These are oats, growing.
This is what oats look like unrefined. In this form, they are not edible by humans. (Which may be a strong clue that we shouldn't be eating them at all, but since we've been eating them for thousands of years and they're part of many traditional diets that have kept many people healthy for centuries, let's just pretend that for our purposes of defining real food, at least a few oats in our diet are okay.)
These are hulled oats or oat groats. These can be cooked and eaten by humans, and a porridge made from oat groats is probably the first way people ate oats 3000 years ago in eastern Europe. They take a long time to cook, though -- about 45 minutes -- so eventually people started refining them further. This is a food.
These are stone ground oats. Oat groats are roughly ground to allow them to cook more quickly, in about 20 minutes. From this, traditional diets make oatmeal (and if you haven't tried stone ground oats made into oatmeal, you don't really know what oats taste like.) There's one ingredient: oats. As far as I know there's no source of stone-ground oats in our area. This is a food.
Pinhead or steel-cut oats. Still only one ingredient, but these are a recent development after the industrial revolution made machine-processing possible. The hulled oats are put through a machine that cuts each groat into four pieces which allows them to cook more quickly than oat groats, in about 20 minutes. This is a food.
Rolled oats. The oat groats are steamed to soften them and then flattened. Because of the steaming, they're partially cooked and therefore cook more quickly than pinhead oats, in about five minutes. There's still only one ingredient: whole rolled oats. This is a food.
And of course Quaker discovered that this partial pre-cooking could be taken even further to make 'quick-cooking' oats which cook in one minute. Still one ingredient: whole rolled oats. This is a food, barely.
Instant Oatmeal. Here's where we cross into definite non-food. Notice the health claim -- banner reads 'Oatmeal Helps Reduce Cholesterol.' The ingredient list for Quaker Instant Oatmeal is whole grain rolled oats (with oat bran), calcium carbonate (a source of calcium), salt, guar gum, caramel color, reduced iron, niacinamide, Vitamin A palmitate, pyroxidoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin, thiamin mononitrate, folic acid. This is not a food.
Oat cereal. General Mills has taken a healthy and very inexpensive food and turned it into a collection of expensive ingredients. Again note the health claims -- the banner says "Cheerios May Reduce Your Cholesterol."
Here is the ingredients list for Cheerios. As you can see, even before we get to the list of added vitamins and minerals, there are multiple ingredients, including some I can't identify. Not a food.
Honey Nut Cheerios Milk 'n' Cereal Bars. This one's even easier to recognize as not a food. They've even stopped making direct health claims and have moved to only implying health claims -- the small banner on the lower right, superimposed over a glass of milk, reads "The nutrients of cereal and the calcium of 6 oz. of milk."
Here's the ingredient list for Honey Nut Cheerios Milk 'n' Cereal Bars. Hard to believe, isn't it? I don't even want to count how many ingredients there are, much less eat them. Not a food.
Oats are somewhat of a challenge to find as a locally-grown product, but they are grown in Ohio. The issue is the processing -- removal of the hulls takes special machinery. However, up in Millersburg, Stutzman Family Farms grows organic oats, hulls them, rolls them into rolled oats and grinds them into flour themselves, and distributes them through Van Kampen Foods of Alliance in the form of groats, rolled oats, and oat flour. Van Kampen Foods' website isn't online yet, but their phone number is (330) 823-2007.
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