Recently a dear friend sheepishly shared that she gives her kids Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast every morning. Then she added, “They’re healthy, right?” Trying to be non-judgmental—a really difficult task when it is a highly educated and sophisticated friend of 20 years—I said, “And what makes you think that this sugared cereal is healthy?” Her reply, “It says so on the box!”
Seriously? If you are like my friend, you have most likely fallen prey to the meticulous marketing behind food. In other words, you believe everything you read about your food without much question, sadly not uncommon. So basically you TRUST food claims, ingredients, manufacturing and growing practices of the US Food and Agriculture industries.
Well, let me tell you this—if you could really trust the food system, there wouldn’t be iPhone Apps like The Dirty Dozen, Seafood Watch and one of my all time favorites, Don’t Eat That. If you ask me, that’s pretty telling about the general lack of security in the system.
So what went wrong? In a nutshell, as agriculture began to industrialize in the early 1900’s, farms became larger—the small diverse farms producing everything from tomatoes to turkeys were no longer “efficient.” Thus farms became specialized, ultimately driving the small farmer out of town. As a result, market control was handed over to a handful of very powerful corporations (Big Agriculture). And with this was the inevitable growth of Big Food. What’s on our shelves today from Cheerios to Spaghettios is a result of the Big guys. And the reality is that their bottom line is more important than your safety or health. But it is more than just that—for some reason, you the consumer believed and continue to believe that these companies were and are watching your back.
Let’s start with genetic modification—the foundation of a food system gone awry. I won’t get into all the gory details of what GMO food is or its prevalence—you have the Non-GMO Project for that. But I will tell you this: The seeds from which your food is birthed have been altered by science for thirty plus years without you knowing it. But, thanks to California’s Prop 37—a law that would have required all food companies to label GMO’s in Cali alone (but never passed due to a misleading and deceitful advertising campaign funded to the tune of $46M by biotech and Big Food)—the fight has now expanded to 37 individual states all pushing for GMO labeling. Roughly 90 percent of American’s that finally want to know what is in their food!
But GMO’s are not the only thing to be concerned about. There are farming practices like Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO); the use and overuse of antibiotics and hormones on the animals you eat; the use and overuse of pesticides on plant foods; and the multiple horrific ingredients in food from artificial sweeteners to food dye. And to add insult to an already injurious situation, apparently 7% of the US food supply contains fraudulent ingredients (up 60% from 2011). Tea is cut with lawn grass; spices like black pepper and paprika are filled with starches or other less expensive spices; olive oil is diluted with the cheaper stuff such as soybean oil; pomegranate juice is not all that — it often contains a little pear and grape juice too; 100% pure lemon juice is often modified with water and sugar. Typically liquids and ground foods are the culprits.
OK, so I have officially exhausted myself talking about the problems. And as I consider myself a fairly solution oriented person, let me offer this—while there is no quick fix to the problems that exist, you can start making a difference in your own life by putting your trust in:
- Farmer’s markets—you get to speak directly to the people growing and making your food
- Your local farm, cheese shop, butcher, fishmonger—again it’s that personal connection
- A market that openly provides information about the food they are selling
- Restaurants that subscribe to the local farm to table movement (and have chefs that are willing to talk to you about the food they are making)
- Food companies with a conscience like Stonyfield Farms
Perhaps ten years ago, the aforementioned would have been a scarce commodity. Well, times are changing and there are now, more than ever, many ways to know thy food!
Don’t forget to tune in to Stirring the Pot on WPPB 88.3 FM on Saturday at 5pm for The Beginning of Food. Sure to be an amazing conversation! And this week marks the beginning of our Weekly Yum with Rebecca Katz and the Weekly Yum Recipe.
Let’s keep this conversation going. Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions. I would love to hear from you!