The Daily Feed: "Clean" Versus "Real" Food

Two books prominently displayed at my local bookstore just caught my eye: Clean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source with More Than 200 Recipes for a Healthy and Sustainable You by Terry Walters (Sterling Epicure, 2009) and Tosca Reno's Eat Clean Cookbook: Delicious Recipes That Will Burn Fat and Re-Shape Your Body! (Robert Kennedy Publishing, 2009).

Consider these books along with the consumer magazine Clean Eating, which debuted in 2008, and it’s clear that “clean eating” has trended up in the marketplace.

The irony, for me, is that even though these publications propose a natural, unprocessed, close-to-the-earth diet, the terminology seems off. I associated the term “clean” with cleaning products, with things that are sanitized and scrubbed. “Clean” makes me think of antiseptic labs and food science production facilities, of technicians in white coats. I’d never describe a farm-fresh carrot as “clean.” I like that organic produce is a little dirty, that the farmers have grit under their nails.

So maybe it’s just semantics, but I prefer the phrase "real food" to “clean food.” (A coalition of university students also uses the term "real food.") I’d rather eat a real potato from the soil than a clean potato chip any day of the week.

Cheryl Sternman Rule is a widely-published food writer and the voice behind the blog 5 Second Rule.

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