While I was sick a few weeks ago, I had plenty of time to read, so I ended up blazing through Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food by Megan Kimble in just a few days. This book, part memoir and part real-food manifesto, was a treat to read.
In 2012, Tucson-based Kimble decided to not eat any sort of heavily processed food for a solid year, and write about what she learned along the way. She begins with an introduction that talks about her rules for herself and what she intended to discover, then discusses her year topically, with chapter titles such as Supermarket: Processed Sells; Produce: A Million Melons are Processed; and Refrigeration: Good Work Is Unprocessed.
Throughout the year, Kimble tried all sorts of interesting experiments— everything from baking her own bread to distilling salt and making chocolate— as well as visiting food-related places, such as her CSA, local wineries, warehouses full of imported produce from Mexico, and food-related workshops.
She delves a bit into why processed food is harmful, but the book is mostly a personal and honest look into how food affects our lives— how it tangles up with our time, our budgets, our social lives, our personal issues, our tangible votes for how the world should be. She tells stories more than prescribing advice, writing in a personable and honest way.
I appreciate that she doesn’t present any easy answers or quick fixes, or pretend that her whole-foods life was cheaper or simpler (it wasn’t). She discusses the struggles and problems with trying to eat a more local, whole-foods diet, as well as acknowledging the importance of some centralized food systems (distilling salt for personal use is not, in fact, very efficient). She vents frustrations as well as offering paths forward, and most of all, encourages the readers through her stories to consider their own lives and choices.
The chapter that affected me the most talked about meat. Kimble describes attending a butchering workshop at a permaculture farm in which the participants were asked to carefully consider whether or not they wanted to make a lethal cut across a sheep’s throat. Kimble describes pressing her fingers on the arteries along either side of her throat— placed in the same way as the sheep’s arteries that would soon be sliced— and feeling her heartbeat. She realized that she wasn’t ready to slaughter with her own hand. Her description resonated with me: the sheep’s death, her tears, the arduous butchering process, the succulent flavor of meat eaten straight from the animal, and the moral outrage she felt when she popped into a grocery store afterward and saw the obscene amount of factory-farmed meat on the shelves. I don’t have a moral objection to killing animals, but the way we raise and slaughter factory-farm animals, with no respect for the sacrifice of a breathing creature’s life, is unconscionable. I had already been rethinking my views on meat, but this chapter gave me an extra push to put my conscience into action.
Unprocessed is a great book for anyone who is interested in real food and wants to know what that might look like on a practical level. Kimble’s writing is fun, poignant, and insightful, making her debut book well worth the read.