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Theresa Albert Headshot

I Dare You to Define "Processed Foods"

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We had an interesting discussion about packaged food in our house last weekend. After watching 60 Minutes with our 16-year-old and seeing that "flavourists" distil and "create" the flavours of packaged foods, our teen made a declaration: "I'm going to try not to eat anything packaged all week!" Can you do it?" she challenged.

I am trained and committed to the pleasures of real food and we don't rely upon packages all that much but I had to admit, it was going to be an interesting week. Hubs remained silent.

What I discovered was that we all had different perspectives of what a packaged food was.

To me:
• Anything that had artificial flavours or seasoning never makes the cut.
• If it is in a package, but it is of the highest quality, real-food grade, it sometimes saves me steps.
• I use mostly whole foods in their natural state that are quick and deliciously prepared.
• When I am on the go, I do my best to choose wisely, but am sometimes at the whim of my BlackBerry and traffic patterns.
• In restaurants I almost always choose sustainably seafood and vegetables if I can. I avoid the white carbs.

To the teen:
• A pre-made sandwich at the deli counter was OK as long as it looked like real food.
• Frozen fruit for a snack with real whipping cream was a better choice than chips.
• Lunch is a pain in the pants and is getting smaller and smaller as a result.
• Packaged all-natural roasted seaweed did not make the cut when mom tossed it in to replace missing vegetables (pretty sure that was an excuse).
• Baby carrots were OK on the way to dance class even though they were cut and cleaned by someone else and they required pre-made hummus.

To the hubs:
• Whatever is put in front of him was fine.

This set me to thinking about our cultural collective definition of "processed" and "packaged." Is there a cut off that we can agree upon? If the packaged food is the same thing that you would make at home using pre-made bread, bottled sauces and grated carrots, is that "processed"?

In a perfect world, I would have the time to bake/make each one of these items separately and likely create something that tastes a bit better, has less salt and more fibre. But whose world is perfect? In a teenaged world that is engulfed in peers drinking Big Gulps and eating cheesies is there a skewed perception that lowers the bar? Is there a male/female divide, and if so, why is that? Each and every one of us has choices to navigate the day, I just wonder if a definition was set, would you care to follow it?

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