Sunday, October 23, 2011

2 What's In Our Food? Yes, We Really DO Want to Know!

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Right now, more than ever, we consumers are clamoring that we have a right to know what's in our food, and over the past few years, the public's growing concern has sent a lot of people packing to find healthier and safer alternatives: I know lots of people who now buy organic because they're very concerned about about the increasing amounts of pesticides in our food or who spray their food with pesticide washes like Fit Fruit and Vegetable Wash or Environné. Many are also growing their own in increasing numbers, even in urban areas, or shopping at places that offer healthier choices like Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe'sWegmans, and the like. And of course, shows like Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution have also greatly helped to expose the truth and move people towards action, because, to loosely paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, when it comes right down to it, it's up to us to be the engines of change and demand that companies do better in these areas. ("Be the change you want to see in the world.")

In many instances, even for those of us who have taken the time to educate ourselves about food, it's not always so easy or obvious as it seems to figure this out. And, in many cases, it's actually getting harder to detect this information, as some companies continue to bob and weave around the current food labeling system, omitting certain key pieces of product information or cleverly adapting their verbiage so that it appears to be in line with the latest food safety and nutritional findings published by scientists and medical researchers. Of course, they are doing this to purposely mislead the public and obscure the truth instead of changing to meet the demands and changing needs of their customers. They take unethical short-cuts to garner higher profits, and this is why it's more important than ever to put our support behind those businesses who are doing the right thing. This means supporting organic local farmers and markets, and buying products that are made by companies who truly care about the health of their consumers.

Of course, the issues that are becoming part of the public dialogue are not just centered around the chemicals contained in processed foods; it's also the chemical additives that are added to non-organic whole foods as well. On this note, there's been a great amount of concern about the things companies are putting into our food that we don't even know about, because there are currently no labeling requirements for certain food sources (i.e., GMOs, etc.) and chemical additives. Regarding the latter, I include pesticides on this list because, whether it's sprayed on produce or chemically engineered into it, it's still an alarming issue that needs to be addressed with corresponding legislation. As we've seen time and time again, there are still many companies that haven't reformed their ways based upon an ethical conscience to do the right thing, because they are still focused on short-term profits achieved by any means necessary, including shady, blantantly unsanitary, and often even illegal practices.

As the below cartoon aptly illustrates, there are a whole host of complex considerations consumers currently face when trying to figure out what's healthy for us and what's not.

And even if we do read the labels, do we really understand them or know how to interpret their health value? Do we really know what's safe for us to eat? How can we truly tell whether food is genetically engineered if there are no labels to indicate this? And even if we do wash off our produce to try to get rid of pesticides, how will we know whether or not these pesticides have been sprayed onto or genetically engineered into our food, the latter of which would clearly render these precautionary efforts useless? (And yes, the latter scenario does happen. A pretty scary thought, eh? And it's enough to make many of us want to take up vegetable gardening. :) And this is not just because of the current economy either, although that's certainly been a factor for a lot of people as well.) And at that, this is really just cracking the tip of the iceberg. This is why the automatic, implicit trust that many grocery shoppers place in the products they buy in the supermarket, particularly in the produce aisle, really does bear some re-examination.

And how come the FDA isn't doing more to answer the public's demand for better labeling? Isn't it their job to make sure our food is safe? (Remember the egg scares in the US in both 2010 and 2011 and the ensuing fiascoes surrounding them? And, did you know that the FDA even ignored their own scientists' warnings about GMOs?!) And when these blatant grievances are still not being addressed by entities like the FDA and USDA, mostly because various food companies are waging a war on the political front to make sure legislation to reform our food system isn't going to see the light of day, isn't our job to fight back, educate, spread the truth, and join others to actively do something about it?!

However, even if the FDA and USDA are dragging their feet, many people are trying to fight back by getting the word out to the public and doing what they can to add their voices to the growing chorus of people who are trying to do something about this. And not all of these people are nutritionists, doctors, scientists, educators, and authors, or other health and wellness professionals. Many are just regular citizens who are invested in their families' health and general well-being. Will you add your voice to the growing demand for the redress and reform these of very important issues? Even doing something as simple as signing a petition can help. Write your congressperson and let them know your concerns and urge them towards constructive action on particular issues. Or join or contribute funds to a group or association actively working towards positive change in these areas.

Being healthy is largely about preventative health, and nothing is more crucial to ensuring health and longevity than what we put in our bodies. This is why we need to be vigilant and not only educate ourselves about food and find healthier alternatives but seek to reform a corrupt system and make every effort to help dissolve the silent pact between Big Government and Big Food lobbyists. This collusion has got to stop, and I don't think I'm the only one right now who's up in arms about it. People are fed up! And if you're not caring about this issue, you should, because it's your health and longevity we are talking about here. After all, being alive for as long as possible is kind of a priority for most people. ;)

Of course, exercise is crucial as well for health and wellness, but even so, exercisers need quality fuel to 'put into the tank' or else they're not going to reap the full rewards of their athletic efforts. Overall, long-term preventative health requires both pieces of the puzzle.

In support of these initiatives, I highly recommend listening to the following recordings: The first is a talk by Michael Pollan (author of In Defense of Food, and other books, etc.) and the second is a podcast interview with author & food educator, Anne Lappé.

Both of these multimedia presentations address product mislabeling, or lack thereof, by food companies, as well as their overall snow job tactics to hide the truth from the American public.

Regardless, the FDA still needs to get its act together in terms of both updating and improving their requirements for food labeling. Additionally, legislation needs to be passed by Congress to ensure that food growers and manufacturers are being honest about what they put in their food. This includes the introduction of laws and enforcement measures to ensure that companies disclose complete and accurate information about our food sources (i.e., where our food is grown and whether or not food is genetic or truly organic in origin) as well as listing how much pesticide is sprayed or genetically engineered into our food. We need to know the true nature of our food. And that means no tricky wording or false advertising. We want the whole truth and nothing but. Big Food, hear us roar! You better be scared, because we are not going to stand for this BS any longer!

This is why I encourage you to not only read labels and stay up to date with the latest health and nutrition news but to also constantly question what you are eating and take a stand. Do you know that there are front groups hired by Big Food to regular promote misinformation about products to make us think we are eating healthy, safe foods when that's really not the case? [I'm sure that, given the healthy focus of this blog's readership, many of you already do. :) ] These are entities that, on the surface, don't appear to have a direct link to Big Food, but in truth, are very much in bed with these companies. I guess it's not enough that Big Food directly launch misleading PR campaigns themselves. And this just pisses me off. RAAAAAR! And it should make you fighting mad as well. This is why, a lot of the time, anger is actually a force for good, because it's a catalyst for action. It makes you wake up and take notice, and then hopefully get off your rear and do something about it. :).

Additionally, there are some companies that are trying to strong-arm or intimidate those educators who seek to expose the truth by hanging legal threats over their heads. (For evidence of this, just listen to the above interview of Anne Lappé.) And of course, we all know why this is happening. It's because deep down inside, these companies know that what they are doing is wrong and they are running scared. Why don't they just change what they are offering us, and make a profit that way (as there's certainly an ever-increasing demand for healthier food!), instead of resisting and undermining the process, and remaining staunchly ingrained in their current practices?  (If they were employing honest practices then they'd have nothing to hide!) After all, isn't continual product improvement (i.e., making their products healthier and safer for their consumers) considered to a key selling point? A less fluid and forward-focused approach ultimately doesn't serve their customers, and if you don't properly listen to and meet the demands/needs of your customers, you won't be in business for long. ;) Plus, when people find out what's happening and discover what's really being put in their food, chances are good that they are going to get pissed off at these companies, ditch their products, and look for better, which is what's already been happening. :) And yes, we deserve better. We are worth it, and Big Food needs to get that through their thick skulls, instead of offering us the same old crap that they think we want to eat. The problem with many of them is that they are invested in keeping people fat and comatose, instead of being true advocates for the health and safety of their customers. (Remember the movie WALL-E's cautionary portrayal of the human race 700 years from now? Do we really want to end up like that?!) How can a company consciously do this to the people who buy their products? Don't they care about their consumers? And don't they know that the ones who wise up to the situation are going to vote with their wallets and take their business elsewhere?!

Sure, the goal of businesses is to make money [I also am a business owner as well, so I certainly understand the importance of this imperative :) ], but when greedy, unethical practices override business ethics, there's something seriously harmful and disturbing about that. When business ethics are compromised, not only is it just bad business, but it's just plain wrong on moral and ethical grounds. When companies lie or hide information from consumers, they'll will eventually erode customers' trust and confidence in both their company and their products, which will, in turn, drive away business. Instead of trying to pull the wool over customers' eyes, companies should really shift their line of products to suit customers' ever-increasing demand for healthier, higher quality food. And some are, in fact, genuinely trying to do this. It is getting better, thanks in no small part to the galvanizing efforts of prominent, outspoken figures in the food world like Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver.

So give us what we want in terms of labeling, nutrition, and food safety, even if some of us don't even know that we want it yet. This is why companies should not only fill the demand for healthy food, but also seelk to actively create it. And it's just good business to do that. The campaign for healthier food is gaining momentum, and companies need to realize that if they don't get on the bandwagon, they are going to be left behind in the dust. So, Big Food, how about getting behind the cause instead of actively working against it?

I think the tide is turning and attitudes are changing with increasing public awareness, but we still need to help it along. As one of my friends recently said, "Organic food was once just called food." And let's all help to make it so again.

To find out what else you can do to help, click on the above picture to expand its view.


Anonymous said...

To see how worthless the FDA is and how (bleeped) up our food industry is one only has to look at the word... Organic. That we even need to label foods with this in order to have some informed idea what has NOT been used on it speaks volumes. That's probably also the reason the lobbyiest for Monsanto and the rest are constantly looking to have the word organic redefined. IMHO, they will eventually "support" the right people who write laws and the flood gates will flow with a whole new wave of organic crap.

Cyberpenguin said...

Yes, exactly. As soon as we think we're almost settled these labeling issues, there are those, like Monsanto and the like, who will make every attempt to move the goal posts. Or, perhaps a better analogy would be this: If the mouse should escape from the mousetrap, Big Food will soon be building a better mousetrap. ;) (Of course, usually that analogy gets used in the opposite sense, with regard to "white hat" vs. "black hat" hackers trying to beat each other at the infosec game, but in this case, of course, I'm using it quite ironically. LOL.) Organic produce is what we used to just call "produce." ;)

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