To Cook is To Love: A Foodies Journal

John Verlinden
Photo: Eric Hess
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John VerlindenBy: John Verlinden*/TRT Columnist–

Always read the fine print – Sixth in a series: Food & politics and the 2012 elections

Could I get a little help here? I know what I eat matters, and I really want a healthier diet. Now, if I could just figure out what’s actually inside the cans, boxes and bags in my grocery cart. Deciphering food product packaging is daunting – what’s hype and advertising and what’s scientifically valid? What do terms like “organic,” “free range” and “humanely raised” really mean and who’s checking? Advertising claims like “all natural,” “lite,” “high in fiber” aren’t defined by law – should they be? Should claims like “0 grams Trans Fat,” “a cholesterol free food,” “made with whole grains” and “contains real fruit” have to be clarified – is it high in saturated fat?, how much is whole grain?,  and what percent is real fruit? How should allergy information be displayed? And, should we insist manufacturers disclose if they use genetically modified plants and animals?

Food businesses need to promote their products’ good qualities, especially since enhancing nutritional profiles for consumers increases sales. And, what’s reasonable for us to ask of this diverse industry — they can’t address every consumer’s concern, and are you willing to pay for more clarity?

Is reliable and easy-to-understand nutrition and health information printed in a font you can actually read too much to ask for? The answer is probably yes. Food labeling is a contentious and politically hot issue. And, improvements to the system aren’t likely to happen unless voters insist on it. Balancing the interests of consumers, small farmers, agri-business giants, food manufacturers, health professionals and regulators and then obtaining agreement on an affordable, implementable system will be difficult. That’s why it’s been over twenty years since the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act and the Organic Foods Production Act were passed, and why we’ve seen only minor changes since.

What will you ask of politicians seeking your vote? What should our public policy be concerning food labeling, and can we design a system that gives us the information we want at a glance without harming the industry?

Next month we’ll take a look at agriculture policy. Share your thoughts, ask a question or suggest a topic for a future article – contact me: john@muchogusto.com or visit www.muchogusto.com and join our food forum.

Until next time – ¡Mucho Gusto!, ¡Muchas Gracias! y ¡Buen Provecho!