Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day 2015: An Addendum
By Leslie A. Cook, vegetatingwithleslie.org
Do Food Products' Labels Tell Us Anything?
Have you ever noticed that there’s lots of “nutritional” information on all the items in the center part of your local grocery store and NONE on the real foods around the periphery of the store? Of course, this information is required on the commercially created food products in the center of the store, and I imagine we assume it’s not needed for the real food. I mean, a carrot is a carrot, right?
I also notice that those items that do carry nutritional information display it in very small print on the back or bottom of packages, as if it were an afterthought or at least not a very proud thought. On the other hand, those same packages often proudly display nutritional claims in big letters on their fronts, claims like:
Well, the devil is in the details, and the details, as we remember, are on the backs and undersides of those packages in the Nutritional and Ingredients Labels - so IF you can see the small print and IF you want to take the time while you’re shopping to make your own decisions about what’s healthy and what’s not, you’ll likely find a mismatch between front and back. Or at least a mismatch between the description, “health claim” and the reality of what those claims are.
Health claims on the front are nothing more than advertising, and they have little to do with the real health of the product. Low Glycemic. OK. By now we all know it’s a good idea to eat lower in the glycemic index, but did you know that high fructose corn syrup is a low glycemic index sweetener? Does that make it healthy? And then there's "All Natural." Did you know the FDA has declined to define what this label means?
As for the unreadable Nutritional and Ingredients Labels, what do we do with the fact that there are at least 56 names for sugar that manufacturers use to hide added sugars in their foods? The information about sugar may show up in some form on the labels, but you will probably need a Ph.D. in nutrition to figure out where it is and what it means to you.
A Fun, New Approach to Labeling and Real Food Shopping
So how can we make shopping a more satisfying, educational, useful experience?
In February 2015, British chef and popular food guru, Jamie Oliver, circulated a petition for a Food Revolution Day 2015. He gathered almost 1,600,000 signatures in 196 countries, and I was one who signed. The purpose of Food Revolution Day was to make compulsory practical food education part of the school curriculum. “With diet-related diseases rising at an alarming rate, it has never been more important to educate children about food, where it comes from and how it affects their bodies.” You can read more at http://www.foodrevolutionday.com/campaign/#SRQYHj7fBeMHEoV0.99.
I support this effort whole-heartedly! I’m surprised at the number of times I check out of the grocery store, and young (and sometimes older!) cashiers aren’t certain what a fruit or vegetable is, even though they are surrounded by these products all the time in their work environment. Kids have no idea where various real food items come from and more often than not have little more ability in a kitchen than to open the microwave and put in one of those packages with the tiny print Nutritional and Ingredients Labels on the back.
To return to the issue I started with, I’d like to add a dimension to this struggle to require food education in the schools. Let’s start by introducing it in supermarkets! Here's a word picture, a picture I would like to see as a reality some day.
Let’s call those Nutritional Labels on the packaged foods in the center of the store pretty much what they are: unreadable and not particularly useful as presented. Let’s ban those bogus health claims on the front of packages, and let’s move the Nutritional and Ingredients Labels to the front of the package and enlarge the font size. Or make pictographs of them. Let’s place large signs or videos in these sections of the supermarket that explain why this information is important and what it tells us.
Then let’s move onto the periphery of the store and develop a visually attractive system of labels for each item, telling what it is, where it comes from, what nutrients it has and how those nutrients help us. Don’t put it ON the foods (we hardly need glue added to the list of substances that has touched our real foods): put it on great-looking labels over the section for that item.
Let’s place regularly changing recipes near each item. Let’s place large signs or videos at various places that explain, in an interesting visual way, aspects of human nutrition and how real food is the critical component of a healthy lifestyle.
Then the schools can do their part. Why shouldn’t kids learn about food in the environment that for most of them IS the source of it? The grocery store! Teachers can use the tools that supermarkets and grocery stores provide as the basis of curricula they can develop. It can include field trips to supermarkets, homework assignments that involve trips to supermarkets and interactions with the kids’ parents and siblings, and followup work back in the schools.
We do these kinds of things with museums and consider it the best kind of education -- why not with supermarkets? Homeschoolers could be in on the venture, tapping into this public environment. Tired working parents shopping at the end of a day would find it easier to shop healthfully for their families with truly useful (and entertaining) information at their fingertips.
Everybody wins, including the supermarkets and grocery stores who create this kind of shopping environment. We’re all going to love hanging out in those real food sections of stores, finding out what’s there this week and learning about what we can do with it and what it will do for us! And that’s a very good thing.
All we need now is an operating food cooperative. Hmmmm... that's right, the Food Shed Co-op is coming, just as soon as you sign on!