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.