Today’s New York Times has a long article about organic foods, more specifically, about how the FDA-approved “Certified Organic” designation has been co-opted almost completely by industrial food producers, diluting it to the point of meaninglessness. This does not come as a surprise to me. As soon as “organic” became an adjective that people would pay a premium for, it became inevitable that corporations in the food business would want a piece of the action. Now they’re busily diluting the definition of organic so that they can more easily adapt it to their industrial production methods.
Beyond doing things like going to the farmer’s market and buying food from the producers themselves, I have another trick for buying “whole foods” whether I’m at Whole Foods or any other grocery store. I read the list of ingredients. If it has ingredients that I don’t recognize, or don’t seem to belong in whatever it is that I’m buying, I skip it. Sometimes I wind up buying mass market brands, sometimes high end “organic” foods, and sometimes it’s store brand.
The first time I tried this approach was buying honey mustard. I was shocked to find that most of the honey mustards on the shelf didn’t even contain honey, most of them instead contained high fructose corn syrup and lots of other weird ingredients that I don’t recognize. I finally found a bottle of mustard that had a list of ingredients that included ground mustard, vinegar, and honey, and no strange ingredients we don’t have in the cabinet at home. To get back to mass market brands, French’s Mustard is delightfully simple (and awesome).
I realize that familiar ingredients can be produced in unpleasant ways, but there’s a limit to what can be practically achieved in our modern society. The best favor you can do for yourself if you’re not going to restrict yourself to food you or people you know grew is to stick to reading the labels.