You Are What You Eat

Or so they say, but how many of us really know what’s in our foods?

Many processed foods have become such dietary staples that we sometimes forget that they are products of industry. How often do we stop to think about what’s in our rice cakes or peanut butter or yogurt? Until I began transitioning to real foods a few months ago, I never looked at labels (or, if I did, it was just to check calories and fat content). I trusted the USDA and the FDA regulatory policies: if a food was being sold, it was safe for consumption. Of course I knew a diet consisting exclusively of chips and cookies was unhealthy, but surely chips and cookies in moderation were OK. Otherwise, companies wouldn’t be allowed to sell them. Right?

Then I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (thanks for ruining my bubble of blissful ignorance, Kevin). If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. It is a witty, well-researched, easy-to-read examination of the various ways we can go about feeding ourselves. The author, Michael Pollan, has identified four main paths we can take – industrial (i.e. grocery stores), farming, foraging and hunting – and he follows various foods through each of these systems, from nature to table. I also watched the documentary Food, Inc. and was more than a little disturbed to learn of the chummy ties between the food industry and the various “unbiased” and “independent” government agencies that determine and regulate what is considered safe for human consumption.

Between these two resources and my own experimentation with real foods, I have become hyper-conscious of labels. I am now that annoying person in the grocery store, blocking the aisles with her cart and bags while she reads the ingredient list on every bottle of mustard in an attempt to find the cleanest one. The one time I didn’t check I ended up with canned peas that were chock full of added sugars. Granted, it was organic sugar, but sugar nonetheless. (Mental note: always buy frozen veggies over canned veggies.) Needless to say, reading has become a crucial part of my grocery shopping experience. Here’s a helpful guide from Summer Tomato on how to evaluate a product’s ingredients list:

I also recently purchased Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions and have been slowly making my way through it. It’s filled with great information about traditional diets and also with delicious, nourishing recipes. One thing she does throughout the book that I have really enjoyed are these “Name This Product” questions where she lists ingredients in commonly-consumed foods and the reader has to figure out what the product is. I thought I’d try that here. If you want to participate, you can either respond on Facebook or leave a comment at the end of this post.

So, without further ado, name this product:

Water, hydrogenated vegetable oil (coconut & palm kernel oils), high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, skim milk, light cream, sodium caseinate, natural & artificial flavor, xantham & guar gums, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monosterate, beta carotene (color).

And finally I leave you with this because I think it’s funny.


16 April 2012. You Are What You Eat.


  1. rachelschain replied:

    I think it’s Velveeta.

  2. Cynthia W. replied:

    I think it is sliced American Cheese (otherwise known as processed cheese food).

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