I’m excited today to welcome Bruce Bradley to my blog! Over the last year I have been learning more about what “big food” means. And how those companies that produce all the processed foods that so many Americans eat (and are possibly getting sick from) don’t always have our best interest in mind (probably no surprise). After working as a processed food marketer for over fifteen years, Bruce decided enough was enough. Growing increasingly concerned with the food we eat, he’s speaking out to help people learn more about the tricks, traps, and tools big food companies use to get us eating more and more processed foods. As a food advocate, blogger and author, Bruce cuts through all the hype and actively speaks out about the concerns over the food we eat. He’s just recently published a novel, Fat Profits, that takes a close look at the industry.
Q: Here at Meal Planning Magic, my philosophy is that organization helps make preparing meals easier. Why do big food companies like to ignore that approach?
A: Simply put, it doesn’t make them money. Food companies are driven by profit, and the sad truth is they can make more money by selling you highly processed packaged meals, prepared meals or take-out. Profit margins on real ingredients are much lower than most of the pre-packaged foods so helping you come up with a plan to use fresh ingredients is very low on big food companies priority list.
Q: So why do people buy into this thinking they need convenient meal solutions?
A: Well, it’s really easy to fall victim to this thinking. Let’s face it, long days at work, shuttling kids to and from activities, and chores around the house leave most of us time starved. So the promise of convenient meals and snacks is extremely powerful. But what’s the real price we pay? Not only can convenient foods be more expensive, but usually they aren’t very healthy either. So take a look at the ingredient list of the so-called convenient foods you buy. Oftentimes they contain a long list of stuff that looks like a lab experiment and really isn’t good for you.
So while I agree time is important, sacrificing your family’s health for a few minutes of time savings isn’t the answer. Instead, if we get organized and spend a couple minutes coming up with a plan, it’s possible to save time and get nutritious meals and snacks on the table.
Q: Are there other reasons why people opt for more convenient options?
A: Unfortunately as a nation we’ve lost a lot of our cooking know-how over the past fifty or sixty years. Pre-World War II moms knew how to make meals from scratch. But after the war women increasingly worked outside the home and more convenient, processed food options proliferated. The end result has been the meteoric fall in our cooking IQs. For some families dinnertime has literally become one of three options: reheating a prepared meal, bringing home take-out, or going out to eat at fast food or other chain restaurants. Sadly, this approach has had a disastrous impact on our health.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the help of blogs like Meal Planning Magic, slowly the story is changing. Empowered by this discovery, moms—and hopefully more dads like me—have learned that cooking real food isn’t difficult, especially when they have a plan.
Q: What are some of the more atrocious processed meals that you see big food companies marketing?
A: Well there are lots of examples out there, but this time of year, soup is one that is top of mind. There is probably nothing easier to make for your family than soup. Literally most recipes call for some chopping, adding some spices, and then letting it simmer on the stove top or in a crock pot. Also when you make soup, plan ahead and make an extra big batch so you can freeze the leftovers for another meal, or use them for lunches the following day.
But companies like Campbell’s want us to believe they’ve got all the answers. Preying on our lack of cooking skills and dangling the promise of convenience, Campbell’s products sound pretty attractive. The problem is, Campbell’s has left out some important facts: their products are typically more expensive, lower quality and less nutritious than homemade, and their soups are highly processed and contain lots of additives, salt, and even genetically modified ingredients.
Q: How do you approach meal planning at home?
A: Well, I’m a single, divorced dad so the meal planning job falls to me. I find I always eat healthier when I have a plan.
During the summers I belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where each week I get a box of vegetables from a local, organic farmer. I love this because it forces me to come up with a plan that starts with the healthy stuff (vegetables) first versus planning main dishes and maybe adding vegetable on the side.
During the winter months when I don’t have my weekly box of vegetables, I come up with 3-5 core meals for the week. I’m a huge believer in making double recipes, freezing leftovers, and making meals where the main course can be repurposed in multiple different meals during the week. For example, I made a pork shoulder in the crock pot last week. I shredded it for sandwiches night one, made soft tacos night two, and then used some for lunch and breakfast burritos for a couple other meals.
Finally, I think that finding your “go-to” meals when you’re in a pinch is always helpful. Soup happens to be one of my go-to meals. If you like to improvise, it’s very easy to make soup no matter what you may have on hand. If the thought of experimenting drives you crazy, then develop a repertoire of 2-3 soups you know how to make and stock the ingredients in your pantry and freezer.
Q: What do you think busy families can do to get started with real food cooking and avoiding the over-processed food trap?
Planning, planning, planning. I know some consider “plan” a four letter word, but what you’re really trying to avoid is that panic moment at 4 o’clock in the afternoon when you have no idea what’s for dinner. Creating a meal plan for the week not only helps you avoid that panic, but it also gets you shopping more efficiently and affordably. Furthermore, if you’re not a confident cook who can improvise easily in the kitchen, having a plan is especially important.
Now if going the complete meal planning route just isn’t your style, there are still ways to get organized like (1) having a list of core, family favorites, (2) knowing your go-to meals when you’re in a pinch, and (3) always having a couple frozen, homemade meals on hand. But remember, if you want to eat real food and avoid the processed food trap, it means shopping regularly for fresh food. No matter which way you slice it, when fresh ingredients are involved, some planning is going to have to happen in order to (1) make sure the items you need are on hand and (2) you have a plan to serve up these fresh ingredients before they spoil.
Q: What made you decide to leave the Big Food industry and spread the message that families need to get back to cooking with real food?
The main reason I left was that at the time my father was very ill, and I wanted to help take care of him. I was also growing increasingly troubled by the food industry’s singular focus on profits. With obesity rates skyrocketing and more and more kids being diagnosed with Type II diabetes, I knew something had to be done.
After getting some distance from my work at Big Food, I decided I could make a difference by speaking up and blogging about food. I also came up with an interesting idea for an eye-opening thriller set in the food industry. So leveraging my 15+ years food marketing experience, I wrote Fat Profits. While first and foremost Fat Profits is an entertaining read, it brings to life how corporate greed drives food marketing and gets people asking, “Do I really know what’s in my food.”
Q: What future do you think the real food movement has and where can it go from here?
I’m excited about the future of the real food movement. More and more families are recognizing the importance of eating nutritious, real food versus settling for something cheap and fast.
Like many grass roots movements, change will happen slowly. While it’s hard to ignore the signs that something is drastically wrong with our current food system, big food companies are very committed to maintaining it at all costs. But no matter what big companies do, we have the right to know what’s in our food and where it came from. After all, if food is the very substance that nurtures our bodies and minds, isn’t food the decision we should know the most about?
As more and more people join the movement and start voting with their wallets, forks, and at the ballots box, I believe change will happen—changes like labeling genetically modified foods, knowing whether growth hormones and antibiotics were used to raise the meat you eat, and reassurances that the animals we depend on so much were treated humanely. So get involved, don’t assume the processed foods you eat are safe or healthy, and invest a little more time, planning, and money in what you eat. You and your family truly deserve it!
Closing: Thank you, Bruce, for joining me here on Meal Planning Magic. If you’re interested in learning more about the tricks processed food manufacturers use to get you eating more junk food, you can visit Bruce’s blog at www.brucebradley.com. And if you like reading a page-turning thriller, you can check out Bruce’s novel, Fat Profits, at his website, www.fatprofits.