March 5, 2015

We all know that ‘fresh is best’ and that our eating patterns should be based around fresh vegies, meat, poultry, seafood, good fats, and some fruit. The temptation is to supplement the basics with a pre-made sauce, a packet of quick something-or-other, or even a pre-made meal when time is tight.

But do we really know exactly what is in these foods? It’s unlikely.

There are rules about what manufacturers are legally required to include on labels, including nutrition information and the ingredients in the product. This information gives us a guide, and despite knowing that it is not always completely accurate, most people who bother with label-reading assume they are being given the complete picture.

A recent report in The Guardian described how a reporter got access to a Trade Show called Food Ingredients. As you can imagine, they were not showcasing apples or broccoli. This trade show was strictly open only to those working in the food manufacturing industry – making one wonder why they don’t want consumers to know about these secret ingredients – and security was tight.

This article exposes a number of practices in the food manufacturing industry of which we, as consumers, are completely unaware, and which the industry goes to great lengths to keep hidden.

Some of these practices include using additives or ingredients that legally don’t have to be declared on the label. Others involve creating the taste and feel of an expensive ingredient using a combination of cheap, heavily manufactured items. Some of the additives used have not been tested for safety. There are approximately “6,000 food additives – flavourings, glazing agents, improvers, bleaching agents and more – that are routinely employed behind the scenes of contemporary food manufacture.”

While it may not be possible, or necessarily desirable, to avoid all manufactured food, we can consciously make a good effort. With the bulk of our diet being in the meals we serve ourselves and our families, there are some simple goals to aim for:

  • Shop the perimeter of the supermarket. The article points out some of the problems associated with fresh food supply, but it is definitely less of a problem than with packaged foods with long shelf-lives.
  • Find a good quality butcher selling grass-fed meats and free-range poultry, and a fishmonger with wild-caught fish, and you’ll be eating quality protein sources. Many supermarkets are now selling these better quality products.
  • Buy organic vegies wherever possible. If you can’t get organic, wash your vegies well.
  • Buy Australian. The recent Nanna’s berries debacle makes it clear that there are other countries with potentially dangerous production methods. There’s also the importance of keeping Australian jobs and profits.
  • Purchase ‘single ingredient’ foods. Cucumber. Green beans. Tomatoes. Minced beef. Easy.