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Monday, January 23, 2012

Beyond the label

I asked, begged and cried to get my mother to buy me a white long-sleeved shirt that said "benetton" in large blue low cap letters. She refused. She said that the clothing company should pay us to announce their brand, not the opposite. I was 12-years-old, and very disappointed.  

How could I show my schoolmates that I was well-informed in the world of fashion, that I was cool, stylish, and could afford to wear brands (even if none of the above were necessarily true)? I wasn't really interested in promoting the Italian clothing line, I was interested in what the label represented, and in wearing what my friends (and the people I thought I wanted to be friends with) were wearing.

Branding and labeling is all about creating a perception in our eyes. We get manipulated and inevitably fall for the labeled product, thinking that we are making a choice. Beauty, high quality, coolness, elegance, intelligence, health, sophistication, knowledge, value, responsibility, etc, etc...We purchase the idea of what we want to be or have.
And that's true with clothes, cars, shampoo, toilet paper, and everything else, including food.
And food labeling has become so complicated, that we barely understand what we are eating, or eventually, what we want to be or have.
Non-GMO, organic, trans-fat free, low fat, fat free, whole grains, omega-6, omega-3 (plus the DHA, EPA, ALA subdivisions), RDA, enriched, reconstituted, fortified, reduced, not-from-concentrate, fruit-sweetened, sugar free, GF, EGCG, BPA free, prebiotic, probiotic, bioactive, antioxidants, good source of... A bit confusing, right? And those are just a few.
There's even a whole category of foods and beverages known in the industry as Better-For-You (BFY) products, which claim or imply to be better for us and our health. We would buy them thinking that they are healthier versions of other equally processed foods, we will feel better about purchasing them, smarter and more responsible, but they might not even be healthier, often just marketing gimmicks to increase sales.
We would actually need to go to the grocery store with a lawyer, a nutritionist, a chemist, a mathematician, a lobbyist, a chef, and a doctor in tow to decipher the truth behind the labels. 
We think it is, but food labeling is not an exact science and their requirements have been built by negotiations between the food industry, the FDA, brilliant marketers, health associations and all sorts of parties, plus resourceful mathematical and semantics manipulation. Read this and visit Doctor Marion Nestle's Food Politics blog for more information. 
In the meanwhile, how do we solve our food purchasing issues going beyond the labels?
- Eat the rainbow every day (fruits and vegetables of all colors don't only look beautiful, but they are full of nutrients, even if they have tiny labels)
- Buy foods that could be sold in bulk without labels (such as seeds, nuts, beans, lentils, grains), even if you buy them prepackaged and labeled.
- Usually, the less bells and whistles a food has, the more wholesome it is (and the lower the marketing budget involved).
- Be suspicious. Not everything that implies to be healthier, is.
- Buy foods that have listed in their ingredients only things that you recognize as edible.
- Read Food Rules (please!!! it's a very short book that takes 15 minutes to read and that gives amazing parameters on what we should eat)
- Whenever possible, shop at a farmer's market
- As for organics, I do believe in purchasing organic dairy, eggs and meats, if possible. In terms of produce, click for the EWG's lists of "dirty dozen" (produce that should be bought organic, as is the most heavily pesticized), and "clean 15," (which are OK to buy conventional).
- This is a good, fun and informative podcast I recommend:
- Let yourself be creative, daring and have fun. Come up with your own combinations with produce: contrast colors, textures (crunchy, leafy, smooth, rich, etc) and sweet, salty, spicy and sour flavors. Buy fruits or vegetables you've never tried, and experiment. You might discover amazing ones!

I just experimented, and this is what I got in my second attempt (the first one is not postable!).


Avocado is botanically a fruit, and in countries like Brazil, they eat it as such. Not in guacamole and chips, but in smoothies and sweets.
This one is a good recipe to kill the craving for something sweet. It is very satisfying and provides very good fats, lots of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
  • Vegan
  • Free of: gluten, wheat, nuts, soy, dairy, sesame and eggs
  • Super ingredients: Natural cocoa powder, dates, hemp seeds, mesquite and avocado (and pomegranate, if using)
1/2 cup date puree
1/4 cup non-alkalized cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
2 tablespoons hulled hemp seeds, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons mesquite flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 avocado, halved and pitted
pinch of salt
Garnish: pomegranate seeds in the Fall/Winter and organic berries in the Summer

If you are making a smoothie: water or the milk of your choice (hemp, almond, hazelnut or dairy work well)


Place the date puree, cocoa, hemp, maple, mesquite and vanilla in the bowl of a food processor. Scoop out the flesh of the avocado into the bowl, add salt and process until everything is pureed and smooth. Add a bit of water, if needed and adjust seasoning.
Serve mousse sprinkled with pomegranate and hemp seeds or use as cake icing.

For smoothie: add liquid, 1/4 cup at a time. Add a bit more hemp seeds and blend until a drink consistency is achieved.

Serves 4.
My mother was right!

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