Thursday, 7 April 2011

Book Review - Not on the Label

Not on the Label, What Really Goes Into the Food on Your Plate (2004) by Felicity Lawrence, London: Penguin Books

This is an interesting and highly recommended book for just about everyone. Felicity Lawrence has an enjoyable journalistic style which makes it fun to read and hard to put down. Well researched, she presents the topic in an original and comprehensive manner.

As Lawrence explains, one big issue with our food today is the chemicals that are in them, either intentionally or as residues from production or environmental pollution. She mentions work carried out by Dr Vyvyan Howard, a leading taxicopatholigist, and others in this area. I was shocked to learn that most of us in industrialised countries have between 300 and 500 chemicals in our bodies that are likely to be endocrine disrupting substances and these are often transferred from pregnant women to developing foetuses where the most damage is likely to occur.

Another issue Lawrence tackles is our dependence on oil for packaging and transportation of our food. An interesting statistic she sites is that the food industry is the UK’s third largest industrial energy user (Transport 2000) and it contributes to 12 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions (see page 93).

She refers to an article in the New York Times magazine in 2002 called “What if it’s all been a big fat lie?” which leads into her discussion about fats and carbohydrates in the diet, shedding further light on the ongoing debate about the cause of obesity and related diseases. Pointing out that the supermarkets are at the forefront of the race to the bottom in the quality of food, she expands on the white bread phenomena. As she explains, the market has been distorted in favour of the cheapest and unhealthiest products (p 121).

Corn is widely used in ready meals in one form or another and Lawrence covers this with a note of witticism. She is right when she says that modified starch is altered on the molecular level and is banned in organic production. I know this because I wrote in 2009 to the Soil Association about it being in Duchy Originals organic lemon posset and was told that it was an error on the label because the posset actually contained maize starch/corn flour. This is something Lawrence did not cover, in fact, that labels may not be correct!! However, she does allude to the overwhelming sensation that we will never keep up with technology in the food industry!

Corn, sugar, soya, palm and rapeseed are attributed to being the most heavily subsidized crops in the world (p 198). This goes a long way in explaining why processed foods have developed to what they were in 2004 when this book was published and the trend has not changed in the last seven years. Another favoured ingredient of course is salt used along with 4,500 different flavouring compounds to provide flavour (p 200).

All kinds of other aspects of what goes into providing food for us are explored such as seasonal worker conditions, supermarket domination, various food scams and food scares. Everything you need to know about your food that’s not put on the label! (That is, if you're still shopping in supermarkets and eating 'fast foods' despite my previous articles here on my blog!)