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Interview: Lisa Leake of 100 Days of Real Food

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Lisa Leake and family. Photo by

In person, Lisa Leake is radiant. When she talks about her passion–eating real food–she lights up, and it’s easy to see how such enthusiasm, combined with conviction, was the springboard for 100 Days of Real Food, the true story of how Lisa and her family of four stopped eating processed food products and made the switch to an all-natural diet that included only whole, natural foods. True to the name of her blog, Lisa chronicled her family’s journey for 100 days, but along the way, something incredible happened. People started paying attention to Lisa’s story, and then more people started paying attention, and then the media got wind of it, and now, with more than 25,000 fans on Facebook, it’s clear: people want to eat like the Leakes. And Lisa is showing them how to do it.

Lisa and her family began their real food journey in May 2010. Since they completed their initial 100-day challenge, they’ve relaxed their eating guidelines, but not much. In fact, they followed it up with a second 100-day challenge, even more daunting than the first: 100 Days of Real Food on a Budget. For this challenge, the Leakes followed the same rules, but on a budget that amounted to less than what a family of four on food stamps would have to spend. The result: success, and inspiration for the Leakes’ many fans. What’s next for Lisa and her family? Keep reading for the scoop!

1. Give us the quick version of how you got to where you are now.

Well, I was just minding my own business when one day I saw Michael Pollan on “Oprah.” They were talking about where your food comes from, and I was intrigued because I suddenly realized I had no idea! So I went on to read Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food” and it seriously changed my life. It made me realize that a lot of the food I was making and serving my family was actually “junk food” and bad for our health. So I felt compelled to completely revamp our diets, and I didn’t rest until I figured out exactly how to do it. Friends on Facebook started asking me what I was doing and one friend eventually suggested I start a blog about it. I thought it was a pretty crazy idea (me, a blogger?), but look at me now! And with one news article after another, word has start to spread…

2. In a nutshell, describe your philosophy as an eater.

I borrow most of [my family’s] philosophies from Michael Pollan, but one of our favorites is: don’t eat anything your great-grandparents wouldn’t recognize. He says innovation in food (like artificial ingredients that are invented in a lab) is a bad thing…and I believe it!

3. What’s been the most rewarding aspect of launching 100 Days of Real Food?

The most rewarding part of writing my blog is by far the comments and emails from readers. When people write you almost daily to tell you how much you’ve helped them or changed their lives…it doesn’t get much better than that and it’s exactly what keeps me going!

4. What were a few of the hardest challenges you faced during your first 100 days of real food?

I struggled with relearning how to grocery shop and cook. I also had a hard time dealing with all the extra dirty dishes from cooking so much. I had to abandon all my usual food shopping and meal-planning routines and basically start from scratch, which was not easy at first, but it eventually became my “new normal.”

5. Tell us about your real food “mini-pledge” project.

The mini-pledges were devised for the large subset of readers who wanted to cut out processed food, but felt overwhelmed at the thought of going “cold turkey” for our 10 Days of Real Food pledge. So the mini-pledges guide readers through baby steps so they can cut out processed food one week at a time. Here is the list in case anyone is interested in following these weekly pledges on their own schedule

6. What do you hope to accomplish with 100 Days of Real Food?

I hope to open people’s eyes to the things they did not see before. Our eating habits used to be just like those of any other average family. We felt like we were making fairly healthy food choices, when what we thought was healthy was actually highly processed and what the food industry was labeling “healthy.” I wish someone would have opened my eyes to this sooner, and that is exactly what I want to do for others.

7. What’s a typical day like for you?

Some days I am in the kitchen a lot and others not at all. If I decide to make a fresh batch of granola I might also start a loaf of whole-wheat bread (in my bread machine) while I am in the kitchen. Then I might start packing my daughter’s lunch for the next day or prepping something for dinner (like starting our slow cooker). Once I am in the kitchen I am usually pretty productive and have a few things going at once so I can take the next day or two “off” from any major cooking other than our standard meals.

8. What would people be surprised to learn about you?

When people ask me what my husband thinks about not eating processed food they are usually very surprised to learn that I was actually the reluctant one when it came to eating “real food.” My husband has always wanted to eat this way, but we didn’t since I was the one planning our meals and food shopping (I used to buy whole-wheat bread for him and white bread for me…gasp!). He likes to joke with me now and says, “I’d been trying to tell you all this for years, but now that you saw it on Oprah you are convinced!” People truly need their own “light bulb” moment when it comes to making such a drastic change in their lives.

9. Can you share a few pointers for healthful eating at a restaurant?

When we are searching for restaurants we usually start with what’s local. We ask the local farmers’ market vendors what restaurants they serve or search online for places that offer locally grown and/or raised cuisine. No matter how local they are, though, most restaurants do not offer 100 percent whole-grain breads (a lot of “whole-wheat breads” are actually made with both whole-wheat and white flours). So it is best to just avoid things like bread, breading/breadcrumbs, crusts, flour tortillas, etc. It is also recommended to ask questions when it comes to things like sauces and soups because a surprising amount contain sugar. For more dining out tips, including specific meals you could order at some chain restaurants, check out my post on How to Eat Whole Foods at Restaurants.

10 What are some of your favorite Charlotte-area restaurants that feature local fare?

Harvest Moon Grille, Customshop, Rooster’s, Upstream, ZinkHalcyon (attached to the Mint Museum), Community Cafe (inside Discovery Place), and Sante (in Matthews).

11. Do you ever eat junk food? What are your guilty pleasures?

Yes, but the junk food we prefer is homemade as opposed to the artificially flavored/colored, factory-made stuff. My favorite treat is probably homemade chocolate chip cookies (made with half whole-wheat flour) and my girls both love homemade popsicles and donuts. We usually have one special treat per week, and we pick something fun to share together. Sometimes my girls get their weekly treat at a birthday party or friend’s house and sometimes they even get more than one in a week, but we don’t fret about it.

12. What’s next for you?

I just rolled out a new series called “100 Days of Real Food Tips,” which will cover categories including: Pantry Essentials, School Lunch Ideas and Meal Planning Tips. I have so many tips and ideas to share and little numbered lists seemed like a great format to get my message across. Be sure to subscribe via email or Facebook if you don’t want to miss what’s next!

Editor’s Note: What with all the decadent dining out we do, sometimes it’s nice to get back to basics. Dear readers, what are your failproof real food tips? We’d love to know!

Nikki Jong is an earth-friendly eater who’s never met a vegetable she didn’t adore. In addition to her edible plant obsession, she nurses a neverending hankering for sustainable seafood and is a champion oyster eater (and shucker). Nikki loves hoppy beers, bold, spicy reds, and believes that nothing beats a cold glass of moscato d’Asti on a hot summer afternoon. As Editor of The Menuism Blog, she has the pleasure of interviewing some of the hungriest, thirstiest and most ambitious folks in food and wine.