"I write to sing the praises of processed food... . Without food processed in traditional, healthy ways, mankind would have become extinct long ago."So begins a post by Cynthia Harriman, Director of Food and Nutrition Strategies for Oldways, a Boston-based non-profit. Guest blogging for the promoter of "October: Unprocessed," she makes some really useful points that I think put the idea of "processed" food in perspective much better than most of the previous writers there have done. For millennia, perhaps even before settled agriculture, herdsmen processed fresh milk into yogurt and cheese harnessing natural and beneficial bacteria, she observes. Bacteria allowed processing of cabbage into Korean kimchi or German saurkraut.
"In fact," Harriman writes, "one of the common features of most traditional processing methods was this: they worked by encouraging the proliferation of good bacteria, which crowded out the dangerous bacteria that cause food to rot and that threaten our health and our lives."
I commented recently about October: Unprocessed -- people pledging to eat no processed food for 1 month. As I said here -- Why I'm not pledging anything about food -- arbitrarily limiting one's diet is a tricky thing. Processing food even with harmful chemicals has a long history -- consider the olive, cured in lye or else inedible. And the redefinition of beer, wine, and bread as "unprocessed" creates some questions in my mind.
I enjoyed reading Harriman's interpretation of traditional food processing, and respect her conclusion:
"It’s not realistic to sit in the middle of a field or orchard and eat foods just as they come off the stalk or the branch. We all love the convenience of modern foods, but we want – and need – them with the health benefits and good taste of the old ways of food processing. The food companies that figure out how to offer us all of this, in one neat package, will have my food dollar, and, I suspect, that of many other people reading this blog."