“There are in fact hundreds of foodish products in the supermarket that your ancestors simply wouldn’t recognize as food…”
Michael Pollan, whom most of us know from his best-selling book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has a simple suggestion for his readers: “Eat food.” Not processed, chemically-altered food, he explains, but the kind of food that our ancestors could identify, that comes from a plant or an animal. In his book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, he questions how we define food. Should we assign that label to anything we eat, or should we apply the term more frugally, to that which nourishes and enriches our bodies?
If we glance at the labels of most foods we purchase, Pollan notes, we will see few familiar ingredients. Even staples like bread or yogurt boast ingredients like “tri-calcium phosphate” and “ethoxylated monoglycerides” (10, 12). Pollan suggests that these chemicals and various real food substitutes serve not only to prolong product shelf-life, but to encourage consumers to buy––and eat––more food. Nutrients are, ultimately, what fill us up and nourish us. In contrast, food that satiates “our inborn preferences for sweetness and fat and salt” (11) but denies us our nutrients will not fill us up… it will only satisfy a craving.
Rather than filling ourselves with harmful chemicals and other ingredients that might “confound the senses” (11), Pollan suggests we buy and eat natural, unadulterated food products.
I’ve heard people make similar arguments––questioning the authenticity of the food we eat, bandying about words like “natural,” “organic,” “locally grown,” and “pure”––and typically, they convince me. These writers and chefs construct a hierarchy of food: at the pinnacle of this hierarchy rest the foods grown or raised locally, in humane and/or environmentally friendly conditions, and free of preservatives and unfamiliar chemicals.
A few years ago, one such argument inspired me to alter my diet radically. I had recently read Bethenny Frankel’s books Naturally Thin and The Skinnygirl Dish, both of which emphasize maintaining healthy eating habits, cooking our own food, and eating natural (read: “real” and “nutritious”) foods. I felt different almost immediately: I had more energy, and within a week, my cravings adjusted. For example, when I craved something sweet, a sliced mango with raspberries tempted me far more than a sugary doughnut or candy.
You can find “real food” more easily than you might think. In his book, Pollan offers guidelines for finding and eating real food, including eating products “your great grandmother” would recognize and avoiding products with “unfamiliar” or “unpronounceable” ingredients, as well as shopping for food outside the supermarket.
In Tuscaloosa, consumers can usually find healthy food products in numerous locations: Publix, Fresh Market, and other local supermarkets have fresh, organic produce and proteins, but we can also visit the River Market or Druid City Garden Project farm stands, smaller grocers like Manna, Cravings or ALDI, or the Asian Market and other ethnic groceries.
I purchased ingredients from Publix and Fresh Market for the following recipe, which I adapted from Bethenny Frankel’s book, The Skinnygirl Dish.
My version of Bethenny’s Sweet Tomato Soup (serves 4):
Sweet Tomato Soup
Ingredients (with number of ingredients for each ingredient):
1 onion, chopped (1)
2 stalks of celery, chopped into ½ inch pieces (1)
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced (1)
3 carrots, chopped into ½ inch pieces (1)
1 bay leaf (1)
½ cup organic tomato paste (1)
1 lb fresh plum or Roma tomatoes––about 4 tomatoes, diced with juices (1)
4 cups organic vegetable broth (5-7, should list only water and vegetables)
½ tsp salt (1)
½ tsp black pepper (1)
½ tsp crushed red pepper––optional, makes it a little spicy (1)
2 tbsp organic wheat flour wheat, or oat flour for gluten-free option (1)
½ cup organic milk, or soy milk for lactose-free option (1)
2 tbsp raw sugar (1)
1 lemon, zest and juice (1)
1 tsp apple cider vinegar (1)
8 fresh basil leaves––4 for garnish (1)
1) In soup pot, heat olive oil on medium heat until it slides. Add onion and sauté until soft (about 5 minutes).
2) Add celery and garlic; sauté for 5 minutes. If garlic starts to brown, immediately move to step 3.
3) Add carrots, bay leaf, tomato paste, tomatoes, vegetable broth, salt, pepper, and red pepper. Tear up 4 basil leaves and add to the mixture.
4) Turn up heat to high and wait for soup to boil, then lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes.
5) Whisk together flour and milk in a small bowl. Add to the soup and let simmer for another 10 minutes.
6) Mix sugar, lemon zest and juice, and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves. Add to the soup and simmer for another 5 minutes.
7) Taste and season soup if needed, and remove the bay leaf.
8) Turn heat to low or off and purée using an immersion blender. If you have a Vitamix, you could pour the soup into the Vitamix to get it really smooth.
9) Pour into bowls and garnish with basil leaves. I recommend serving with mini grilled cheeses or parmesan crostini.
––By Lauren Cardon