Real food decays

There’s this one story I heard as a teenager – a guy had fast food french fries on the floor mat in the back seat of his car and he just decided to leave them there awhile. I don’t know why seven years went by without this guy cleaning out his car, but it did, and the fast food french fries looked exactly the same after all those years.

I don’t know the origin of the story or where I read it or saw it. It’s something that’s stuck with me for years. I can’t place the last time I ordered french fries from that particular fast food place, but it’s been a very long time, at least five years or so. I can’t stomach them, probably because of that one story I read or heard that one time.

I’ve been reading “Folks This Ain’t Normal” by Joel Salatin for the past week or so – very interesting, funny and thought-provoking. In his chapter “No Compost, No Digestion,” Salatin wrote, “We as people can only be as vibrant as the vitality in the food we’ve decomposed in our digestive system.”

Salatin shares a story he heard from some conference attendee who told him he had a burger museum in his house – he bought a burger every year for twenty years and they all still look the same.

Now that’s right up there with the french fry story. There go fast food hamburgers.

The concept of real food as food capable of decay is troubling to me for two reasons.

First off – I know it’s true. Every week I throw out fridge foods I didn’t use in time.

Secondly – Many of those foods that decayed in my fridge or pantry could have been consumed before they went bad. However, I fed myself processed foods, “plastic” foods, foods that come in boxes with a list of ingredients six-inches long in size six font that carry an expiration date so far in the future I wonder how many wrinkles I’ll have by then.

My body mustn’t thrive with those processed foods. Sometimes I personify my stomach and impersonate its complaints – “Macaroni and cheese from a box? Guess you’re okay with funky food science ingredients and virtually no nutritional value.”

“Jelly beans?!? I don’t even know what to do with this!”

I am an advocate for real food consumption, but I certainly stumble in this regard quite often (if not daily).

Typically it’s laziness that influences the bad choice. I have bags of root vegetables in my pantry that are Maine-grown and packed with nutrients, but I opt for something quick-to-make and that requires virtually no preparation.

Meanwhile, the real food decays, right where it sits and in a reasonable amount of time, just like things filled with life that have been cut off from their source are supposed to do.

Every day is a challenge – to say ‘no’ to convenience and ‘yes’ to the right choice, to admit – fully, finally – that fruit snacks are not a form of fruit, and to gravitate steadily towards real foods that are one ingredient (carrots! beets!) or a collection of easily-identifiable ingredients.

My struggles to date do not negate the impact of the ‘Real food that decays’ challenge. Even though my stomach is filled with unnatural, uncompostible things at the moment, I still have the opportunity to make a good choice for my next meal.

Something that I couldn’t save for the next generation, uncovered on a dusty shelf, watching the world change as it remains, unreal.


Jenna Beaulieu

About Jenna Beaulieu

Jenna is a writer and fine art photographer who recently moved from the Saint John Valley region to Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island. She’s a fan of excellent music, homemade gravy, and colored pencils (also, short books and long books, good pens, flannel, and when the June bugs don’t really come out much that year). For more about Jenna and her work, visit her website at