Two New York Times food writers, Michael Pollan “Cooked,” and Michael Moss “Sugar Salt Fat” toured and American grocery store and literally got squeamish about the amount of sugar and ultra processed foods competing for consumers' dollars on supermarket shelves.
The two Michaels weigh in on processed foods versus ultra-processed foods, and Oscar Mayer’s lunchables. Not all processed foods are bad. Example: processed foods with one to three ingredients aren’t bad, Pollan says.
Frozen spinach, for example, is a “boon to mankind” Pollan says. A simple look at the ingredients on a food’s package tells the consumer everything they should know about the quality of their purchase. Bird’s Eye frozen spinach isn't labeled organic, (and when there’s no “organic” label on foods in the US it’s a safe assumption the food is GMO), but as a frozen product, and spinach as its only ingredient, Pollan says that’s a safe purchase and a healthy eat.
Spinach, Pollan says, is a case where he would ordinarily buy organic, but organic frozen spinach wasn’t on the shelf. Proof, the two Michaels say, that organic isn’t always a necessity.
It's better and healthier to skip organic products loaded with sugar. But that sugar isn't always obvious to shoppers who pick up foods like yogurt because of its health food reputation.
A six ounce cup of yogurt with 21 grams of sugar, even though it’s organic, is an unhealthy purchase. But sugar sells products and food is a competition. Every item on the grocer’s shelves is fighting for its space there and is fighting for a place inside the human stomach, or stomach share. For every yogurt that adds sugar and sells more, the competition also adds more sugar in order to sell its product.
The two Michaels also have good go at the “Lunchables” product that evolved in the 80s because Oscar Mayer had trouble selling red meat. The company added cheese when they merged with Kraft and used crackers because they couldn’t use bread. The product, by its own admission, isn't about food, but empowerment. But the number of ingredients in every lunchables kit deem lunchables an ultra processed food.
Although Lunchables are about lunch meal alternatives (therefore empowerment), the irony is that Americans are ultra-dependent on ultra-processed foods and the only solution, thus far, is a return to home cooking and raw ingedients, even in school cafeterias.