this may be a world-shaking revelation to some of you, but people used to be grossed out by fake food.

people used to eat real, true, fresh food, often raised at home or by a neighbor. they watched the plant or animal grow, and may have even been a part of its processing (canning, cooking, butchering, or whatever). they knew what was in their food and what wasn’t.

and they assumed that’s the way it should be.

so imagine their surprise when fake foods started turning up on grocery shelves. when margarine first made its appearance (called “oleomargarine”) five states required it to be dyed pink so that consumers wouldn’t accidentally confuse it with actual butter. score one for food integrity!

but in 1898 the supreme court struck down the laws requiring those dye jobs.

uh oh.

then  in 1938 the food, drug, and cosmetic act came along and required that the word “imitation” had to appear on any food that was an imitation of the real thing. sounds good, right? if a company wanted to make a fakery and a person wanted to buy a fakery, no harm no foul. just let the buyer beware. knowledge is power, and all that…

but the food industry went nutty (not in a healthy way), knowing that people would sense in this “imitation” label, not a bold new leap forward for mankind, but rather  a strange foray into possible adulteration of something they had always relied on to nourish and sustain themselves: real food. they fought hard to get the act repealed.

the battle was on over whether food shoppers had a right to know, without all kinds of complicated maneuvering, whether their food was the real thing or a mimicry of it. could you just walk into a store and pick up a block of cheese and get cheese, or might you end up then, as now, with a cheese-like substance called (in actuality) “processed cheese food”? was butter actually butter, or was it a glob of some new trans-fat stuff they were trying to market to you in an ever-widening net of food science experiments at your expense? was the loaf that smelled and sliced like bread real bread or was it a compression of particles resembling bread, kind of like particle-board resembles wood in cheap bookcases?

we all know who won that fight. in 1973, quietly and without much fanfare, the act was swept under the rug as some new guidelines came out and the old ones just sort of went away. blown out the window, like so much chaff off the wheat of the formerly healthy bread- consumers were now left with a confusing array of possibilities of foodstuffs with confusing labels, many of them touting the supposed health benefits of their “new and improved!” ingredients.

and now we look at shelf after shelf of non-food food.

we are not dumb, but i do think we are overwhelmed.

some additives really might be good for us, but some might be insidious.

and unless we have a spare thousand hours a week, how do we know?

i know you’ve heard it before, but the best thing to do is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store. that’s where the freshest stuff is (although even there, non-food items are creeping in, like weird yogurt-like stuff and strange jello-ish stuff and other assorteds…).

the less processed a thing is, the better chance you have of getting something unadulterated.

the closer it is to the source, the better.

and, of course, if you can grow it or raise it yourself, how ultimate is that?

each one, teach one.

and don’t forget to join the garden spring: