Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chemical-Free Cooking: My Journey Towards "Clean" Foods

This is a long post - don't say I didn't warn you! :)

In the past few months I've started to feel really convicted/guilty/scared about the food that we eat. Don't get me wrong; on the whole, my husband and I are pretty healthy eaters. I make dinner nearly every night, I use whole grain pastas and flours, I regularly use flaxseed while baking, the only two beverages in our fridge are water and milk, etc., etc.

I grew up in a house where we didn't eat Cheerios because there was one chemical in it and we got excited about going to the health food store because there were carob cookies and sparkling fruit juice there. My mom was in a health-food co-op, and wheat germ was a staple in our fridge (we had to eat it over yogurt). At the time, I thought my mom was nuts (love ya!) but now I realize what she was trying to do for us: give us healthy bodies that were exposed to as little processed food as possible. (She is a lot more lenient about food now, which is also fine!)

Now that I am a mother, the wheels have been churning in my own head. I made a list the other day of everything in my house that has at least one "processed" ingredient in it. It had dozens of items on it. I'm not even talking about snack foods here. Sound crazy? Sound like we're unhealthy eaters? I dare you to go through every label in your house - of things you cook with on a regular basis. A sampling of the chemical/processed foods in our house:

onion soup mix
soy sauce
peanut butter
tomato soup
lite mayo
coffee creamer
bread crumbs

And the list goes on, and on, and on..........
So many of my pantry "basics" are chock-full of harmful/non-beneficial ingredients.
And let's not even get started on the snack and convenience foods...

I decided to do something about "the list." It freaks me out a little that no one really knows how much all this processed food is affecting us. Processed foods became big around World War II - but even then most people were still cooking from scratch - dinners were often chicken, potatoes, butter, carrots, etc. Fast forward to my parents' and my generation. Could this be why so many people are dying of cancer? Will people in my generation (most of whom never eat an unprocessed meal) start dying before age 40 because their bodies are so chemical-laden?

I promise you that I'm not a conspiracy theorist or alarmist or anything like that! haha! I've just been thinking about the reality of food in America right now. Because most of what Americans eat isn't really food. It's chemical combinations.

So.......I decided to start doing something about "the list". I made a goal for myself - that in 5 years (I'll be a nice old round number then), I want 95% of the food items in my kitchen to be "clean". What do I mean by that?

It means I'm not striving for all organic foods here - I have a teeny-tiny grocery budget to work with. It means that there are certain foods I'll never make myself, and I'm okay with that. (Mustard, anyone?). It also means there are certain foods I'll probably never be able to give up, healthy or not - like chocolate chips for me or Cheerios and Raisin Bran for my husband.

My goal is to take it slow and easy. I am going to try two new "recipes" a month that will replace something we currently eat with a "clean food" option. You've probably seen my yogurt post - I'll never buy pre-made yogurt again and I have no regrets. I recently started drinking organic milk (I've heard so much about the benefits to women of drinking hormone-free milk), and it took me about two weeks to get used to the taste, but now I can't imagine going back to my old, regular milk.

This month, my goal is onion soup mix and tortillas.

Along the way, I'll take plenty of pictures, I'll provide links to the recipes for those of you who are if you're interested, and I'll be completely honest about the results - if it tastes horrible, you better believe I'm going to let you know!

And, God willing, if I'm still alive in 5 years and still think blogging is fun (haha!), I'll do a big final tally then of my kitchen.

Every day it gets harder and harder to walk past the labels in my cupboards with the preservatives and coloring and all the other junk that takes up the ingredient list. I'm very, very excited to see where this journey takes me!


  1. Good for you for taking charge of your health and the health of your family. It is not an easy process but identifying the problem and setting a goal is a huge step forward! It's like how children learn to walk--baby steps, one at a time.

  2. great post! I'm totally lacking in this area so I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say and what you've learned. you should check out the eat clean diet by Tosca Reno - and her books too. would give you lots of good ideas for 'going clean'.

  3. Jessica, This is a fantastic post! My son was recently diagnosed with several food allergies and researching foods for him has shed a whole new light on the foods our entire family consumes. I am waiting on a copy of Food, Inc. to arrive and can not wait to read/watch it. I think it may open my eyes even more! I can wait to follow you along on this journey. It's great inspiration - Thanks!!

  4. Kathy, I just looked that book up - interesting! And I think you're more on target with the word "clean" as opposed to "whole" - I'm going to edit my post right now! Thanks! :)

  5. Great post Jess!, I'm right there with you. I've definitely become more aware of all the processed foods we eat and have looked to set some goals for our family. I think the goals you posted are fantastic and I think I'll start following those same guidelines. If you ever do a link up I'd definitely be on board.

  6. Love this post! My family and I "tried" to do the Daniel Fast this past January and this fast only allows whole/natural foods. This fast really opened my eyes to how many "unreal" ingredients are in EVERYTHING. I read your post about the yogurt and where I live stores sell StonyFields Organic yogurt and Gludens makes a 100% natural spicy brown mustard they are both really good. Good luck on your all natural journey, I'll be watching for your new recipes!


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