What is this? Determining the identity of your food

America’s food culture has morphed into a troubling maze of health claims, confusing polysyllabic ingredients, and debates about genetically modified foods, organic v. non-organic, and local v. not local.

Some writers, such as Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, have attempted to simplify food choices by encouraging readers to “keep it simple” when it comes to ingredients. According to them and Slow Food advocates, real food is the only way to go – none of that processed ‘nonsense,’ no fancy concoction of food science that generously injects fiber into your food after removing any of the natural parts that bestow fiber to the consumer.

I’ve vowed to keep it simple, but that hasn’t exactly accomplished very much for my food lifestyle. While I have reduced my consumption of Sour Patch Kids and Skittles, I still eat processed, boxed foods purely because of their convenience.

I find it amusing that, as convenient as highly-processed foods are (ready to eat!), their construction seems to be so complicated. I picture gnarly-knuckled brewers pouring Yellow 5 and BHT into a giant kettle and dipping fingers that have lost their feeling into the stew to test its flavor.

Funny image, but not necessarily the best way to cook. My latest way of trying to bring some sort of awareness to my own eating choices is to ask myself what I’m eating as I’m eating it.

There’s a light, airy feeling to answering “an orange,” much more so than flipping over the box and reading the nutrition label while my mouth works around a food that doesn’t seem to be made up of so many weird things.

It hasn’t solved the problem, though I have put down the box a time or two after answering the question – and it definitely made fruit and veggies the hero of the palate.

I hope to keep asking the question and maintain my attention as I answer it, slowly changing the way I experience food.

Is all it takes a “What is this?”

Here are a few links that might prove informative regarding food additives:

Healthy Canadians Ingredient List

Whole Foods’ list of Unacceptable Ingredients in Food

U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives and Colors

Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Chemical Cuisine

Jenna Beaulieu

About Jenna Beaulieu

Jenna is a writer and fine art photographer who recently moved from the Saint John Valley region to Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island. She’s a fan of excellent music, homemade gravy, and colored pencils (also, short books and long books, good pens, flannel, and when the June bugs don’t really come out much that year). For more about Jenna and her work, visit her website at www.jennabeaulieu.com