Read The Label, Then What?
For many years, I was a scrupulous label reader. When my kids were young, I made most of what they ate from whole ingredients. When I did buy prepared food, I made sure that it didn’t contain anything nasty. At least, I thought I did. After reading about recent label-fraud discoveries, I’m wondering if reading the label is providing the protection I assumed it did. As wholesome foods become trendy, unscrupulous marketers have taken advantage of their popularity, using deliberately deceptive labeling to sell adulterated versions of everything from olive oil and coffee to pomegranate juice and honey.
Because the problem is so wide-spread, the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, a non-profit agency that creates the standards adopted by the Food And Drug Administration, offers a Food Fraud Database that lists food testing results by category. In 2012, for example, researchers found products labeled as “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” to contain corn, soybean, sesame, and safflower oils, among other things. Cheap honey may hail from China, where dangerous pesticide contamination has been found, yet be falsely labeled with a safer country of origin.
Is It Real, Is It Fake?
The creation of what are termed “fake foods” is lucrative enough that a horrifying number of such products may be found in stores nation and world wide. Unwholesome food additions may simply be cheaper versions of expensive foods, but they may also include harmful substances such as melamine, pesticides, and known allergens. To avoid them, buy whole foods instead of prepared ones when possible, perhaps choosing oranges instead of orange juice and blueberries instead of “blueberry-flavored” cereals, bagels, and so forth, which may contain only blue-dyed, sugary, fake berries, even in big-name national brands. Fruit juices may be adulterated with anything from high fructose corn syrup to MSG, so stick with organic versions or eat whole fruit, which offer greater quantities of antioxidants and phytonutrients.
Shop at farmers markets for local produce, eggs, honey, and cheeses. Buy locally made breads and organically raised poultry and meats. When that is impractical (few of us can make our own olive oil), read labels with care. Major brands may be more likely to be safe, since accountability is important to their public image, yet huge national brands of chicken, processed meats, seafood and other products have been exposed for unsafe practices in recent years. To stay informed, visit websites like Food Safety News (http://www.foodsafetynews.com/) and Environmental Working Group (http://www.ewg.org/) to keep abreast of current developments.
Top Ten Fraudulent Foods
Coffee (pre-ground and instant)
Fish and seafood
Here’s another crazy-making link: http://www.foodfraud.org/node?destination=node)
What are these people thinking?
Buy Real Food and Cook It Yourself
All this makes shopping locally even more attractive. Cooking with beautiful, fresh, local food is certainly joyful, at least I find it so. I guess I am fortunate in finding cooking pleasurable, even fun. I am becoming painfully aware that many, perhaps most, young families that love to eat simply don’t do a lot of cooking. It’s not just the young, either; I recall clients, serious foodies, who learned, several years after purchasing their new home, that their amazingly gorgeous imported French range had never been hooked up. In all that time, nobody had ever tried to use it. Yow.
What can we do? Teach a friend, a neighbor, a relative, a young person to garden, to grow food, and to cook. Maybe that order is wrong, I don’t know. Perhaps the best idea is to lure people in with lovely food, then show them how to create it themselves, in stages. If we teach in sound bites these days, maybe bites of real food can be as educational as any book. What do you think? I’d love some ideas!
Here’s a starter, anyway. Anybody can make this, and it tastes wonderful.
Kale Soup With White Beans
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon dried hot pepper flakes
1 teaspoon thyme, stemmed
6 cups kale, thinly sliced
2 cups cooked White Cannellini beans
1/4 cup chopped apple
In a soup pot, combine oil, onion, garlic, salt, pepper flakes, and thyme over medium high heat and cook until fragrant. Add kale, cover pan and sweat for 2 minutes. Swirl to coat with oil and cook until lightly wilted (3-5 minutes). Add beans and water to cover (5-6 cups), bring to a simmer, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve, garnished with chopped apple. Serves 4.
Quite frequently at the farmers market where we sell our produce there is a guest chef, someone the market manager has convinced to come make an appearance. At the beginning of the day she/he visits all the booths and ‘shops’ for ingredients (we all donate). That way the cooking is market based for sure. This allows folks to see what they can do with their purchases or hopefully sparks some curiosity for later. During high summer there’s always canning demos which is great for budding home preservers who need a little confidence. If your favorite farmers market isn’t doing something along these lines, why not encourage the folks in charge to give it a whirl. People could definitely get ‘a taste!’
Great idea! I am part of a vocal trio that performs traditional music at a lot of farmers’ markets and I will definitely mention your thoughts to the managers this summer. I’d love to see that happen everywhere!
Hi Ann, thank you so much for your (as always) thoughtful and informative post.
It gives me some of the encouragement I need to
Stay the course of feeding my family of five with food 99% prepared from scratch. Family of five big eaters I may add! It is a lot of work! My quest is to find rhythms and routines that will bring this style of eating into alignment with the modern family lifestyle. How does this become “do-able” for the average family, where both parents probably work? Not everyone has the willingness or time to spend 3-4 hours per day in the kitchen. It is worth it, but does it necessarily need to take this much time? Can I make it more efficient? Does it really take so much “work”, or is this just my perception?
News from a real “test family kitchen” of cooking from scratch…
I’m so proud of you, what a truly loving gift you are giving to your family! The good news is that yes, the whole cooking-from-scratch thing can be made more efficient, though if you want to cook and eat fresh, whole foods, the only time it’s INSTANT is when you picnic from the garden in high summer. I am sure you know a bunch of tricks already, like cooking big batches of beans and/or grains and freezing the extras, making “serial meals” by recycling leftovers (if you have any) into sandwiches, soups and/or casseroles, making many loaves of bread at a time and freezing some, etc. I always found meal planning to be a big key to reducing prep time, since I could make two or three casseroles or batches of soup at the same time (still do) and only clean up once.
I cook for quite a few people myself, including my elderly mom, my adult sons, and several friends on special diets of various kinds, and I admit to experiencing it as a kind of meditation. When I had a houseful of busy kids, meditation was pretty much just a word, but now it’s a blessing to have others to feed. Cooking for one is pretty boring, but cooking for others feels very satisfying. Let me know if your tips are better than mine; they probably are!