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Unprocessed: One Woman’s Quest to Reclaim Real Food

By Dave Soref

On January 14, 2012, Megan Kimble feasted on a frozen pizza with everything on it and had a slice of carrot cake from the supermarket for dessert. The next day, the 25-year-old grad student began what she calls her “Year of Unprocessed Living,” a twelve-month period in which she swore off processed foods altogether and decided to keep a journal about her experiences.

Living on a $1,600 monthly grad-student stipend in a tiny one-bedroom apartment with a rickety kitchen meant that Kimble would have to conduct her experiment in less than ideal circumstances. But for Kimble, being able to eat unprocessed in a typical small home kitchen was exactly the point. “I had this tiny apartment. I didn’t have a garden. I didn’t have a lot of extra income to spend on food,” Kimble recounts to Calmful Living. “My motivation for going unprocessed was to figure out how I could participate in eating better for my own health and the health of the planet.”

What Is “Processed” Anyway?

First, Kimble had to come up with a working definition of what “processed” would mean for her experiment. Corn syrup is processed, but how about corn on the cob, since cooking a food changes its molecular structure?

“I had to figure out where to draw the line,” Kimble says, “so I decided that food would be unprocessed if I could theoretically make it in my home kitchen.” That meant doing things like grinding wheat berries into whole-grain flour and baking bread, which Kimble described as “definitely a process of trial and error.”

There isn’t always time to grind your own flour, but Kimble found that simply changing her shopping habits went a long way toward going unprocessed. By joining a CSA and a co-op, she had access to fresher, more natural food and to people who could answer all her questions about how it was made. By seeking out local artisans, she could get bread and cheese meant to be consumed within the week, therefore preservative-free.

What about Sweets and Booze!?

Kimble confesses to having a raging sweet tooth and says that the hardest thing for her to give up was sugar. “I had to find a way to consume sweets, because otherwise I wasn’t going to last a year,” she admits. “So, I started making my own chocolate. After a dozen tries I finally got it right, and I used local honey to sweeten it.”

In addition, Kimble allowed herself to have a glass of wine and enjoy a restaurant meal when she was out with friends, always getting the least-processed option possible. “I was really committed to not having to eat alone all year,” Kimble says. “Food is a wonderful connector for people and communities, and I didn’t want to lose that.”

The Surprise Benefit

Actually, Kimble’s quest for unprocessed food upped her social life by getting her out there in the community, asking questions and meeting local food producers. Plus it led to road trips to places like Bisbee and the Arizona countryside to visit microbrewers and small farmers.

Kimble noticed other results as well. “One thing is that I felt fuller all year. Previously I had been on diets, eaten low-carb bread and low-fat cheese, but it was never very filling. Eating unprocessed foods got my body equilibrated. I stopped worrying about my weight, and I still don’t have to focus on it now because I eat when I’m hungry and stop eating when I’m full. I just feel better, which sounds vague, but is true.”

The experience turned out to be so transformative and all-consuming that in 2015 Kimble published a book about the experience: Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food.

Today, three years after completing her challenge, Megan Kimble estimates that she still eats 80–90 percent unprocessed. “There was no reason not to keep doing it,” she says, “but there are times when it’s nice not to be so strict, like going to a friend’s birthday party and having a piece of cake.”

And all those visits she made to local food people paid off in another way. “I saw that there was a thriving local food community in Southern Arizona, but no venue celebrating it and telling stories about it; so I helped start a local food magazine in Tucson called Edible Baja Arizona to do just that.”

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