Unprocessed by Megan Kimble, a book review

 In Books and Movies

UnprocessedI was about 8 when I started noticing chemicals in my foods: preservatives, sweeteners such as aspartame – and consciously removed them from my diet. I explained to a friend once that I cook with ingredients that have no other ingredients (with some exception): real butter, not margarine; real eggs, not egg white substitute, real fresh vegetables, not canned and stabilized tomatoes “with flavors” – in short, “real” food, not chemically compounded flavor packets (the biggest exception is pasta and bread). I’ve been conscious of the food system for quite some time – and still found Megan Kimble’s Unprocessed surprisingly informative and delightfully candid.

There is so much attention to the food stream right now – ignited by Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, conscious eaters have been paying closer and closer attention to the provenance of their foods, and subsequently to the impact their food choices have on themselves and the environment. Documentaries like Food, Inc, King Corn, and Forks over Knives drive the point again and again: cheap, highly processed, heavily subsidized, easily obtained calories are bad for the body, bad for the planet, bad for the individual, and bad for society.

Despite the flood of information, it can seem daunting if not impossible to eat in a holistic, healthy, unprocessed way – especially as an individual with time constraints and a very limited budget. This is where Megan Kimble’s story begins: an urban, cash strapped, busy grad student with the desire to do something – about the financial crisis, climate change, political influence – she was inspired by a local non profit director, Kimber Lanning. “What can we do?” was asked – and Kimber replied with the easiest truth: spend money better.

By spending money within a local economy, you shift the power of your dollars from the faceless corporations that influence Washington DC, and keep them more active within the community that surrounds you. Our money has the power to change the ways things run, and yet it is given away with such ease for the cheapest, most accessible items – which often are not the best.

And that’s how Unprocessed begins. Kimble decided to go as unprocessed as possible with her food choices for a year – an experiment in local, sustainable purchasing, as well as an exploration of the word itself. After all, all food is, to some extent, processed – whether harvested from a corporate farm or up the road by Farmer Joe, the lettuce goes through the process of harvest, cleaning, packaging, transport, sale. Part of Kimble’s exploration is in defining the term itself; she defined something unprocessed if she could technically or theoretically make it at home from raw ingredients.

Where her explorations ultimately lead, and the depths of processing it uncovers, is fascinating. And a little sad – be forewarned, you may not be able to drink that $5 Trader Joe’s wine with such casual delight ever again…

Kimble tackles the main tenets of the American diet, including wheat, alcohol, sugar, meat and dairy, as well as fruit and vegetables. She explores the variety of processes and systems each goes through to hit our tables: from fruit brokers moving millions of melons across the Mexican border from the air conditioned comfort of their office to neighborhood organic farmers collecting their fruits one bushel at a time; from massive dairy farming operations that name all their cows the same name, to a local goat farm where each of the creatures is known for their own particular personality. In each chapter, she tries to make that product herself, at home: she grinds her own wheat to make flour for bread; collects sea water and evaporates it for salt; and even goes to a 2-day butchering course to explore where meat really comes from.

Kimble finishes each chapter with helpful tips for how to unprocess within your own home, which can very easily be incorporated into just about anyone’s lifestyle and diet. That said, it’s not so much of a cookbook or step by step guide: it allows the reader to objectively make their own decisions, but encourages those decisions to be made consciously, with the awareness of certain results.

“Unprocessed” is a candid, provocative book – I’d recommend it to anyone that is interested in the health of our communities, the soil, and their own eating habits. It’s great for parents that are aware of the potential toxicity of commercial agriculture, and offers easily accessible tips on adjusting anyone’s diet for better balance.

Publisher’s Synopsis: In the tradition of Michael Pollan’s bestselling In Defense of Food comes this remarkable chronicle, from a founding editor of Edible Baja Arizona, of a young woman’s year-long journey of eating only whole, unprocessed foods—intertwined with a journalistic exploration of what “unprocessed” really means, why it matters, and how to afford it.

In January of 2012, Megan Kimble was a twenty-six-year-old living in a small apartment without even a garden plot to her name. But she cared about where food came from, how it was made, and what it did to her body: so she decided to go an entire year without eating processed foods. Unprocessed 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 earning an income that fell well below the federal poverty line.

What makes a food processed? As Megan would soon realize, the answer to that question went far beyond cutting out snacks and sodas, and became a fascinating journey through America’s food system, past and present. She learned how wheat became white; how fresh produce was globalized and animals industrialized. But she also discovered that in daily life, as she attempted to balance her project with a normal social life—which included dating—the question of what made a food processed was inextricably tied to gender and economy, politics and money, work and play.

Backed by extensive research and wide-ranging interviews—and including tips on how to ditch processed food and transition to a real-food lifestyle—Unprocessed offers provocative insights not only on the process of food, but also the processes that shape our habits, communities, and day-to-day lives.

Title: Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food
Author: Megan Kimble
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (1st edition)
Publication Date: June 23, 2015, $10.55 paperback/$10.99 Kindle
Format: Paperback and eBook
Language: English
Pages: 352 pages
For ages: 18+


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  • Kirstie

    Funny to see this on my Triberr feed, as the author and I went to the same high school and I had her mom as a teacher! Exciting to read about her success!

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