Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's worth it to read the label...

One of my children is involved with a group that is putting together Thanksgiving boxes, and was asked to bring cans of fruit cocktail to include in said boxes. When I was shopping I picked up the requested donation, but what was available differed considerably in content and price.

Seems like an easy thing, right? Just pick up the cans and throw them in the cart. Since I wasn't thinking about blogging about it, I didn't take copious notes, but I will say what I saw by memory, which is hopefully mostly accurate. :) Here is what I remember:

1) The prices were strikingly different. The less expensive of the brands that I seriously considered was, I think, $.72, while the more expensive brand was $1.28. I didn't check the ounces, but the cans looked about the same size. (Perhaps this should teach me to look at everything as a potential blogging post... :)

2) Some of the cans (not necessarily the brands mentioned above) had labels that indicated that the fruit was sweetened with artificial sweetener. The more expensive brand mentioned above (I'll cut the suspense and note here that this is the one I ended up buying, hence I have more details on it) is labeled, "mixed fruit in 100% real fruit juice from concentrate", with an additional proclamation of "same nutrients as fresh".

3) The thing that I think finalized my purchasing choice (since I don't think the artificial sweetener was in the less expensive product mentioned above) was the fact that one of the brands, in reading the ingredient label, said that it had "pineapple sectors". Yeah, I'm pretty sure that that is correct, because I think I read the label at least twice and was trying to figure out exactly what that meant. In an effort to make sure that I did not appear totally foolish in writing this post, I looked up this definition at to make sure "sectors" wasn't something commonly used in connection with pineapple that I just happened to never have heard of. Nope. I was thinking maybe it was a typo and they meant "sections", but who knows? Since I didn't, it did not find its way into my basket.

Sure, I thought about the fact that the two brands under consideration were drastically different in price. I thought about the fact that whoever is going to receive the boxes wouldn't know about the more expensive alternative. But what I thought about most was what I would be willing to eat myself. So I got what looks like the better quality product. (Watch, someone will leave me a comment about how the pineapple "sectors" are actually the best part of the fruit, and I will be mistaken once again...)

Reading labels (and worrying about the quality of the food) is not something I reserve only for Thanksgiving boxes. I actually read the labels on almost (if not) everything, that I buy, and what I have found is that sometimes you find things that you would never expect in the food that you're buying. Many times that has caused me to rethink the purchase--read: I don't end up buying it. That has happened to me with canned soup, frozen foods, etc., and most recently with the cans of fruit cocktail.

If you have someone in the group that you are responsible for that is allergic to certain foods, you probably do this regularly, anyway, but it can never hurt to know exactly what you are feeding/storing/giving when you are buying processed food. For instance, when I update my 72-hour kits (which I was planning to do last month) I will probably include fruit snacks in the mix. I will probably also check to see how much vitamin C there is per serving, because it can vary greatly. If I get more vitamin C in the fruit snacks, it helps me to feel better about the artificial flavors/colors/whatever that are part of the whole package. Yeah, I know they're in there. The thing is, emergency situation food is not always ideal, but hopefully you can include healthier things if you plan ahead, and are not trying to get whatever is available at the last minute.

The real bummer is that I know that we are due to buy more fruit for our storage, and I find that the stuff that I like in terms of fruit cocktail is pretty expensive, at least comparatively speaking. We may have to go with other varieties of canned fruit to get the most food for our food storage dollar, but hopefully there won't be anything in the chosen products that makes me think, "What's that, again?" It may not "pay" to read the label, but in my opinion, it certainly is worth it...


Anonymous said...

In My humble opinion you have to watch everything you buy now. Reading labels is essential, even though it can garnish much more of your time. I bought a box of 36 pudding cups for my wife to take for her lunch. The box exclaimed that Milk was the number one ingrediant and therefor a great nutritional product. Well it turns out that the milk is non-fat instant dry milk. Since the USDA has deemed country of origin labeling unnecessary, I figure the nonfat dry milk must come from China and is therefor loaded with melamine and God knows what else.

So a 36 box of pudding cups has now been donated to the human garbage cans,,my single neighbor and his tenant, who is also a single guy.
I told them what I though about the milk, but they are loving having pudding that didn't need to be cooked..

Shame on me for not reading....

Carl In Wisconsin

Marie said...

Carl--Your neighbors are apparently braver than I am. Thanks for the reminder about the milk--I had not been thinking about that aspect of it. Sourcing can be tricky to know anyway, because in a non-food related example, I bought some balls for a kid's function, and on the packaging it said, "Made in the USA". I was feeling really good about supporting domestic products until I saw on the balls that they were made in China--I guess just the package itself was made in the USA. So you do have to be extra careful. In a pinch, with no choice, I would eat what was available and/or affordable, but I'm trying to avoid such a situation. Thanks for your comment!

The Scavenger said...

I can't help but scratch my head everytime I look at a label. Apple Juice is one thing that we buy a lot of here. Notice that on almost all that I have been able to find: Concentrate from China. Do we not even grow apples in this country anymore?? When I read labels it just seems to make me want to grow more and more of my own food. Shame on me for not doing more and doing it sooner. Great post on something we all need to take a closer look at.


Marie said...

Chris--You make an excellent point, and it reminds me that I have to look even more closely at labels than I already do--wouldn't have thought about apples having to come all the way from China. I've got to do more of my own fruit preservation--looking at quality and prices, all of your canning is looking more and more valuable every day. Thanks for your comment!

Prudent Homemaker said...

The more you can grow and can of your own garden, the better.

I keep an use powdered milk reguarly in my storage. I will ce checking the labels next time I restock.

A friend of mine has 4 apple trees in her garden. She cans enough juice, sauce, apple butter and pie filling for her family for the year and still gives apples away. We ought to all be able to fin some space for apples. You can even grow apples where its hot if you get the right varieties--I am growing them in the desert!

Fruit canned in juice has an additional benfit--you can drink the juice. Fruit is a rare thing for those who get meals from the food pantry and is always appreciated there.

Marie said...

Prudent Homemaker-- About the only fruit we personally have is our raspberries, but we're lucky to live in a neighborhood where people tend to share things like apples and peaches. I wouldn't have thought about the juice factor when it comes to canned fruit--that is an excellent point, and is another reason I should learn how to can. I appreciate your comment!