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Tamar Haspel Headshot

How to Stop Eating Junk

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None of us can be left alone in a room with Doritos -- I don't know how they make that orange dust, but they ought to be dealing it on street corners.

And a lot of food is like that -- diabolically irresistible. Understandable, since the companies that make it want to sell what people want to buy, and put their not insignificant resources into engineering it into existence. And it's fruitless to try to get them to stop. They do it because they're here to make money. It's their job.

But resistance isn't futile, and there's help to be had. It comes in a little envelope, and it costs $1.79.

Seeds.

Four years ago, as a Manhattanite, I could barely grow my toenails, but a funny thing happened after I moved to Cape Cod and started planting things to eat. Slowly, my fundamental idea of what food is started to change. The dirtier I got, the less things in boxes with bright lettering looked like dinner. It's not a conscious process. It's just a gradual re-conception.

There's some actual, genuine evidence that growing food changes your perspective, especially with kids. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic tried a garden project at a YMCA summer camp, and found that kids both A) enjoyed it and B) became more willing to taste and eat produce. Some of them actually started asking for vegetables at home. Imagine.

Unsurprisingly, the good folks at Burpee are all over this. Burpee's chariman, George Ball, wrote last year in the Wall Street Journal that his company's research has found that kids who grow vegetables "eat them regularly and with gusto."

When was the last time you saw kids, vegetables and gusto all in the same sentence?

Cognitive neuroscience has yet to investigate, but I'm willing to bet that if you spend time outside, dealing with the plants and animals that food comes from, you form new neurons that equate "food" with "plants and animals." Sure, your higher faculties knew it all along, but tilling soil, smelling tomatoes and clipping herbs rewires your brainstem. Keeping chickens, going fishing and hunting mushrooms accelerates the process.

There's no need for this to be a big hairy deal. If there's a sunny spot in your yard, plant some peppers and cucumbers. If there isn't, grow a tomato plant in a container and put some herbs in a window box. If you're feeling a little more ambitious, build a coop and get a few hens -- it's less work and more reward than you think.

There's a very particular satisfaction in slicing your home-grown tomato for a BLT or turning your home-grown strawberries into jam. Once you know what it feels like, Doritos will never look quite the same.

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