Archive | February, 2012

Old-fashioned Deception

This week, while observing at City Market, I decided to switch up my position from a stationary window seat in the cafe and instead, stroll through the aisles. It was 7:30am, the earliest I had ever been to City Market, and everyone was still waking up. People, myself included, moved slowly and I saw a couple yawns.

As I weaved in and out of the aisles, I was amazed by the number of boxed, bagged, bottled and canned products that lined the shelves. As my eyes adjusted, I suddenly noticed that while the color, shape and size of products was interesting, what fascinated me the most was the messaging on the labels. Perhaps it was my stomach speaking, but before I knew it I was in the cereal aisle, crouched over my cart, looking at different cereal options. A few seconds later I began to wonder, what are these labels telling the consumer?

As I moved from organic to conventional brands, the internal dialogue continued. Even at a healthy foods store such as City Market, the ales still contain highly processed products with extremely mis-leading and deceiving information on the labels. What’s more, is that if I weren’t an informed consumer, I would have no idea that some of these products are sounhealthy. This got me thinking about eating as a question of personal choice. How are we expected to choose healthy foods if the information on labels isn’t accurate and reliable?

As I stood in the cereal aisle puzzled, my eyes settled on a big blue label at the top of a Lucky Charms box. The label stated that Lucky Charms is ‘Whole Grain Guaranteed, a good source of Calcium and Vitamin D’, among other things. This made Lucky Charms appear to be relatively healthy. But is it really?

According to the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) General Mills uses whole grain claims to distract consumers from sugar content. The report states that the company markets all of its Big G cereals as containing “More Whole Grain Than Any Other Ingredient*” with an asterisk that takes you to the disclaimer  “*as compared to any other single ingredient”.

The PHIA report points you to General Mills’ web page about sugar where they compare plain Cheerios (1 gram of sugar per serving) to Trix (10 grams of sugar per serving ) then ask:

From a calorie and nutrient standpoint, are both products a good breakfast choice?

Yes, they are. In fact, all General Mills cereals are lower calorie, nutrient dense choices.

Just because both cereals are low-calorie and contain whole grains, doesn’t mean they are equally healthy or even healthy to begin with! Don’t forget that Trix has 9 g more sugar per serving than Cheerios, and both are highly processed. However, without taking a deeper look at the cereals ingredients you would never know this. The marketing scheme employed by General Mills’ fools consumers into thinking that Lucky Charms (and all other Big G cereals) are healthy by emphasizing whole grain content in order to distract attention away from sugar content.

Given that it’s not just General Mills using dishonest marketing gimmicks to boost profit, should manufacturers be required to put health warnings on product labels? Imagine if instead of boasting whole grain content, the General Mills’ blue label stated that agricultural chemicals were used. Would this turn consumers off from buying it? Or perhaps nutrition labels belong on the front of food packages? Whatever it is, measures needs to be taken to ensure that food labels provide a more accurate reflection of the product and its health implications.

FN 2/20

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Family Food Connection

It was 5:35pm today and City Market was packed. I’m sitting at a table in the cafe, taking notes, when I glance out the window and notice a woman jogging hastily across the parking lot toward the entrance of co-op with her son in tow, who looked to be four or five years old. About 10 minutes passed when I noticed the two at the checkout line.

The mom looked rushed as she unpacked different snacks, fruit, ice cream, paper plates, juice, utensils and wait– birthday candles! Immediately, I realized what was going on: she was preparing for someone’s birthday dinner or party!

Although I observed other things during my time at the co-op, I couldn’t’ stop thinking about the mom and her son even after they left City Market. I wonder what kind of cake they’re getting, I thought to myself. Seeing the mom and her son got me thinking about the close tie between food and family. My whole life, food has been an essential element to any birthday, holiday, family gathering, anniversary, party, graduation, baby shower and sad to say, but funeral. No matter what’s going on if family’s there, food is there. My Bubbie’s latkis, my cousins famous mac & cheese, and my aunt’s sweet potatoes are all nurturing treats, a part of my family’s traditions, and a great contributor to my food happiness.

In a sense, the woman at City Market was kind of comforting and reminded me of my own family preparing for birthdays, special occasions, etc.. Things are always a bit rushed and frazzled during the preparation stages (shopping, cooking), but once we sit down to eat and enjoy each other’s company we realize that it’s well worth the time and energy. There is something very special, warming and magical about eating and sharing food with family that simply can’t be found elsewhere.

FN 2/27 

21-day Vegan Kickstart – would you join?

I recently read a post on the Huffington Post Food blog titled Meatless Monday: Make 2012 The Year Of Eating Vegan. The article discusses a 21-day vegan Kickstart program that includes recipes, meal plans, an iPhone app and an online support community for becoming vegan. Both for fun, and because I feel there are some missing points in this post that need to be addressed, I decided to play devil’s advocate.

Quote #1: “Admit it, you’ve been thinking about it. Especially with the holiday excess leaving you feeling as puffed as a fugo.” 
Actually, I haven’t been thinking about becoming vegan- and not everyone overeats during the holidays! I found this opening line offensive and feel it perpetuates preexisting stereotypes surrounding eating habits during the holidays, instead of bringing to light positive aspects of becoming vegan- which is what I thought the blog post was about.

Quote #2: “Maybe you want to go vegan to reduce your carbon footprint. Or because you need to reduce your cholesterol.”
Who says strict veganism is the healthiest and most environmentally responsible dietary decision? Making food choices that are good for the planet and your health are more complicated than simply “going vegan”, yet the author does not mention this. The blogger leaves the reader feeling like all they have to do is join the kickstart program and their lives will transform- suddenly their food choices will be healthy and environmentally sound.

Not so fast. One of my best friends has been vegan for years, yet she dislikes most fruits and vegetable therefore her diet consists of highly processed foods that are often from halfway across the world, too. In my opinion, if you’re looking to lower your food’s carbon footprint you should consider buying local and organic before jumping into the “kickstart” program.

Quote #3: “It just became huge,” says Susan Levin, PCRM’s director of nutritional education. Over 150,000 people have Kickstarted their lives. You can, too.”
I’d be interested to see how successful the program actually is. They might have 150,000 members, but how many of them remained vegan after the program ended? The fact is, changing your diet overnight isn’t easy. Instead of presenting readers with a variety of ways to improve their diet, the blog post promotes a strict adherence to a vegan diet. In my opinion, this paints a very black or white picture in terms of food choices, and could potentially lead readers that go off the program feeling worse off than they did to begin with.

Overall, this article feels more like a marketing pitch than it does an informative blog post about veganism. The post opens by suggesting that a vegan diet has health and environmental benefits , yet never explains what these benefits are –the very reason I would assume many readers would be interested in joining the program. What do you guys think, are you attracted to the kickstart program? Why or why not? Would love to hear your thoughts!

*For the record, I am not a vegan

WP 2/23

10 Reasons to Eat Local Food

I recently read an informative blog post titled 5 Reasons Why You Should Eat Local Produce.  Here are highlights from the authors five reasons, all of which I agree with!

1. Freshness– top quality, nutrients not lost over long transit times, reduced carbon footprint

2. Variety– exposure to both familiar and unfamiliar vegetables, herbs and wild greens. Allows you to explore cooking with new foods!

3. Educate yourself and your Family– helps us reconnect to where our food comes from, it’s an opportunity to learn about where and how our food is grown and what it looks like in the field

4. Organic and great for you– organic and pesticide free food is great for you

5. Sense of Community– gives you the opportunity to slow down and meet people, talk to farmers and others in commmunity

Delicious local veggies from the UVM garden!

I really like the fact that the author points out sense of community, for I feel this is a huge benefit of eating locally that is often overlooked. The more we understand our food, the more we value it, which means less mindless eating! I was so inspired by this author’s blog post that I decided to add to her list! 

5 More Reasons to Eat Local Food:

 6.  Support the local economy– eating locally means your supporting the businesses, people (families) in your community. It keeps money circulating in our own country.A study done by the New Economics Foundation in London found that a dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy.

7. Reduce the amount of fossil fuels needed to transport food– Eating locally is a sustainable choice because less fossil fuels are required to transport the food. A study in 2005 by the journal Food Policy found that organic food burns more fossil fuels than local food, thus contributing to air quality and other environmental problems. By eating locally, you are reducing our consumption of fossil fuels!

8. Keeps us in touch with the seasons– Eating locally means we’re choosing foods that are abundant and at their peak taste. Doing so also tends to save us money on produce that would likely be marked higher at times in the year when it’s harder to find. It allows us to learn about the food system, for example: what fruits and vegetables are in season where I live in VT? What fruits and veggies are season where my friend in FL lives where there is a completely different climate and growing season?

9. Know the story of your meal–  this is best summed up by one of my favorite quotes “A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.”     – Wendell Berry, from “The Pleasures of Eating”

10. Responsible land development– by eating local food you’re supporting local farmers and the owners of the farms and pastures. This in turn, supports responsible land development for it gives these smaller farms a reason to stay in business and remain undeveloped/untouched by larger farm operations and agribusiness.

As you can see, eating local foods has a plethora of benefits. By doing so, you’re making a healthy, sustainable decision to support body, community and local economy, all while eating amazing and delicious food! If you’re unsure of where to start with local food, be sure to check out the Eat Well Local & Sustainable Food Guide– just enter you’re zip code and you’ll have all the resources you need right at your fingertips!

WP 2/23

How is this blog different?

As a lover of all things food, I’ve become increasingly aware of just how many food blogs there are that offer delicious, healthy recipes, but also place an emphasis on community and the importance of using sustainably produced, local, organic, and whole foods when cooking. Some of my current favorites are My New Roots, Green Kitchen Stories, and Sprouted Kitchen. That said, with so many healthy food blogs, you might be asking yourself-  how is this different?

Have you ever read a food or health related article that you can’t stop thinking about? The kind that you go home and email your friends, talk about with mom on the phone and find yourself re- reading before bed? Maybe I’m just a huge food dork, but this happened to recently with social researcher, Jennifer Brady’s article Cooking as Inquiry: A Method to Stir Up Prevailing Ways of Knowing Food, Body, and Identity. In the article, she suggests that cooking can be used as a form of inquiry, or a process to explore the embodied self as it relates to foodmaking. Brady recognizes  the body and food as sites of knowledge and  uses a reflexive, collaborative “visceral approach” as a means of “thinking through the body” to enlist “the sensations, moods and ways of being that emerge from our sensory engagement with the material and discursive environments in which we live” [1].  As I’m very interested in furthering my understanding of cooking as inquiry, I will incorporate some of the practices and frameworks for thinking about the relationship between food, the body, the self into my posts.

In my blog, I hope to raise important questions such as: how are issues of power negotiated through cooking? How does the space of city market encourage or discourage social relations in cooking and food connect us to others and allow us to learn more about our food source? How does privilege and access affect ones purchasing decisions and thus health? What kind of people are purchasing healthy foods, and who is not? How do we make sustainably produced and nourishing foods available to everyone? Is this possible?

As a student at the University of Vermont, I’m studying Environmental Studies, Food Systems and Women’s and Gender Studies. I’m also very interested in Food Justice issues and hope that my academic studies, combined with my love of cooking, eating and community will offer a unique  perspective on issues regarding local, organic, and healthy foods.

WP 2/23

Surveying the Blogosphere

The blogosphere that I am joining is alive and active. Burlington, VT is a hotbed for local, organic and sustainably produced food, as well as discussions around the larger issues that exist within our food system. That said, the specific topics or niches that I found are that are currently being blogged about are: the local food system, sourcing food, educating consumers on how to make smart and informed decisions, outreach to community about food and food choices, farming, and nutrition – just to name a few. Overall, most of these blogs appear to be credible, and below I will discuss what led me to this conclusion.

  Above image: snapshot of City Market’s blog, Serving Up Vermont [1]

Serving Up Vermont is City Market’s blog and is run by Caroline Homan (City Market’s Food Education Coordinator) and Meg Klepack (City Market’s Outreach & Local Food Manager). Together, their job is to help source local food for the co-op and educate members about a wide variety of topics, including local foods and farming. Both women have a strong passion for food and local community. As a subset of the City Market website, I find Serving up Vermont not only credible, but a wonderful resource and example of how to successfully blog about topics regarding the local and organic food movement here in Vermont. I love that the blog is updated every couple of days and more importantly, that every post either has pictures, tips or delicious recipes. Serving up Vermont accurately reflects City Market’s mission, goals and direction therefore I find it mostly unbiased since the author’s outline their intentions (to strengthen the local food system and create better food security and sense of nutrition) right on the blog. However, it is important to note is that the authors of this blog work for CM (and are probably being paid to blog). This made me wonder- if one of  them disagreed on a specific stance that City Market, the City of Burlington, etc. took on an issue, would they voice it on the blog? What do you think? Should bloggers have the right to voice their opinion, even if it’s not in line with the company, organization, etc. that they are representing?

The Burlington Food Council is another blog contributing to the conversation of local food here in Burlington. According to the Burlington Food Council’s website, the group formed after a 2002 town hall meeting that intended to gauge the public’s sustainability priorities. Citizens voiced that they wanted more local, fresh and healthy foods at public schools and their communities in general. After this meeting, a group of volunteers and nonprofits worked together with Shelburne farms to receive a USDA Community Food Project Grant to encourage healthier food choices, and build capacity to meet community health needs (including improving school meals). The BFC formed one year later in 2003 as a way to connect nonprofit organizations, volunteers and government agencies and work toward the following goals: to build food knowledge and experience, to build food appreciation and access, to build local food systems. I find this blog credible because they’ve done extensive research including the Community Food Assessment that helped create an action plan for the school district and larger Burlington community. Based on the depth of work that the BFC has done, as well as their knowledge on issues regarding food, access to food, and community health, I consider them a great resource worth checking out.

The Campus Kitchen at the University of Vermont blog is a subset of the official blog of the Campus Kitchen Project and contributes to the conversation of food in Burlington in a slightly different way. The group helps to relieve hunger in Burlington by working with UVM Dining Services to salvage unused food and turn it into a nutritious meal to distribute to members of the community. In doing so, they provide a necessary link between the local food system and other social problems such as feeding the hungry. As mentioned on the CKUVM blog, the group is involved with multiple projects, including doing the majority of the cooking for Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf which according to CKUVM is a food bank, soup kitchen, and the largest direct service emergency food provider in Vermont (they serve one hot meal per day). CKUVM contributes to the online conversation of food in Burlington by providing a link between the social aspect of food and community involvement and food. Although the blog is informative, given CKUVM’S strong presence on UVM’s campus and in the community in general, I would expect their blog to be active and independent of other CKP initiatives. In reality, it is not. Due to lack of accessibility, I feel the online voice of CKUVM is minimal and can get lost amongst all the postings from different university’s that are involved with CKP. I feel this creates an inaccurate representation of the group given their level of involvement in the community. Perhaps the reason for having all schools post to one blog is tactical and helps provide a cohesive space for the organization,however,I just found it confusing and difficult to locate.

Sources: [1] http://www.citymarket.coop/blog/

WP 2/7

Eating as a Philosophy

The amount of food available has skyrocketed in the past couple of decades. Part of this has to do with the extent food to which food is processed as well as sheer diversity. Needless to say, the increase has resulted in more concern and anxiety around food (Lupton, 85). As I was sitting in City Market the other day conducting my observations I noticed a few customers that seemed anxious and unsure about their food purchases, however the large majority of shoppers seemed to be enjoying their experience. In fact, it seemed as if grocery shopping was a source of genuine pleasure for many shoppers. On several occasions shoppers would run into someone they know and talk for a couple minutes. Other times I would just notice a sense of happiness and contentment that seemed present from individual shoppers, couples shopping and even groups of friends shopping for ingredients together for that nights dinner.

According to Deborah Lupton, “for many people, eating has become a philosophy, a secular means of attributing meaning and value to everyday practices. This approach places a great deal of emphasis on the monitoring of one’s diet, to the point where it is believed that it is almost impossible to achieve and maintain good health (in its physical, mental emotional and spiritual senses) without exercising vigilant control over diet.” I believe the notion of eating as a philosophy is quite true true in a place like Burlington, which is known for it’s health conscious, physically active, environmentally responsible citizens. In other words, it makes sense that people put in the extra effort to eat responsibly here.

Many people, myself included, find it important to align their actions with their values. I realized this is what I see people do every week while shopping at the co-op. Having access to the space of the co-op and being able to shop their regularly is undoubtably a tremendous privilege, and one that I believe helps people align their actions with their values. Making informed, conscious food choices and watching others do so has been a great source of pleasure throughout my participatory observations. What about you guys- is food a philosophy for you?

FN 2/6