There’s nothing quite like being reminded of why you should take your own advice more often. The advice in question (today anyway) is always read the ingredient label-even if it seems like a food that should need no additives. It’s embarrassing the amount of times I’ve grabbed something at the grocery store that looked healthy (or even the farmers’ market once) only to turn it around at home and find it containing all kinds of things that I can’t pronounce. It doesn’t take someone nearly as well versed in food politics as I’ve become to realize that crap you can’t pronounce shouldn’t be in your food.
However, I’ve noticed lately the attempts of processed food producers to make their food seem healthier have reached a newly humorous level. Case in point, I was running through Trader Joe’s the other day. We all know a quick trip to Trader Joe’s is impossible, right? Between the tiny aisles and the requisite useless parking lot… I can easily spend an eternity in Trader Joe’s just searching for produce or meat from this country (no easy task, if you’ve never looked). The employees must get sick of asking me if they can help me find something (yes, your purchasing manager, please). I grabbed some odds and ends and chips and hummus and was finally on my way. But when I dug into the hummus at home, I truly had to laugh. You may be used to seeing random additives in your food, but are you used to now seeing them justified on the packaging? Behold:
“Cultured dextrose (for added freshness).” I’m sorry, what? I need something to “add freshness” to my hummus? As far as I know, you can’t add freshness. And check out what’s right above it: “No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.” OK, so what is cultured dextrose if not one of the above, a natural preservative perhaps? Looks like I’ll be making my own hummus from here on out (Do you think it will work in a blender? Chunky-style? No?).
Just this weekend I was walking down the cereal aisle at the grocery store and literally walked by a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch proclaiming in huge letters that General Mills cereals (like said cinnamon one) are America’s greatest source of whole grain. (Got another doozy for me? Please share in the comments and I’ll post on Twitter.) I had to scoff, um, could this be why we have such an issue with childhood obesity? What’s not funny is that most American’s don’t see the irony in that box advertisement. What they see is a trusted company (General Mills) telling them that this stuff isn’t bad for their kids. If this isn’t a call for the FDA to regulate and standardize front of box advertising then I don’t know what is. Now, I’m not saying that Cinnamon Toast Crunch should be banned (in fact, I’m not even saying that it isn’t tasty) but there’s no way it should be misleadingly marketed as health food. But it’s great PR for General Mills.
Which brings me to Walmart, and their famous negotiations with the First Lady, that led the giant to make its processed foods more healthful. Again, great PR for Walmart, but no real change for our food system.
Come on Obamas, what we need is actual food system and safety reform, not more people buying minorly less bad-for-you junk food from the biggest of big box stores. While I absolutely applaud the First Lady for taking on the issue of childhood obesity, this is no way to solve it. While planting an organic White House garden sent a very admirable message, it was certainly undermined by the fact that the President seems to be completely pushing forward a genetically modified agenda, organic be damned.
How about some fresh ideas, Washington? Or is cultured dextrose your answer?