These days everyone is telling you to “shop the perimeter” of the grocery store, not the middle part where they keep the good stuff. Coincidentally (?) local Krogers have begun remodeling so that none of us have any idea where anything is anymore, or if Oprah would find our purchases morally acceptable.
But the point of shopping the perimeter is that you should eat things that are more…real? No, that can’t be right. Less…processed? I have only a vague idea of what processed means, but I feel confident that it is a bad, bad thing.
Wait, I know, I’m supposed to buy things that have less packaging! Because that’s better for the environment. Because packaging is…made out of oil. Right?
You see how little I know about this. This whole entry is going to be a cry in the dark (dingos…babies) in the attempt that someone will show me the way and write it the way it’s done. Also I dared myself to write about something not overtly political.
Okay so I go to the store and I go to the perimeter where they have a health foods section. And I buy the first thing that has Big Bird on it. Because if Big Bird does not stand for all that is good in the world, who does? As LBJ bemoaned losing Cronkite, if Bird crosses over, we might as well all pack up.
The first thing I have to say is that these bars are not very filling. They are tiny. They are a tease. I grant you this may have something to do with their being designed for children. The second thing is that they are INDIVIDUALLY WRAPPED. In fact they’re even proud of the fact: “they are a quick and easy healthy snack to eat on-the-go.” However, just two bullet points later we are warned: “We also recommend that this product be served only while seated and supervised.” Perhaps we need an entry on “on-the-go”?
If you go to a website called Good Guide, you can see how Earth’s Best, the company that makes this product, ranks with others in the biz. Their ratings are not the easiest things to make heads or tails of (not very specific), but you can see that Big Bird’s bosses rank high on health, but low (5.1/10) on environment and (5.7) society – they’re not very charitable and stuff, apparently.
This is not mere Big Bird slander day. Another important thing about the product is that it is certified organic. Did you know that “organic” has a legal definition, and it is controlled by the USDA? You probably did because I am just Meryl Streep looking for my lost baby, but you are an informed consumer.
Organic’s American legal life began in 1990 with the Organic Foods Protection Act. This set up a National Organic Program which promotes “cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”
You can easily access the original act online and read it. It’s encouraging that there is a list of definitions at the beginning, but a little less so that, as the website of one dieting dad (that’s how he describes himself) puts it, “Exactly what is organic food is rather loosely defined. The Act emphasizes the need to promote biodiversity, natural biological cycles and soil management. It talks about minimizing pollution from air, soil and water.”
But people actually check up on these food manufacturers and farmers and there is a section of the NOP website devoted to “Compliance and Enforcement” which has the image of a statue of Justice as its thumbnail. I’d like Cap’n Crunch getting shoved into a squad car, but okay.
I know I have at least one chemist friend who has an opinion about using organic, which has specific scientific definitions, as a discriminatory food adjective, and I hope he chimes in.
On the other hand, “Natural” and “All Natural” are a free-for-all. Try and Google define “all natural” and you will only get two responses. One from the Global Product Network Database, which says “a product is classified as ‘all natural’ where it carries a prominent on-pack claim to that effect.” So claiming the title is the same as earning it. I am going to go put on my prominent “Sexy Beast” sticker now.
This is the first “all natural” thing you see on Google images, BTW:
Claiming MSG is natural because free glutamic acid appears in tomatoes is sort of like saying cocaine is natural because it’s derived from ingredients found in the coca leaf.
Take that you capitalist health food bastards!
He goes on to describe why drinking coca tea in Peru is good, almost as good as chewing on seaweed…who says health food nuts are weirdos?
(What’s so bad about MSG? Maybe it damages your brain or makes you extra-hungry. Maybe nothing. The jury is out.)
Another of his bold points is “It’s the process that’s unnatural, not the source.” Processing (yes I finally looked it up) involves all the little tricks those capitalist foodies do to make their raw product more attractive (colors, tastes, smells) and also some admittedly non-evil things like preservable.
Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation contains a section, “Why the Fries Taste Good” which describes the “secretive” world of the “flavor industry” (120). He has this surreal experience of touring one of these factories where they, in little “clear bottles,” hold the flavors for “potato chips, corn chips, breads, crackers, breakfast cereals, and pet food…ice cream, cookies, candies, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and antacids…soft drinks, sports drinks, bottled teas, and wine coolers, for all-natural juice drinks, organic soy drinks, beers, and malt liquors” (121).
He goes on to inform that “‘flavor’ is primarily the smell of gases being released by the chemicals you’ve just put in your mouth,” and “the color of food” which is usually manipulated, “can determine the perception of its taste.” He later derides the silliness between a “natural/artificial” flavor semantic divide. “Natural flavors and artificial flavors sometimes contain exactly the same chemicals,” he writes, “produced through different methods” (126). The capitalistic food bastards are hip to the popular lingo, and simply make adjustments needed to put “natural” on their stuff.
Summation: Shop the perimeter, except for MSG veggie burgers. Plastic comes from oil. If you trust the government, you can trust organic certification. Natural is crap. Willy Wonka’s three-course-meal gum is not so far off. Avoid being turned into a blueberry.