Not On The Label

by Tiggered

Felicity Lawrence tries to discover the answer to an all-important question: what happened to our food?

Reading food labels can be a rewarding activity. As well as providing endless entertainment (I love being warned that there are nuts in my nuts), they are a fountain of useful information. Ingredient list. Calorie count. Use by date. Yes, plenty of data there, even if you need a magnifying glass to decipher the most interesting bits.

Some things, though, are never mentioned on the label. Felicity Lawrence investigates the invisible, unpleasant parts of our food supply.

Not On The Label is an angry, shocking book that could change your eating habits forever.

Food transformation

Once upon a time food was grown.  Today, it's manufactured.  It used to nourish, now it makes us ill.  Diabetes rates skyrocket, cardiovascular diseases, cancers and food allergies are not far behind. 

Knowledgeable food producers, identifiable by name, are long gone.  Instead, we have nameless, underpaid and overworked till operators whose skills have been reduced to minimum by economic realities. 

Supermarkets are taking over our food supply.  That's not good news if you happen to enjoy food that actually tastes of something.  Multiples tend to sacrifice qualities such as freshness, wholesomeness and yes, taste, on the twin altars of efficiency and profit. 

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Excuse me, there's some horse in my chicken

Not On The Label had been written long before the recent horsemeat outrage hit headlines but what Lawrence discloses about meat processing is no less scandalous.  While adding horse to other meats is (as far as we know) a relatively new trick, beef and pork DNA have been finding their way into poultry for years.  That's not the end of chilling news.  If Lawrence is to be believed, it is possible to slice foreign DNA so thoroughly that adulterants escape detection.  One only hopes that horsemeat is the worst that can happen... 

Even assuming that no other creatures are being injected into your drumsticks, mass chicken processing is no fun.  I seriously lost appetite reading Lawrence's descriptions, and that's only the first chapter of the book. 

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Food manufacturers of the XXI century

Marketing people like us to imagine food growers as hard-working, honest and happy individuals.  The Smiling Farmer photos can be found in pretty much every supermarket.  My oh my, if this nice guy on such a nice farm is producing my food, surely it must be of the very highest quality? 

Well, Felicity Lawrence paints quite a different picture.  Hers is full of exploited migrant workers, terrorised suppliers and damaged environment.  The Smiling Farmer is, in fact, crying and going out of business, while the food is flown in from Africa or other places where workers can be legally paid a pittance. 

Due to the nature of today's food industry, customers can no longer identify actual producers of their daily bread.  Have you noticed?  Some food labels have even lost 'produced by' information, substituting them with 'produced for'.  I don't really need to be specifically told that jam I'm buying in (e.g.) Tesco was produced for Tesco.  I'd much rather have some verifiable details on who grew the strawberries. 

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Other food horrors from Not On The Label

Pesticide residues.  After reading the book I pledged to be twice as enthusiastic in washing fruit and veg.  Apples don't get perfect by themselves... 

Food additives.  Technically, only safe substances are supposed to be added to foodstuffs.  But technically, beef is not supposed to be full of horse DNA either.  It appears that the regulatory bodies are somewhat slack in the execution of their duty and producers don't deserve our trust. 

Environmental damage.  Land destroyed by unsustainable industrial farming.  Countless air miles translating into carbon emissions.  Have you checked how far your recent meal travelled?  Possibly further than you ever will... 

Tasteless food.  I grew up on fruit and veg straight from a gardening allotment.  My goodness, don't they taste different than shop bought stuff!  It's probably something to do with the fact that I never picked my strawberries green to extend their shelf life... 

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What can we do to save our food?

Felicity Lawrence provides a whole spectrum of ideas here, ranging from political to grassroot.  

The easiest (and most realistic) thing each of us can do is simple:  let's vote with our trolleys.  If money is the only language understood today, let's take the cash away from people who destroy our food culture.  

Personally, I avoid supermarkets as much as I can, buying in smaller shops instead.  I cook from scratch, saving money and avoiding nasty chemicals at the same time.  I try to stick to local, seasonal products.  Not always, I'll grant you that, but as often as I can manage.  My efforts are limited by ridiculosly low budget, but even on little money I'm able to make the ethical choice most of the time.  

Not On The Label contains many more ideas, plus enough passion to inspire lifestyle changes.

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More pages by Tiggered

Cooking from scratch beats ready-made meals on every front. Here are 10 reasons why.
Selling dreams is pretty much what today's marketing is all about. Does it work?
A quick guide to stocking up when you want to start cooking from scratch
How much value does money actually represents? How much is your cash worth?
Updated: 05/03/2013, Tiggered
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Tiggered on 07/31/2014

I agree. I've been growing some of my food since this spring, too. This way I know EXACTLY what I eat. Thanks for stopping by

Tiggered on 07/31/2014

I agree. I've been growing some of my food since this spring, too. This way I know EXACTLY what I eat. Thanks for stopping by

sheilamarie on 07/30/2014

I've been trying to eat as much as possible from local sources where you can at least know first hand where the food comes from. Organic is more expensive, but maybe we need to change what we eat to make up for it. Simple foods are the way to go.

Tiggered on 05/04/2013

Judging by your wizzes, I wouldn't mind a little rummage around your shelves :)

Tiggered on 05/04/2013

Yes, the more I learn about food industry, the more uneasy I get during meals. Anger is there too, especially when I'm confronted with all the ads saying how much they care about customer's health and happiness...
I wonder how the costs of organic foods compare around the world? Who's the luckiest ;) ?

JoHarrington on 05/04/2013

I have 'Not on the Label' on my book-shelves too. Very, very good book.

ologsinquito on 05/03/2013

It is very disturbing what is being sold and passed off as wholesome food. I buy mostly organic, and work very hard at keeping the cost reasonable. We might have more affordable organic food in the US.

Tiggered on 05/03/2013

True, unfortunately. I can't afford organic as a regular fare either. Sometimes, though, is better than never and if the food is really wholesome and ethically satisfying, then it's worth it.

Tiggered on 05/03/2013

Thank you :)
Well, you know, we have to simply do the best we can. I agree that growing your own is the best way but fewer and fewer people today are in the position to do so... me included :(

Guest on 05/03/2013

Agreeing with Elias here. When I was making a bit more money in my youth (before job satisfaction kicked in over financial gain) I took part in a stakeholder project about organic food and recycled product availability. Apart from the fact that the amounts were tailored to a family of 4 scenario, the goods were so darn expensive that it wasn't financially viable even for me with disposable income to drop on this. Can't imagine how much more problematic it would have been for a family.

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