My daughter came home from the grocery store recently having gone there to get some extra eggs. She was doing some baking for a community event, so we needed more than our usual weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) egg supply.
There were two types of eggs close to what she wanted. One kind said "organic," which should be free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms), but it didn't say "pastured," which means there's at least a chance the chickens that laid the eggs might have been outdoors sometime in their lives.
The eggs said "pasture-raised" but not "organic."
My daughter said, "I suddenly realized I'd been standing paralyzed in front of the egg cooler for a full five minutes trying to decide which kind was better to buy."
If you do the grocery shopping for your family and you try to buy healthy food, you may have experienced the same kind of gridlock. Food packaging is filled with a plethora of marketing terms - "natural," "healthy," "GMO-free," "fat-free," "sugar-free" and so many more.
Then there's the ingredient lists, filled with chemical potpourris, and the ingredients missing from the labels, and ingredients known to be associated with ecological devastation. A typical supermarket with its thousands of products has become a minefield of potentially harmful substances.
How can the average person make informed decisions about what their family can safely put in their mouths?
A new book, "Rich Food, Poor Food," addresses exactly that issue. Authors Mira and Jayson Calton have surveyed the research and created what they call a GPS (grocery purchasing system) designed to help people make good, nourishing food choices quickly and easily.
Their book begins by describing what they believe is the most widespread and dangerous health condition today - micronutrient deficiency. We hear a lot about how to combine macronutrients (fats, protein, carbohydrates, etc.), but much less is commonly known about micronutrients (essential vitamins, minerals and fatty acids).
Their global research (detailed in their first book, "Naked Calories") "proved that due to soil depletion, global food distribution, factory farming and modern cooking and food processing methods, the world is in the midst of a micronutrient deficiency pandemic." They go on to say, "(These) same micronutrient deficiencies (are) contributing factors in many of today's most prevalent health conditions and chronic diseases."
From there, the Caltons describe why they think ingredients lists are the "last bastion of hope" for making good decisions when purchasing food. As an example, they compare Classic Lay's Potato Chips and Baked! Lay's Potato Crisps.
The front of the package (the "billboard") emphasizes the word "Baked!" Much better than the fried Classic's, right? Lower fat, and all? And, in fact, the nutrition label confirms that the Baked! product is lower in calories and fat than the Classic.
However, the ingredient lists give a very different picture. Classic contains only potatoes, vegetable oil (sunflower, corn, and/or canola) and salt. Baked! contains dried potatoes (like potato flakes), cornstarch, sugar, corn oil (almost certainly containing GMOs), salt, soy lecithin (more GMOs) and corn sugar (high-fructose corn syrup).
The Baked! product is hardly a healthier choice, as the Caltons explain in detail.
Please note that the Caltons don't recommend eating either of those products. Neither have much to offer in the way of nutrition. The point is that the ingredient list is often the closest thing to the truth on food packaging.
Part 1 of the book goes into some detail about specific hazardous food ingredients and processing practices, and general guidelines used in the book for avoiding them. The first purchasing guideline: "Locally grown and raised foods. Local and organic is even better." Sound familiar?
Some startling statistics:
- 55 percent of all sugar in processed foods is from GMO beets.
- Americans eat an average of 63 pounds a year of high-fructose corn syrup, known to cause overeating.
- 20 percent of all calories children consume is from high-fructose corn syrup.
- Aspartame (in many diet products) contains methanol, which is converted in the body into formaldehyde. (Early embalming, anyone?)
It takes a strong stomach to read all of Part 1, but fortunately Part 2 is where you take their GPS to start grocery shopping. Part 2 gives clear instructions for food purchasing, aisle by aisle (though they often recommend getting out of the aisles and into your nearest farmers market). Food sections include dairy, meat, fish and seafood (settling the fresh vs. frozen conundrum), produce, condiments, grains, baking, snacks and beverages.
For each category, the Caltons suggest which features to select and which to avoid, with detailed descriptions of how they arrived at those decisions. Their recommendations occasionally give credit when credit is due for particular food brands or stores. They also provide tips for saving money.
In the chapter on dairy products, for example, the GPS recommendation is to look for products that are both "organic" and "grass-fed." Locally, you'll probably only find that at the Community Food Co-op or Terra Organica, or possibly direct from a farmer. Ask for it wherever you shop, though, so stores know what you want. That's one way change happens.
Best of all, their recommendations are summarized for each product category in a brief "Checkout Checklist," so you can skip the explanatory verbiage while you're shopping - and eliminate aisle gridlock.
"RICH FOOD" EGG SALAD
(Made with micronutrient-dense local ingredients)
1 teaspoon frozen celery leaves, chopped (friend's organic garden, Lummi Island)
1 teaspoon fresh sage leaves, chopped (home organic garden, Lummi Island)
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and coarsely chopped (Red Barn Lavender, Ferndale - chickens pasture-raised with certified organic feed)
1/4 cup GMO-free mayonnaise (homemade - see last week's recipe)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (BelleWood Acres, Lynden - not certified organic, but grown using environmentally friendly methods)
1/4 teaspoon smoked organic cayenne pepper, finely minced (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
2 tablespoon organic onion, minced (Hopewell Farm, Everson)
Gently mix all ingredients in a small bowl.
Makes about 2 cups.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996; appel-farms.com
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959; artisanwineclub.com
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060; bellinghamfarmers.org
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699; boxxberryfarm.com
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859; cloudmountainfarm.com
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158; communityfood.coop
Everybody's Store, 5465 Potter Road, Deming; 360-592-2297; everybodys.com
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747; ferndalepublicmarket.org
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151; graceharborfarms.com
Green Barn, 8858 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-354-1008
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
Lynden Farmers Market, 514 Liberty St., Lynden, fiveloavesfarm.blogspot.com
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398; facebook.com/pages/Pleasant-Valley-Dairy/161872142667
Red Barn Lavender Farm (egg CSA), 3106 Thornton Road, Ferndale; 360-393-7057
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190; islandergrocery.com
The Markets LLC, 3125 Old Fairhaven Parkway and 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797; themarketsllc.com
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020; terra-organica.com
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham; bellinghamcountrygardens.com
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or email@example.com. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.