Monday, August 20, 2007

The Journey Home

Being a card-carrying member of the mom club, "Eat your vegetables" is a phrase we use often. Fortunately, my entire family never met a vegetable it didn't like, and there isn't an evening meal where vegetables aren't present. We simply like them that much.

September, 2006 was a tough time for vegetables. Fresh-bagged spinach took the first hit when the FDA issued a consumer warning linking Popeye's favorite snack to food borne E. Coli O157:H7. Although packages were yanked off the shelf faster than you could say I yam what I yam, there were 205 confirmed illnesses (including four in the state of Michigan) and three deaths. And if you thought you could escape the spinach scourge by running south of the border, in December, 2006, the FDA traced E. Coli O157:H7 infections to Taco Bell Restaurants and began testing every food product that didn't moo.

2007 has seen its own share of food related troubles, including Salmonella in Peanut Butter and the horrific large-scale pet food recall. Aside from that you should be alright. Unless, of course you're playing with one of nine-million lead-laced toys. Or brushing your teeth with poisonous chemicals used in antifreeze.

I have to admit, where food recalls are concerned, I've pretty much been a read the notice, make sure it isn't me, perform a perfunctory "phew!" and return to life as usual. I don't want to feed my family poison, but I've never been what you might call a militant shopper. I go in, grab what I need and get out. Lately, though, I've started to make some changes in my shopping habits. My goal was to reduce the amounts of high-fructose corn syrup and trans fat in my diet. Fortunately, trans fat has gotten a great deal of lousy press lately, and product merchandising has made it fairly easy to spot products that proudly proclaim they are trans fat free. But it ain't necessarily so. According to FDA guidelines:
Food manufacturers are allowed to list amounts of trans fat with less than 0.5 gram (1/2 g) as 0 (zero) on the Nutrition Facts panel. As a result, consumers may see a few products that list 0 gram trans fat on the label, while the ingredient list will have "shortening" or "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" on it. This means the food contains very small amounts (less than 0.5 g) of trans fat per serving.

So guess what? If the potato chip company wants to make sure you believe that no one can eat just one, one serving of potato chips (Six chips. Wahoo!) quickly turns into two or three or ten servings, and all those zero grams of trans fat which are really not zero grams but less than half of gram of trans fat per serving are now a whole pile of trans fats thanking your arteries for the spacious living quarters.

So much for not being militant.

And then there is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), that super-sweetened compound that is added to, well, damn-near everything. Sure, it's easy to eliminate sugar-filled pop and fruit juice. But just try to find a loaf of bread that doesn't contain HFCS. Even the 49 bazillion grain bread that weighs a ton (which means it MUST be good for you) more than likely contains HFCS. And while the FDA position on HFCS is that it is "Generally Regarded as Safe," The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture explains that this means
although food additives that may not meet the usual test criteria for safety these additives have been used extensively and have not demonstrated any harm to consumers.

This must be the "I'm not dead yet" theory.

So, my first discovery in my efforts to combat nasties in my diet was that you really can't do this passively. You have to be a militant pain-in-the-butt aisle-hogging label reader which takes for-freaking-ever. But so it goes. Sorry if I'm blocking the Wonder Bread whose fourth ingredient is -- drum roll please -- High Fructose Corn Syrup.

You might think that the end result of the elimination of the super sweety corny and the lick-your-lips yummy fat would result in a dreary, gruel-filled existence. It doesn't have to be. In fact, we discovered we didn't have to compromise; we were able to make easy substitutions that actually tasted BETTER. The first substitution came from choosing wheat flour over white flour whenever possible. From bread to pasta to ... waffles, our diet got brown. And you know what? Wheat kicks butt. Now we all turn up our noses at "air food" and choose wheat whenever we can. It's denser, heartier and actually has a flavor. The next substitution came from going organic with fresh fruits and veggies. Most general-purpose grocery stores have increased the number of organic items they sell, and let me tell you, an organic carrot kicks the butt of a regular carrot any day of the week. It's a startling difference in taste.

So now that we've dumped the junk and gone organic when we can, the next logical step no farther away than my front door. It's time to become a Localvore.

Localvore--n. Person who eats locally grown food, as in carnivore, herbivore, localvore

From September 8-15, The Lansing Localvores are extending an invitation for people to eat only locally grown foods for a week, a day, or just a meal. Their website provides lots of online resources, as well as lists of local businesses, vendors and other organizations ready to help you with this challenge. Looking at the calendar, I have a couple weeks to figure out what I'm currently doing and what I'll need to do to accomplish this goal. The compromise may be having to spend a bit more time doing some research, but I'm going to give Lansing, Michigan my best effort, and if all goes as it has, the result will be delicious.

Pass the waffles. Whole wheat, please.

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