
- Butter (lots of it- this is my primary fat for cooking)
- Extra virgin olive oil (the only other decent fat I can find- I use this for some frying and for salads or dipping bread in)
- Balsamic vinegar (or once, apple cider vinegar, but it was the heated/filtered kind)
- Whole chickens (so that I can make broth after and because this is frequently the only form chicken comes in)
- Various cuts of beef- steak, ground beef, etc.
- Small amounts of canned tuna. We haven’t found much fresh seafood up until the place we just got to, but it’s expensive here.
- Produce. What's available is what's seasonal (which is great!). Since we arrived mid-summer we ate a lot of lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, parsley, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, leeks, carrots, etc. There has also been a good selection of fresh fruit, like apples, oranges, bananas, avocados (these are really nice here because they're local), grapes (local as well but tough to find ones that aren’t already going bad or covered in flies due to lack of refrigerated storage - ugh), plums, peaches, lemons, pineapples.
- Eggs (there are no options- simply one type of eggs, no matter which store I go to, so I just take what I can get)
- Small amounts of olive oil mayo (which I know has other things in it, but I don’t have kitchen tools to make my own)
- Plain corn flakes. They still have a small amount of sugar in them, but they’re not the sugar-coated kind. This is the least processed cereal I can find and we only eat it as an occasional thing, but my husband suggested it to help cut down on my cooking time. Some days because I was getting a bit overwhelmed by the amount of time that simple tasks were requiring of me. It's exhausting doing everything in an unfamiliar language and culture, without the tools that you're used to.
- Whole grain sandwich bread. I can sometimes find semi-decent Orowheat whole grain breads which are pretty hearty, which is funny because I would never buy it back home, but sometimes we just need bread. Otherwise, we stick to the fresh, white baguettes that most stores carry, made with white flour and simple ingredients, or much of the time we just don't eat bread.
- Olives- lots of yummy olives here.
- Sandwich meat. This has definitely been a compromise. It’s all ham (never turkey or chicken or roast beef), and we're not pork eaters, plus I’m sure it has nitrates in it, but sometimes I just need an option that works for quick/to-go lunches.
- Dry lentils, and a couple kinds of dried beans, which I use in soups.
I've got a follow-up post to this started, where I'll share a real 4-day menu plan with what we ate last week and also some thoughts on why I'm choosing certain things over others.
For those who are interested, I also wrote a very popular post last winter called What I Would Feed My Family on a Monthly Budget of $250 and then a follow-up post with more tips on stretching your grocery dollars. In that post, I used a regular grocery store and instead of sharing all of the specific food sources I use (this farm, that health food store, my co-op, etc.), I stuck with things that would be available to anyone to show how a family could eat wholesome, nourishing meals on a very frugal budget.
I'm not sure whether it comes through clear enough or often enough, but one of my primary goals at Keeper of the Home is to be an encouraging voice among the many voices out there...
It's so easy to feel overwhelmed or even discouraged and beaten down in your real food efforts because you think your budget is too small, or you don't have farms near you, or you can't shop at the health food store, or your husband isn't comfortable with raw milk, or whatever the reason. I hope and pray that posts like these will help those of you who are on the fringes and desperately wanting to eat better but worried that there are too many barriers to realize that ANYONE can eat real food. Anyone!
(So don't let anybody tell you otherwise, ok? I'm not saying there aren't foods that are a step above others, or that it's not absolutely worthwhile to seek out better food sources when possible, but just that whole food and the health that comes with it is accessible no matter who you are or where you are.)