In our previous post about Slow Food, we noted that this international food initiative is part of what might be called the broader Alternative Food Movement that has gained momentum in the last 15 years. “Alternative Food” is the global term covering all food activities that wish to disrupt some aspect of the food industry status quo – for the better.
Linked closely to Slow Food, the Real Food movement shares many of the same goals, such as advocating for food that is:
Whereas Slow Food is rooted in a formal organization requiring membership, Real Food is more of a state of mind that anyone can adopt. In short, people committed to Real Food focus primarily on its natural purity and health benefits as a general principle and dietary practice.
In defining what makes Real Food “real,” it’s probably easier to first define what makes “unreal” food a fake substitute. In his 2008 bestselling book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan coined a catchy phrase to characterize the typical contemporary American diet: “edible foodlike substances.” What Pollan is specifically referring to are the industrially processed food products that have taken over our supermarkets in the last 50 years. These “edible foodlike substances” include:m
Pollan claims that these industrial foods are no longer the products of nature but of food science. Instead, he proposes an alternative way of eating informed by the traditions and ecology of real, organically grown, unprocessed food. Essentially, the diet he recommends comes down to seven simple words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
In his follow-up book, Food Rules, Pollan builds on this basic advice with 64 straightforward directions for eating wisely. Some of the more memorable rules include:
Two of the pioneers of Real Food are Nina Planck and Lisa Leake. In 2004 Planck published Real Food: What to Eat and Why, the book that first popularized the term “real food.” Since then, she has written a set of cookbooks with recipes that use only “real food” ingredients.
Lisa Leake hosts the popular food blog, 100 Days of Real Food, based on her family’s experiment eliminating all processed food and refined ingredients from their diet for 100 consecutive days. Today, she challenges her subscribers to take a 10 Day Pledge to eat only real foods chosen from the following list:
For more details, you can read Leake’s ground rules for the pledge.
Although the Real Food Movement remains relatively unorganized, since 2008, the Real Food Challenge has been training and mobilizing college students to lead campaigns to create a healthy, fair, and green food system on their campuses. Two of the principles guiding the initiative:
Real food is a holistic term to describe food that thoroughly nourishes consumers, producers, communities, and the earth – all aspects of a food system that sustains the people, livelihoods, and communities around the world. This principle recognizes that both the food system and the food movement are complex and made up of several distinct sectors.
This principle affirms that the Real Food Challenge is part of a larger alternative food movement, which itself is one facet of a global movement towards a just and sustainable world. The impact of food does not stop at the consumer and is not isolated to a single country.
The principles of the Real Food Movement. Source: https://www.realfoodchallenge.org/resources/real-food-resources/real-food-standards-20/
Like Pollan, Planck, and Leake, the Real Food Challenge leaders have published their own set of real food standards. These guidelines spell out the objectives of the organization and precisely delineate what qualifies a product as Real Food – one that is community-based, local, ecologically sound, fair, and humane.
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