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Several people have asked me about what I buy and where I shop for “real food”, so I decided to compile a list of resources and provide some definitions. Much of my nutritional beliefs align with those of the Weston A. Price Foundation, which advocates “traditional” diets and eschews all highly processed foods. More on what “traditional” diets and “real food” mean after the list.
2018 UPDATE: Our friends at the San Diego downtown chapter of the Weston A Price foundation have also put together this handy resource guide. Download it for free!
What exactly is “real” food and a “traditional” diet?
With the understanding that diets are like religious beliefs (there are hundreds of them and people have strong convictions about them!), I try to offer my beliefs as to what constitutes real food.
- Nutrient-dense– high quality plant and animal products which contain many macro as well as micronutrients
- Grown or raised harmoniously with Nature- Plants: organically grown (or better), farming practices that demonstrate mindfulness for the soil microbiome; Animals: allowed to live as close to their natural habitat and behaviors (diet, freedom to move, natural behaviors like foraging)
- Minimally processed/As close to whole as possible- a certain amount of processing is often needed to make foods more nutritious (fermentation, soaking, e.g.), but keeping the ingredient raw and whole allows us to benefit from all the nutrients (e.g. eat an apple rather than drink apple juice)
- Traditional food refers to foods that can be prepared in a kitchen, and don’t require a factory with a laboratory to produce or create
- Pastured animals, meaning they spend most of their lives outside, eating pasture, grazing, mating and giving birth naturally, etc. “Organic” is lacking with regard to meat quality because, e.g. a cow can still be raised in a factory and simply be fed organic grains
- Beef- grass-fed, as cows evolved to eat and digest silage (grass), not grain; cows will sometimes eat seeding grasses, which are grains, but it’s not a major part of their diet
- Chicken- pastured, getting to run around, eating grass, bugs, larvae, etc.
- Pork- pastured, not confined, eating veggie and fruit scraps; they’re great recyclers, eating just about anything
- Bone broth- made from the bones, some meat, cartilage, and connective tissue of pastured animals. The good stuff is slow cooked for 1 to 3 days. Bones and connective tissue contains a variety of powerful nutrients that become released when they are slowly simmered in water, the universal solvent. These nutrients include bone marrow which helps provide the raw materials for healthy blood cells and immune development, as well as a host of other minerals like collagen which all help with the development of healthy joints, bones, ligaments and tendons as well as hair and skin.
Milk & Dairy
- I don’t buy raw dairy very often because it is quite expensive, and I find it tends to ‘sour’ faster than pasteurized milk. Actually it is still perfectly fine to use ‘sour’ raw milk to make cheese or yogurt. Unhomogenized (pasteurized) is the perfect tradeoff of high quality and minimally processed for me.
- Avoid Ultra Pasteurized dairy (even if it’s organic); the UHT process zaps many of the micronutrients
- See Where is My Milk From? to learn the exact place where dairy products originate; enter the plant code from the carton, e.g. plant 06-93
- Pastured (not pasteurized!) eggs mean the hens get to run around in the dirt and grass, taking dirt baths, and eating bugs, worms, larvae and grasses (they’re little dinosaurs!) Eggs from these ladies are usually more nutritious than “vegetarian fed” hens, and usually have a deep yellow or orange yolk indicating their omnivorous diet.
- Pastured eggs are usually not washed (meaning they might have some dirt, dried droppings or hay on them). Do not wash eggs until you are ready to use them, as they contain a helpful bloom which protects the eggs from pathogens.
- Outside the fridge, unwashed eggs will keep a month.
- DON’T BE FOOLED BY THESE WORDS! “Free-range” label is a dodgy term and generally means little; an operation be labeled free-range as long as there’s a small square of open air (10’x10′) attached to a stifling overcrowded barn (that any of the 30,000 hens inside could conceivably find and use). “Vegetarian-fed” was a reaction to some operations that were feeding chicken meat to chicken. Since chickens are little dinosaurs, their eggs are more nutritious if they feed omnivorously (i.e. graze on bugs and worms.)
- “Organic” label is also not trustworthy, because the hens may still be raised in batteries/factory farms, and are just fed organic grains
- Coconut oil, olive oil, and fats from pastured animals (tallow, lard); avoid any kind of oils (like canola) which are usually processed with high heat or harsh chemicals
- Organic Vegetables and Fruits, grown locally and as seasonally as possible
- Fermented foods- DIY! duh! 🙂
- Seeds, nuts, grains, flours that have been soaked, sprouted, or fermented; soaking is a traditional method of preparation, and reduces phytates and enzyme inhibitors, both which block absorption of other minerals, and are thus called “anti-nutrients”
I’ve just skimmed the surface here; there are entire books and blogs dedicated to Real food.
Fruits & Vegetables
- JR Organics Farm– in San Diego county; appear are at most farmers markets
- Sage Mountain Farm– appear at most farmers markets
- Sprouts Farmers Market– not an actual farmers market, this is a regional small-store chain in the southwest; has a good, fairly consistent organic section; a wider array of vegetables than fruits; they do buy from all over the world, so if local is important to you, check the label (peaches and blueberries don’t grow in December in the northern hemisphere, e.g.)
Seeds, Nuts & Grains
- Whole Foods– organic corn tortillas; organic (bulk) oats and other grains/flours; organic bulk beans
- Trader Joe’s– has a decent selection of raw nuts (which you can soak/dehydrate yourself!) not necessarily organic or locally sourced. According to Trader Joe’s, if their packaging does not list the country of origin, then it is from the U.S.
- Sprouts Farmers Market– good selection of bulk nuts, mostly not organic
- Prager Brothers Artisan Breads– Brothers Louie and Clint bake high quality breads in small batches, using high quality ingredients, and only natural leaven (aka wild sourdough), not commercial yeasts. Storefront in Carlsbad and they appear at many farmers markets, including Vista, Leucadia, Little Italy Mercato and farmers markets.
- Da-Le Ranch– in Lake Elsinore, CA; pastured chicken, beef, pork, eggs, and other small game animals; at most farmers markets in town
- Descanso Valley Ranch- pastured chickens (whole); Leucadia, Little Italy Mercato farmers markets
- Catalina Offshore Products– locally sourced/sustainable seafood; this wholesale fishmonger also sells to the public
- Glacier Grown– ranch based in Montana, they make twice yearly deliveries to southern California. Grass-fed beef and bison; also raw honey. This is a good option to purchase in bulk and store in a separate freezer.
Milk & Dairy
- My go-to milk for making kefir and yogurt is whole milk from Straus Family Creamery, a northern California (Petaluma) farm. I buy their unhomogenized, pasteurized organic whole milk. It’s typically sold in glass half-gallon bottles, but they recently introduced a plastic one-gallon container. Available at Sprouts, Barons, Whole Foods, etc.
- Clover Sonoma– makers of high quality dairy; I buy their whole milk and heavy cream; I find them at most Whole Foods around southern California.
- Spring Hill Cheese– (Sonoma county, California) makers of cheese and amazing butter from Jersey cows (who produce milk with the highest butterfat); available at the Hillcrest Farmers Market, Little Italy Mercato, and North Park farmers markets.
- Organic Pastures Raw Dairy– the largest raw dairy in California; available at Sprouts and local/regional markets and co-ops; raw cow milk, butter, cream.
- Vital Farms– makers of pastured eggs and grass-fed butter
- Kerrygold butter– from Ireland, where all cattle are pastured (by law); most supermarkets, Trader Joe’s, and Costco carry it
- Cheeses- Trader Joe’s carries a fine selection of cheeses, some raw (aged at least 60 days by law); they seem to have the best prices when compared to other stores
- Brodino– Small batch bone broth company based in Laguna Niguel, CA; they sell at farmers markets like Hillcrest Farmers Market
UPDATED 2018 Pastured eggs have finally gotten their due. I am finding many brands in stores now, between $5 to $8 a dozen. Sprouts Farmers Markets and Whole Foods carry them. I still have not seen them in Trader Joe’s. Just be sure to ask whether the hens are pastured and get to eat bugs and worms! If I’m courting a new egg vendor, I always ask them about how they raise the chickens.
- Paradise Valley Ranch (aka Avocado Lovers)- at farmers markets; I’ve only seen them carry eggs at North Park farmers market
- Vital Farms– makers of pastured eggs and grass-fed butter
- Da-Le Ranch– at most farmers markets (except Hillcrest); $8.50/doz. (as of May 2018)
- Descanso Valley Ranch- newer pastured egg sellers; Leucadia, Little Italy Mercato farmers markets; they also sell meat birds; eggs $7/doz. o
- Your neighbor who raises backyard chickens- if you’re lucky enough to live next to an urban farmer, this is probably your best bet for local, pastured chicken eggs! That is, unless you raise your own!
Soooo, we are pretty biased about our making our own fermented foods, but there are some great local brands that specialize in raw, cultured foods, including:
- Happy Pantry– A nice selection of sauerkrauts, kimchi and kombucha. Husband and wife Mark and Rebecca cover many of the farmers markets, including Leucadia, Little Italy, and Hillcrest
- Edible Alchemy– Alan makes various sauerkrauts and kombucha, served from both kegs and bottles.