Some people love to gorge on junk food without a care; others build shrines to kale. No judgments. But what if we could find a middle ground—what if food labels were completely honest so that we could at least have the ability to make informed purchasing decisions?
Can't we take the guess work out of our food once and for all?
Here are some food labels we'd love to see in 2014—or whenever, really. Later is better than never, even if they're not likely to happen this year.
1. "Made with GMO ingredients": This one may happen in our lifetime, even despite the aggressive campaigning against it by the biotech industry. Companies update product labels all the time. The argument that this will cost consumers more money is ridiculous. Just let us know whether or not there are genetically modified ingredients in our food.
2. The number of ingredients: Right there, right on the front. Tell us exactly how many ingredients are in the food. Why would a company put that on their packaging? Because it matters. When a food ingredient list starts reading like the periodic table of elements, weird stuff starts to happen to the people eating it. People have allergic reactions, digestion issues, reactions to too much sodium, and whatever else is in the product. If we can see right off the bat that a box of Cheerios contains 4 ingredients, we may be more likely to purchase it than if the label said "contains 44 ingredients."
3. "This product contains stabilizers": I''m calling for a shaking and stirring revolution. A revival of mixing. If we, quite literally, took our food products into our hands and shook them up, we could lose stabilizers and gelling agents like carrageenan, which has been linked to cancer and serious digestive disorders. But since we still like our perfectly homogenized and all-shook-up-already looking salad dressings, almond milks and drinks, can't we have it spelled out for us on the product that there are binders added to make it look that way?
4. "These colors aren't real": Granted, when I look at a bag of M&M's, I'm fairly certain those colors are manipulations of science. And while that might not matter to some people, the European Union set down some heavy legislation against artificial colors because they have been linked to behavioral issues in children, who just also happen to be the target market most of the time. Parents often buy impulsively to soothe a demanding child, and whether or not shoving sugar in their mouths is the best choice, alerting them to the risk is kind of a nice thing to do.
5. The number of calories: Yes, this info is rather clear on the nutrition panel, and in some cases elsewhere on the packaging, except that it's also misleading. Listing the calories per serving is confusing, especially when we're talking about a pint of ice cream or a bag of chips that may not survive past the initial seal-break. Let consumers know both—the per-serving calories and the total calories in the package. That way, if they choose to eat 2,900 calories-worth of candy corn, at least they can do so without feeling duped.
6. "This packaging is made of…": Our processed food industry is inherently flawed, even when we buy organic food. There are risks we long overlooked—namely in the form of the packaging. What chemicals are in the plastic or foil or seemingly harmless cardboard box? What our food touches is also our food, and wouldn't you at least like to know what that is, exactly?
7."Contains factory-farmed animal products": Animal ingredients sneak into our food in all kinds of discreet ways. To the vegan eye, these can be spotted easily, but not as easy for everyone else. And if you want to avoid the slave-labor meat, egg and dairy trade—which also means antibiotics, growth hormones and GMOs—then wouldn't it be such a relief if manufacturers had to disclose this info on the package?
8. "Contains insects": We know. Processed food is allowed to contain insect parts. C'est la vie. I'm sure there have been bugs in my kale, too. We move on with our lives. But some insect parts, mainly the stuff that makes carmine ("natural" red coloring) and confectioner's glaze, are deceptively labeled. They sound innocent enough, but if you knew you were eating beetle shells, would you?
9. "100% human-made": Of course humans are involved in all of our food production, but in most cases when it comes to processed food, that "processed" part means lots and lots of machines. It's a soulless journey. But not always. Some companies hand make and hand package everything, and it makes a difference. Wouldn't you like to know that?
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
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Image: jessie kruger