Thursday, April 02, 2009

Read the Labels

This latest round of potentially toxic food (pistachios) should reinforce the need for everyone to RTFL (read the f----g labels). First of all, if you are going to buy processed food, which means it has to have a package and label with list of ingredients, you should automatically read the label and understand what is in it. By understand what is in it I mean actually know what each of the ingredients are and what they mean to your health and nutrition. As Michael Pollan so aptly said...If it has more than four or five ingredients then you should seriously think about putting it back on the shelf. To take that further, if it reads like the formula for rocket fuel or something with polysylabic chemical names and other mysterious things, then definitely put it back on the shelf. I like the rule, If your great grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, then it probably isn't.

You can, of course, avoid maufactured food altogether. It means more work in the kitchen but with a little practice, a good knife and some basic cooking skills, there is nothing on the grocery shelf that you cannot duplicate at home. There is also the twin bonuses of knowing what is in it and it costing you less. We won't even go into the fact that it will probably test better.

All of the above being said, I will also tell you that there are processed foods that are a good value and good for you but to find them you have to read the labels. Jarred pasta sauce is a good example. In my cupboard I have a couple of jars for Bertolli marinara. The list of ingredients is small and real, tomatoes, olive oil, spices, garlic and onion if memory serves. These are good for a quick pasta meal and it would take you a couple of hours to make your own sauce from scratch. If I have the time I do make mine from scratch but there are times when it is not practical and turning to a jarred sauce is no sin, if it's a good one and honestly made. Canned beans are another processed food I always have on hand. They are cheap and if rinsed can be added to cooked dishes and salads to ratchet up the protein for a few pennies a serving. There are honest foods on the grocery shelves but you have to read and understand the labels if you are going to discover them.

You owe it yourself and your family to read the labels and understand what's in your food. You also need to seriously consider cooking with basic ingredients and avoiding processed foods whenever you can. I consider my time in the kitchen as a challenge to my creativity and very enjoyable. I look forward to creating dishes from scratch and I also enjoy knowing that, in addition to good food, I am saving money and having the fun of creating something. There is no harm in taking a shortcut now and then, as with jarred pasta sauce or boxed stock, but cooking from scratch can be very rewarding and it surely enriches my life.

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