This month, I am celebrating October #Unprocessed with almost 6000 other people. For this month, I have committed to eating food in its unadulterated form. No unpronounceable ingredients. No weird preservatives....no funny stuff. I am dutifully reading labels with even more intensity than I normally would. And boy...does it open my eyes. I have a mostly unprocessed diet but it is amazing how a little mindfulness reminds me how difficult it truly is for the average person to go unprocessed. Of course, I have made a few hiccups so far, usually whenever I forget about my mission for one second. "Sure, I will have that piece of chocolate"....darn!!
You know, I am a simple gal. A good, old-fashioned vegetarian. Not a raw foodie or a Paleo enthusiast. I live by the 80/20 rule. For me, this means an 80% whole plant foods approach. That leaves 20% for some other picks...and I like me some cheese. The staple in our house is organic, raw milk cheddar but in a pinch, I picked up some pizza mozzarella from Saputo at the grocery store across the way. Then, I just happened to glance at the label. Milk...yes...modified milk ingredients...WTF???
This is cheese. I double checked! Not cheese "spread" or cheese "product". And it is not the only one. A bunch of pre-shredded cheeses from Kraft and other companies now have modified milk ingredients in their labels.
Confused? Me too. Here is the legal definition of 'modified milk ingredient' from Health Canada:
Modified milk ingredients are defined in item 7.1, subsection B.01.010 (3) of the FDR, as "any of the following in liquid, concentrated, dry, frozen or reconstituted form, namely, calcium reduced skim milk (obtained by the ion-exchange process), casein, caseinates, cultured milk products, milk serum proteins, ultrafiltered milk, whey, whey butter, whey cream and any other component of milk the chemical state of which has been altered from that in which it is found in milk".
The 'milk serum proteins' really freaks me out because I have no idea what it means. You want the common sense definition of a modified milk ingredient? Industrial by-products of milk. Milk too expensive for your factory food? Here, take the waste of my factory's milk usage.
Say what you might about the role of dairy in our diet but let's defend what is good and real and simple - milk from a cow still has nutrition to offer as long as it agrees with you. Foods in their whole form are kinder to our digestive systems and have been designed by nature to nourish our bodies. What really (language alert!) pisses me off is that the average Jane, which includes me, buys food with a gentlewoman's expectation that a food that looks like real food is real. I don't expect that the weird pink "strawberry" milk is natural. Plain white cheese? Now you've gone too far...
This is happening all across our grocery stores: ice creams morphed into 'dairy desserts'; juices transformed into 'beverages' and meat bloated with water, antibiotics and salmonella. The industrial food supply...it's what's for dinner!
In North America, we are facing an unprecedented epidemic of obesity, chronic disease, digestive disturbances and allergies like never before. Our bodies are quite literally under attack from our food, our lifestyle and our environment. Why are we not more angry about this? Because we have no idea it is happening. We have been buying the same brand of cheese for 10 years and so why would we bother looking at the ingredients? Cheese is cheese, right? RIGHT? Wrong. Ice cream isn't ice cream, either.
Where milk, butter, flour and sugar once existed we have modified milk ingredients, esterified fatty acids of soy, franken-gluten and high fructose corn syrup. Researchers are working overtime trying to figure out how modern foods have been modified and what that is doing to our bodies. In the meantime, no one can dispute that our food has changed. And we are sick from it.
Right about now, there might be some trickling thought that "real food" might not be affordable food. That taking a stand might be reserved for those of us lucky enough to buy 'fancy food'. However, as a dietitian, I think it is completely unethical that companies making lower cost foods are trying to soak extra profits from them by reducing ingredient quality. In fact, some companies are starting to come back around. McCain, for example, is one that actually has pronounceable ingredients on their labels. It may be a frozen pizza but at least it has real basil and tomatoes. And Hellman's Mayo has committed to using 100% cage free eggs by 2020. These are steps in the right direction for companies with the power to make real change in our food supply. Yes, some of us can afford to buy organic kale smoothies. However, I know that many of us can't - so don't think that you deserve cheap food just because you can't afford to buy expensive food.
I feel its time to take a stand. Want to join me? Here is how:
1. Food manufacturers listen to the almighty dollar. Read labels voraciously and don't buy food with ingredients you don't understand. During October #Unprocessed, this is called the "kitchen test". Click here for more info.
2. Whenever you can, visit companies' Facebook and Twitter pages and respectfully tell them why you don't buy their products. Companies are very connected to the conversations on social media. They listen! Use the hash tag #takebackourfood
3. Share this post on your Facebook pages, Twitter profiles and Google +. Use the hash tag #takebackourfood
4. Even better, share your own thoughts and experiences and use the hash tag #takebackourfood.