Look for the hidden dangers
I am asked quite frequently to define natural food. This is often followed by the asker stating: I thought natural food tasted like cardboard. How can it be natural if it tastes good?
Can great tasting gelato be natural? If the ingredients are real and wholesome, absolutely. By real and wholesome, I mean made with real fruit, real cocoa, real vanilla — nothing artificial.
Natural foods are supposed to be minimally processed. Minimally processed means food that is washed, aged, dried, frozen, canned, pasteurized or cooked while causing little, if any, loss of nutritional value. Furthermore, natural foods should not contain artificial flavors or colors and should be free of hormones and antibiotics.
Here is the rub: The term "natural" has been abused by food companies because there is no standard or policy developed by the Food and Drug Administration or U.S. Department of Agriculture to qualify what properties a product must have to be proclaimed natural.
Since all things ultimately come from the Earth, I understand how difficult it is to define what natural really is. However, food companies often mislead American consumers by using the term "natural" on labels when only a small fraction of the ingredients in the products they are selling are indeed natural.
Why are they allowed to do this? Oh, yeah — it has to do with money.
Since food companies are trying to maximize profit by manufacturing cheap food-like products full of chemicals at the expense of good nutrition — who is looking out for our best interest? Is it the FDA or USDA? Is it the warehouse supermarket?
The answer is you and me. We have to be our own food advocate. We need to read between the lines of manipulative marketing. Real food does not need to be marketed with a misleading label — it should speak for itself. Food that is provided to our community should be safe and free of chemicals.
I grew up eating Bisquick and even fed it to my kids when they were younger until I educated myself about what is in it: enriched flour bleached (chlorine gas is commonly used to bleach flour — yummy); partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil (commonly known as trans fats, which have been linked to heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis and diabetes); leavening (which contains baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate — aluminum has been linked to Alzheimer's — and monocalcium phosphate); dextrose; and salt. Seriously? All of this in a box of all-purpose baking mix.
A healthy and I think better tasting alternative to Bisquick is Pamela's Baking and Pancake Mix, which contains brown rice flour; white rice flour; cultured buttermilk; natural almond meal; tapioca starch; sweet rice flour; potato starch; grainless and aluminum-free baking powder (sodium bicarbonate, sodium acid pyrophosphate and potato starch); baking soda; sea salt; and xanthan gum. This mix is fantastic because just about everyone, including those with gluten allergies, can eat it.
At the market, we have banned the sale of any food that contains ingredients from a list of 120 commonly used chemicals (including those found in Bisquick).
How many other products do we eat every day that contain hidden dangers we are unaware of?
Kevin Cotter is managing general partner at New Earth Market in Yuba City.