Food as nature meant it to be?

In an ideal world, we would all be eating
fruit straight from the tree, vegetables fresh from the ground and fish caught
that day, or even just be able to buy food grown locally. In Cayman that becomes
a difficult practise.

Yes, there is Market on the Grounds at the
weekends, but apart from that we have to rely on the supermarkets. And for the
supermarkets ‘bought local’ can mean anywhere in the Americas.

Woody Foster explains how it works: “Predominantly,
our food comes from the US through a distributor who has people buying from him
all over the place.”

Foster hates to say it, but he doesn’t
think Cayman could survive without the US, as there are no direct links with
anywhere else in the Caribbean for food. Stores also do not have a great deal
of control over their choices. They can ask for a specific type of apple, but
if the distributor does not have it, then too bad. Also, forget the freshness
of freshly picked vegetables and fruits. Foster says on average the food that arrives
here is already at least six to ten days old. “It takes three days just on the
water (shipped) if you think it is all imported from different places, then put
in boxes and taken to Miami then….”

The only item they fly in is fish, so it
tends to be fresher. The way to tell whether it has previously been frozen is
this: “If you see a sign saying fresh tuna, it has not been frozen. Unless it
says fresh, it might have been frozen.” He says while Europeans in Cayman might
find the quality of fresh produce inferior, he does not know why this is,
except that in the US they pick it green and then ship it out. If you want a
peach that is tree-ripened, by the time it is shipped here it is going to be
soft. “People should remember we are only an island of 50,000 and we just
cannot offer the same things as large chains in the cities that have enormous
buying power.”

Foster’s uses local suppliers in Cayman
when items like mangoes are in season. As for organic produce, however, Foster
says they have not had a great success and ended up dumping food, so now they
keep just a small range.

Hurley’s also gets food from suppliers in
the US. Store manager Raul Mena says the food comes from all over America,
Panama, Columbia and other South American countries depending on where the suppliers
source it. Hurley’s, like Foster’s, has no say in  where it is sourced from. They receive a list
of what is available and order twice a week. They do have control over the
quality of food they order and can specify a particular type of apples,for
example ,if they are on the suppliers’ list. Mena says that regarding fruit,
vegetables and meat, their customers need to know that they are getting quality,
so Hurley’s ask for top level in these products, as graded  by the food industry

With the amount and variety of food
available in supermarkets and all the health advice on what to eat and what not
to eat, it can get confusing with fresh products.

Meat grading is fairly straightforward, but
when you get into packages and tinned products, there can be some discrepancy
about what a product claims to be and what it actually contains. Products that
claim to be natural,  light and so forth
can be particularly misleading. The following are some of the types of labelling
that you might come across in your weekly shopping.

Organic

Nutritionist Andrea Hill defines organic as
“a food that has been grown or raised without the use of pesticides, hormones,
or growth-enhancing antibiotics. Organic farmers are said to pay closer
attention to their soils and their animals’ health, so organic foods generally
have higher levels of nutrients. To get an organic certificate, a product has
to be more than 95 per cent organic.

Natural

Food manufacturers have a way of using
natural as if it is some way nutritionally superior and of greater worth. It
actually means the item is not expected to contain, or to have ever contained,
an added vitamin, mineral nutrient, artificial flavouring agent or food
additive, or gone through any processes that have significantly altered the
original physical, chemical or biological state. In reality, neither the US
Food and Drug Administration nor the US Department of Agriculture has rules for
foods described as natural.

Almost all foodstuffs are derived from the
natural products of plants and animals, and therefore any definition of natural
food results in an arbitrary exclusion or inclusion of food ingredients.
Likewise, since almost all foods are processed in some way, either
mechanically, chemically, or by temperature, it is difficult to define which
types of food processing are natural. Best advice is to read the label to see
exactly what ingredients the items contain.

Healthy

For foods that have healthy on the label,
the FDA has explicit limits on the amount of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol
and salt  it contains. If it is a
single-item food, it must also provide at least 10 per cent of one or more of
vitamins A or C, iron, calcium, protein, or fibre.

Non- or -free from

These items must have less than the
following amounts per serving: fat (0.5 gram), sugar (0.5 gram), cholesterol
(2mg), or sodium (5mg).

Low

Generally, the product must have less than
the following amount per serving: fat (3 grams), cholesterol (20 mg), or sodium
(140 mg).

Reduced

Generally, the product must have at least
25 per cent less of the given component than is typically found in that type of
food, such as reduced fat in cheese, less oil in hummus and so on.

Light

If at least half of the product’s calories
come from fat, the fat must be reduced by at least 50 per cent per serving. If
less than half of the calories are from fat, the fat must be reduced at least
50 per cent, or calories reduced at least 33 per cent per serving.

High In

All designated products with at least 20
per cent of the recommended daily amount per serving.

Good Source or Contains

The product must have more than 10 per cent
but less than 20 per cent of the recommended daily amount per serving.

Fortified or Extra

Some label terms, although truthful, have
little or no real meaning, and no standards for definition.

‘Made with whole grains’ can be an item
containing as little as 5 per cent whole grains.

Similarly, ‘made with fruit’ could also be
high in other ingredients, such as sugar corn syrup

Also, look out for all the different guises
that sugar comes in, as there are about 30 different names for sugar, including
dextran dextrose, fructose and glucose.

Meat and Poultry

Hill says, “commercially raised chicken and
meat are raised in unnatural settings. Cows are raised on corn rather than
permitted to graze on grasses; chickens never see the light of day, never touch
the earth between their cages and are pumped with hormones to stimulate growth
and antibiotics to prevent disease.” Again, if you want your meat without all
that, it needs to be stamped organic.

Free-range also is tricky, as it can mean
anything from an animal that roams freely to one that is let out of its cage
from time to time.

Genetically modified foods

Food may also be genetically modified. This
technique transfers genetic material from any source to another to create
specific variants. Since alien genes are not welcomed by the existing genes,
suppressive GE techniques must be used to force the animal or plant to accept
them. What is created is an artificially mutated food, which some people
believe might be harmful in the long run to both crops and humans.

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