It’s a powerful look at the dysfunction of our food system and “How to Save Our Health, Our Economy, Our Communities, and Our Planet—One Bite at a Time.”
As Mark says: “If we were to identify one big lever to pull to improve global health, create economic abundance, reduce social injustice and mental illness, restore environmental health, and reverse climate change, it would be transforming our entire food system. That is the most important work of our time—work that must begin now.”
It’s a sobering, mind-exploding, more-than-a-little enraging, yet ultimately hopeful look at what’s broken and how we can fix it. Check out the Notes for more.
Today I want to focus on just one super-small aspect of our overall food system: your food label.
If you look closely, you’ll see that it might be lying to you.
In a chapter called “The FDA Is Not Doing Its Job to Protect Us” in Part II on “The Dirty Politics of Food,” Mark tells us: “Companies are required to list ingredients in the order of their pre-dominance. But that doesn’t tell you how much is in the package. If sugar is the second ingredient listed on a package, that doesn’t tell you if it makes up 30 percent of the food or 5 percent.
Have you ever picked up a jar of strawberry jam at the supermarket and looked at its ingredient list? A jar of Smucker’s strawberry jam lists strawberries as the first ingredient, and then the second, third, and fourth ingredients are as follows: high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and sugar. This tactic is very common. The reason companies often use several sweeteners in one product is so they don’t have to list ‘sugar’ as the first ingredient. As [Jerold] Mande[, a nutrition expert who worked on food labels at the FDA and USDA,] explained, ‘What we know from some investigations is that companies often use five different sugars in their products so that they don’t show up high on the list.’”
Let’s think about that for a moment.
Of course, we have food labels so we can get a sense of what’s actually in our food. And, naturally, the ingredients are listed in the order of their pre-dominance.
Can you imagine being in the strategic discussion at Smucker’s (and countless other Big Food companies) coming up with the idea to use THREE DIFFERENT TYPES OF SUGAR so that “Strawberries” could remain at the top of the ingredient list so an unsuspecting customer (you? me? your mom? my mom? your brother? my brother?) will pick it up, take a quick glance and then say, “Strawberries. Awesome. Must be healthy!”?
Picture the scene.
Walk into the conference room. Pull up a chair.
Boss: “Ok, guys. New label laws say we need to put the largest ingredient in our jar of jam at the very top of the list.”
“Now… We ALL know we can’t have ‘sugar’ at the top. It’s gotta be strawberries. Right?!”
Everyone nods. (lol)
“I mean, if we put SUGAR at the top for Heaven’s sakes, people might catch on to the fact that this is NOT a health food and we can’t have THAT happen! Right?”
Everyone nods again. (lol)
“So… I came up with a brilliant idea.”
“What we need to do is throw in a few different versions of sugar to keep it just as unhealthy but LOOK healthy with Strawberries right at the top of the ol’ ingredient list.”
“Here’s the game plan: Head on over to this Optimize +1 for all the different names for cancer candy, er, I mean sugar, pick out a few of those and LET’S GO!! We got some jam to sell folks and there’s NO WAY we want to put the health of our customers first and prioritize their well-being over our profits.”
I wish that was further from what happened but…
Who thought it was a virtuous idea to manipulate the label like that rather than being honest about your product and/or Optimizing it so it ACTUALLY WAS healthier?
The book is packed with countless examples of how various stakeholders in our food system are manipulating their products and public policy without regards to our health.
I don’t get easily enraged, but it’s enraging.
Can you (and should you) trust a company that does that?
Can you (and should you) support a company that does that by buying their products?
I don’t think so.
If you feel so inspired, go check out your pantry and take a glance at your food labels.
And, let’s remember that we vote for the world we want to create with every dollar we spend.
Let’s do so Wisely TODAY.