Clarity among confusion

Published on Wednesday, 5 March 2014 01:03 - Written by Christine Gardner, food@tylerpaper.com

This week’s feature story addresses many of the questions I receive from readers about food labels, facts and making smarter food choices.

There’s so much information to decipher, aisles of products to discover and many decisions to make before filling our cart.

It’s hard to keep up with the latest food news when there’s constant news about food developments or nutritional studies.

I look very carefully, first at the source of the information and then evaluate credibility. Social media and the Internet often breed a lot of opinions and bias.

I keep a watchful eye for skewed facts and know that nowadays we have to be our own consumer watchdog. With this feature story about food labels, it is my intention to present the definitions, facts and answers with clear, unbiased information.

Food choices are filled with personal feelings and opinions. Some are based on what we were raised eating; others driven by moral, environmental or cultural beliefs, as well as health concerns.

Also we attach a lot of emotions, convictions and preferences to food, but the bottom line is food is fuel and nourishment and we need it to stay alive.

It’s disheartening to hear people talk about food or certain food groups as the enemy — meat, dairy, gluten, carbohydrates, sugar, salt — the list goes on and on.

Ultimately, what to put on our plate is an individual decision. Whether it’s driven by health concerns, intolerance, allergies, convictions or plain old preference, it should be an informed and well-educated one.

Good or bad, there are food choices we make that we all regret. Yes, we could all benefit from a diet of ‘clean’ fruits and vegetables, minimally processed meat, less packaged food and decreased amounts of sodium, sugar, preservatives and artificial ingredients. But science and food producers make the case that if we all started to eat this way there would be a food shortage created by population and demand.

The number of farmers and ranchers has dropped dramatically while the demand for agricultural products has steadily increased. In 1935, the number of farms in the United States peaked at 6.8 million as the population edged over 127 million citizens. Today, there are over 313 million people living in the United States and they all need to be fed. Ironically, within that population, less than 1 percent claim farming as an occupation. The number of farms in the U.S. now stands at about 2.2 million.

Americans have experienced a food evolution, 100 years ago we only ate what was available locally and seasonally. There were no grocery stores, restaurants, drive-thrus or packaged food. The invention of the assembly line ushered in mass-production and the evolution of technology and increased population has taken over from there. We’ve reprogrammed our bodies to eat and survive a completely different way in a short period of time.

The recent popularity of slow food, sustainability, eat local and farm-to-table is not a trend, but rather a return to what eating, cooking and feeding people used to be about in our not so distant past.

It makes you wonder if the case for convenience and high demand is helping or hurting our society. We expect to live longer than our predecessors because of advanced care and technology, but when it comes to the way we feed ourselves are we short-changing our quality of life, especially in advanced years where a pattern of excess seems to takes its toll?

I don’t think we know enough to answer that question and may others. It will take some time to measure the effects and results of a lifetime of modern eating. That’s why well-informed and credible sources are important so we can make mindful decisions when we ponder our plate.