Foodie Underground: Why Care What’s In Your Shopping Cart?

grocery basket

ColumnChoosing simplicity in what we eat.

Last week, I wrote an article about what ingredients may or may not be regulars in your shopping cart. You know, beetle shells and all that. As often happens on the internet, it did illicit quite a few comments, many of them defensive. I had worded it carefully, and ultimately, in my mind, the point of the piece was not to say “if you eat X you are also consuming Y and Z,” but to be a reminder of all the potential things that may or may not be in our food, good or bad.

We could argue all day long on the science of whether or not certain things are “bad” for you, how many visits to fast food restaurants every month are reasonable, or at what percentage rodent hair really will make its way into your peanut butter (the FDA allows one hair per 100 grams by the way), but what should be more disconcerting to all of us is the fact that we even have to ask these questions in the first place.

Should we really need to wonder what the mention of “natural flavors” in the list of ice cream ingredients really means?

I will be the first one to admit that I am no full-time food journalist with a budget to do quantitative analysis on the ins and outs of the food industry (although I do as much reading, thinking and talking about food as I can in an effort to better inform myself). Authors who write excellent works like Fast Food Nation, Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Salt Sugar Fat can take years of research to get their findings, and thank god they do. I am no scientist or chemist or nutritionist either. In fact, most of us aren’t.

Most of us are just people who (hopefully) want to eat well and be healthy and make sure our families do the same. But instead of listening to reason and our gut, we come to believe that processed foods are the answer. That science and technology have to be used in a certain way in order to make the products that we have come to love.

It doesn’t take a scientist to tell you that eating fresh, whole food, made by people that you know, is the best way to avoid a whole laundry list of bad things.

Apple from your neighbor’s tree or all natural apple juice in a plastic bottle? Apple.

Bread baked by your local independent bakery or artisan labeled bread at the chain grocery store? Bakery.

Fresh basil that you grow in your kitchen window or pesto sauce from a jar? Basil.

These are not complicated ideas, and yet we live in a processed, desensitized world where we become disconnected from rationality, and we make excuses for our bad eating behaviors. Does Yellow #5 really cause allergic reactions or affect ADHD? Who cares? Why do you need to be eating anything that needs to use a synthetic dye to make it look better in the first place? Cut out Yellow #5 and cut out the discussion entirely.

It’s simple really. Deep down we know that a short list of ingredients for a basic product is better than a long one, and yet, we look the other way.

It’s like the salt thing. ABC says it’s bad and then the New York Times says it’s good. We’re all on a quest to eat better and yet trying to find an answer can be befuddling. But as Michael Ruhlman wrote, “Does fat make you fat? Yes, if you eat enough of it, you moron. Is salt bad for you? If you live on KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts you’ve got a helluva bigger problem than salt intake.”

We have to think when it comes to food. No, we have to really think.

If we think hard enough, even if we’re not scientists, or researchers or academics, we’ll realize that our society has an eating problem. The only way to deal with that problem in our own homes, is to go back to the basics. Cook your own food. Use whole ingredients. Buy fresh produce. Skip the processed stuff.

It doesn’t take big thinking, but it takes doing. You don’t need a scientific study to tell you that.

This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at

Image: qmnonic

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.