I was looking for ricotta cheese because I wanted to make stuffed shells.
I was at Savenor's Market in Cambridge, perusing their eclectic dairy case, trying not to keep the door open for too long as I took out one product after another, carefully reading all the fine print. I settled on a brand I didn't recognize: Mozzarella House from Peabody, Massachusetts.
The label said things like "local" and "organic" and "not treated with rBST,", but nowhere did it actually say "grass-fed," "pasture-raised," or anything specific about the farming practices used. In fact, it was difficult to tell whether the actual milk was local, or just the end product.
When I got home I dug around a little on their website, and was assured that the milk is in fact local, and since there aren't any CAFOs in New England that I know of, I can pretty safely infer that it's grass fed cheese we're dealing with. But why isn't this kind of label a priority? Grass-fed beef is something of a trend right now, and so it's pretty easy to find that out, but when it comes to dairy products, the farming practices don't seem to matter.
This got me thinking about labeling in general, and how it can be difficult to wade through the endless sea of information and zero in on what's important to you. Which got me thinking about the debate over GMO labeling.
I used to be very, very in favor of the mandatory labeling of GMOs, simply because I think that consumers should have as much information as possible. But I'm no longer sure that such a law would actually provide real information, any more than labels like "natural" and "organic" and "made with real fruit juice" do. What exactly does genetic modification mean? Is it the same for every product? Does every genetic modification raise the same amount of concern, or are there gray areas? And what are we really avoiding when we choose to steer clear of GMOs?
In eliminating corn this month, of course I'm not actually condemning the plant itself. My fight is with the ways in which corn has been used to damage our food system. The project is also a way to rethink how I get food and to deconstruct what it means to me. When I'm in the grocery store, I don't blindly grab the first bag that boasts "no HFCS;" I read the full list of ingredients. Similarly, no one with a food allergy is going to eat something labeled "free from allergens" without double checking that statement. And of course, by now we've realized that the term "low fat" is really just code for "high sugar."
How much weight do you give to catch phrase food labeling? What do you look for in a food product? Is more labeling a good idea, or should we do away with it altogether and trust the ingredients and their sources to give us the information that we want?