Do You Know What You Are Consuming?

In February 2010, Jamie Oliver spoke at TED in Long Beach, California about the “Food Revolution.” Jamie was the 2010 winner of the TED Prizeawarded annually to an exceptional individual who receives $100,000 and…”One Wish to Change the World.” If you haven’t watched this 22-minute talk, stop reading this post and go watch it now. I’ll wait.

Can’t see the video? Try watching directly on the TED site.

If you had a similar range of emotions as I did – sad, mad, inspired, frustrated, disappointed – then keep reading.

Since Kristina (my wife) first made me aware of this presentation over a year ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about what Jamie said. Actually, I’ve been thinking about what I consume for a long time. See, I was that kid in school who nobody wanted to trade their lunch with. My mom usually made my lunch and it was far from “normal.” Growing up, I never had McDonalds. We never had soda in the house. My mom cooked. Now, that does not mean that everything I ate was healthy, but to my mom’s credit, she has always been very anti-processed food.

Once I went off to college, my relatively good eating habits stuck with me. This is not to say that I didn’t have my fair share of fast food, Coke, beer, etc. However, I ate healthier than the average American. 3 years ago, I read a great book by Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food. It’s one of those books that I read, practiced some of the suggestions, then got back with my regular life. More on Pollan a bit later.

Since Eva was born 14+ months ago, Kristina and I have become more cognizant of what we are feeding her. As a result, we are more aware of what we are consuming as well. After all, we want to model good habits. We’ve started shopping for meats that don’t have antibiotics or other chemicals. We’re purchasing more and more organic foods. We’re shopping at Whole Foods more. It’s that awesome power we have as parents – the ability to shape habits for our children that will hopefully stick with them forever.

Back To Pollan’s In Defense of Food

The subtitle of In Defense of Food is “An Eater’s Manifesto.” The book is chalked full of valuable information – some that will shock you, others that will inspire you to change how you view food. A few tidbits that stood out to me are as follows:

  1. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle. As Pollan writes, “Processed food products dominate the center aisles of the store while the cases of ostensibly fresh food – dairy, produce, meat, and fish – line the walls.”
  2. Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) Unfamiliar, b) Unpronounceable, c) More than five in number, or that include d) high-fructose corn syrup. Pollan’s example here is one of my favorites. Paraphrasing…bread is made with 4 main ingredients – flour, yeast, water, and a pinch of salt. Take a peek at the ingredients on the bread in your house. Notice anything “interesting?” I can bet with near certainty that the label includes unfamiliar, unpronounceable, and certainly more than 5 ingredients.
  3. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Those are the first 3 sentences of Pollan’s book. Think about that for a second. Pretty simple, yet powerful.

The entire book is worth the time, but these 3 points really stick out to me. In fact, one of them may be the NEXT 28-Day Challenge.

What’s In Your Milk?

When was the last time you looked at the ingredients on the back of a milk carton? How about the Nutrition Facts label?

I’m guessing that you haven’t lately. It’s possible that you’ve never looked at the ingredients or the nutrition label because you just assumed – rightfully so – that milk is, well, MILK. The milk I have in my fridge right now, from Winder Farms, reads “Milk, Vitamin D3” under ingredients. Under “Total Carbohydrates” (Nutrition Facts), the Winder Farms milk shows 11g of sugar per serving (serving = 1 cup). According to a tweet from Horizon Dairy, “12g of sugar is from natural lactose. Standard sugar content/serving in reg unflav milk.”

Ok. So milk contains natural sugars. Big deal.

Clearly, I’m not health professional, but I do know that sugar is everywhere

However, what you may not realize is that your “milk” is really flavored milk. Flavored with sugar.

Check out the picture below. This is a picture I took a few weeks ago at my local Starbucks. Besides that adorable little girl (yes, that’s our daughter Eva), do you notice anything interesting? Look at what Eva is reaching for. Milk, right? Even better…organic milk!

Horizons Organic (Flavored) Milk

However, there is only one small problem. If you look closely, while the Horizon Dairy milk is organic, it’s also flavored. Children have two options – Chocolate or Vanilla. According to this tweet reply from Horizon Dairy,

@djwaldow Great Q. Recently reduced our fat / sugar content in our flav #milk. Sugar = 22g, rather than standard 26
Kudos to them for now offering a “reduced fat / sugar” milk. However, either way you look at it (22g or 26g), that’s still over 2x more sugar than just plain milk. I can’t tell you how many children I see every day in Starbucks sucking down this flavored milk. I wonder how many parents are even aware. A quick glance at the Horizons Milk container shows organic. You have to look at the back label to see the 22/26g of sugar. If you didn’t catch Jamie Oliver’s sugar demonstration earlier, watch it again (you can fast forward to 12 minutes into the talk).

What Can You Do?

This is an easy post to write. I’m passionate about the topic. I’m starting to actually take some action. But what about you? If you’ve made it this far, first of all, thanks for reading. But what can you do? A few thoughts.

  1. As an Individual: Educate yourself. Read books like In Defense of Food. Watch, then shareTED Talks like the Jamie Oliver one. If you have a Twitter and/or Facebook account, sharing is easy. You can even share this blog post (see links above and below). Challenge yourself to all 3 of Pollan’s points above.
  2. As a Parent: Once you are knowledgeable, educate your children. Set good, healthy eating habits for them. Teach them about processed foods. Talk to them about high-fructose corn syrup. Give them water and (non-flavored) milk to drink instead of soda and other high-sugar alternatives.
  3. As an Educator: Help to change what our children are eating in public schools. Watch Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC. Much like the TED talk, you’ll be filled with emotions – most of them not all that positive.

Most importantly, understand where your food comes from. Know what you are eating, what you are drinking.

Are you with me?

DJ Waldow