I recently read with great interest an article in Consumer Reports magazine, which offers more than just those invaluable reviews and comparisons of cars, cameras and washing machines. I perused an issue, for example, that rated various beers (they named Shock Top Wheat IPA as a “CR Best Buy”) and compared bison meat to beef (bison is typically much pricier but, for the same cuts, tends to have less fat than beef; beware of overcooking it).
Equally useful was a CR guide to food labels, “what means what (and what means nothing).” Turns out a lot of the healthful-sounding monikers don’t mean what you might think.
Some of the good guys:
- USDA organic: at least 95 percent of the ingredients are certified organic, produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers, most synthetic pesticides or genetically engineered crops. Meat with this label comes from animals raised without antibiotics or genetically modified feed. (Sorry, though – the USDA has no organic standards for fish.)
- No antibiotics: A “Raised Without Antibiotics” or “No Antibiotics Administered” claim on meat and poultry means the animal received no antibiotics “during its lifetime,” CR states. “Ideally, that statement should be accompanied by the ‘USDA Process Verified’ seal, which means the agency has confirmed that the producer is doing what it says it is,” the magazine adds. Don’t fall for “sound-alike labels” that aren’t USDA-approved, like “antibiotic-free.”
- Animal Welfare Approved: These meats, dairy or egg products come from animals that were treated humanely from birth to slaughter. Only family farmers and cooperative groups of family farms can be AWA-certified.
Two labels that don’t mean what you think:
- Free-range (poultry only): Producers only have to allow these animals “some access to open air for an unspecified amount of time each day,” CR states, “even if it’s only five minutes.”
- Fresh (poultry only): Birds that are frozen solid can be sold with this label as long as their temperature stay above 26 degrees Fahrenheit – “yes, a full six degrees below the freezing temperature for water,” CR points out. It makes more sense on fruits and vegetables, for which “fresh” is defined by the Food and Drug Administration as those that are raw, have never been frozen or heated, and that contain no preservatives.
And the label Consumer Reports wishes “would just go away”: natural, an “essentially meaningless” claim that has “no standard definition whatsoever.” To wit, notice it on that bag of Pepperidge Farm’s baked Goldfish snack crackers, which contain genetically engineered soybeans (a lawsuit is pending), as well as on other processed foods including those made with high-fructose corn syrup.
All this info is further reinforcement to make your own culinary concoctions that you know contain only the real deal. An example is today’s recipe, which I’ve been making frequently given my spouse’s prolific garden.
- Two eggplants (whichever kind you’ve got)
- One medium or large sweet potato
- Two garlic cloves, minced
- Handful of fresh spinach (with stems is okay), rinsed
- Juice of one lemon
- Favorite seasonings – I like cumin, berbere spice, curry powder and turmeric (some or all of the above)
Set oven at 375 degrees. Prick eggplant skins; place with the sweet potato on a large foil-covered baking sheet. Let roast for approximately an hour until vegetables are soft enough to mash (don’t go crazy); let cool. Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Process until mixture is the consistency you like. Consume with cabbage leaves, celery sticks or some not-too-sinful crackers.