Exclusive: Chef Erica Wides Gets Real About Fake Food

Exclusive: Chef Erica Wides Gets Real about Fake Food
Photo Credit: Evan Sung

Chef Erica Wides has been referred to as the "Jon Stewart of food" and if you listen to just five minutes of her radio show, "Let's Get Real," you'll understand exactly why. 

Every Tuesday night, Erica's sweet voice fills the airwaves of Heritage Radio Network as she uses honesty, wit, and sarcasm to unpack the latest issues surrounding food and "Foodiness" - Erica's term for "processed food masquerading as real food."

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Chef Wides takes the complicated topic of "whole foods" and makes it accessible to the masses, all the while employing her cheeky, hilarious, and oh-so-real attitude to do so. 

Basically, she's everything you would want in a best foodie friend. And you really do feel like you're listening to a longtime gal pal when you turn on "Let's Get Real." Only the realest friend would cut through all the junk you’ve been fed (figuratively and literally) and tell it like it is: "You don't want to eat sh*t. That's why you listen to this show."

Recipe Corner recently had the opportunity to chat with Erica about her radio show and the former Institute of Culinary Education instructor lived up to her reputation for entertaining while educating. 

RC: What inspired you to start doing a radio show about food?

Erica: The inspiration for "Let’s Get Real, The Cooking Show About Finding, Preparing, and Eating Food" came out of my very strong conviction that the food industry in the US and (increasingly) the world is simply designed to sell us the cheapest, least nutritious food products they can make, at the lowest possible cost to them, and yet at the same time, market it to us in a very misleading and downright dishonest way. 

When I was teaching at ICE, I kept getting culinary students who never knew that lemon juice came from a lemon, not a bottle, or that whipped cream was something you made, not something that was scooped from a tub or squirted from a can. 

The line between real food and processed, manufactured and faux food (or what I call “Foodiness”) had become so blurred that I feared people were losing their ability to recognize real food at all. 

People fear real food, they don’t know how to choose ripe fruit, or different cuts of meat, what to do with a piece of raw fish, or how to cook basic stuff like rice, because the industry has brainwashed us all into thinking that processed and packaged is always better than simple and real. It’s like Orwell’s “Doublespeak” in 1984. If someone tells you something over and over again, eventually you believe it. Foodiness is like Doublespeak. 

Let’s Get Real is also the result of a providential meeting with a writer named Christopher Nutter (who has written several books) who collaborated with me on the concept of the show, and who helped create the Jon Stewart / Stephen Colbert inspired character and to go after that demographic. He is the co-producer of the show now. 

RC: Why is it important to avoid processed foods and cook with whole ingredients at home?

Erica: Because food is what we humans have eaten for the last 2 million years or so, up until only about the last 75. There were no 7-11’s in ancient Egypt, or sports drinks at the first Olympics. Little kids in colonial one-room schoolhouses weren’t pulling Go-Gurt from their lunchpails. 

These last 75 years haven’t exactly been so good for our species. I mean, look around you. The rise in morbid obesity, diabetes, cancer – not to mention the precipitous drop in IQ levels – all follow the same trajectory as our rise in the production and consumption of Foodiness. 

Remember the White Rabbit, from Alice in Wonderland? He lured Alice down his rabbit hole, where she came upon all those little bottles and things that said "eat me" and "drink me." Were those things food? Nope. But she ate them and drank them anyway, unquestioningly, and look at what happened to Alice after that. 

Well it’s the same for us. Foodiness has led us down the rabbit hole, and that hole has gotten deeper and deeper every decade, and now we’re so fat we can barely fit down it anymore, but we sure keep on trying. Just because something says eat me, doesn’t mean you should. 

Why would we throw away thousands of years of food knowledge, expertise and common sense for packaged, processed, industrialized Foodiness that’s making us sick and fat? Did your great-grandma eat it? Then you probably shouldn’t either. She knew better, but she had no Foodiness to tempt her. She knew, if it walked, swam, flew or grew, it was food. 

On “Let’s Get Real” I give people solid, useful advice for how to rid their lives of Foodiness and not get stuck down that rabbit hole. 

RC: Do you consider dairy products like yogurt, cheese, and milk to be food or Foodiness since all three go through some form of processing?

Erica: Real milk, real cheese and real yogurt aren’t Foodiness.  But artificially sweetened, colored and flavored milk and yogurt are. And processed cheese products are. And anything low-fat is. 

Humans have been consuming dairy products for hundreds of thousands of years, and the making of cheese and yogurt are ancient forms of fermentation technology that we invented quite by accident, then learned to harness for our nutritional benefit. 

Good quality, grass-fed dairy cows produce milk, cheese, yogurt and butter that are exceptionally good for humans. They are full of CLAs and Omega-3s which come from the grass they eat. 

But when the Foodiness machine takes those products and alters them, like with 100-calorie apple pie-flavored yogurt, or "low-fat" half-and-half, or dairy-flavored fake butter spreads, and then try to tell us that those manufactured products are better for us than real dairy, then we’ve got a real problem. 

That’s the essence of Foodiness, spinning something bad as something good by placing a health-halo on it. My friend Kristin Wartman, a frequent guest on "Let’s Get Real," who is a revolutionary nutritionist, says we should all be eating more butter and whole milk dairy products, not less. And she’s thin, beautiful and glows with health! 

Our brains and bodies need animal fats and cholesterol to function and fight inflammation. Red-velvet-cake-flavored artificially-sweetened, cornstarch-thickened pink-dyed 100-calorie “yogurt”…? Maybe not.

RC: What kinds of creepy ingredients are typically found in Foodiness?

Erica: Anything that is listed on a package that you wouldn’t recognize as food is a creepy ingredient. So if you pick up a Foodiness package and see things on there that you can’t pronounce, or couldn’t otherwise just buy individually, then drop the package and run straight to the produce aisle.  

Artificial sweeteners, corn syrup, cornstarch, thickeners, emulsifiers, preservatives, colorings, flavorings - these things aren’t food. There are too many creepy additives and ingredients out there to list, so just look for food names. Better yet, don’t buy anything in a package, and then the work is done for you.  But if you must, a few to really look out for are HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), mono and di-glycerides, caramel color, TBHQ, carageenan, and artificial colors and sweeteners.

RC: What advice do you have for people who want to cut the Foodiness out of their lives but aren't sure how because they have spent their whole lives eating it?

Erica: First, start listening to my show. That’s the most important step. Then, evaluate your grocery cart. Are there boxes and packages? Read them, if they contain any of the above, put them back on the store shelf. 

Shop the perimeter of your store, that’s where the produce, meat and dairy products are. If you buy something packaged, try to keep the ingredient count under 5. So for example if you buy ice cream, it should say: contains milk, cream, sugar, vanilla and salt. Not the 30-40 ingredients listed on the average Foodiness “diet” ice cream product. 

Shop a farmers market, join a CSA, talk to your grandma, but only if she’s over 70. Read Little House on the Prairie

Listen to Erica's weekly radio show at LetsGetRealShow.com

Article by: Amanda Patton