What Are Whole Foods?


In the simplest of terms, whole foods are foods without additives and preservatives. It’s food as close to its natural state as possible.  I first heard the term whole food in 2004 right before my family began transitioning to a diet that would contain more whole foods. Our diet previous to a diet of whole foods looked like most people’s diets. Our vegetables were canned store-bought vegetables, bought by the case, and 100% of what we ate was processed including our meat and dairy.

I don’t think I’d ever heard the word organic before 2004 either, but soon learned what it meant after traveling to a bigger city and spotting organic milk in the dairy department.  That milk, which we have now drunk for some sixteen years, was Organic Valley milk. At this time in my life, I’d also just quit smoking. One of the things I learned about smoking, that helped my cessation go a little bit smoother, was that cigarettes had over 600 ingredients in them. It’s a real eye-opener when you learn, for the first time in your life (thanks to the computer era), that cigarettes contain formaldehyde, lead, and arsenic to name just three of a very long list of scary things. Once I quit smoking I felt I owed it to my body, after having abused it to the point of death for so long, to eat food without chemicals. How to start? That was a good question considering I’d never made anything from scratch before and I wasn’t sure how we would afford to transition our kitchen supplies and lifestyle into exactly how kitchen supplies were during my grandparent’s life.

The first thing we made a change to was dairy. We stopped buying conventional milk and began buying Organic Valley milk. Within a year our milk consumption went up 80%. None of our local grocery stores, including Wal-Mart, stocked Organic Valley milk so we had to make a two-hour commute to buy it. That may sound extreme to some people, but for us, it was only the beginning of the long journeys we would have to make to transition to a whole foods diet.  Nowadays organic products, whole food products are available in almost every store. There are also many sites that one can order whole foods from in bulk. Eventually, we were able to buy Organic Valley eggs, milk and butter when we made our two-hour commute.

Our next challenge was to go from canned vegetables and fruit to locally grown vegetables and fruit. Unfortunately, the farmers’ markets around the area we lived in were nil, so again we had to make a two-hour commute to purchase fruits and vegetables grown by local farmers.  Twice a month we would make the drive on Saturday mornings, at the crack of dawn, to get to the Dane County Farmers’ Market in Madison, WI. There we would walk around the Capitol Square with hundreds of other foodies and buy fresh produce.

Transitioning to a whole food diet means in the long-term not eating any food that is processed. Processed food is almost all the food in the supermarket except the produce. And as far as the produce goes, the produce in most grocery stores that we shop in, in this part of the country, are not local and most of the produce sold is not even grown in the U.S.A. Eating local means eating food within 100 miles of its production. Because we were having to travel so far to purchase whole food we began to really look at what eating locally would look like to us. What if we couldn’t drive to purchase our whole foods? We weren’t in the position to garden and grow it ourselves and we definitely did not have a farm close by where we could buy organic milk.

Without our car and our $ability to drive to purchase whole foods we would not have been able to change our diet, unless we moved, until closer to 2010.

By 2010 a couple of farms in our community began having CSA’s and our local grocery store began selling Organic Valley dairy products.

One of the first steps we took in our transition, once we made decisions about produce and dairy, was the elimination processed boxed, canned and frozen food. That means no mixes, no boxed dinners, no frozen pizzas, no tv dinners. Anything in jars or bottles had to have less than five ingredients in them. No more Kool-aid, soda, juices or fountain drinks. Cookies are homemade, snacks are popcorn bought at a farmer’s market, sauces, cakes, crusts, and bread all homemade. If we wanted applesauce we had to go buy a 10# bag of apples and make homemade applesauce.

To give you a good idea of what a whole food diet looks like this: you go grocery shopping and when you get home all the food you bought is stored either in the refrigerator, freezer or pantry shelf (bulk baking stuff for making things from scratch). You won’t have anything but baking products in cans or jars and they will either be organic or will have less than 5 ingredients in them. Soups and stews are homemade; no more Campbell’s soup. Produce will line your counters and you’ll invest in at least two crock pots.

It sounds like a lot of work, and a lot of sacrifices, but I promise you the rewards are priceless and long lasting and you will never ever want to go back to eating processed food again. In my next post, I will explain the time involved in the transition along with how to set your pantry up and what to buy to get you started.