15.9.2015 | 01:04
To (La)Be(l) or Not to (La)Be(l)….
Sorry, I couldn’t help it. I love Shakespeare, so why not borrow from the best?
I’ve been wrestling with this a lot lately. I find the whole subject to be both fascinating and discouraging.
Have you ever noticed that food manufacturers jump at the opportunity to be first to re-package their products with labels like “heart healthy” or “gluten-free”?
There’s no public moaning about how expensive this is, or how it will increase the average consumer’s annual grocery bill.
It’s purely voluntary, so there are no complaints about government mandates or regulatory burdens.
But when it comes to GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) the whole landscape changes….
Increased manufacturing costs — which are so burdensome they must be passed along to consumers!
And my personal favorite:
We’re just giving people what they want — despite the fact that repeated polling shows something like 90% of the US population wants labeling — and besides, it will only confuse them.
How many are already confused by what “gluten-free” means? A lot of people don’t even know exactly what gluten is.
And “heart healthy” means…well, what exactly? I have no idea.
“Trans-fat free” products can still contain trace amounts of trans-fats, allowable by law. Not much, but if you’re consuming several of these products, it can add up.
So, yeah, first and foremost, food manufacturing companies seem to want to have it both ways.
They want you to have your gluten-free, GMO-filled cake and eat it too. Or something like that….
All of which begs a deeper question.
Is all of this controversy over labeling just a “straw man,” a distraction from a more important issue?
How much processed, packaged, labeled food should we even be eating?
Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness has said it better than anyone:
JERF — Just Eat Real Food.
Of course it’s impossible — or at the very least, damned difficult — to completely avoid everything in a package.
But there are things we can do even so.
The brilliant food writer Michael Pollan has one of the best tips for navigating this dilemma: Stick to items with five or fewer ingredients.
Other red flags are: hydrogenated oils/fats; corn or soy derivatives; refined sweeteners.
But today it seems as though every “food fad” niche has its own little patch of real estate.
Even the raw vegan segment contains its share of high-priced processed, packaged items.
Don’t get me wrong: They’re quite tasty, and the ingredients are usually pretty darn clean. But there are frequently more than five.
A fresh, organic — maybe even local — apple with nut butter (ingredient: raw, organic nut of choice) is a great raw vegan snack.
It doesn’t contain agave nectar, or coconut vinegar, or any exotic superfoods from all ends of the earth.
I’m not saying any of these ingredients are “bad.” I’m not personally a big fan of agave, but there are a lot of folks who are just fine with it. It’s up to you whether you want to ingest it or avoid it.
Sustainability is part of this too. Local food from your Farmers’ Market doesn’t have to travel as far as, say, goji berries or spirulina. It isn’t going to rack up more “frequent flier” miles than you are….
Who knows? It might even be healthier for you. (I’m pretty convinced it is — I trust my local non-organic certified farmers more than large-scale “industrial organic” producers. But that’s only my opinion.)
So maybe labeling isn’t the most important issue at stake here. (Banning GMO’s altogether would be a much better place to start, but at this moment in time, that isn’t even an option.)
I try to eat as “label-free” as possible, but I’ll be the first to admit: When I’m traveling — especially by plane, through the airline/airport “food deserts” — I pack the kale chips, the salmon jerky, the fruit and nut bars, and yes, the chocolate.
I’ll even take some canned, wild-caught shrimp and sardines.
As I said, we can’t always avoid processed food in boxes or bags. Sometimes we need convenience.
Sometimes we just want it.
And that’s okay.
But we can all try to be more mindful of our choices, and hold ourselves accountable for them.
I would love to hear what you have to say on this subject: Am I too unrealistic? Do you think labeling foods is a distraction or a necessity in our modern age?
I’d like to know your thoughts on this matter.