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Food for thought, thoughts on food


Many years ago I became an avid reader of food labels. Cans, boxes, bags, packaged meats, even deli foods … and it opened my eyes to what was being sold to us as food. I admit to becoming evangelical on the subject, and there are people who groan as soon as I raise it … again.

But many others have responded in a gratifying way, professing shock and amazement at what is in food they have consumed for years without giving a second thought  to its contents.

Another encouraging development has been the emergence of writers like Melanie Warner, author of Pandora’s Lunchbox, and Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Warner’s book, an in-depth look at all those mystifying, unpronounceable ingredients in so many products, managed to shock me years after I thought I knew a lot about the subject.

And Pollan jumpstarted the thinking about what a healthy diet is, especially with his three rules for healthy eating, the first of which sounds deceptively obvious and oversimplified: Eat food.

Some people laugh in hearing that, but the laughter dies when they dig into its meaning.

Anyway, I remain an avid reader of food labels, perhaps a throwback to my childhood when I loved to read the backs of cereal boxes. Recently, having breakfast at a local restaurant, I asked for cream for my coffee … and got something with one of the most ominous labels in food-dom: creamer.

I learned long ago that when you get creamer, there ain’t no cream in it. The writing was tiny, so I dropped the container in my pocket for later perusal, and asked the waitress for something real, like milk. She came back with half & half, which the staff must keep for itself in the kitchen. Hmmmm.

Anyway, later, with the help of a magnifying glass,  I found the following list of ingredients in the “creamer”:

Water, corn syrup, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, sodium caseinate, dipotassium phosphate, mono and diglycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, and natural and artificial flavor.

While there is nothing there that you would stumble on in nature other than the water, this is pretty basic processed food stuff. And don’t be fooled by the word “natural, ” probably the most deceptive adjective in the food industry. Even the recognizable plant-based products, like corn syrup and palm oil, are industrialized substances that have been significantly transformed from their farm roots.

I was surprised to find a note at the end of the ingredients list telling me that it contains milk. It turns out to be the sodium caseinate, described as a milk derivative.

Online research reveals that “sodium caseinate is obtained from fresh and pasteurized skim milk by acid coagulation of the casein, neutralization with sodium hydroxide, and drying in a spray dryer.”

MMMM … that sure makes a cup of coffee sing, doesn’t it?

Anyway, the final insult was realizing that the brand name of the creamer is Wholesome Farms. I guess their farmers get up every morning at dawn to milk the production line.

Anyway, I recommend reading those labels … if you can stomach it.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.