First and foremost I am a chef, whether behind the stove at one of my Northern California restaurants or for the past 15 years in front of the camera on my Food Network cooking shows. Creating new dishes and flavor combinations that bring cooks and our restaurant guests pleasure is my job and I love it.

But after seven cookbooks and two children’s books, I also consider “author” an important part of my résumé because it gives me a different kind of platform to deliver a critically important message: to live a long and healthy life, we need to realize how important it is to use real, fresh food. It’s a conscious choice that we are up against at least two dozen times a day, fresh vs. processed food. It’s a battle between the healthy, nutrient-packed, wholesome ingredients, simply prepared, versus so-called “convenience foods”—and it’s a battle we seem to be losing in our country, because every day we are more broke, fat, and sick. What to do about it is a question of personal responsibility, which I think can only come from truly understanding the facts of what’s in our food.

Walk through the grocery store—every aisle is packed with processed foods: the commercial baked goods, sodas and sports drinks, breakfast cereals, yogurts, pasta sauces, ketchup, jams, barbecue sauces, snack bars, cookies, coffee creamers, bread, ice cream, frozen pizza, etc. The poorer the quality and the more processed the food you eat, the more of it you actually need to feel full.

We need to examine what specific ingredients do to our body and how this way of eating adds up, quietly, over the years, one empty calorie at a time. Eating close to the source (by that I mean organic, wholesome, unmanipulated ingredients), such as roasted potatoes with rosemary, garlic, good olive oil and a little sea salt, or whole wheat pasta loaded with vegetables and maybe a little protein like organic chicken or pork meatballs, can be the basis of a healthy diet that has worked for thousands of years.

I wrote my latest book, Tyler Florence Fresh (Clarkson Potter) to show how beautiful, simple, and of course delicious fresh food can be. I want to share these amazing recipes, but just as importantly, I write to give readers the tools and the inspiration to cook fresh every time they step into their own kitchens.

Tyler Florence is a Food Network star, the author of six cookbooks, and the chef/owner of Wayfare Tavern and Tyler Florence Wine and Rotisserie in San Francisco and El Paseo in Mill Valley, Calif.