Fake fashion is easy to spot, but fake food? Not so easy. Preventive action required.
Despite our diligent label reading, the incidence of “food fraud” is up 60% since last year alone, according to the nonprofit USP, the scientific organization that helps set standards for the "quality, safety and benefit" of foods and medicines. www.foodfraud.org.
USP defines food fraud as intentional adulteration, dilution or mislabeling of goods, which can also occur when a seller fraudulently adds inferior ingredients or removes or replaces real ingredients with cheaper ones.
Now that this has come out, on top of all the bacterial outbreaks, pink slime and “aspirin-a-day” not like “apple-a-day” bad news, isn't it time to take another look at our assumptions about the quality and safety of our food? Who’s going to ask the elephant-in-the-room question: With so much dubious “monkeying” around with our food, isn’t it time we see the writing on the wall and get back to eating REAL food?
Ironically, this fake food alert could really be a good wake-up call and your chance to turn a bad food phenomenon into a bona fide opportunity to change your perspective and your automatic purchasing pattern of so many processed, convenience foods. Are they really worth the risk?
1. What are your food priorities? This is a good opportunity to get real with yourself about what you really want from your food. Oh, yada yada. No, seriously, what is most important to you and your family about your food? Is it taste or just filling your stomach? Eating because you have to? Convenience -- pop it in the microwave or pop it in your mouth? Fun and entertainment?
Or do you understand the original formula: Food = Nutrition? Do you know deep down that your food is your best health insurance policy, the best building blocks for health, and even your best medicine?
2. Reexamine your attitude about convenience food. Sure, we’re all super busy. And most of us have grown up with processed food that’s ready or virtually ready to eat. But considering everything, is it really worth it anymore?
First of all, it’s always more expensive. In order for food to be shipped all over and stay “fresh” for weeks or months, it has to be processed, manufactured, chopped, cooked, blanched, baked or fried, combined, fortified, containerized, pasteurized and/or sanitized with heat, machinery, and/or chemicals to keep it stable. Value-added always means greater cost. Yet to me, unless it’s organic, the taste isn’t even there.
3. Don’t buy just on price. There’s no question that we’re all getting squeezed in the food budget, food prices are rising. But processed foods are more expensive and in more ways than one. Americans eat 31 percent more packaged food than fresh food, more than people in nearly all other countries. A good chunk of our diet is ready-to-eat meals, like frozen pizzas and sweet/salty snack foods with large amounts of fat, salt and sugar. We’ve not only become addicted to these, the studies show they lead to higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
Read my call-it-like-it-is chapter “The State of Your Health: Modern Food and Agriculture Systems” in my cookbook and nourishment guide, Truly Cultured.
Here’s a Tip: If you see a really, really low price for a food product like olive oil that’s much cheaper than the other oils on the same shelf, that’s a pretty good flag that it could contain inferior ingredients.
4. Get out of the “eating out” habit? Today, Americans spend 49 cents of every food dollar on food eaten outside the home, where we consume 30 percent of our calories. That includes take-out food. But unlike packaged supermarket products, restaurant food IS NOT required to be labeled.
With the exception of a few back corner nutritional charts in fast food outlets and the new wave of local and healthy chefs whose menus proudly identify the Byler farm producing their organic beef, restaurants do not and absolutely do not have to list ingredients in their dishes. This is a great place to hide cheaper ingredients and non-nutritive enhancers, such as additives like MSG which ramp up the flavor.
Incidentally, I used to develop test kitchen recipes for Ac’cent, an early MSG brand that at one time advertised almost as much drug companies today. Don’t recognize the brand? Probably not, because now the foodservice manufacturers just put it into the food to make it “tastier” without having to divulge that it’s included.
Hiding in "Natural." Barely visible on grocery shelves, yet present in all types of food products, monosodium glutamate hides in product labels and restaurant food under about 45 different names, many of which start with “hydrolyzed…corn, wheat, soy, etc, including “natural flavors.”
Dr. Russell Blalock calls MSG an “excitotoxin,” which has not only been shown to be addicting, but linked to obesity, diabetes, migraines, and headaches, Autism, ADHD, even Alzheimer’s. Just another reminder: there are no standards of definition for the term “natural” either, despite many petitions to the FDA. The agency has set no limit on the MSG additive, either.
5. Get Savvy about Food Labels. Of course, many people have adopted the label reading practice of “If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want it.” Okay, should we ban Sodium Hydrochloride? That’s salt. We do need some of it. You don’t need to be a chemist, but you can do some simple research and study up on some of the common tricks of the food trade to make you think you’re getting a bargain or “eating natural.”
6. Get Real about your Food. What I mean here, plain and simple, is this: Get Real Food. The problem with bogus or cheaper food ingredients primarily applies to processed foods. While there are chemicals like sprays and waxes used on commercial fruits and vegetables, which you can avoid by eating organic, the greater contamination problem is with the prepared, processed foods. GMO’s are another discussion.
Bottomline: You don’t have to worry as much about cheating ingredients with real, whole natural and organic food. Say you’re too busy to chop, blend or steam it yourself? You may prefer the convenience, but don’t be misled or buy into that “I don’t have time” myth. Back to priorities, what is it you want?
Time, energy, money. We all get the same amount of time, and so far energy is free, but even if we have the money, is the compromised quality worth the higher price? You’ll find quick tips for transforming whole foods into tasty meals, including my Free “Times are Tough, but You Can EAT FOR $40 A Week ~ Or LESS” bonus E-book when you get Truly Cultured.
7. Get closer to your food. This doesn’t mean standing by the refrigerator for that midnight snack. It means getting as close to the source of your food as you can. Like to where it’s grown or produced.
Japanese call it “food with a face on it.” And even if it’s winter or you live in a big city, you can still get more food locally. More cities are now offering year-round farmer markets. Greenhouses are sprouting up all over. And there is a growing network of local and regional food hubs working to connect us more directly to healthier food. Find them and support them.
8. Get Your Kids involved in growing food. Kids LOVE nurturing plants, it connects and grounds them. Now’s the time to start looking at organic seed catalogs and planning your garden for this year, even if it’s a little starter one on the patio or a simple earth box. Encouraging your kids to plant and tend tiny seedlings that will become vegetables they eat in a few weeks or months is a proven way to get them to become more aware about the quality and taste of the food they put in their bodies. Try it and let me know what You find.
9. You Vote with Your Food Dollars. Just keep remembering, products, food or otherwise, cannot stay on store shelves unless they keep selling. So, get conscious about the fact that every single time you buy a product, food or not, you are voting with your dollars to keep that item on the market. Exercise your voting power and vote for the foods you want and veto the ones you don’t by NOT BUYING them.
Let’s Get Real about this. You can go to the gym, buy supplements, and have yearly checkups. But your food and digestion is the real bottomline of you and your family's health.
After years of working for and in the food business, and many more in the trenches trying to get healthier food available, I’ll be happy to shorten your learning curve. Let me suggest what more and more of us are beginning to realize is inevitable. To be able to feel confident that you’re enjoying healthier, safer food, Get Real. Get Real with your Food. Get REAL Food.