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S6 E4 –Do we eat real food anymore?

So much of the food we eat today is processed, losing it’s natural benefits. This week we chat about how accustomed we’ve become to this style of eating and question whether or not we even eat real food anymore. Also, we discover that James has never tried a wotsit?!

Best soundbite: “Oh no…is bacon real food?! – James Currie

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25 Comments

  1. Luik

    It seems you noticed pretty fast into the conversation that you started bending your initial definition to include items that you consider to be healthy, have a long tradition or require some effort. I think this labeling of real/not real is a bit pointless, like James said, you just need balance. If you’re not an astronaut you probably don’t need to get most of your nutrients from something that can survive space flight with a lot of added sugar, but it’s such a waste of energy to flog yourself for enjoying the occasional snack. Based purely on the Jamie Oliver.. documentary? School kids in the UK seem to be eating an awful diet, a whole generation growing up thinking that vegetables are posh and chips are sensible is absolutely mental. It’s also pretty clearly a socio-economical issue. Freezing is an excellent way to preserve nutrients and frozen veggies are more affordable, but comparatively difficult to make tasty. So rather than promoting meaningless marketing terms like organic veg, I think it would be way more useful to offer some great simple recipes for delicious meals with frozen vegetables and/or fruit, dried herbs etc.

  2. Dimi

    Firstly Re: Jamie’s comment about marketing of foods in supermarkets and the types of things that are on promotions etc. (and I’ve mentioned this before) When you see a big buy one get one free, or half off promotion on any packaged products in store, it is usually due to the suppliers of that product offering major discounts and kickbacks to the stores to run the offers. In other words, it’s just more marketing from the manufacturers. Or it sometimes, but way less often, has to do with the warehouses already having a surplus of that stock they need to move.
    Fresh foods however work very differently, in the sense that they have a much shorter shelf life, and need to be grown/harvested, have seasons, can be weather effected ect. No matter how good industrial farming may be, it’s never as consistent and accurate as a warehouse manufacturing a product. Also, demand needs to be planned much further in advance (planting crops to grow oranges obviously a slower process than making a slab of coke cans) so prices are very much more set on a supply and demand basis then any other product in the store.
    As someone pointed out under my comment in a previous episode, marketing is starting to change with some “branded” fruit, which is good, in the sense it’s created marketing and awareness around fresh food. However it has also meant that prices are going up on these products.

    On the topic of “real” food, I think Ben’s definition of what you can make at home in the kitchen using whole ingredients is a very good one. And I don’t think it rules out ALL bacon, you can definitely make your own bacon at home, or buy some good quality bacon out there that doesn’t have a lot of crap added to it.
    I’ve worked in retail a while and my job for the last few years now has been as a fresh deli manager, most of what I sell within that is actually “real” food, but there are also a few exceptions in there.
    I am SO glad James and Jamie bought up the wealth divide, it’s something I experience first hand on a daily basis as part of my job and it’s not an easy one to solve.
    In the deli I am currently running we sell 9 varieties of “ham”. Prices start at $13/kg (£7.23) and go all the way to $32/kg (£17.80). And the difference in quality, and more importantly, the ingredients list, is huge. For a start the cheaper one is made from imported pork processed overseas, so you can only imagine what is added to it to get it to last the journey to Australia, to the warehouse to be packaged, to the supermarket, to your fridge. The more expensive one is made from Australian pork. Also, the cheap “ham” contains about 75% pork in it. The more expensive one 98%. (and I’m guessing a little on the numbers here because I’m not at work currently) But if you buy a slice of ham, you don’t expect 25% of it to NOT be meat. And yet, a lot of families will buy the cheaper one, because it’s what they can afford so they can send their kids off to school, or they can go to work, with a sandwich every day and think they are doing okay and not being overly unhealthy.
    And lets not get started on luncheon meat, which we call Devon here in Australia, and its ingredients list that says “Made with a minimum 50% meat” and no other explanation of what that meat is.

    I think transparency is getting better, and with knowledge comes power. We have had change to legislation over the past couple of years here which has meant that we have to list the kilojouls on every product, even loose deli food products, and we also have to list the country of origin of all foods. But also, we have to have the ingredients available to customers should they request it, even on loose food products in a deli section. (Shout out to any Aussies out there that didn’t know this, if you’re shopping at your local Woolies and you are curious you can ask to see the ingredients list on any loose product and we have to show it to you, and our new hand held computer software, when it’s working, means we can send that ingredients list and NIP to your email address).
    However I’m never going to be able to convince (not that i would ever try) a struggling family that it is worth their while, in the long run, to spend $32/kg on Ham when they can’t really afford it and can get something they believe is “similar” at half the price. As James said “it’s a luxury to be able to think long term”.

    In summation, I think I agree with Jamie, in the final point that people are beginning to realise the impact all this processed “food” is having on our bodies and health. And people are more aware of what’s going into their food which is leading a push back into people eating more “real” food.
    But I also 100% agree with the points made about privilege and money and how hard it is for low income families to actually achieve this.

    And as for ultra processed food I like to eat, I don’t think I eat a hell of a lot of ultra processed foods, and not that often when I do. But on occasion, I do love a cheesy corn chip. And these days you can get some really good ones that don’t have a hell of a lot of crap added into them, but I still have a soft spot for CC’s.

  3. theanita1

    “If you go to France there are baguette trees” – in my dreams, definitely in my dreams. The other day I travelled from Luxembourg to the UK to visit my sister and I did actually bring a baguette from my local boulangerie with me…

    Speaking of things that could be made in a kitchen, do you mean like what Claire does from Bon Appetite in trying to make processed foods from scratch – e.g. starbursts or doritos…? So by your definition, if I make poptarts from scratch, does it mean it’s real?

    • Dimi

      I love Claire’s Gourmet Made series! I think, her versions would be the “real” versions of what is generally highly processed food.
      If you made pop tarts from scratch, you would be making them very differently from the way they are made now in plants, and would likely be using very different ingredients, so yes, they would be “real”. Even if managed to get a hold of all the ingredients in a pop tart, I doubt you’d be able to recreate the manufacturing and processing of them in your home kitchen the same way they do at a plant.

    • Bebbrell

      Always travel with a trusty baguette! I think I mean what you can do from scratch ingredients with a normal set-up. As soon as you need to start extruding or pasteurising etc it moves on to a processed food in my eyes.

  4. Anita

    If we want to eat – under the label “real food” – what our ancestors ate, then we are screwed 😀 As James mentioned it, carrots are not what they used to be. Neither are most of the plants we grow or animals we breed. Processing started with the selection of the seeds of the bigger, nicer, tastier plant and breeding the animals that produce more meat, milk, grow faster, and so on. Then we came up with methods that made eating the food easier, safer, for longer. We started to process the food further before we put it into our bodies – where, fortunately, more processing takes place.
    “We”, as a community, family, village etc., did the processing, for ourselves, if something went wrong, “we” suffered the consequences, got feedback, and adjusted. I think this starts to become problematic when we get alienated from the food we eat, letting someone else, with no feeling of responsibility for our wellbeing, do the processing. And yes, their consequences, and without regulation, their only feedback is merely the degree of profitability.

    It would be great if food producers took a step back, evaluate the possible health consequences, and – as suggested by Jamie, I guess – asked themselves if the processing they do is good. Would they feed the result (taking the nice marketing away) to their kids and family? I know, it’s all about the profits, I’m just daydreaming.

    I try to steer clear from ultra-processed food and eat as real and as whole as possible (for health reasons, first of all), as much as my time and energy allow without making it a stressful endeavor. It is time-consuming but it makes me feel sooo good in my body and – what might be even more important – in my mind (yes, I’m a bit of a control freak). Most of the items I buy are not packaged, or if they are, they contain only 1 ingredient (the cashier at Walmart thought that I was buying all the produce in my cart for my pet bunnies, apparently my “real” foods are for rabbits 😀 ). I’m a big label reader, too. When I find a packaged product that I want to eat, I make sure that I read the ingredient list at least twice 😀 If the list is too long, I don’t bother. Put it back on the shelf. A long list is more likely to contain something I can’t have. Plus, if they need to add everything but the kitchen sink to it to make it taste okay, I might not want to try that. Aaaand I also have a go-to morning smoothie (that I proudly chew(!) in front of anyone if I have to 😛 ) for when I’m in a hurry or just don’t want to think about breakfast. It’s not the fruity smoothie people tend to enjoy but I love that it keeps me going for a long time, it’s all about its function, in this case. It’s made with beets, carrots, a huge amount of baby greens, cilantro, avocado, EVOO, soaked almonds and yes, the most processed of all, collagen powder 🙂

    • Bebbrell

      Chewy smoothies… yum! Ha. But I know what you mean… it’s balanced and nutritious… but even that is in a form we wouldn’t typically consume. The blender breaks up all the fibre which means we digest it very different. The reason that fruit is good for you, but fruit juice takes the bad bits (sugar) out of proportion of the natural controls (mastication, fibre etc)

  5. Lmrocha726

    “It’s a choice we’ve made…ish.” I feel ya. Stay strong.

    When I think of “real” food, I think of food that’s still identifiable as what it originally was, without a lot of chemicals, preservatives and additives. So I feel like apple pie is real food, if it’s homemade from quality ingredients. A Hostess apple pie with an ingredient list that is 100 long with syrup-y gloop inside? Not so much.

    I like to keep the “one ingredient diet” concept in mind whenever I grocery shop. Only buying foods that are one, single thing can be surprisingly difficult apart from fresh fruit and veg. But I don’t think all forms of processing are a bad thing…I might buy a bag of shredded carrots to save me the trouble if I’m feeling lazy, as long as the ingredient list reads solely “Carrots”. It may impact freshness and nutrient density but additives and preservatives are definitely a greater evil.

    The most “unreal” food I would refuse to give up though…..hmm. It would have to be Halo Top ice cream. Not sure if you have it over there but it’s low cal, high protein ice cream and it’s just so good!!

    • Sorted

      That’s a great point and especially for things like shredded carrot/ pre-grated cheese. What’s so interesting there is the premium that’s attached to it. You notice how much more expensive they are but here you’re paying for the convenience of saving a step. But it’s still the ‘real food’ right?

  6. Annie1962

    Poor Jamie re the bacon – I know you think it’s a no no but lots of people are making their own bacon. The commercial product does have nitrates in it which James will tell you is a big no no but you can make it yourself using nothing but salt – just like that chicken you made into a salt igloo and apparently tasted like heaven . So good news there. By the way Jamie, noticed your ‘work shirt’ (the dark blue one) is more loose on you and not bursting at the buttons. Means (obviously) that your weight loss is showing. Onya!!!

    I think that the bad foods are the packaged, dehydrated foods that we see with the ingredients listing looking like a chemistry book. i.e hydrolyed vegetable protein, monosodium glutamate etc. I don’t tend to go for these but my sons love 2 minute noodles (you call it ramen) and that’s full of chemicals.

    It’s just part of the busy unhealthy version of ‘Can’t Be Arsed to Cook’ – people are too busy, too unmotivated to cook. It’s a pity , I have two teens and I am teaching them how to cook REAL foods. They no longer want to order pizza as we always make our own at home and it’s ten times better, along with the benefits of knowing what’s in our food, whose hands have touched it (sons had BETTER wash their damn hands haha) and far far cheaper.

    It’s a sign of the lifestyle and companies have taken advantage of our business , our not wanting to ‘slave’ in a kitchen after a hard day’s work and also, in a way these cheap nasty packages make life (not health) easier.

    I know you have tried your best with your recipes etc to encourage people to make an effort with cooking in order to make us healthier and appreciate the wonderful tastes and textures of food..

    Last night my sons and I made pizza dough and pizza sauce. I made my son do the sauce and just guided him through it. He was proud of his efforts. He also makes risotto and I have tasted it.. oh yeah! He’s 17 now and is quite proud of himself. I also have the same attitude as Ben which is to use a stand mixer (mine starts with a K but isn’t a Kenwood sorry) . Some gadge makes life easier (a topic perhaps? Do gadgets make our lives easier or harder ? Which are the most popular gadge we use and what gadge would encourage more cooking at home)

    Here in Australia it is law for companies to state the kilojoule count in all of our foods. I’ve looked at some of the packaged food and reeled back in horror at the HUMUNGOUS amount of calories in say a packet of two minute noodles. Horrendous. No wonder we area nation of fatties. (another topic?- what are the foods which make us fat)

    As for flavourings – I do use stock cubes because to be honest, I can’t afford to make my own. Chicken frames herre are actually expensive for what they are and by the time I’ve made say 500ml using the ingredients recommended, it’s cost me over 10 dollars, Just not worth it for the small amount produced. A 1L carton here if it’s a good brand is around 4 dollars and still too expensive for me when considering how often I’d need stock.

    PS totally unrelated. Tried to look for a Sorted apron but they’re not available for shipping to down undah. Not fair xxx

    • Bebbrell

      So true… if you can’t read an ingredients list without a dictionary to hand we have a problem! In the grand scheme of things, although a stock cube is ultra processed, it doesn’t seem nearly as bad as many products. Funny how we allow ourselves exceptions to our own rules… I’m the same… often use stock cubes or gels.

  7. Smidge

    We’re going back to real food, but marketing toward it is often asinine. Rather than genuinely changing in meaningful ways, makers of “junk food” use fancy fonts, earthy packaging and claims of wholesomeness, but a glance shows that it’s just finessed small print. The packet is still plastic but now it’s colored like recycled paper with speckles printed on. The “natural” ingredients are the same as the regular item’s, just differently worded. They cost more for the privilege, but the rest of the junk food lineup they make remains the same and the product is clearly a shortsighted offshoot, not a beacon of earnest change within the company and their processes.

    They’re using a lawyer’s workarounds and faking authenticity, and I can’t wait for the fad to die.

  8. suebarnes

    Ironically, I sat down to watch/listen to the podcast, tired and sha**ed out after a long squawk (or work, if you like) no food to eat, no energy to cook when my son came home laden with goodies from Maccy D’s. It might be processed to within an inch of its life, but it still tasted sooo good and I ate whilst listening to the rest of your podcast.

    • Sorted

      Amazing! We noticed in the below comment you also make your own butter, cheese and yoghurt! It’s all about balance hey? And convenience trumps all. How do we make convenience better. That could be a great topic.

  9. suebarnes

    If you use Jamie’s criterion that ‘real’ food is that which was the same 300 years ago then bacon is safe cos they’ve been hanging salted pork in the rafters and smoking it for centuries. What about butter? or cheese? or yogurt? is that processed or real?
    Ps because of sortedfood, I have made my own butter, cheese and yogurt and it tastes better than anything bought from the shop but sometimes (most times) I want something convenient

  10. suebarnes

    I have just started using raw milk it tastes like liquid satin will never go back to supermarket milk (unless I run out of milk and then I will)

  11. Powerfulweak

    I hate to admit how dependent I am on processed food, but I have recently started making an effort (in no small part due to this podcasts influence) to reduce my consumption of certain processed food, namely artificial sweeteners. I’m very conscious about the foods I eat, but for years I’ve always veered toward chemical sugar substitutes as opposed to actual sugar and said it’s me being healthy. It’s been easier than I thought it would be (truly, less sweet coffee tastes amazing! Go figure!) but shifting the other aspects of my sweet tooth away from refined sugars and their processed sweets will be the more difficult journey.

  12. alm477

    Interesting topic! Love that you mentioned processed (but not ultra processed) foods. Cheese is a pretty processed food, but I would guess that the nutrition profiles of a natural cheddar vs cheddar flavored cheese food in a spray-can are rather different 🙂 I’ll happily take a bit of processing to make food safer (hello pasteurization!). Also interesting that you mentioned vegan products–some products like vegan cheese can be incredibly processed (after all vegan leather is just plastic).

    Love love that you mentioned fortified food! Iodized salt (or other things iodine is added to, depends on the country) is a very effective public health intervention! An orange, a commercially produced orange juice (from concentrate, but from real oranges), and a fortified orange-flavored drink (sugar water with artificial flavorings/colors but 100% of daily value of vitamin C) have different nutritional profiles. Some are much better for you than others, however consuming any of the 3 will stave off scurvy. This kind of stuff is super useful in medical/institutional settings too–patients who can’t chew, have trouble swallowing, medication problems, eat very little/highly restrictive, etc can benefit a lot. That said, a patient moving from tube fed to actually eating or from thickened liquids to regular liquids can have an incredible effect on morale.

    Some processed food/ingredients are actually using a byproduct of another process that might otherwise be discarded/wasted (e.g. whey powder used for protein). Some processed foods were not originally created for human consumption–the puffed corn base of a Cheeto was originally created as potential cattle feed! Then someone realized “hey…if we add flavoring to this it’s pretty nice for humans too.”

    Coffee and especially chocolate are processed, but I adore them.

    • alm477

      Had another thought–some foods require processing in order to remove toxins. Cashews are a great example. The “raw” cashews that you see in stores have been heat treated (but not necessarily roasted) because the shells/resins in the shells are quite toxic.

      • Anita

        That’s a great point! We have to consider what the result of the processing is. Does it benefit the consumer or not? Heat treating has its wonderful benefits, cashews are a great example, I heard that cooking also reduces the level of goitrogens in veggies. In addition to heat treating, soaking, sprouting, and fermenting are also said to increase digestibility. I noticed that “processing” makes a big difference for me when I eat legumes. I soak them first, then pressure-cook them, changing the water 2-3 times. It’s quite a process but at least I don’t have to deal with the nasty legume-eating side effects later 😀

      • Bebbrell

        So many valid points here… processing is very much required given the world we live in. Perhaps easier to consider aiming for ingredients that are only really considered one ingredient (coffee, chocolate, pasta)… even though pasta for instance is 2-3 ingredients.

    • Sorted

      Yes!! Feel like we’ve uncovered a mine field here. May have to revisit the topic again.

      • Annie1962

        Yes – what is real food?
        It seems we all have a definition of it.
        What process/ingredients/packaging makes a food change from real to processed?

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