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Are you eating real food?

By Marion Tucker-Honeycutt | Feb 20, 2019

If we don’t grow it ourselves or buy it, hand to hand, from local farmers, the food we eat may have little to do with what we think we’re eating or what is printed on the label.

The FDA allows all kinds of fillers and substitutes to be added to our foods or even lets the processors put out products that have absolutely none of the food that is claimed to be in the jar, bottle or box. Producers are allowed to use fillers and substitutes, like sawdust — which the FDA excuses by saying it is, after all, a fiber — and to add chemicals and other not-good-for-us stuff to prolong shelf life. Whatever helps the bottom line of the company is the name of the game. Lobbyists give nice perks and producers give nice campaign contributions.

But we the people are catching on and slowly getting the producers' attention by shopping where we can get honest food. Mostly that means organic, farmers markets or health food stores, and more people are starting to grow at least some of their own food.

Up until a few years ago, you couldn’t find organic food in the supermarkets. But as people starting getting alarmed and educated about the chemical-laden GMO foods with antibiotics and toxic pesticides, and animals raised in cages and fed medicated feed rather than the way it used to be, the big markets saw all that food money being spent elsewhere. Although neither they nor the FDA had given a fig about what was in our foods, they did care about their bottom line. So slowly they began to offer some real food in small "organic" sections of their stores.

Now they are starting to offer organics mixed in with the other products on the shelves. This is good. We do, however, have to educate ourselves about what we are really buying. Fortunately, we have the internet, especially YouTube, for information. (What can’t you learn on YouTube?)

And the truth is, even though organic products are getting easier to find, there are still more fake, chemical, really bad foods on the shelves that are labeled so deceptively it’s hard to know what is really in the product.

Take two prime examples, honey and olive oil. Chances are good that they are neither. Honey and olive oil have been staples for thousands of years. Both are superfoods, packed with nutrients and used in ancient and medieval times. Both Hippocrates and Galen (a brilliant Greek physician who became the most renowned doctor in the Roman Empire) used honey and olive oil for their patients.

Honey, for example, has all the minerals, vitamins and enzymes vital for just about every aspect of our health. But most of the bottles labeled honey on the shelves today are either not honey at all or honey mixed with things like HFCS, the infamous and unhealthy high fructose corn syrup. Some is just HFCS with flavor added.

And don’t be fooled by the words “Natural” or "Contains 100%.” It could be 98 percent HFCS and 2 percent real honey and could still be labeled "Contains 100%" because that 2 percent of real honey is pure honey. Deception on steroids.

A lot of the fake stuff is made in China, shipped over in huge barrels and bottled here. So we see an American location on the bottle and think "good.” You won’t see the word “China.”

So I spend the extra money and buy 100-percent organic and local when I can. It hurts my pocketbook, but I’d rather spend the money on real food than at the doctor's later.

There are ways you can test to see if what you get is real 100-percent organic honey or olive oil, but there isn’t room here to go into all that. You can find it on YouTube. But one way is, real honey tends to crystallize before long. This doesn’t mean it’s gone bad. Honey just doesn’t go bad. It’s been found in Egyptian ruins, for example — honey that’s thousands of years old and still perfectly good. (And you can put the jar of honey, if crystallized, into a pan of hot water and it will reconstitute.)

Olive oil, however, does spoil quite rapidly, especially if it’s real. I have stopped using olive oil for several reasons besides that. It isn’t good for cooking. It has a low burning point and when heated, is not healthy. It should only be used cold. Then, if it’s truly olive oil and you get it in small bottles and use it soon, it’s healthy.

Again, as with honey, a lot of "olive oil" on the shelves isn’t olive oil, isn’t from Italy and, if it does have any olive oil in it, is mixed with other oils like sunflower and canola. I used to use canola oil too, but now the canola fields are almost all grown with Monsanto’s deadly herbicides like Roundup/glyphosate.

Monsanto, the maker of Agent Orange, has run roughshod over us and our farmers for decades, with the aid of our government. But finally, the tide is turning there, too. Costco just announced they will no longer carry these poisons. It’s a start.

Back to olive oil. Olive oil is now being produced around the world, like in Australia, South America and California. Fake or mixed oils are also bottled in Italy but there are Italian growers in Italy that take pride in producing genuine, unadulterated olive oil. You can also find ways to test it on YouTube. Also, look for their seals of purity on the bottle. It will be either “PDO” or “PGI” for Protected Destination of Origin or Protected Geographical Indication.

These are just two examples of the fake foods that you may be shocked are not what they say. Take Parmesan cheese, for one. Real Parmesan originated in Parma, Italy, and is expensive. Most of the stuff you pick up as shredded mozzarella is flavored and mixed with silica shavings for a filler, which can be sawdust or who knows what. And if you don’t grind your own coffee, well, think "fillers."

Make YouTube your go-to friend. Search “Fake Foods.”

Best bet is to buy local. We are most fortunate in Maine, especially right here in Waldo Country. Maine has, by far, the highest number of young folk going into farming. And that provides us with another advantage, more farmers’ markets. The shorter time from garden to table, the more nutrients and better taste.

Now February is marching toward spring. Most of us are already browsing seed catalogs. The forest wraps around my open space, so I don’t get enough sun in one place to grow much, vegetable-wise. But I do think I’ll put in a small raised bed this year for a “kitchen garden” for salad stuff and herbs.

As Robert Frost would say, “Something there is”... about just stepping outside the kitchen door for salad greens. And soon the sap will be running.

Soon. Soon.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a graduate of Belfast schools who now lives in Morrill.

 

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