Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Can Someone Tell Me What "Natural Flavors" Are?

As I was putting together this evening's meal, I started to reflect on how our eating habits have changed as a society...and NOT for the better.

For dinner, I decided on venison (hunted by friends) meatloaf, and included in the meatloaf fresh eggs, green pepper, oregano, and sweet basil from the Farmer's Market, and a chopped white onion from my garden. Store ingredients include organic 2% milk and Hunt's tomato sauce (more on the tomato sauce in a moment), and Italian seasoned bread crumbs.

As sides, I'm fixing Yukon Gold mashed potatoes (using the aforementioned organic milk, some fresh goat cheese from the Farmer's Market, organic butter, and Sargento shredded cheddar) , and purple beans that are supposed to turn dark green when I cook them, purchased at the FM.

As you can see, very little of tonight's meal is processed, bagged, boxed, or canned. Typically, however, everything would have been purchased from the store, laden with hormones, antibiotics, insecticides, and herbicides.

As I peeled the label off the Hunt's Tomatoes Sauce so I could rinse and recycle the can, I decided to look at the ingredients list: "tomato puree (water, tomato paste), water, less than 2% of: salt, citric acid, spice, tomato fiber, natural flavor." The list looks impressively small, and the food seems somewhat normal.

But then, I began to wonder. How is tomato puree comprised of water and tomato paste? Shouldn't it be pureed tomatoes, skinned and de-seeded? Water was used to make the puree and is also a stand-alone ingredient. I'm almost afraid to ask about the water quality and where the water comes from, so I won't. Salt, normal. Citric acid? Why add this ingredient? Don't tomatoes have acid enough? Spice, ok--although they don't tell us what spices. Tomato fiber...huh? How do you grow tomato fiber? If you are using pureed tomatoes (rather than reconstituted tomato paste), you don't have to add fiber--it's already in the tomato. So, do they have dehydrated tomato fiber powder somewhere that they add to their sauce, sort of like Konsyl or Metamucil?

And what the hell is "natural flavor"? Can anybody tell me that? If you are using real tomatoes and spices and salt, don't those have a flavor already? What flavor is being added? And if you have to add a flavor (I'm pretty sure I don't have a bottle of "tomato flavor" in my cupboard), can it be natural? Please, I'd love some insight on this issue.

Despite the fact that I didn't add any "natural flavor" other than that already in the Hunt's tomato sauce (which I won't be buying anymore since I'll be making my own), I can assure you, this meal was more flavorful than the same meal made from completely store-bought ingredients.

How did society get to the point where consumers regularly buy food that is genetically modified, processed, or heavily produced with the use of chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, and ingredients that appear to be food but aren't? How did we allow this to happen? Why don't we do something to change the system?

I've decided that I've had it with the products of industrialized farming. I'm putting away food from my own garden, supplementing with locally grown, organic or chemical-free foods from the Farmer's Market, and finding local farmers that I can purchase antibiotic- and hormone-free meats from.

Meanwhile, thinking about tonight's meal, although I did pretty well at using healthier, more natural foods, I can do better. I've just found a recipe for freezer tomato sauce, so I'll be turning my over-abundance of tomatoes into sauce and freezing it, along with some tomatoes. I just purchased a hand-crank grain mill on e-bay for $48.16 and have 3 lbs. of FM red winter wheat berries ($3) on hand so I can grind my own flour and make my own bread...which will also mean I can make and store my own bread crumbs. We have a local dairy that makes its own cheese from antibiotic- and hormone-free, grass-fed and -finished cows. All in all, with a little bit of maneuvering and some work, I could have made tonight's dinner from natural foods.

And I won't need to go buy that bottle of "natural tomato flavor."

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