Friday, July 17, 2009

Big Food

Recently in my local paper was an editorial about one consumers discovery of what "seasoned" really meant on their package of fresh, raw pork chops. It also goes along with a lot of research I've been doing recently and for which I am working on a very extensive series of posts concerning. For now though, as a Chef, as someone who has worked as management and waded through the confusion of choices, as a consumer who does care about what she eats and finally, yes, even as someone who ran a small grocery type business (I still suffer guilt over the selections I made and the marketing I used)....I know far too much, and not nearly enough.
I wrote up a response to the opinion piece, but I suppose I'm long winded and it wasn't accepted in it's full format, thus, it finds it's way here!

It isn't just pork which finds itself with the label "seasoned" plenty of other raw or frozen product such as chicken breast also have this. The reason for this practice? It increases the weight, thus the sale value of the product, even though it's just water it counts. It makes the customer happy to see that kg/$ sticker that appears to be low. It alters the texture and taste of the product to that which consumers are accustom to; this goes for other additives to products like nitrates to deli meats, the majority of shoppers faced with meats with no nitrates added would believe them rotting or inedible because they don't have the familiar pink hue. Basically, we've accepted it; we've all but demanded it from food suppliers. From the way our food is produced to these hidden additives of salt, sugars and a host of others keep the price of products low, make them last longer in our fridges, and satisfy the tastes our bodies have come to accept and enjoy; though certainly not need.
If any change is going to happen with big agribusiness and grocery it's going to only be at the hands of the consumer. They provide what the masses want plain and simple. Education about our food, where it comes from, how it is handled and what packaging labels really mean is vital. It's also not an easy bit of education to undertake. A single grocery store is a navigation of carefully planned marketing tactics and enough confusing labels to leave the average person unsure what choice is the right choice. Lean, No Fat, Low Fat, No Trans Fat, Prebiotic, Organic, Probiotic, Omega3, Added Vitamins, Calcium it goes on and on. We practically need a guide book to take us through a supermarket and the rules change so fast it's sometimes difficult to keep up. For anyone who wants to improve their diet, and not necessarily for the single fact of loosing weight or a health concern, simply to eat better it's an actual challenge not only of education, but of cost as well. Food isn't just the fuel for your body any more, it's become a social and moral choice; an opinion. Science remains undecided on the effects of many additives to our food; it's up to us, not science or government to develop an understanding and make the choice. Eventually that choice will result in changes, it's how we got here in the first place after all.

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