What would it be like to eat only unprocessed food for a year? That’s just what Tucson author Megan Kimble wondered. So that’s what she did. And then wrote about it in her book, Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food. By Joan Calcagno.
Early bird or night owl? “I‘m an early bird. Definitely these days with my puppy – she gets up at seven so we get up at seven. When I was in grad school I’d stay up later and write. But these days, I’m definitely an early bird. I like to get up, have breakfast right away and then get going.”
Favorite accessory? “Probably my water bottle. I drink an obscene amount of water. I go through lots of water bottles. I also tend to forget water bottle places, so I kind of acquire them. Whenever I go home – my parents live in Los Angeles – I steal one from them. And my sister gave me a really cool one – glass with a rubber coating around it. Durable is key for me. I’ve had a few water bottle floods in my purse so they have to have good ‘cap integrity’.”
Favorite faux pas? “I have this backdrop of the same people I see – that’s one of my favorite things about Tucson. I love that faux pas of ‘meeting’ people and you don’t know if you’ve met them – that dance of when you officially meet someone. I’ll see people through Edible [Baja Arizona] and we’re in our professional context and then I’ll see them out in a social context and it’s funny to be like ‘I know you’re familiar’. And [in Edible] we publish these beautiful photographs of people in Tucson and they’re up on the wall for two months while we’re producing the issue, and they become part of my life, but I‘ve never met them. So I’ll see them out in Tucson and it will be ‘I feel like I know you, but I don’t know if I actually know you.’”
Who is your dream reader? “Someone who wants and likes to read. Someone who is similar to me – curious and wants to learn about the world, how things work and why they work the way they do, what makes people excited, inspired and engaged – because that is why I write. I feel that I have been successful as a writer if someone reads something I’ve written and they see the world in a different way and maybe they make a different choice. It can be super small. Maybe they make a different choice for their dinner, they cook something instead of buying a meal from McDonald’s. Those little daily decisions, if I can change someone’s mind and impact them, then that’s a success.”
If I weren’t the managing editor of Edible Baja Arizona and an author, I would… “I might be just travelling. I think I’d like to be doing something outside because so much of writing is inside. I’d love the opportunity to just go explore. But being a writer is so much a part of my identity – like being female. I cannot remember wanting to do anything different.”
If I could change one thing I would… “I would change our political process. I wish that it was more accountable and transparent and direct. There are so many opportunities to do good work and I don’t really understand why it’s so hard. And that’s partly why I write about what I write about – which is what we can do in our individual lives on a day-to-day level – because it bums me out to such a degree that the larger, broader conversation seems to be so stagnant.”
What or who sparked the idea to live for a year “unprocessed”? “I came across a blog about unprocessed eating. This was almost four years ago, before processed food was being talked about very much. And that word ‘unprocessed’ really stuck with me as a conceptual framework for understanding the food that I was eating and buying. So I tried to eat only unprocessed food for two weeks and it was so hard, and it brought up so many issues. But it was such an interesting experience that I decided I wanted to investigate it further, thinking ‘What makes food “processed”?’ I was in the MFA program at the University of Arizona. I got my MFA in creative writing, non-fiction, and already writing about food. The idea of [eating unprocessed] for a year was ‘Oh, I could write about my experience.’ I didn’t know what form it would take, but I started out intending to write about it. So much of my learning process was interviewing people about things – like how do you grow mill wheat and how do you make cheese. I didn’t know and I wanted to go out in the world and find that out.”
As you got to the end of your year of eating unprocessed, what where you looking forward to eating on day 366? “There were definitely specific foods that I craved. Cheddar Chex Mix – inexplicably. I don’t know why! It just became this thing that stuck in my brain for a year. That and Diet Coke. I just wanted them. And I remember clearly, that first day, day 366, I went and had them and thought ‘Well, these are gross.’ My taste buds had totally changed. Diet Coke just tasted like chemicals to me and the Chex Mix didn’t even taste like cheese.”
What were your biggest challenges? “I lived alone and was single, and I decided to do this thing in my own kitchen. [Making things] was hard initially. But I figured things out. I made my own chocolate. That was like week one. I said ‘I’ve got to figure out how to unprocess chocolate or I’m not going to make it though a year!’ It took me a few tries to get the cocoa powder and cocoa butter to combine.
“The hardest part was just being able to eat out in the world – which is full of processed food. I really missed the social aspect of food – of being somewhere and eating something because that is what everyone else is doing, taking part in that spontaneous ‘Hey, let’s go get some pizza’ or having a Sonoran hotdog as we’re walking up Fourth Avenue. All my friends are meeting for pizza and ‘I’ll just come and hang out and I won’t eat anything’. So, definitely the social side. I was lucky to have a really great group of friends who just kind of rolled with it, but it was still challenging.”
Would you (could you) do it all again? “I could absolutely do it again. I still eat about ninety percent unprocessed. Ten percent is that social eating, mostly going out to eat. What I would want to do is take it a step further. Now that I’ve thought a lot about the food I’m eating, what about all the stuff I’m consuming, all the stuff that we buy? That consumer spending side is something I think a lot about – getting people to put their money where their mouth is, saying they support local food, then you have to go buy it! That was a huge revelation of what I learned through my year: the money we spend on food matters. It shapes the food system.”