The Layout of the Organic Foods Industry

It’s early Friday morning.  I’m checking out my facebook and come across something about organic foods.  Hmmmm . . . there’s a lot of information here.  All graphically demonstrated.  This is like one of those “Where’s Waldo” things.  Well I don’t see Waldo, but I see a lot of somewhat disturbing data.

I spent some time following the arrows and learning what companies actually own some of my favorite natural food brands.  These are big organizational boards showing the layout of the natural/organic foods industry.  Very interesting data and plenty of it, but it is–at least for me–unevaluated data at this point.

Although I must say, my emotional response to the fact that an organic food manufacturer like Seeds of Change is owned by M&M Mars is that it makes my heart sink to the ground.  Some of the others don’t surprise me as much and I make a quick and loose observation, “No wonder some of these so-called natural products have sugar and other weird ingredients in them.”

I am soothed to know that Lundberg, Eden, Amy’s and Frontier are still independent.  I wonder, “But for how long?”

My friend who posted these commented that it may be more and more important to grow your own food.  She is probably right but I don’t think that is a total solution.  I think we have to be vigilant about label-reading and continue to refuse to purchase pretend natural food products and demand high-quality selections from our stores.

Is it important when organic food companies are bought out by huge conglomerate corporations that also manufacture the very foods we are trying to get away from?

Organic food product labels

Organic foods acquisitions

Top 30 Food Processors

Acquisitions by the Top 30

Top Brands that are still Independent

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The Whole Food and Nothing But the Food

Today the term “whole food” is tossed around quite a bit and it sounds very healthy and much better than just “natural food.”  There’s even a huge chain of stores with that name.  But what does it mean, really?

Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, before being consumed. Whole foods typically do not contain added ingredients, such as salt, carbohydrates, or fat. Examples of whole foods include unpolished grains, beans, fruits and vegetables.

The term “whole food” came into use around 1970, which makes a lot of sense to me in the broad scheme of things.  I have a friend who grew up on a farm in the ’50’s.  She would tell me about all the vegetables and fruits they raised and all about the chickens, pigs and cows.  They provided the eggs, the meat and the milk.  Virtually all the food they ate came from these “whole food” sources and processing them was minimal and done right at home on the farm.

It was truly whole food!  My friend’s family did not slaughter an animal and then eat only a two-pound package of some of the parts.  They used all the parts and they used methods for storing such as drying, smoking, pickling and freezing.  When they milked the cows they did not homogenize it and drink only a two-percent version of the milk.  They used the whole thing and made their milk, cream, butter, buttermilk, etc from that whole food source.

English: Young cattle – the milk cows at the o...
Image via Wikipedia  Really?  You’re going to drink the milk and eat the whole cow too? Wholly Cow!

The twentieth century had brought us all kinds of prepared, packaged, processed food products that we could just buy in our grocery store instead of growing and raising and preparing them ourselves.  These were not, and are not today, “whole foods”– no matter what the name of the store is where you bought them!

By the sixties and seventies we came full circle once again, looking for a healthier, more natural way to eat.  Terms like “natural,” “whole food” and “organic” began cropping up.

(I’m skipping over a LOT of food history here, and perhaps I will write more about that later.  You might want to check out Dr. Neal Barnard’s books for some of this. I’m also not promoting drinking milk.  That’s another story involving the U.S.D.A, the U.S. Dairy Industry and billions of dollars.)

No, not everyone is to going to go back to farming and raising all their own food and that’s okay.  However, if we are going to buy whole and organic foods from our “natural health food stores” we need to know some definitions.

I did not find a legal definition for “whole food” and there definitely isn’t one for the word “natural” or “natural food.”  Natural food means to me, whole and organic food.  It is in its natural state and wasn’t raised with pesticides and other unnatural chemicals and it is not highly processed.  That’s probably what you think, too.  But in the world of advertising and marketing, “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean that.  So beware.

The United States Food and Drug Administration defines whole grains as cereal grains containing the bran, endosperm and germ of the original grain.  That’s a mouthful!  These are the layers that are inside the grain.  It would be better to think of some examples:

Brown rice is hulled and the rest of the grain is left intact whereas white rice is hulled and has the underneath layers–the bran and the germ–also removed and you get the white part left (which is, by the way, called the endosperm.)  The brown rice is whole, the white rice is not.

Brown rice.
Image via Wikipedia  Some good-looking brown rice here.

Organic unbleached white flour is not a whole food.  Organic whole wheat flour is not a whole food, but is much less processed.  100% whole wheat flour is often stone-ground and still has the bran and the germ in it.  Whole wheat–the actual grain–is whole food.  So when you’re buying your “whole wheat” bread in the health food store, what does the label actually say?  Is the ingredient “wheat flour?”  That’s not necessarily “whole” wheat!  It has to actually say, “whole wheat” to be closer to whole food.

What about that bottle of sweet, organic, unfiltered apple juice?  Not whole.  But the apples it came from, definitely whole!

Let’s look at this very simple example:  You’re going to buy yourself a bunch of organic carrots.  Great!  The display is beautiful and the carrots are piled up all nicely arranged and they’ve even gone to the trouble of taking off the end where the green part was attached to the orange part . . . Wait.  What?

Manageable or Maimed?
Whole Carrots

Go for the whole carrot, I always say!  You can saute those carrot slices up in a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, and you can wash and mince up those greens and toss them in for the last couple of minutes and you’ve got yourself a very colorful, delicious whole food dish.

In my universe, “organic food” falls under the category of “whole food.”  Organic food production is a heavily regulated Industry in the United States and in several other countries.  Organic farmers have to comply with strict guidelines to be able to claim their food or livestock is organic.  Generally, organic food is food raised without the use of synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.  Organic food is not supposed to contain genetically modified organisms, industrial solvents, or chemical additives and it is not supposed to be irradiated.  Organic farmers are also required to use farming practices which foster recycling of resources and promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity.

My first-hand experience with using organic whole food is that it is very economical and it provides much better nutrition than non-organic foods.  I fed three growing boys with almost all organic food and I can attest that on the few occasions when I didn’t have organic food and had to cook with non-organic, they ate twice as much, snacked all the time and never seemed as satisfied as they did (and we all did) when eating organic.

I think you can take it from here.  I’m not saying “NEVER” eat anything that is not 100% whole and unprocessed. But I am saying it is a good thing to start looking for more truly whole foods and use them to move toward a much more balanced, satisfying and healthy cuisine.

We Have a Right to Know

GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM

GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM (Photo credit: live w mcs)

More About Genetically Engineered (or Genetically Modified) Food

A follower recently asked me what was actually bad about GMO’s besides the fact that they’re unnatural.  It was a good question! I wrote about this subject January 23rd and 24th. https://mycookinglife.com/2012/01/24/a-bandwagon-worth-jumping-on/ and  https://mycookinglife.com/2012/01/23/whats-good-enough-to-eat/  I’ve continued reading about this subject and have come to understand that it is not just a problem of having a fruit, vegetable or animal’s genes modified in order to develop some quality or characteristic that it wouldn’t normally have.  (Though for me, this is unnatural enough and reason enough for me to not want GMO food.) The problem is also the reason that foods are being GMO’d.

One reason is that food is modified so it can withstand harsher pesticides.  When this is done, then the harsher pesticide can be used without killing off the plant but then what does that do to our environment now that we’re using harsher pesticides? Another problem is that the pesticides themselves are being GMO’d.  What is that doing to them and how does that worsen their affect on our environment?  Do we really want to mess with Mother Nature that way? Look at this picture of a guy pouring Monsanto pesticide (Monsanta is very BIG in the GMO business) to be sprayed on food crops.  What do the mask, jumpsuit and heavy rubber gloves say to you about the safety of having that in and on our food?

English: Monsanto pesticide to be sprayed on f...

Image via Wikipedia

And as far as I can see, no one has actually laid out exactly what the effect of GMO food is on our bodies, though the link below does mention GMO pesticides being found in the umbilical cord of pregnant women.  Well, you can find pesticides in lots of living things and this is never a good thing and I do my best to avoid exposure to pesticides altogether.

The GMO industry is money-driven, of course.  And the first step we need to take in order to change the direction of increasing alteration of natural food by genetically modifying them, is to be able to know if a food product is GMO or not.  In forty countries, GMO labeling is required.  It is not required in my country, the United States.  You should find out if it is required in yours.

If we can get laws passed to label GMO’d food products, then we have the ability to choose if we want to consume them or not.  And if enough of us get educated and decide not to consume GMO foods, then the problem will take care of itself. Here’s the link to some basic information about GMO foods from “Just Label It” http://justlabelit.org/about-ge-foods/ge-foods-at-a-glance/