It’s cold out and for the first time in my life I find myself wondering if I ever could really hack it in Colorado if a (mild) North Carolina winter has me aching for flip flops and sun dresses.
Furthermore, I miss the farmers market. Each year that passes I find myself more enthralled with eating local. My reasons are varied. Sometimes I find better prices; almost always I find higher quality. I like the idea of supporting local farms and businesses, but what I like the most is that I trust the farmers. The farmer is the man or woman standing in front of me that can answer all my questions about how a plant was grown or a chicken was raised because they did it. Sometimes they even invite me to their farm to see for myself, an opportunity I hope to take advantage of this spring.
There is something so real and genuine about the exchange. I trust it. With each breaking news story about a tainted food production facility causing health problems, my desire to eat real, local food strengthens. But did you know that even when food is “safe”, you might not really know what you’re buying at your grocery store?
Here are some of the top offenders to watch out for-
1. Fish. Seafood is notorious for being poorly tracked from its source, which means the fraud may not necessarily be the fault of the grocery store since the swap can happen further up in the supply chain. It can be as simple as farm raised salmon being labeled wild-caught (being ripped off) or it can be as bad as tilefish (a fish high in mercury and suggested that pregnant and nursing women avoid) being labeled as halibut or grouper (posing health problems).
2. Juice. Some pomegranate juice labeled 100% pomegranate juice was found to be filled out with apple juice or sugar water. Lemon juice and other fruit juices from foreign manufacturers revealed added clouding agents, so the juice would look freshly squeezed. However, these additives can include dangerous pthalates and cause sickness, like it did with 4000 people in Taiwan.
3. Olive Oils. Some olive oils are diluted with other cheaper oils, which may not be dangerous, but if you’re paying for extra virgin, you are getting ripped off if your bottle contains other vegetable oils. In rare accounts, non-food grade oil can be added posing a health risk. Here is a post I liked on which olive oils to trust and how to test your olive oil .
4. Honey. 75% of store-bought honey doesn’t contain pollen because it has been filtered out. This means regulators don’t officially recognize it as honey, but more importantly it means you can’t determine it’s geographic origin. Tests found that one third of “honey” imports from Asia were contaminated with lead and antibiotics.
So what is the answer? Here are some tips to help ensure you’re eating the real deal.
Buy local. Honey from a beekeeper down the street is not only going to be the real deal, but you’ll get the benefits of a natural allergy “shot” by eating it. Local fruits and vegetables have been shown to contain higher amounts of nutrients at time of consumption because of the shorter amount of time between picking and eating.
When you can’t buy local, buy name brand. Brands have a reputation to protect and can’t afford the PR disaster that food fraud would bring them.
Buy whole foods when possible. Buying a whole fish makes it harder to mislabel it. Buying whole coffee beans makes it harder for them to add fillers. Juicing your own apple guarantees that it’s, well, juice. Spices are commonly littered with fillers, too, so buying whole peppercorns and using a grinder can guarantee you have real pepper, not fillers.
If it looks like too good of a deal to be true, it probably is. Isn’t this true of everything in life? If your extra virgin olive oil is half the price of all the others, it may not be as pure as it claims.