It seems like a stupid question.
Duh, food is what you eat!
According to the dictionary, food is
any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth
Well now we’re in trouble, because we have to figure out what “nutritious” means! Again, the dictionary says
nourishing; efficient as food
Let’s try looking at food in 3 ways: Food is
- nutritional content
- what YOU eat
The first place to start is the physical make-up of food. No ingredients, no food.
Foods that are one ingredient (fruits and vegetables) are usually referred to as whole foods. They’re whole because we know exactly what they’re made of – they’re usually free from additives and have been minimally refined, if at all.*
GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)
Genetically modified foods have had their DNA changed for the purposes of “resistance to certain pests, diseases, or environmental conditions, reduction of spoilage, or resistance to chemical treatments, or improving the nutrient profile of the crop (Wikipedia).
Artificial ingredients include artificial flavors, sweeteners, colors, additives, and preservatives.
Nutrients include calories, calories from fat, fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sugars, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron.
All processed foods display both the ingredients and the nutritional content on the packaging. Some whole foods do this as well, though looking at the ingredients list and seeing only one ingredient means it’s still a whole food (ie, spinach in a bag).
Also there are tons of vitamins that aren’t listed on the Nutrition Facts label but may be present in the food you’re eating.
What YOU Eat
Let’s be honest – defining food for everybody is complicated. The healthy, all-organic marathon runner might not even consider Cheetos food. Maybe for them, the main purpose of food is fuel – they may think of their body as a machine and the food they eat as the fuel that keeps that machine running.
The foodie might only label it food if it appeases the senses – if it looks appetizing and smells and tastes good.
And we’ve all probably eaten a combination of weird stuff we either love or ate because it was the only thing around.
Also think about what people in different countries and parts of the world consider “food” that we in America don’t.
But I still feel like we didn’t quite answer the question, What Is Food? So here’s my opinion.
Food Is Fuel*
At it’s core, food is what keeps us alive. The ingredients and nutrients that make up our food are converted into what our body needs to function (and thrive).
It’s also fuel for the soul. Hence the asterisk. I like the Food Is Fuel concept, but I think it’s not limited to simply fuel for our bodies. There’s a reason we have favorite foods and things we love to eat and a particular type of salad dressing and we get cravings and enjoy the smells like eating different types of foods in different places. It’s one of the luxuries we get to enjoy by living in 2017 and not 20,000 years ago.
Food is what it’s made of, and what you make it.
I think that’s the one.
*This is debatable, if you consider pesticides to be an additive. It’s helpful to refer to the clean 15/dirty dozen for foods that are most susceptible to pesticides and that you should try to buy organic.
*Buying 100% Organic, certified Organic, and USDA Organic-labeled products is usually the easiest way to identify and avoid genetically modified ingredients. The United States and Canadian governments do NOT allow companies to label products “100% / Certified Organic” if they contain genetically modified foods.