Food Choices: Making Educated Decisions for Your Family

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Hi, folks. Annemarie has asked me to write a post on what I think is important in our food purchases and how I came to and continue to come to those decisions.

First, I’ll explain a little bit about myself. I’m a scientist by nature (and profession,) but what’s probably more pertinent to this post is that I’m a total skeptic. I tend to look at things through an analytical filter which shapes the way I view the whole world, especially what I eat.

Annemarie and I have always thought a lot about food. It used to just be about what would be the best tasting and it slowly evolved to be a more conscientious thought process. We really got serious when we started thinking about having a baby. It’s completely cliché to say this but when you find out you’re going to become a parent, everything changes. For me, that meant that I scrutinized our “food philosophy” even further.

I think anyone’s first impulse is to think “organic is better.” I know mine was. Then I started to think. Wait a minute! I took two semesters of organic chemistry where we learned about all kinds of nasty chemicals. All the word “organic” means to me is anything that is mostly carbon. I started to think more and more about all these words that are nothing more than marketing claims-

What does “green” mean?

What does “natural” mean?

What does “organic” mean?

When Annemarie started coming to me with these studies about things like how bad pesticides were, or that artificial sweeteners were causing cancer, I couldn’t help but be skeptical. She really wanted to know what is worth worrying about and what’s just hype. So I made a list of some red flags that we both use now to help us weed out the nonsense.

Here are some key words that grab my attention:

1.     Natural – You’ll see the word “natural” all over the place when you’re looking for good food. Lightning is natural, a rattlesnake is natural but I sure don’t want either of them in my dining room. If you’re buying food directly from the producer, they should be able to elaborate. If they can’t it’s probably not worth doing business with them.

2.     Green – My favorite example of what’s called “green washing” in my in industry is the production of surfactants (chemicals that are used in soap products.) Petroleum-based products are in the hot seat right now so when a chemical manufacturer is making “green” marketing claims, petroleum is an obvious target. The problem with removing petroleum-based materials is that they have to be replaced with something. In this case, this is usually done with palm oil. What they fail to mention is that they had to clear thousands of acres of rainforest to grow enough palm oil to replace the petroleum-based materials.

The point I’m trying to make is if there’s a feasible way to lessen the environmental impact of something, it’s in the financial interest of the manufacturer to go with that, but when people start to demand something without understanding the consequences, bad things can happen. What’s the next target? Palm oil plantations?

3.     Chemicals – This one kills me! Everything is a chemical. By that I mean every thing is made of chemicals. If you can touch it (or eat it,) it’s a chemical. The word chemical can sound scary until you understand  that everything is composed of chemical compounds. Air is a mixture of chemicals. Water is a chemical.

When something is described as “chemical free,” watch out. You’re going to buy a whole lot of nothing or you’re being subjected to a bogus marketing claim.

This is just the beginning. Over the next few posts I have planned, I want to teach you to become a critically-thinking consumer.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

– Eric