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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, April 01, 2013

Frugal Kitchens 101 - The Food Shopper vs The Food Industry

Frugal Kitchens 101
The informed yet frugal shopper has a lot more to consider when food shopping and believe me the cards are stacked against them.  The multi-billion dollar food industry does everything in its power to keep the cards stacked against the consumer.  They even have consumer psychologists who are experts in profiling exactly how consumers make the choices they do.  All this is done to keep the consumer buying their products which in turn makes them richer and more powerful.  Trust me, the food industry does not want you to know there is pink slime in your lunch meat, that animals in factory farms are over crowded and  treated inhumanely or that they import foods from poor countries relying on child labour or with such low income from the farm the farmer can barely afford to feed his family.  They do not want to admit that young girls are maturing faster due to the high levels of growth hormones in the meats they are eating.  They don't want to admit to the environmental damage caused by clear cutting especially of the rain forests so they can fill the land with more animals for the ever growing food demand.  They would rather you not know that while genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that were once viewed as a way to solve world hunger are not only not working as expected but are presenting health issues for those who consume them.  The food industry would not put nutritional labeling or even the list of ingredients on their packaging if they had not been forced to do so by various governments.  The food industry does not care about the health and well being of the consumers who keep it in business and the fact that some consumers are harmed by their products is merely a bit of collateral damage. 

The frugal food shopper buys local produce in season from local farmers as well as growing whatever they can themselves.  They also buy locally raised meats and locally caught fish.  They buy directly from local cheese factories, flour mills, orchards, and any other local food producer (eg. beekeepers, sugar bushes, wineries) that they can because the food is fresher, higher quality and supporting local growers and food producers keeps the local economy strong and thriving.  However, at some point the frugal shopper will shop in the now standard supermarket.  Supermarkets are considerably larger and more complex than the old fashioned mom & pop grocery stores.  Once in the supermarket, the frugal shopper will be bombarded with bright lights, mood music, a horrific number of various odours some of which may trigger allergies and/or asthma, other irate shoppers, and quite often one or more upset children.  Then the effects of those consumer psychologists take over!

Next time you are in the grocery store, take a good look at the food labels.  The dominant colour is red with a large portion of food packaging having red on the label.  The next dominant colour is yellow.  Now red, is to get your attention and yellow is to make you feel happy, yet both colours are energizing.  However, studies have shown that a dining room painted red is better received than any other colour.  It makes you want to linger and enjoy.  What the food industry is subconciously saying to you is 'stop, this product will make you feel happy and energized while you are enjoying it'.  The dominant colour for any food packaging where there is an environment aspect is green.  Green signifies growth and a healthy environment so that product must be good for you.  Once past the colours of the packaging, the food industry really turns up the heat.  This is where the frugal shopper must do their own homework before falling for the half-truths of the food industry.  I've broke the buzz words and phrases into seven categories.  There may be other buzz words I've overlooked and some can actually fit into a couple of categories but for the most part you will get the idea.

  • convenience - The buzz words are: heat & serve, quick cooking, instant.  To a frugal shopper, these words should mean: expensive, over processed, and poor nutritional value.
  • consumer health and lifestyle - The buzz words are: all natural, no trans fats, no saturated fats, source of fibre, multigrain, multifibre, whole grain, low fat (less fat), fat free, gluten free, sunflower oil, low sodium, low carb, unbleached, gelatin free, no preservatives and hormone free.  Many of these buzz words are a direct result of current societal trends with respect to healthy eating and fad diets, meant by the food industry to convey to the consumer this is a good product that is good for you, so buy it.  With the exception of some dairy products most of these buzz words apply to expensive, over processed foods.  In addition to this if you read the list of ingredients, these foods while they may have the buzz words of the day, may contain HFCS (likely GMO), modified corn starch (likely GMO), canola oil (GMO), artificial flavour, artificial colour and preservatives all of which can cause considerable health problems.
  • quality - The buzz words are: original, award winning, new & improved, gourmet, cold extracted,  mountain grown, wild, farm fresh, fresh never frozen, cold filtered and date established.  Gourmet in particular implies a product higher in quality than other comparable products as does award winning.  Wild (eg. wild salmon, wild rice) implies all natural, not farm raised or fed grain products but rather little interference from man.  The word 'cold' implies the product has not been subjected to heat so the natural enzymes have not been destroyed nor has there been a flavour change due to heat.  Fresh, never frozen generally applies to meats and is usually an indicator of freshness giving a better flavour.  Farm fresh is rather misleading with no real merit regarding quality.  The product can be 'fresh' from the farm but buy the time it gets to the grocery store it is anything but fresh and 'farm' does not necessarily mean and in most cases it doesn't mean that quaint little family run farm.  Date of company establishment is used to convey both trust and quality.  After all, a company that has been in business since 1892 could not have done so without producing a quality product.  In reality, the date just means the business has been in operation for a considerable length of time but is no indication of actually quality of the product.
  • environmental - The buzz words are: organic, all natural, carbon free, recycle number, post recycled packaging and dolphin safe.  In most cases, post recycled packaging is just a consumer touchy, feeling thing because even though the packaging has been made from recycled material there is no reduction in the amount of packaging.  Recycle numbers on the bottoms of plastic containers are of use if you have a choice between a product in a plastic container that can be recycled and one that can't, so the frugal shopper would choose the one that can be recycled.  Certified organic is better than a product labeled as all natural because certified organic must meet certain criteria whereas all natural doesn't.  In general, the frugal food shopper tends to buy those products that endorse his or her environmental philosophy.
  • social and ethical responsibility - The buzz words are: ethical trade, fair trade, locally grown, greenhouse (hot house), free range, sustainable farming practices.  Most of these buzz words relate to labour and fair compensation for food products produced.  Some designations (eg. fair trade, ethical trade) require a paid membership for the food manufacturer to use the logo so frugal food shoppers will keep that in mind and perhaps research the company prior to buying their products.  Locally grown is usually a store label but some food producers will add a label as to origin (eg. Foodland Ontario, grown in Ontario).  Some origin labels are food co-ops or associations that the food producer may pay a membership fee.  Frugal food shoppers will specifically seek out locally grown and produced foods.  Many frugal food shoppers choose those foods produced within a 100 mile radius of their home.  This keeps the local economy strong while supporting the local work force.

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