Oh my, this thread has gone in many directions and I love reading the different views on real food
Personally, I have found that eating real food made a huge difference in my health (and weight). I also select foods that are nutrient-dense, and I look at food a completely different way now. These days, food is less about what it can do for my taste buds than what it can do for my health.
A few years ago, I read something that Dr. Andrew Weil wrote indicating our bodies may not know what to do with all of the foreign substances we are putting in them, and they may be linked to the increase in inflammation that causes heart disease and other serious illnesses. It seems to make sense, and I'd love to explore that further.
I'd like to say that I read every label, but I buy very few items that have labels or with more than one ingredient on them. I eat a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits, oats, homemade dressings, fish, lentils, etc. I eat fruit for dessert. If I do buy something in a package, I make sure that it contains simple ingredients without artificial or altered additives.
I do wish access to fresh food was more available everywhere. I'm lucky that I live near a few good farmers markets. Sams Club also has good deals on fresh and frozen vegetables and fruit. (I buy frozen blueberries there and eat a cup a day). I buy oats and lentils from the bulk bins at the natural food market. I'm currently waiting on the zucchini and tomatoes to start appearing in neighborhood gardens, where I'll happily accept their overflow
It all makes real food more affordable.