“Food really shouldn’t come in packages”– I say this a lot and I never tire of seeing the smile that usually cracks from the person I’m talking to. I think deep down most people know this is true. Food is what grows from the ground, is picked from trees, is caught in the ocean and is hunted (or more often factory farmed? )Yet, nobody seems to want to talk about food. I mean real, natural food. You know, things like oats, walnuts, brown rice, carrots, oranges, coconuts. Nope. It’s too boring I suppose. Instead I hear questions revolving around what kinds of crackers are okay to eat and are rice krispies good or bad. I listen to comments about how they eat the skinny cow desserts or sugar-free jello when they are being good. Or they buy the diet bread or fat-free cottage cheese. These are not foods as much as they are food products, so unrecognizable from anything found in nature. In part, it’s hard to blame anyone as this is how the majority of the food is presented to us when we walk into a store. All neatly boxed, frozen, homogenized, pasteurized, canned, and bagged up.
When I refer to food in packages, I’m excluding certain things like bags of grapefruit, boxes of raisins or cans of black beans– foods like these that are basically just bagged/boxed/canned for convenience but consist of a whole, natural food. Sometimes. Even with these types of food that seem so innocent, you still need to read the ingredient list. Ideally, it will say “grapefruit” or “raisins” or “black beans” but frequently you will find some other strange words that don’t seem to belong. Words like “yellow 6” and “brominated vegetable oil” and “BHA”— what? Read the ingredient list and if you don’t know what something is, take the time to do some research and educate yourself— do not ever assume that it is safe just because it’s readily available in a store for sale.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest’s website has a great page on Chemical Cuisine where various food additives are given a safety rating. If you see something on a food products ingredient list and aren’t sure what it is, you can read about it here. It may or may not be something you are comfortable ingesting. This is for you to decide.
Take a look at this recent article about food ingredients/additives that are allowed by the FDA in the US food supply but are banned in many other countries due to safety concerns.
If you think the government is watching out for your health, think again. Unfortunately it is not okay to assume that these additives have been proven to be safe. It’s your responsibility to find out what’s in your food.
If it weren’t bad enough that harmful chemicals are added to packaged foods sitting on our grocery store shelves, there is also a serious issue of Food Fraud on the Rise. Packaged foods are being adultered and mislabeled. Are you as disturbed and outraged as I am when you hear this? The most common counterfeit foods are: olive oil, milk, saffron, honey, coffee, tea, fish, maple syrup, turmeric, black pepper and chili pepper. Bottles of olive oil have been found to be diluted with cheap vegetable oils and pomegranate juice had added cheap fillers of grape and pear juice.
As you can see, there are many things to worry about just as seriously as how much sodium or sugar is added to a packaged product. So why not simply buy less packaged foods? I challenge you to think outside the box. Shop for more foods in the produce section and bulk bins, and less in the middle aisles of the grocery store. Look for organics when buying plant foods and especially animal products like dairy and meats. After all, the quality of their meats and milks will only be as good as their diet. Kind of like us humans. Buy local when you can– and ask the farmers questions about how their food is grown and how the animals are raised. Don’t support the food companies that are marketing cheap and potentially dangerous products. Vote for what you believe in with your food dollars and the food choices you make. Be aware and don’t dig your grave with your fork.