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Music – “Able to Read a Label” from Food Allergies Rock! by Kyle Dine. Released: 2010
In 1906 in the USA, The Pure Food and Drug Act was enacted by the Federal Government, and was the first of a series of consumer protection laws. Eventually, it led to the current Food and Drug Administration that we know today. Yet, if one looks at the “hype” around food labeling, manufacturers are still touting their products in much the same way they have been since the 1920’s.
Today we can find gluten free, wheat free, low-fat and low cholesterol food products. One can get low carb foods or be warned that foods that “may contain traces of peanuts”. Search around and you’ll find low calorie, low sodium, sugar free and low protein snacks. One can easily go organic, high fibre, all natural, multigrain, or with zero trans fat. Foods advertise that they support the immune system, come from free range animals, are light/lite, made with real fruit and no added sugar. High in Omega 3 fatty acids may be your thing, or foods that are modified, fat free, fortified, enriched, or are an excellent source of, well, something. You can go with foods that are lean, extra lean, with antioxidants, that are a good source of fiber and high in calcium. Some foods say they may reduce the risk of (insert the name of a disease here), are doctor recommended, made with natural goodness, low in saturated fat, salt free and hopefully, kid approved. Whew.
But, is it really so different from earlier manufactured food products in terms of labeling? The producers may not have known then about Omega 3 fatty acids, or antioxidants, or were unable to produce sugar-free or salt free canned goods, but they sure did know how to appeal to the buyer. Too, many labels advertised the “medicinal” effects of their products (like now!): “aids digestion”, of value in “the Diabetic and Tubercular”, “the most digestible…”, etc. Below are a few examples from earlier food labeling in this country:
“Perfect baking at all times” (Town Crier Family Flour, 1930’s)
“Inexpensive, even and so high in quality” (Jell-O, 1920’s)
“Besides tempting flavor, marvelous food values – protein, energy units, Vitamin A, plus calcium, phosphorus and other precious milk minerals” (Kraft Cheese, 1938)
“Gelatine aids digestion and is valuable in combination with milk for infants…real value too, in the Diabetic and Tubercular……as well as Liquid and Soft Diets for the sick room” (Knox Gelatine, 1930)
“Macaroni is an excellent source of food energy for growing children. Under normal conditions it is almost completely digested, leaving practically no waste” (Fontana Products, 1930’s)
“Foods properly fried in Spry are as easy to digest as if baked or boiled” (Spry Foods, 1930‘s)
“100% pure sap of the maple tree is used in making this maple syrup with nothing added “(Reynolds Sugar Bush, 1950’s)
“Pure and wholesome. The phosphates are natural components of meat and grains and are food elements necessary for the maintenance of health. …a deficiency results in loss of strength and consequent health” (Rumford Baking Powder, 1920’s)
“…the most digestible shortening you can buy” (Wesson Oil ,1955)
“Healthier…the acid action of the powdered buttermilk in Dairy Maid is so mild that I believe it is much healthier and will not hurt your stomach (from a well-known Southern prize winner)” (Dairy Maid baking powder, 1920‘s or 1930‘s)
“Clabber Girl – the healthy baking powder – gives appetite to all – tested and approved by the Bureau of Foods, Sanitation and Health 1931.……creates a keen appetite inducing gastric juices to extract from such foods the life-giving substances that nourish the human body” (Clabber Girl Baking Powder, 1931)
“…complete digestibility and absolute purity. In Runkel’s cocoa doctors and nurses know that they have found a pure and nourishing food” (Runkel’s Cocoa, 1920’s)
“Highly unsaturated and rich in dietary essential fatty acids” (Mazola corn oil, 1957)
“The ferment element in cheese carries lactic acid to the digestive tract and rids the system of toxic impurities” (Meadow Grove Cheese, 1920s)
“This is health insurance of such vital importance that millions of women bake at home just to be sure that Royal Baking Powder is used” (Royal Baking Powder Co., 1925)
Despite the changes in food production laws and labeling over the past years, food labels continue to be a pitch by manufacturers to lure us into buying their products. Whether it be “…low in saturated fat and cholesterol, lightly sweetened, more grains. Less you! Can help you manage your weight” (Multi Grain Cheerios, 2014), or a product that “…creates a keen appetite inducing gastric juices to extract from such foods the life-giving substances that nourish the human body” (Clabber Girl Baking Powder, 1931), we seem to look at food labels as a panacea for all of our bodily issues, from managing weight loss to avoiding heart attacks. That much hasn’t changed.
(Note: Readers may also be interested in my post on food adulteration: Pebbles in Your Peas? Strychnine in Your Stout? (February 27th, 2014)