Saturday, April 9, 2011

Label Me Aware, Part II: You are What You Eat

Virginia Woolf once wrote, "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." My sentiments exactly. Anyone who know me is fully aware that I love food. Some of my first memories of childhood are the aromas and smells that emanated from my grandmothers' kitchens. Fresh baked pecan pies and oven roasted chickens were always on the menu in the kitchens of my youth. As an adult, I must admit that I came to a true food awareness during my pregnancy with our first child. I sought to find out all that I could about food so that I could nourish myself and baby. Thus began a long and very awakening journey.

The first step was to begin to read every label. As with clothes, food labels serve the purpose of informing the consumer of what is in their food. From fresh cuts of meat to snack crackers, I read the nutritional value of each label. Where it came from and what the ingredients are are great places to start. Words like All Natural, Organic, No Preservatives, Whole Grain, No High Fructose Corn Syrup are all becoming more and more commonplace in today's markets and grocery stores. They are present on packages to steer us into making healthier food choices and adhering to diets based on percentages. I suggest digging a little deeper. The best thing that you can do is glance at the pretty label on the front
and then turn it over and thoroughly read the nutritional label (like this one here) on the back. This is where you will get the information on what is actually in the product that you are buying, giving you a full picture ofwhat ingredients are about to go inside of your body. Ingredient list is the place to look for the truth. They are listed based on their contents from greatest to least. This may surprise many people not used to reading labels what there favorite foods are made with. Many snack crackers may have sugar listed as their 2nd highest ingredient!

Secondly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) controls the labels that are applied to food and drug packaging in America. (Other countries have their own labeling rules and regulations.) There are rules and regulations to what we can eat, how its packaged and prepared.
They have come under serious scrutiny in recent years with the seemingly endless e.coli outbreaks and salmonella scares just to name a few. Retail fast food chains are rumored to have served less than quality "meats" to consumers despite stricter regulations and the FDA is in control of it all. They are constantly making strategic moves to keep our food and drugs safer. Regulations are always changing even just as recently as 2010. These recent changes will hopefully put an extra line of defense between tainted foods and the consumer by implementing stricter regulations on produce and livestock from large farms. We rely on them to maintain a high standards so that we are all eating the best possible products.

Now, when shopping for groceries or eating out in the city with friends, I am constantly seeking natural, quality ingredients. Quality to me means purchasing local foods and supporting the nearby farms and restaurants that do the same to create their menus. I also look for high standards for farming and agricultural practices by knowing the farms that my food comes from. Labels divulge all of this on the package. You will find the weight and how much it costs per pounds as this is regulated and mandatory in all grocery and butcher shops where any cuts of meat are sold. Take a closer look and you will find the farm that your foods and meat comes from.
I am fortunate enough to have an independent, local, organic butcher and have created an open dialog with him. He keeps me informed of my purchases and suggests cuts based on my preferences. If you don't have a butcher in your area conduct a quick Google search. You are privy to the websites of many farms who most often will share with you the intimate details and innerworkings of their farm and provide you with a clear picture of where your food comes from. Most of my families produce is purchased from a co-op where most of the food comes from local, sustainable farms. True farmers are passionate people who through generations of hard work, have created a livelihood out of nourishing the American people. Their jobs are some of the most important in America and they are proud of their farms. This to me is a beautiful thing that should not be overlooked by any consumer. Food labels give you that ability to connect to the source so just do your research.

Choices become tricky in todays marketing world of buzz words intended to raise production for companies. Knowing what you eat is a very important element to having a fulfilling (no pun intended) life. With the rise of allergies and other food-borne illnesses, food labels are essential to survival in todays world of endless culinary creations. Fast food chains even offer up the deets on their foods in order to keep the consumer completely aware, an su
rprisingly people still consume fast food by the truckload.

Despite being chemically produced, frozen and fried, french fries are the most highly consumed product in America. In this day and age, we are fully aware without any excuses.

Knowledge is power so read your food labels for awareness because we truly are what we eat.

Bon apetit!