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Quite the World, Isn't It?

Think you're eating healthy? Don't expect the label to tell you

There is nothing more fundamental to our physical existence than eating, which is why a series of recent reports should be extremely troubling for all of us. And an abject lesson in why we need more effective overseers of the commercial food chain. Because people keep proving that profit is a powerful motive for chicanery.

This morning Mother Jones magazine reports that what we thought we knew about calorie counting is likely all wrong, which could help explain why some people have trouble losing weight when they think they’re eating healthier:
Debate over the science of calories comes at the same that time health-conscious legislators are requiring restaurants to how calorie counts on their menus. Following the lead of New York City and California, Obamacare has a provision to make calorie labeling mandatory at chain restaurants across the country. For that to make a difference to our health, however, we have to understand what a calorie really means. At the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science last week, a panel of scientists presented research that is just beginning to tease out the nuances of the calorie. Whether food is cooked, the energy it takes to break down tough-to-digest foods, and gut bacteria activity all affect how much energy humans actually get from eating.
That follows revelations in Europe that Ikea, whose in-store restaurants are almost as popular as their particle-board furniture, has been caught with unlabeled horsemeat in some of its meatballs, a function of the time-honored business pursuit of finding the lowest price for supplies. The revelation is part of a broader food-source scandal in Europe over distribution of unlabeled horsemeat. From the BBC:
The labeling of the origin of meat and the traceability of the products will be high on the agenda at the EU ministers meeting.

Europe's food retailers depend on a complex network of brokers, cold stores and meat-cutting plants around the continent from which to source the ingredients wherever they are cheapest, says the BBC's Christian Fraser, in Paris.

The evidence of the past few weeks shows that national food safety authorities have failed to identify a problem in the supply chain over a significant period of time, he adds.

While the original agenda of the EU meeting included support for rural communities and the common fisheries policy, it is expected ministers will now try to come up with measures to tackle the horsemeat scandal.

Those could include a pan-European labeling project for frozen food, a move which has the backing of France and Germany.
Here in the United States, Oceana has its latest report from its tests of seafood. And yep, that red snapper you think you’re buying could well be something else entirely. From the New York Times:
In the 120 samples labeled red snapper and bought for testing nationwide, for example, 28 different species of fish were found, including 17 that were not even in the snapper family, according to the study, which was released Thursday.

The study also contained surprises about where consumers were most likely to be misled — sushi bars topped the list in every city studied — while grocery stores were most likely to be selling fish honestly. Restaurants ranked in the middle.

Part of the problem, said the study’s chief author, Kimberly Warner, is that there are quite simply a lot of fish in the sea, and many of them look alike. Over all, the study found that about one-third of the 1,215 fish samples bought, from 2010 to 2012, were mislabeled.

“Even a relatively educated consumer couldn’t look at a whole fish and say, ‘I’m sure that’s a red snapper and not lane snapper,’ ” she said.
And then there’s expose from the Sunday New York Times magazine about the manipulation of processed foods to encourage addictive eating behaviors. The piece is an excerpt from the forthcoming book by Times Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter Michael Moss:
The public and the food companies have known for decades now … that sugary, salty, fatty foods are not good for us in the quantities that we consume them. So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control? It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive. I talked to more than 300 people in or formerly employed by the processed-food industry, from scientists to marketers to C.E.O.’s. Some were willing whistle-blowers, while others spoke reluctantly when presented with some of the thousands of pages of secret memos that I obtained from inside the food industry’s operations. What follows is a series of small case studies of a handful of characters whose work then, and perspective now, sheds light on how the foods are created and sold to people who, while not powerless, are extremely vulnerable to the intensity of these companies’ industrial formulations and selling campaigns.
Add in the massive marketing campaigns surrounding processed food, from the fast-food restaurants to processed breakfast staples for kids, and the contours of our obesity crisis take shape.

Taken together – hell, let’s toss in Monsanto, too – these stories reveal an industry that we can’t do without, but also the hard-to-digest reality that we, as consumers, can’t trust them. And, by extension, what we eat.
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