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    Half-sour cucumbers, hold the salt

    Half-sour cucumbers, hold the salt

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    Copyright 2008-2015Slow Food Fast. All writing and images on this blog unless otherwise attributed or set in quotes are the sole property of Slow Food Fast. Please contact DebbieN via the comments form for permissions before reprinting or reproducing any of the material on this blog.

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    SlowFoodFast sometimes addresses general public health topics related to nutrition, heart disease, blood pressure, and diabetes. Because this is a blog with a personal point of view, my health and food politics entries often include my opinions on the trends I see, and I try to be as blatant as possible about that. None of these articles should be construed as specific medical advice for an individual case. I do try to keep to findings from well-vetted research sources and large, well-controlled studies, and I try not to sensationalize the science (though if they actually come up with a real cure for Type I diabetes in the next couple of years, I'm gonna be dancing in the streets with a hat that would put Carmen Miranda to shame. Consider yourself warned).

“But it’s organic! But it’s vegetarian!”

Vegetarian and organic foods are gaining popularity in supermarkets around the country–it’s been happening for at least a decade. Vegetarian- and organic-seeking customers assume they’re getting something closer to fresh if it’s labeled vegetarian or organic, and most of them also assume that vegetarian automatically means healthy. So, apparently, do nutrition researchers when they’re not really thinking hard enough.

The American Dietetic Association recently announced–again, updating from 1997–that vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthful at all stages of life from infancy onward and posted suggestions for getting started. Keyword here is “can”.

The idea of easing into a less-meat diet in stages by cooking familiar foods and familiar ingredients as far as possible is understandable. The Vegetarian Nutrition practice group of the ADA is trying to reach people they think are likely to panic at the suggestion of not eating meat. Unfortunately, the suggestions that top the list are mostly for processed meat substitutes, jarred pasta sauces, canned beans, boxed rice mixes and the like, rather than a dietary framework for eating fresh whole-ingredient vegetarian foods.

In the health section of the LA Times online, where I first read about the ADA’s statement last week,  many reader comments objected to this approach primarily because the major brands of veggie hot dogs and hamburgers tend to have long, improbable ingredient lists and very high salt. After a casual tour of the sauces-soups-and-rice-mixes section at my local Whole Foods, it’s an objection I second even more strongly.

For several years now I’ve had reservations about the processed food industry’s tendency to throw salt at anything and everything. Vegetarian and organic food is supposed to be better. Fresher, better-tasting, realer, more nutritious, healthier, more responsible for the planet, the animal world, and the customer. In a word, BETTER.

Nice intentions aside, most of the vegetarian and organic products companies these days seem to be trying as hard as they can to keep up with or even surpass the meat-eating Joneses–the big-brand pantry staples from Stouffer’s, Swanson’s, Kraft Foods, Campbell’s, and so on.  They’re still claiming the health and planet virtues of vegetarian and organic, but they’re actually processing the hell out of their foods, adding all kinds of laundry-list mystery ingredients, and salting them out of all reason. And health-and-planet-conscious consumers are flocking to them without bothering to look hard at the nutrition labels. How have we come to such a pass? Continue reading

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