Food is not always something that you put in your mouth and eat!

Archive for the ‘Junk Food’ Category

Pondering the Word “Natural”

Natural is the opposite of artificial or synthetic, right?  It’s something that isn’t altered or created by humankind rather something that comes from nature…… I think!

As I’ve often said, folks, it’s all in the words!  Something as simple as the word “natural” is under heavy scrutiny because of slick advertising being used on food labels that confuses consumers as to what the product is.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking public comment asking if it’s appropriate to define the word “natural”, if so, how FDA should define the word “natural”, and to decide how the agency should determine appropriate use of “natural” on food labels.

which way do i go 2I have to stop here for a moment and say, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME”?
FDA doesn’t know if it’s appropriate, how to define the word natural, or determine appropriate use on labels?  Reminds me of a quote from Alice In Wonderland ~~~ “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here”.

Phew…  Sorry folks, I had a moment, sarcasm kicked in!
Moving on…..

How many products in the grocery store shout out a reference in some type or form of the word “natural”? As a consumer, is your purchase influenced by a shout out such as “all natural”?  If you say yes, you aren’t alone in your thinking.  Most consumers are filled with a picture that the product came from a producer who supplied them with something that was raised or grown in its most natural state.

The Gospel according to the FDA website

  “From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”

FDA shares food labeling oversight with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  USDA is in charge of the use of “natural” on meat and poultry labeling.  According to the Gospel of USDA –

“A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product.  The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”)”.

The ambiguous meaning of “natural” as defined by regulations leaves consumers unprotected and confused.  Is it unreasonable for consumers to depend upon food labeling and have confidence in government agency oversight that ensures a product is actually what it claims?  Using the word “natural” on food labeling only refers to processing of the food not where it came from or how it was grown.  Most consumers do not know this!

A good example to ponder can be found in poultry.  According to USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service

Poultry is not injected with water, but some water is absorbed during cooling in a chill-tank, a large vat of cold, moving water. The chill-tank lowers the temperature of the slaughtered birds and their giblets (hearts, livers, gizzards, etc.). During this water chilling process, turkeys and chickens will absorb some of the water, and this amount must be prominently declared on the label. It is not unusual for poultry to declare 8 to 12% retained water on the label.”

This so called “chill-tank” is referred to by some as the “fecal soup bath” whereby processed chickens are dumped into a large tank or vat to cool down the carcass.  Akin to ground beef derived from many different cows mixed up together for packaging and shipped out for consumption, thousands of chicken carcasses co-mingle in the chill-tank.  The most commonly used type of anti-bacterial/microbial to prevent cross contamination of the co-mingling chickens is chlorine, however there are many other products on the market approved for use.  Chlorine does not exist naturally on our plant, it is made by humankind.

Yet I see many poultry products on the market with the words “natural” or “all natural” in large bold letters on the packaging.  Here is where the pondering comes in.  If chicken carcasses retain 8-12 percent water from processing (not naturally occurring original body water) the end product is altered.  Furthermore, in that chill-tank water that is retained from processing is some type of humanly added anti-bacterial/microbial that is not a natural derivative of our planet.  That would make the end product further altered from its natural state.

I suppose USDA’s ambiguous wording referring to the use of the word “natural” on meat and poultry labels absolves poultry products from not being “natural” under the term of “minimal processing” but for the life of me I can’t figure out how poultry products get around the term of “no artificial ingredients”.

There you have it folks!  In reality the word “natural” on food labeling is worthless and cannot be depended upon to really mean something.  Most of the food you eat is processed in some manner and therefore is no longer really “natural”.

To avoid years of studies, recommendations, and argument, not to mention waste of countless taxpayer dollars, why not just prohibit the use of the words “natural” and “all natural” on all food products or labels.  If the food industry insists on a definition to continue with marketing ploys for food products, wouldn’t it be less wasted time and much less costly to simply look the word up in the dictionary?

My next question would be why do we need two different federal agencies governing food labels?

Land of Confusion – Part III Is It Organic?

The summer has been busy on the farm and has kept me from my favorite pastime – writing! As I’ve been outside working I’ve conjured up all kinds of topics of discussion in our land of confusion called farming. I know, I keep intending to bring the subject of genetics into my next discussion but there are things that keep leading me astray.

A recent article in the New York Times, “Has Organic’ Been Oversized” written by Stephanie Strom on July 7th captured my attention and I’ve been thinking of little else.

What disturbed me the most was the admission by Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director at the Organic Consumers Association saying “I understand that there are very few 100 percent organic businesses left…”. If a consumers association readily admits what has been whispered among us farmers out here trying to the right thing I have to ask myself what’s the point in trying to produce under a label that has been bastardized like the rest of our food system. Is it any wonder that farmers and consumers are confused?

Becoming organic certified is an expensive and time consuming prospect for a farmer. In doing so, farmer’s intention is to produce food for consumers that is free of GMO’s, additives, chemicals, and the list goes on. Traditionally organic has had the implied meaning of food in its purist form.

In 1990 our government set into motion the Organics Food Production Act requiring the U.S Department of Agriculture to develop national standards for organically produced products and to assure consumers that agricultural products sold as organic meet consistent, uniform standards. A National Organic Standards Board was created to make recommendations in the development of organic standards and certification. The 15 member board was to be representative of interested parties: farmer/grower; handler/processor; retailer; consumer/public interest; environmentalist; scientist; and certifying agent. Okay, that sounds easy enough!

At the time organic products were a niche market being produced by farmers labeled as left over hippies and the production and sales didn’t put a dent into the mainstream food market. I distinctly remember in the mid 90’s meeting many of these so called “hippie farmers”. Being part of the industrialized food production world my mindset was not in the same mode as theirs and I wondered why in the world they would create so much more work for their selves on the farm when chemicals could take care of most of the work.

The organic markets began to develop and grow. By 2011 organic products demanded premium prices, consumers had become more aware of where their food was coming from and how it was being produced, and organic food was a $30 billion dollar industry. Consumers wanted better food without all of the junk.

Enter the “big boys” and let the bastardization party begin! Like Mr. Potter in the NY Times article I believe that the “so called organic food” needs to be challenged. I want to know where the protection is for the farmers who are doing all of the right things to be truly organic and where the protection is for the consumer to be totally assured that they are getting the real deal. According to the NY Times story – “Pure, locally produced ingredients from small family farms? Not so much anymore.”

Some believe that the organic standards are being watered down; green washed, and corrupted by corporate agribusiness giants who have entered the organic markets and are industrializing it. When I hear comments from the big boys saying that the demand is greater than the supply and that the demand requires the scale that only they can provide I say “look out”! Faux organics are here and confusion abounds.

This past year, I had reason to question organic and its relationship to raising chickens. I became aware of the fact that if I were to put 10,000 chickens into one of my chicken houses, feed certified organic feed, and allow them access to the outdoors, I could have an organic farm. I didn’t need to worry about the land around the chicken houses because no chemicals had been used over the past 3 years and I could easily fence in a “sun porch” for outside allowance and nothing said that the chickens actually had to go out.

In my mind organic was about much more than just what was fed to the chickens. 10,000 chickens crammed into a confinement house conjured up memories of the days of industrial production. What type of product would I be producing from animals living a miserable existence having only a look at the outdoors but never really experiencing it? The waste created from that many chickens would have to go somewhere.

A friend laughed at my irate comments over this and told me to go to the meeting of the National Organics Standards Board and express my thoughts. Then told me “come back and tell me if they heard you or if they even cared”. Something like – let me know how far you get. I knew it would be a waste of time. After reading the NY Times article and Mr. Potter saying he had done exactly as my friend suggested I do and got nothing but being allowed to speak for 3 minutes and then a “thank you”, I realize that this issue is much bigger. Assuring the integrity of organic food won’t come through government process it will only come from consumers knowing their farmer and seeing how their food is produced.

Yum Yum – Open Wide

For those of you who’ve fed babies I’m sure that in the beginning you had to coax the child to eat. I remember the airplane method where the spoon zooms around in the air all the while making a game of it with my kids telling them to “open wide here comes the airplane”.

According to a report from MSNBC, a Washington state fruit processor, Snokist, who supplies our kid’s lunch at school and a baby food maker, has been put on notice by the Food and Drug Administration. An FDA warning letter to the company concerns “reconditioned for human consumption” moldy applesauce and fruit puree which is repackaged and contaminated with several kinds of potentially dangerous multi-colored molds.

WHAT? Multi-colored molds, reconditioned for human consumption and repackaged? We’re talking about applesauce here that most kids consume on a daily basis. Babies eat this stuff! In all of my born days, I don’t think that I’ve heard anything so outrageous.

Evidently, the company, Snokist, has been taken to task several times about the moldy applesauce. FDA’s letter identified at least eight times last year that the company “reprocessed” the moldy applesauce into canned products for human consumption.

To add insult to injury, FDA identified problems during an inspection in June where large laminated bags of fruit products which were supposed to be sealed and sterile were instead broken open and “tainted with white, brown blue, blue-green and black mold. Some bags were bloated and one had a strong fermented odor.”

The company recalled products, 3,300 cases of canned applesauce to be exact, in May, and was blamed for illnesses of nine North Carolina school children after they got sick from eating the applesauce at school. The recall was blamed on faulty seals on the cans.

Of course there are always two sides to a story and out of “fairness” I have to let Snokist have its say. The company admitted that they “rework” some moldy food for future use. It claims that “if rework occurs” the thermal process used is “more than adequate to make the product commercially sterile”.

Snokist’s website says it’s a grower owned cooperative. I don’t think that the problems the company faces are a result of the fruit grown on the farm rather the problems appear to be occuring in the processing methods used and the decision to “rework” spoiled fruit.

I’m stymied here folks and think that I must be missing something. FDA is well aware of an “applesauce may be dangerous to your health” situation, the company has recalled product after making kids sick at school, an inspection revealed many violations of food safety, and yet……… Snokist got a “warning” letter in October saying that the company reprocesses moldy applesauce product and “the method is not effective against all toxic metabolites.” Oh, and by the way, “several foodborne molds may be hazardous to human health.”

Something else I learned is that FDA regulations allow companies to recondition” food.

There are all of these “re” words which are used to confuse people. I wonder if labeling regulations require the words reworked food, reconditioned food, and reprocessed food? Furthermore, all of these words make me think that the product is not worth the fancy repackaging that it’s in.

Our nation’s food is in serious trouble. We are given food to eat which most people wouldn’t feed to their own family if they only knew and I wonder if Snokist officials feed their product to their children. We can’t rely on FDA regulations to ensure that our food supply is safe. We can’t rely on food labels to ensure that the products we eat are actually what the label says it is.

The question comes to mind – What’s a mother to do? The word REject also comes to mind!

This story is well worth reading and is a sure eye opener about what is acceptable for consumers to eat

Read the FDA “WARNING” Letter to Snokist

30 Percent Less Sodium

It started about a year ago with the little packages of gravies, sauces, and marinade mixes inside of my kitchen cabinet. These were my little secret that added flavor to foods and something that I’d become dependent on.

My adult son started asking me if I knew what was in these little treasures. I replied with an offhanded comment something like “no and I don’t care.” He pulled them out and began reading the nutritional labels out loud to me and was accumulating quite a pile of “junk” as he discarded one after another. Over and over I heard “MSG, Sodium, Modified Corn Syrup, and others I can’t even pronounce”.

By the time he was finished I had no little treasures left and he issued a proclamation of “if you use these I won’t eat what you cook”. I was crushed and feeling the need to defend my little packages.

It was almost like having an addiction as my mind scrambled to find good reasons of why I needed them. My points fell on deaf ears and I knew that I was being ridiculous yet I couldn’t help myself. I’d used these little packages for years, my mother used them, and thought to myself “we’ll see if you eat what I cook or not”.

I blissfully continued to use my little packages and when questioned about it I lied. For over 4 months, I got caught every time I did it and he pushed his plate away saying he wasn’t hungry. This kid was serious and I couldn’t figure out how he knew.

Finally, I took the step away from using my little treasures and my son started eating meals again. Little by little the sauces and gravies were left out of my cooking until they weren’t used at all. I started making my own marinades which wasn’t really that difficult and our taste buds were slowly weaned away from the “junk”.

I was free of my dependency on my little treasures until yesterday. I had a relapse. It was a really busy day and dinner hadn’t been planned. I ran to the grocery store thinking to myself we can have hot roast beef sandwiches with brown mushroom gravy. As I cruised down the aisle with the gravies and sauce mixes I saw a beautiful gravy mix package with bold lettering proclaiming “30 percent less sodium.”
Aha, they won’t know that the gravy came from a package and snatched up three of the little babes. Everyone ate dinner and I’d slipped by without any questions or having to tell a lie. Whew!

Later in the evening I was asked if I thought that the roast beef was a little bit salty. My mind went into overdrive and I blurted out “yes but the roast beef that I bought was ““low sodium””. My son looked up from the magazine he was reading and calmly said “she used those gravy mixes again!” Busted!

How does he do it? He must have built-in radar for my little treasures. Or is it that he might have sensitivities to foods containing high levels of sodium?

I’m back in de-tox again and this time I’m going to kick the habit for good.