You are going to be amazed by Megan Kimble.
At age 26, her passion for food and nutrition compelled her to embark on a year-long journey of eating only unprocessed food. Living on a budget in a tiny Tucson apartment with no access to a garden plot, Megan made some creative and fascinating food discoveries that changed her life.
We encourage you to read her recently published and riveting book, Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food (William Morrow 2015). This book is the narrative of Megan’s extraordinary year, in which she milled wheat, extracted salt from the sea, milked a goat, slaughtered a sheep, and more—all while she was a busy, broke city-dweller.
Megan’s writing has won many awards. She is currently the editor of Edible Baja Arizona and is a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous publications.
You took on an incredible challenge, eating only unprocessed food for an entire year. What was your motivation to take on this amazing feat?
I stopped eating processed food four years ago for a lot of reasons. There was the environment—I’d come of age in an era when global warming was all but assumed; when natural resources were suddenly scarce and our food system increasingly dependent on fossil fuels. There were political reasons, as I considered the enormous influence food companies wield in our national politics. And there were economic reasons—I wanted to spend what little money I earned endorsing my local food system, one that I hoped was visible, accountable, and scalable. I was also broke, tired of reading about what I should do. I wanted, instead, to explore what I could do, given limited resources of money and time.
I also happen to love process—how this becomes that, and how that gets from there to here. It’s why I got into journalism—to figure out how the world works, unseen and assumed. I love digging into the seemingly simple questions of our food system. How does a melon get from the soil in Mexico to a supermarket on my street? How does muscle become meat? These are no longer simple questions with simple answers, and I wrote Unprocessed to start to untangle these networks and to understand how I might sustain myself just a little closer to home.
Can you share with us some of the health benefits you experienced by eliminating processed foods from your diet?
Because I was eating whole foods, the first thing I noticed was how full I felt. I was rarely hungry, so I had more energy. I’d been on one diet or another since I was a teenager, but when I stopped eating processed foods, my whole approach to eating changed—I simply ate when I was hungry and stopped when I was full.
My digestion also improved—as it turns out, we don’t absorb chemicals or fake foods very well. The other health benefits I experienced were more subtle. I didn’t have any chronic illnesses or conditions that needed addressing, but there is an increasing amount of evidence that shows that eating whole, unprocessed foods—and cutting out chemicals like food coloring and preservatives—can address a range of maladies, from skin conditions to more complex behavioral disorders.
How long did it take your body to adjust to the elimination of processed foods? Did you initially have food cravings that eventually went away?
It didn’t take long to get used to eating unprocessed—the biggest adjustment was simply getting used to the planning that was required to eat each meal (basically: grocery shopping and packing a lunch for work). I always crave sugar, and I didn’t think I could make it a year without chocolate—which, if you buy it at the store, always has refined sugar and usually some sort of emulsifier—so I learned how to make my own chocolate using cacao butter, powder, and local honey.
What tips can you share with our readers about easy changes they can make to eliminate processed foods from their diets?
Read ingredient labels on every package, for every food you buy. The more you look, the more you’ll wonder, what is that? And why am I eating it? Check out the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Chemical Cuisine App—you can download it for free on Android or iPhone. They also publish a print guide. Enter an ingredient and you’ll find out what it’s made of, where it comes from, and what it’s used for. Even better, buy foods with no ingredient label (apples, corn, eggplant) or just one ingredient (oats, milk, honey).
Every cook and every family is going to have to make their own bargain with processed food; it’s up to you to decide what makes food too processed. Start slowly and simply by paying attention to process. And of course, you can read Unprocessed for more ideas!
By eliminating which particular foods and ingredients do you feel you experienced the most significant improvement in your health? Which foods and ingredients do you continue to try to avoid?
Refined sugar was by far the hardest food to give up—partly because I have a raging sweet tooth. But also, sugar is in everything, from mustard to marinara sauce, deli meat to salad dressing. Giving up refined sugar meant that suddenly most supermarket products were off the table for me—which ended up being a great thing for my overall health.
Refined flour is another tricky food to avoid, partly because it’s so hard to detect. Even grain products that are labeled “whole-grain” on the package also often contain some portion of refined grains—that’s why it’s important to always read the ingredient label!
Refined sugar and flour remain the hardest foods to avoid, but I try pretty hard to refrain when possible, which I think contributes to a significant improvement in my health and well-being.
Can you share with us what is a typical day’s diet for you now?
I like to quiet my sweet tooth in the morning with a little natural sugar, so I often make a big smoothie with flash frozen organic fruit, plain Greek yogurt, and honey; during the winter, I’ll make warm chia seed pudding or almond butter on whole grain toast.
I make my lunch almost every day, mostly because it’s cheaper. At the beginning of the week, I often make a big batch of dried beans or grains, so I have the staples I need to quickly throw together a Tupperware container before I head to work. I’ll add some leftover roasted veggies, or fresh greens from my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share, along with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper.
Dinner depends on what vegetables I’m getting in my CSA share—in the summer, when the tomatoes, eggplant, and sweet corn brims, I’ll often throw together simple salads with local cheese and bread. In the winter, I make everything from veggie quesadillas on locally made corn tortillas to big batches of roasted veggie soup. I eat meat, but sparingly—whenever I can afford to buy it from the farmers’ market, directly from local producers.
We appreciate Megan sharing these wonderful insights and discoveries with us. You can learn more about Megan by visiting her website, megankimble.com.
Dana Rutscher is the Practitioner Relations Manager at Hyperbiotics and possesses a vast and ever-expanding wealth of microbial health knowledge. With a graduate degree from Baylor University and a passion for helping others, Dana incorporates her enthusiasm for health and scientific discoveries into her professional pursuits and parenting. For more ideas on how you can maximize wellness and benefit from the power of probiotics, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.
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