Shopping Tips from Unprocessed by Megan Kimble
Today we’re sharing some shopping tips and a recipe from Unprocessed by Megan Kimble, which is on sale June 23rd. 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. Read on for some shopping tips from Megan and a recipe on how to mill your own wheat! Pre-order a copy of Unprocessed today.
In January of 2012, I set myself a challenge. I would go an entire year without eating processed food. All foods are processed, of course, at least to some degree—cooking is a kind of process, as is dicing, heat, fermenting, and preserving. But I wanted to find the line—to answer the question: What makes food too processed?
For the purposes of my year, a food was unprocessed if I could theoretically make it in my own kitchen. I ground wheat berries into flour but couldn’t sift out the endosperm—no refined flours. I helped a beekeeper gather honey and used my food processor to grind nuts into butter, but I didn’t refine sugar, stock up on chemicals, or mix emulsifiers.
Much of my year unprocessed unfolded in the grocery store, as I fretted up and down the aisles, muttering over ingredient labels. It takes time and effort to get going, but it quickly becomes second nature.
Read the label.
No matter where you shop for food, read the ingredient label on every item you buy. The simple act of turning a package or carton over to peer at its underbelly might be enough to change your mind about buying it. Of course, the best and easiest way to shop unprocessed is to buy foods without ingredient labels—bananas, avocados, oranges. The second best is to buy packages containing just one ingredient—rolled oats, milk, honey.
Beyond that, look for ingredient labels with words that you understand. If you don’t recognize an item on an ingredient label, figure out what it is. Before I owned a smartphone, I used to call my sister to Google me through ingredient list conundrums. Now, I consult my Chemical Cuisine app, published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest—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.
Shop the sales.
When you’re on a budget, spending locally can be a stretch. Food cooperatives usually have seasonal sales, as do farmers’ markets—and seasonal produce will be always be cheaper than out-of-season. Whenever your local market has a sale, stock up on wine, yogurt, corn tortillas, or almond butter. Well, don’t just stock up on my favorites—get whatever you eat consistently and make some space in your cabinet or freezer.
Buy from bulk bins.
Again: eating unprocessed on a budget is tricky, but totally doable. Buying in bulk is not only cheaper, you’ll also create less packaging waste.
When I was intimidated by raw milk, I finally just walked up to an employee at the Tucson Food Co-op where I shop and asked, “So, um, what’s up with the raw milk?” (It comes from a farm 30 miles outside of Tucson and gets delivered fresh weekly.) Another reason to shop at local or small markets—employees are happy to help you worry your way through a purchase.
Find favorite brands.
You’ll start to recognize—and appreciate—food companies that don’t add wonky ingredients to the foods they sell. Food For Life—also sold under the name Ezekiel—sells breads, tortillas, and cereals made from whole, sprouted grains. Newman’s Own condiments—the Honey Dijon mustard is my favorite—are affordable and usually contain a sane list of ingredients. WestSoy sells organic, GMO-free soy milk containing nothing but soybeans and water.
The answer to the question of what makes food too processed will be different for every eater. Set up your too-processed parameters before you go to the supermarket. Make a shopping list and try to stick to it—an endeavor that’ll be easier if you shop at markets that are trying to sell you reasonable foods instead of cheap, high-profit edible items. Surprises happen. If you discover an unexpected and unwelcome ingredient in a food you just have to buy—if something stubborn inside you kicks and says, I am not going to give this up—then don’t. Yet. Go home, think it over, and plan an unprocessed alternative.
How To Make Flour
I remember when learned that wheat flour comes from a wheat berry—when I learned the source of floating flour was a hard, hidden kernel. Obviously, I knew that wheat flour came from the plant of wheat, and I knew, vaguely, that a stalk of wheat looked like a blond braid. Woven into that braid, of course, are wheat berries—the seed of the stalk. Flour is simply that kernel, all ground up. It was a moment of striking clarity, feeling the satisfying zing of understanding of how this becomes that. I first made flour because I wanted to feel that transformation myself—because I wanted to see if I could turn a hard kernel into the soft dust that floats through our kitchens and settles in our eyebrows.
Wheat berries look a lot like barley, like rounder rice, and they’re available in the bulk food section of any natural foods store. While you can prepare wheat berries like barley and as a base for sautés or in salads, with a simple hand-crank grinder, you can also turn those berries—and any other grain—into flour.
To grind grain into dust, you first need to invest in some machinery, although the level of that investment is entirely up to you. You spend anywhere from $400 for an industrial-strength electric mill to $19.99 for a basic—and perhaps not so durable—hand-crank mill. I bought my Victorio Hand Operated Grain Mill for $60 and it hasn’t let me down. A mill is an especially worthy investment if you’re trying to avoid gluten—you can turn oats into oat flour, rice into rice flour, and, depending on the model, corn into corn meal. Most hand-crank mills are fairly small—mine is smaller than a wine bottle but bigger than a ruler—so consider how much you’ll want to grind at a time. My mill has to be mounted on a flat surface; some are free standing.
Before you begin, wash and dry the wheat berries. The first time I made flour, I realized that I’d forgotten to wash my wheat berries only once I was on the verge of pouring them into the mill and so, in an act of great impatience, got out my hairdryer to speed along the task. With some foresight, air drying works just fine. Either way, make sure the berries are dry, as they can clump in the mill.
Mount your mill on a flat surface, if you’re grinding by hand, and dump a handful of berries into the housing. If you have a small grinder, you’ll have to do several batches; mine only accommodates about a half a cup at once. From here, it’s simple. Fit a low bowl under the milling cone to catch the flour once you get cranking. And then get cranking.
My favorite part of grinding flour is how warm it feels when it sifts into the bowl. To me, the warmness suggests a sort of readiness, an eagerness to melt into the next step. So I bake bread, make pancakes, or stir up cookie batter. This becomes that becomes food.