Last night, as I was shopping for ingredients (at my local grocery store) for the recipes I have been testing in preparation for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Cooking for Solutions Event that I am participating in, I spotted, in the frozen section, a “Toaster Breakfast Cookie.” A what? Yes, a “breakfast cookie,” and made with whole grains, to boot. Fascinated, I looked at the nutritional information on the back of the box. 1 cookie has about 6 grams of fat, 300 calories, 230 mg of sodium, 19 grams of sugar… and so on.
It reminded me of ANOTHER amazing food product I saw in the aisles a couple of weeks ago.
Seriously? An “excellent source of calcium, iron, vitamins A, B….” I almost grabbed the whole lot off of the shelves. I NEED this – for my health! It’s a cookie. How could I resist? Well, cop a squat and let’s read the ingredient list, shall we? The first ingredient is sugar, followed by a number of other “nutritious” ingredients such as vegetable oils (likely GMO canola oil), polydextrose (processed sugar that mainly comes from corn these days and is likely GMO), corn syrup (um, GMO?), dextrose (mainly comes from corn these days and is likely… say it with me, GMO?), natural and artificial flavors (which ones, please), etc.
With processed foods being marketed as nutritious with fancy packaging and colors, it can be so difficult shopping at grocery stores (and I can’t even imagine how much more difficult when you have kids).
As my Director of Photography, Carl, on my PBS show (Growing a Greener World) once said while we were shooting an episode in a small town (comprised of many overweight people) where there were only fast food restaurant options for dinner, “these people have no chance.”
No chance? What’s wrong with this picture, Latte?
It is becoming increasingly hard to navigate the way through the maze of food marketing and gimmicks: the lack of proper food labeling, the money and politics behind food lobbyists, the fact that so much of the government farming subsidies go for GMO mono crop corn (which we can’t actually eat without processing it first), the news that some fast food restaurants now accept food stamps… and on it goes.
My wish is for people to know that it is fresh food that is synonymous with nutritious and delicious. Maybe even subsidize food that doesn’t need processing before we can eat it. Real food. Now, that’d be something.
This is why I dedicate a whole section in my cookbook to discuss how to shop safely(!) at the grocery store (perimeter shopping) and why I love shopping at farmers markets. At least, when shopping at your local farmers market, you can ask the grower where the food comes from, how it’s grown, and even visit their farm.
Education is a start, however I know it’s complicated. The problems weave through the socioeconomic lines to the political streets to the media train to our education system. And when we are told that a cookie has as much vitamin E as two cups of carrot juice, what chance do we really have?