Brown Bag understands that you want to know what’s in your food—from calories to ingredients to carb counts—and now, understanding that information is going to get a little easier. The FDA is on a mission to make the nutrition facts panel (required on all packaged foods) more user-friendly. This little panel that you and I turn to everyday in supermarkets hasn’t been changed since the early 1990’s, and the FDA (and lots of other people) thought it needed a little tweaking.
For instance, the first thing you go looking for on the panel is the calorie count, right? How about making that number bigger and in bold to make it stand out more to label-reading consumers? Or highlighting the serving size? Too many people assume that the number of calories listed is the number of calories in the ENTIRE package, not just for the serving size the company has designated. Many times, a package may contain 2, 3 or even 4 servings, which means that consumers are actually eating 2, 3 or 4 times the amount of calories, sodium, sugar, etc. than they thought they were. That’s not good.
Other suggestions include listing how much of a daily-calorie quota (of say, a 2,000 calorie diet) is being used up by eating what is contained in the package, the amount of sugar (including corn syrup) that is added to a product (especially important to foods such as yogurts and cereals which contain both natural and processed sugars), and changing the way we list fats by removing the “calories from fat” category and just sticking with calories, as some industry experts think this is more in line with current public thinking.
We’ve talked a lot about labels in the past, from understanding ingredients lists to deciphering what the word “natural” really means these days, and we think the idea of revamping labels to help people get a better idea of what they are eating, as well as the impact of that food on their calorie count, sugar and sodium consumption, etc. is a great idea, but we find some other suggestions equally worthy of consideration.
Back in November, 2013, voters in Washington state voted down a proposal that would have required manufacturers to list on packages whether or not they contained GMOs (we’ve talked about that controversy before too), but what about giving foods a grade on things like how farm workers and farm animals were treated to make this product, how much land was deforested, how much water was used and where it came from, how much fertilizer was used and how the run-off was controlled? What is the carbon footprint of this product? These are big questions, and they deserve some big answers. Yes, there is an obesity crisis in the US and food labels are an important step toward fighting that, but faced with questions of climate change, pollution, human and animal rights, would you want to know more than just what is in your food? Would you want to know where it came from and how it was produced?
Likely, you won’t see these questions neatly answered on the side of your cereal box, but we’re curious how many of you would like to see those questions answered. You know by now that Brown Bag supports buying local products (fruits, veggies, meats, breads, etc.), recycling, using alternative sources of power, and people taking a more personal look at their individual impact on the earth, so we think these questions are worth some serious thought. How about you? How much do you want to know about your food?