Friday, June 24, 2011

Fructose and Glucose and Sucrose, Oh My!

I did a practice-run grocery shopping trip today.  It took longer than my normal trips to the grocery store take, which I was expecting.  But what I wasn't expecting was how successful I would be at my mission, and how accomplished, how informed I would feel at the end of it.  I've read ingredients lists and nutrition facts before, of course, but with a completely different attitude.  After finishing another book by Michael Pollan just yesterday, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, I'm seeing the whole experience of eating in a new light.  Instead of looking for the percent daily value of vitamins and the ever-expanding list of subcategories of fats and carbohydrates, I was just looking what kinds of food things contained.

The produce section was easy, of course.  The simplest way to know what's in your food is to buy foods that don't look any different than they did when they were still growing.

The next step was the non-perishable aisles.  That was a matter of scanning the list for the obvious and not-so-obvious signs of corn-derived additives.  I'm going to have to do some more research on exactly which ingredients to look out for, but a good jumping-off place seems to be sugar, which means anything ending in "ose".  Glucose, fructose, and dextrose, in the U.S. anyway, are almost exclusively derived from cornstarch, according to Wikipedia.  Sucrose is Corn-Free-July approved, as it refers to sugar derived from either good old sugarcane, or beets.

Although, on second thought, it might be simpler and safer to boycott all the "oses" just in case.  My mother, who once visited a farm that grows commercially-sold sugar beets, reports being alarmed, to say the least, at the sight of bright blue seeds planted by the thousands.  The unnatural coloring was a chemical herbicide present in the seed before it even gets planted.  (At least one website discussing various sugar beet herbicides strictly warns not to inhale, touch, or otherwise directly contact the chemicals in question.  Great advice for something going in your food, eh?)  When my mother asked the farmer where the sugar from his beets ended up, he said the majority of it was used in candy.  That's good news for all you homicidal neighbors of small children.  This year you don't have to bother poisoning your Halloween treats; the manufacturer has done that for you!

After grabbing a bag of Cape Cod chips (ingredients: potatoes, canola oil, salt) and a can of black beans (ingredients: black beans, water) I faced the real challenge: the animal products.  This one is the most challenging because of the one-step-up-the-food-chain nature of my project.  An ingredients list on a carton of eggs won’t tell you what the chicken who laid them ate.  And, as you probably know, the labels on animal products boast an array of conflicting and confusing adjectives including “cage-free”, “organic”, “natural” and “vegetarian fed”.  This part of the shopping trip also proved to be the most rewarding, however, because it allowed me to set free my common sense.  Instead of rifling through my brain for the memory that “glucose” is Science for “one of the types of sugar molecules into which corn starch breaks down,” I simply thought about what everyday words and phrases really mean.  

“Cage-free”.  All right, no cage.  The chickens still could have been (and probably were) raised in a barn with very little sunlight or room to move around.  Which leads us to “vegetarian fed”.  Why would you advertise that a chicken was vegetarian fed?  Chickens on traditional farms get fed corn, sure, but they also roam around foraging for seeds, leaves and bugs!  They’re omnivores just like us!  So a vegetarian fed hen has almost certainly not been raised humanely.  Although it’s a step up from the egg cartons that make no claims whatsoever, since it’s a safe bet that the processed-corn-based feed on which those hens were raised included trace amounts of dead chicken bits!  Yum! 

“Organic” and “natural” are two words I’m frankly just sick of seeing on food.  Really think about what these words mean. Of course food is organic and natural.  What did you think it was?  Inorganic?  Unnatural?  Are the shoppers here people or robots?

You know what, don’t answer that.

In the end, I bought a half-dozen of Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs, which had all the aforementioned labels that make me skeptical, but also claimed to be “Certified Humane Raised & Handled”.  And for an added bonus, on the inside of the carton, there was a photo of a smiling woman with a chicken in her arms.  It was the best I was going to do at the Foodmaster.


  1. Great start! Can't wait to see where this goes. I've thrown most eating rules out while preggo (if I can't eat sugar NOW... I would just be miserable) but I think we're going to kick it into gear when the baby comes. Thanks for helping me become informed along with you.

  2. Glad you like it! It's definitely a learning experience. We'll see what happens...