14 June 2014 - What to Eat? The Final Decision is Up to Us

The topic this week is ‘food labeling’. No, not the GMO labeling, I’ve already written about that and you know my feelings. I don’t think it is necessary, but if it is going to be, then make it a national law rather than state-by-state.

This week it is the labeling on the packages of food in supermarkets and food stores and it’s prompted by a column on Reuters written by Lynn Parramore, senior editor at AlterNet. She titled the column. . . ‘Excuse me, is that snake oil gluten-free?’

Let me quote some of what she says. “As consumers, we like to think of ourselves as savvy and rational. But marketers have always known better. The health food and dietary supplement industries, in particular, have long made a mockery of the rational consumer.”

She goes on to say . . . “The stresses of modern life often make us feel out-of-sorts and tired”, so we look for solutions. “Wouldn’t it be easier if our suffering were caused by some particle that we are eating or not eating. …or if we were to do away with gluten, or pop a multivitamin, or eat like a caveman with a Whole Foods next door?

“Consumers end up with little real idea of what we’re buying. Comedian Jimmy Kimmel recently featured a sketch asking health-conscious folks avoiding gluten what gluten actually is. They had no idea.” Side comment from me, gluten-free was the big topic at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago last month. When I was a kid, I never ever heard the word and certainly didn’t see it on menus or food packages. Now it is the No. 1 item to avoid and it sounds like the majority of people have no idea why.

Continuing with Lynn Parramore’s column…“What we think we know about nutrition is often based on tenuous links and conflicting evidence. One day, egg yolks and butter are health villains. The next they are pardoned. Whole grains are either good for us or turning our brains into mush. Antioxidants are great - wait, they might accelerate cancer. Omega 3’s prevent heart disease and boost brain power, or maybe they don’t.

“To this confusion, add a heaping helping of outright lies and untested products. Then a dollop of mistrust for medical professionals and academic authority, plus a generous serving of poor regulation and big money politics. Top it off with celebrity pitches and plugs from someone like Dr. Oz. What you’ve got is a recipe for a public-health nightmare.”

I think the bottom-line of Lynn’s column is to become better educated about the food we eat and put more trust in science than in celebrity endorsements. And I think we need better definitions of some of the label terms. What is ‘natural’, ‘wholesome’, ‘organic’, ‘no artificial ingredients’, or “locally-grown’?
If I eat only locally-grown, that means I don’t get any oranges, strawberries or grapes in the winter in my home in northern Illinois.

Maybe, just maybe, it comes back to exercising personal responsibility, common sense and moderation, (three ingredients in our lives that have faded far into the background) when we decide what to put into our bodies.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.