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Are you taking the October Unprocessed challenge?

October 1, 2011 |  6:30 am

Unprocessed_2011 If it's October, then it's time to put down the processed food for the 30 days.

Los Angeles food blogger Andrew Wilder is hosting the Unprocessed October challenge for the second year in a row, encouraging the online food community to spend the month scrutinizing everything they eat -- and shunning anything processed.

Last year, about 200 people started the challenge at Wilder's site, Eating Rules. This year, 1,600 people have already signed the pledge to spend the month being more aware of what they eat.

"I wasn't sure I was going to do it again, it takes a lot of work," said Wilder, an Internet consultant who also does tech support for food bloggers at BlogTutor.com. "But this has clearly struck a chord, it has struck a nerve. There are more people who are interested in this, where their food is coming from and what the story is behind that food -- and is it a legitimate story, or a PR story?"

Wilder uses a method he calls the "kitchen test" to determine whether a food is processed. And it goes like this: Could a person make this item in their kitchen using common ingredients? If the answer is yes, you're good to go. If the answer is no ... it will have to wait until November. Or, you could embrace the spirit of the challenge and go on a culinary journey to find a healthier substitute.

But if all that sounds boring, get this: This is one "diet" that allows French fries. (Assuming, of course, that they are fried in a nut oil or olive oil and not a highly processed vegetable oil.)

"This whole thing is an exercise in awareness, and I don't pretend to have all the answers," he said. "Hopefully, this forces you to question what you are eating and have a conversation about it."

One of the most commonly asked questions regards sugar. Table sugar is off limits during October Unprocessed. But all-natural sweeteners such maple syrup, honey and agave are allowed. Just make sure you read all and any labels, and assume nothing, Wilder said.

"There's a huge problem in our country. There's a deliberate lack of transparency within the food industry, we have been deliberately removed from the process of what goes into our food. Breaking down that barrier is very difficult."

Despite such strong feelings, Wilder takes a decidedly laid-back approach to the challenge. There's no way to fail, or mess it all up. No need to start over if you find yourself chomping on a Snickers come Halloween. And you can join at anytime during the month.

He asks only this: Just take a moment to think about everything you eat for the next 30 days.
"That's all I really want," he said. "I want people to eat mindfully."

If you have questions about whether a particular food meets the unprocessed definition -- or label horror stories -- that is part of the fun of October Unprocessed. (I did the challenge last year and found myself pinging Wilder in the middle of a grilled-cheese making session. I'd purchased a wheat bread that I thought was healthy. But I, um, never actually read the label until October Unprocessed, and was shocked to find a long list of barely pronounceable ingredients. I still ate that sandwich. But now I buy a brand with a much simpler ingredients list.)

You can debate such fine points across all Wilder's platforms, including Facebook and @EatingRules on Twitter, where he's using #unprocessed to thread the commentary.

And if you are looking for recipe inspiration, check out the latest recipes from the L.A. Times Test Kitchen. Not every single recipe in the online collection passes Wilder's kitchen test -- but most do.

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134 recipes for your favorite restaurant dishes

Browse hundreds of recipes from the L.A. Times Test Kitchen

-- Rene Lynch
twitter / renelynch

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