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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Organics Taste Test

Air Date: Week of

Power bars aplenty in the natural foods aisle.(Jennifer Chu)

As Walmart and other big stores carry more and more organic foods, food writer Pim Techamuanvivit laments that the packaged organics don’t always have healthy ingredients, and they rarely taste good.


TECHAMUANVIVIT: Bad things sometimes happen to good ingredients. You know what I'm talking about...those 'organic' foods that are meant to be healthy alternatives to regular junk food: the five-bucks-a-box cereals that taste like extruded cardboard. Or those 'Energy' Bars that are basically compacted sawdust.

What's astonishing to me is our tolerance for foods that plainly taste horrible, merely because they are supposed to be better for us. Well, it said so, right there on the box! No hydrogenated oil. No High-Fructose-Corn-Syrup. All 'natural'. No flavor!

Don't get me wrong. I love fresh organic and sustainable food just as much as you do. Yet every time I browse the isles full of 'natural' processed food and snacks at my local whole food market, I wonder to myself if they really are that good for us.

Power bars aplenty in the natural foods aisle. (Photo Courtesy of: Jennifer Chu)

In the spirit of research, I picked up a bag of baked cheese sticks –those fluorescent orange puffs. They were crispy but tasted oddly under-baked, and had 290 milligrams of sodium just in a small handful –that's more than a tenth of the suggested daily intake by the National Institutes of Health. Then I tried a toaster pastry. Ok, just a corner of one, if truth be told, because it was like eating baked clay with sticky sweet stuff in it. I simply couldn't go on. Had I done so, I would've ingested 5 teaspoons of sugar and 210 calories, mostly of carbohydrates.

I also bought some salad dressings. The worst of the lot was a Honey Mustard flavor with almost two teaspoons of sugar in every serving. And it tasted oily, thick, and sickly sweet. Not something I'd put on my salad.

There was also that Natural Beef Flavored Gravy I found –not made of beef exactly, only natural beef flavor. And don't you think that reconstituted mashed potato should just be banned on principle? What part of Just Add Water is natural and wholesome anyway?

I appreciate that consumers want common processed foods they're accustomed to in conventional stores. An apple doesn't always satisfy a hankering for a snack. And with all the demands of modern life, there is a legitimate need for more 'convenient' foods. And yes, compared to the conventional food riddled with ingredients I can't pronounce, these natural counterparts are certainly better for you. Yet, all that sugar, carbohydrates, and sodium can hardly be that good for anyone.

Perhaps it's time for an organic consumer revolt. We mustn't let the organic industry get away with selling crappy tasting foods in the name of health. They're not all that healthy anyway, why can't they at least taste good?

[MUSIC: Architecture in Helsinki "Spring 2008" from ‘Fingers Crossed’ (Bar None - 2004)]

GELLERMAN: Pim Techamuanvivit writes about food on her blog Chez Pim. To read more of her menu musings, visit our website, L-O-E dot org. That’s L-O-E dot O-R-G. You can reach us at comments at L-O-E dot org. Once again, comments at L-O-E dot o-r-g. Our postal address is 20 Holland Street, Somerville Massachusetts, 02144. And you can call our listener line at 800-218-9988. That’s 800-218-9988. CDs and transcripts are fifteen dollars.

GELLERMAN: You’re listening to the always-tasteful Living on Earth.



Chez Pim website


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