The hidden message of food labels


Sodium chloride, sugar, fats. Artificial colours, flavours and flavour enhancers. Calories, energy value, carbohydrate loading. These are part of the things that could be read on the labels of foods on store shelves by a critical government food inspector, a nearly panicked lady on a  diet, a distrustful informed consumer, a worried mother, an angry environmentalist, a scared patient. But the thing that escapes our attention when we read long lists with ingredients often totally unknown to us, the thing that stays behind one or another emotion, the thing that is unlikely to penetrate the thick filters of beliefs, through which we see reality, is a stunning truth. The truth that the way we look at foods, the senses we feel them with, are exactly the same as the approaches, technologies, level of consciousness if you want, with which we produce, treat, prepare and consume them.


At first reading the above text sounds a bit abstract, for many even unbelievable. For that reason, let‘s use a concrete example. Fine powder, binding agents, ash content, calorific value. What is this? Food technologists, dietologists and experienced cooks immediately will spot in these words the characteristics of floura well known product (at least that is what we think), which can be found in markets and which is put into baked goods, so commonly used as food. Here the puzzled and surprised will be even more, when geologists, chemists and power engineers competently add that the listed attributes are also key aspects of the technology for production of briquettes. These, I will remind, are the blocks of compressed coal dust, which are widely used for fuel when we want to warm up administrative buildings, kindergartens, and often our homes. And for the sake of  obtaining a state of complete shock – let’s bring the analogy to extremity asking ourselves aren’t we eating our food as if it were briquettes – dropping it frequently and in large amounts in the furnace of the stomach, anticipating the digestive fire somehow to burn it down so that we can get the desired portion of heat and energy


Even if all aspects of the example with the briquettes are sheer truth, does it mean that things are so charcoal in colour? I doubt it. The description is neither good nor bad, it is just what it is – a reflection of the level from which we look at food. In the most common case it is still the level of eating to survive, satisfying sensory needs (taste, smell, etc) and obtaining strength so that we can fightwith life and others around us (food makes a good fighter, right). In this situation it is completely normal and expected that food we create and consume is focused on that to be heavy and filling (i.e. in large amounts, dense and creating a sense of fullness in the stomach), tasty (i.e. giving us certain sensations of color, taste, smell, touch) and having the appropriate energy equivalent (i.e nutritious and calorific – unless one, influenced by certain beliefs and behavior patterns, is seeking another outcome in terms of body weight). And that is only a few steps away from the creation of the well known and lately demonized industrial and treated food, rich in preservatives, artificial colorants, flavours and flavour enhancers, added salt, sugar and myriad of known and unknown achievements of chemical science


If we still feel dissatisfied with this situation, we certainly can find a way out. This solution however can hardly be found in the feverish count of calories, the calculation of proteins and carbohydrates or the search of minerals and vitamins. Not that these things are not important, on the contrary. But they exist at the same level of perception of food, at which E numbers and artificial ingredients with complicated names and even more complex formulas have occurred. The solution is not in the total denial, vilification and demonization of industrial or chemically treated food. Even if it is quite difficult to be qualified as food at all. Attacks and severe words, invariably confined to criticism toward ourselves, are hardly neededthese products are just the outcome of creation at the level of consciousness at which food is observed and perceived in general. Let’s illustrate the latter with another example – if a child playing on the beach is making sand cakes, it is far from a reason to eat these cakes or punish the kid for making an imitation of food that is barely edible. The child simply creates stuff at the level at which it perceives the world around. And this seemingly elementary act of creation, even from a higher level of awareness, could also look so cute and touching


What is the way then to change all thatto stop eating briquettes”, reading food labels all the time in a hectic search of information on calories and added sugar, condemning whole categories of stores, producers, merchants and consumers, living in fear and anger because of food quality in common markets? If all of the above mentioned is true, the answer is quite easy. Namely, to look at food and nutrition through different eyes. To move to a new level in our perception of them. Perhaps with a little more awareness and responsibility... With a little more wisdom, acceptance and tolerance… With a little more joy and gratitude… With a little more love for the planet, care for the environment and support of clean food and friendly practices and methods for its cultivation, processing, preparation and storage… It is not that hard to try!