About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Monday, May 07, 2007
What's The Real Deal?
From the moment you are born, food manufactures are after your soul starting with shiny tins of infant formula, carrying subliminal messages carefully suggesting you would be a fool to use what nature has so thoughtfully provided. It is a barrage that will go on for your entire life with the message that processed foods are somehow superior to fresh, whether because they have been fortified with vitamins or just manage to save you time out of your busy schedule.

Marketers are hard at work behind the scenes, convincing us to buy, buy, buy.

Now, apart from outright lies, the marketers biggest weapons are words and pictures that give off strong, positive impressions of the product. But the thing is with marketers is they push the letter of the law as much as footballers do on a Saturday afternoon, but unlike footballers, there doesn't seem to be any umpires to adjudicate. Sure we have a department of consumer affairs, but they only act on complaints, there doesn't seem to be any active searching for companies doing the wrong thing or testing their claims.

Like the case of GlaxoSmithKline who were recently prosecuted for a false claim regarding the vitamin C level in their Ribena product. You would think that this prosecution was the result of rigorous scrutiny and testing of products by a relevant authority, but no, it was left to two schoolgirls to uncover the scandal and this is merely the worst of corporate behaviour. A while ago I wrote about a product that claimed on the front of the packaging that it contained leek and blue cheese as if these were primary flavours, but sadly this was far from the truth. I can understand that leek may be difficult to taste in a mix of ingredients but at 1.5% it would be downright impossible, though surely not blue cheese, but it seems my complaint fell on deaf ears as the product continues to be sold in this format with no word of explanation.

What about one of the most common claims, we've all seen it, that the food you have purchased from a shop is home made? What exactly do they mean? How is it possible? Is there a battalion of mums busily cooking away on the stoves in their kitchens?

Happily though, not all corporate behaviour is deliberately misleading, but can result from an error in the manufacturing process. Recently I bought some cheese that was labeled blue brie. When the cheese was cut, there was absolutely no evidence of any blue mould whatsoever, so I wrote to the company who explained that in the cheese making process, it was possible for the holes that are punched into the cheese, allowing the blue mould to form, to close up if the cheese is too soft, stopping the formation of a blue cheese. They also happily refunded my purchase price.

But contrast this with a picture of a berry and apple pie that I bought on the weekend. On the front was a photo of a luscious looking slice of pie, chock-a-block with berries and pieces of apple, the lattice pastry on top curved upwards to the centre, due to the amount of fruit contained within. Contrast this with the flat looking pie that came out of my oven with absolutely no sensual bulge of promise to be seen and worse was to come. When the pie was sliced, a thick, gooey sauce ran everywhere and there was hardly any fruit to be seen, in short it looked nothing like the photo. A check of the list of ingredients revealed the sad truth. The berries and apple constituted just 29% of the entire pie and third on the list of ingredients was water, listed in front of the fruit content, which is probably why thickener and vegetable gum had been added, to keep it in place.

But how had the photographer been able to take a picture of the pie with no evidence of the sauce that ran everywhere, even when the pie was at room temperature? There was only one way that could have happened. The pie must have been first cooked, frozen, then sliced and photographed, keeping those pesky juices from running and ruining the shot, giving an illusion of being filled to the brim with fruit, because you can't really see the water, which the pie in fact contains more of than either the berries or the apple, by their own admission.

Another interesting aspect of processed foods is how whole generations of people have come to expect that manufactured food and drink is the way things should taste, because often, people, unlike you gentle reader, have not much experience with natural home cooked foods anymore and can be quite shocked when confronted with real food, lovingly prepared, which I think Jamie Oliver's School Dinners program served to highlight. Personally I recall the time when I was first interested in cooking and tried to bake my own bread, and was really shocked and disappointed that it didn't come out like the loaves of bread we bought from the shop. Looking back, I'm sure that what I baked was easily superior to a bought loaf, but my idea was to copy that loaf and thought I failed miserably.

Just in the same way my daughter M thinks we failed on the weekend when she asked if we could make lemonade. We went to the greengrocer to purchase some lemons, which M personally picked, on our return home we made some sugar syrup, squeezed the lemons, adding their juice to the syrup along with some water to dilute. After it cooled down and M took her first sip, she looked at me and said it tasted nothing like Sprite (a brand of lemonade) and could we go and buy some.

I've got some serious work to do.

Labels: ,

  posted at 8:20 am

At 12:16 pm, Blogger Squishy said...

I agree. I think alot of families need a major injection of information. Example of my family being completely different to the norm. When my son sleeps over at a friends place. For some reason garlic bread is always served. My son always says 'Is it home made?' the answer is 'I bought it at the supermarket' my son then says 'Sorry I only eat home made' then whoever it is gets a lecture from my son about home made food.
Then I get a grilling from the parent about what to feed him and it all becomes quite a conversation.

My daughter on the other hand will quite happily tell people up front that what they have in their fridge and cupboard is just not up to my mums standard.

They seem rude, but kids just tell it strait and at least I know they are going to be mindful about what they buy and how they eat when they grow up.

Loved the post :)

At 12:33 pm, Blogger Cindy said...

An example I recently encountered was a berry muesli bar - what looked like luscious chunks of dried fruit in the picture were actually little jellies, sweetened with apple juice then coloured and flavoured into a pale imitation of the promised berry. No berries mentioned in the ingredients list at all!

At 8:36 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are two things about bought foods that depress the heck outta me:

1. That marketers employ such sleazy tactics to entice consumers, using deceiving advertising, putting relevant information in tiny font (or sometimes not putting it on at all!!!)

2. The fact that so many people don't seem to realize that home-cooking is not that difficult, giving products like powdered mashed potatoes room to even exist in the supermarket. No no no no!

M's still young, I'm sure that she'll come to appreciate real lemonade later on :) Perhaps try adding a bit of crushed mint to help liven up the flavour a tad? :)

At 7:47 am, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Yes, you've got your work cut out for you!
If all we know is processed, the real deal doesn't seem right. Terrible to think we get so used to processed that we come to think of it as the good stuff. Some re-alignment of the taste buds is in order!

At 10:14 am, Blogger ilingc said...

Sounds like a sara lee product. Every since I started baking again, I've never bought any of the pre-packed frozen stuff. My bf still insists on them sometimes, but I just tell him that I'd make him a better one.
I must admit to being ignorant of food labels before I started cooking. Used to just have a whinge about the product (if it sucked) and vow never to buy it again.
M's reaction is so cute though. I can just picture it. Maybe a bit of soda water would've helped convinced her a bit? :)

At 4:55 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Food labels are much like politicians for me; I'm rarely suprised when the product is a mere shadow of the picutre on the front. I'm always braced for the fact that what they're selling is an illusion. It's a sad state of affairs for both food labelling and politics. Boo, hiss for watery pie.

At 5:53 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi squishy, 'Teach, your children well.' I love Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young!

Hi cindy, that is unbelieveable, I do believe you though.

Hi ellie, I'm sure M will work it out fine. You are so right about points one and two.

Hi tanna, it's all about the power of one, I'll teach my kids well.

Hi ilingc, I don't usuall buy these things either, I was just back late from the footy. Nice idea about the soda water, will try that.

Hi jen, nice allegory, I don't think we need to delve too deeply into our pollies...


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