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Pony tales and tall tales

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It’s ten O’Clock, do you know where your dinner is? Or rather, what it is? For the past couple weeks, the media has shone a heavy spotlight on the so-called ‘Horse Meat Scandal’. If you have somehow missed coverage of this story, it was discovered that Burger King beef products in the U.K. were contaminated with horse meat, sparking outage amongst Burger King customers and horse lovers alike. Since the breaking of that story, tests have revealed a much more widespread problem, with traces of horse meat being found in a range of products labelled as beef throughout Europe. A synopsis of the timeline and plot of the scandal may be read here.

Deception commonplace in food industry

Now, horse meat is eaten extensively in several countries, including Canada, and (speaking in terms of taste and nutrition) is comparable to beef. But that’s not the point, is it? The point is that the food items were being sold under the pretence of their being beef, and that individuals consumed products without their knowledge and, it follows, without their consenting or choosing to do so. This may be particularly relevant for Jewish diners, for instance, whose religion forbids the consumption of horse meat, but it is a legitimate cause for outrage whatever one’s spiritual or religious background – it is a violation.

We may be ‘across the pond’ from the horse meat scandal, but I would argue that we may also have become too complacent about how we obtain information about the food we consume and, perhaps just as importantly, how we verify that information. As an example, do you know what your calorie count is for the day? If you’re basing it off of food labels, you might think you know, but you’re probably wrong.

…while it would be wonderful if we could trust vendors to be upfront about the nutritional value of their food items, the fact is the bottom line often takes precedence over our waist lines…

According to this report by the New York Times, there are several cases in which the reported caloric value of a food is significantly lower than the actual count. Which shouldn’t come as such a surprise considering that the laws in New York City, and the soon to be instated nation-wide legislation in the United States, requires that foodstuffs indicate the caloric value and enforce compliance, there is no body put in place to enforce the accuracy of the labels. An honour system of sorts. So what’s the problem? For one thing, while it would be wonderful if we could trust vendors to be upfront about the nutritional value of their food items, the fact is the bottom line often takes precedence over our waist lines, and guys like Casey Neistat (who created the report cited above) eat a 548 calorie tofu sandwich, thinking they made a healthy choice at 228 Calories. 548?! That’s almost double the advertised amount! The calorie counts are there to help us make better food choices and, presumably, eat less – what’s the point if they aren’t accurate?

So far, Canada doesn’t have any laws requiring that calories be posted on menus, although Frances Gélinas, the health critic for the NDP, is pushing to make them obligatory in Ontario restaurants. In fact, calories aren’t even included in our national Food Guide and, on this front at least, I agree with their reasoning. Beyond the fact that our caloric needs vary according to age, body-type and activity level, there is a lot more to consider when making food choices than the number on the nutrition label. To illustrate, I could eat a breakfast sandwich from Tim Horton’s, a Quarter-pounder-with-cheese from McDonald’s, and a chicken sandwich from KFC in one day and stay within a 2,000 calorie diet – but nobody is claiming that it’s healthy to do so.

Cooking up easy, local solutions.

The frequency of stories like the horse meat scandal and Neistat’s discovery about reported versus actual calories seems to be on the rise, although I can’t say whether that’s because of ever-increasingly suspect food systems or because of increased interest in exactly what it is we are consuming. I would guess it’s a little bit of both, but I hope it’s heavier on the latter.

Photo by Bang Belly Bakery.
Photo by Bang Belly Bakery.

Not that we all should live in a paranoid frenzy, but if we are going to put more consideration into some things than others, then shouldn’t our diet take some of that attention? After all, it’s the food we put into our bodies every day that becomes our bodies in the end; you wouldn’t put regular unleaded in a Porsche, so why put the lowest-grade fuel in your living body?

Happily, there are plenty of ways to get food honestly and locally – and what’s more local than your own kitchen? If you have a little extra time, nothing beats a loaf of bread fresh from the oven – bake two loaves on Sunday and freeze one to get you through the week. This is a great way to explore new flours and types of bread, plus you’ll know exactly what went into it and can feel good about eating it and serving it to your family.

It takes even less time sprout your own seeds and beans – an interesting and informative article was published in the Indy last week. Adding fresh sprouts to salads, sandwiches and breads is a great way to take in some added nutrients and experience some flavorful twists to your old standbys.

Even though the St. John’s Farmers Market is closed for the season (it will re-open in June), local organic eggs may be purchased at stores in town, such as Food for Thought. Also, many of the participating farmers continue to make produce available throughout the winter season, and it’s simply a matter of getting in touch to order and pick up your food. Availability and contact information may be found on the Avalon region Buy Local! Buy Fresh! guide.

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