The fine print on food
Vail, CO, COlorado
When Kimberly Lord Stewart was writing the egg chapter in her new book, “Eating Between the Lines,” a sales man from a dairy company knocked on her door in hopes of convincing Stewart to switch her milk delivery company.
She politely refused and just as she was closing the door, the man blurted out with one last pitch: “We have hormone-free eggs.”
“Of course you do,” Stewart replied. “They are all hormone free. That hasn’t been allowed in the poultry industry since 1959.”
The man looked dumfounded; he had no idea. Stewart continued.
“You are going to have to find a different sales tactic, and when my book comes out, it’s really not going to cut it.”
The “hormone-free” claim is meaningless, but it’s one of many myths circulating grocery stores through food labels. Myths that consumers believe to be true. And in a world where concerns over food source are on the rise, marketers are using the myth phenomenon for profit.
In “Eating Between the Lines,” Stewart takes the supermarket aisle by aisle and explains what all those confusing food labels mean and if what they claim is true or simply a marketing ploy.
“I think the food industry is always looking for a new way to sell food. That’s their job,” Stewart said. “We certainly have no shortage of food in this country. There are more than 40,000 products in the average grocery store, and marketers are looking for the next thing that’s going to help sell more food.”
Stewart couldn’t possible tackle all of the labels on the products in our grocery stores, so she focused on topics that occupy most shopper’s minds, like health, organic farming, use of pesticides and antibiotics and animal welfare issues.
Stewart loves food. She learned to appreciate it growing up in a military family, traveling abroad and tasting many cultures. She married a military man, too, and later in life, her father taught her how to farm. She practiced in her own yard, alongside her two sons
Stewart’s political view falls somewhere in the center, she writes, and the book has no political agenda. It’s for all consumers, no matter what your grocery budget. It won’t make you feel hopeless, either, like your only chance at a good meal is if you grow it yourself.
“My goal was not to impose my value on the reader, but to help the reader understand what these labels really mean. So they can decide what is important to them, and they can make better decisions,” Stewart said. “I wanted a book that was solution driven.”
All the information gathered in “Eating Between the Lines” is public information. But in order to really understand the food labels, Stewart writes, one would have to call all the manufactuers, read their literature and press kits, perhaps snoop around their facility, spend hours searching the internet, or review very boring government documents.
Stewart does this for shoppers.
She visits Edwards Tuesday for a book signing and talk at The Bookworm in Edwards. It’s a Slow Food event, put on the local chapter and the Vail Symposium.
“When I give a talk, I want you to put on your farmer hat. None of us have a real connection to the farm. Few of us have dipped our fingers in the soil,” Stewart said. “I want you to think like a farmer and really look at what these terms mean as a framer and understand how these terms are manipulated and changed when they get to the store.”
The bottom line (as Stewart ends each chapter with a summary called “the bottom line”) is consumers have the rare opportunity to vote with their dollar. And this is exactly what Stewart advises to do.
“Purchase products that use ethical labeling and farming practices that you approve of,” Stewart said. “That’s what is changing the industry.”
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