Home The Op-Eds I Am Not The Food Police

I Am Not The Food Police

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Read the title again.

I. Am not. The Food Police.

That’s right.

And before I dig any deeper into that? Let me clarify with what I define as “The Food Police.”

The Food Police are the busybodies — activists, trial lawyers, and troublemakers — who would have the government intervene in everyday nutrition choices under the pretense of ‘protecting America’s Children’.

And before you jump in and tell me there’s nothing wrong with the government doing that… let me remind you that almost every single time that the government has intervened in the nutritional lifestyle of the public, it has proven to be problematic.

And why would it not happen that way? We elect lawyers and other similarly-degreed individuals to our government, and we ask them to take the information sent to them and use it wisely to make decisions on our behalf. Who do you think is paying for all of that information and those studies that they’re reviewing? Surely, our government cannot afford it. Industries who are most affected (either for the positive or for the negative) by a desired outcome are the ones most likely to spend the money on a study, pay for lobbyists to kiss the behind of whatever congressman in charge and provide “campaign donations” to those most able to help them further their goals.

And really? Let’s keep it real. For a product to be approved for sale… it only has to prove that it is not harmful. Not that it actually has benefits… but that it won’t kill you. Enter: GRAS, or Generally Recognized As Safe. “Its benefits, as we see them today, outweigh the problems…. as we see them today.” Never mind the fact that “the problems” may very well appear tomorrow.

My favorite example of this? Margarine. Yesssss… margarine. Margarine was pushed onto us in response to the “OMG – butter has saturated fat!” message. Yes. We were told to eat a completely artificial product – loaded with trans fats at the time – instead of simply balancing our intake of the real thing. Surely enough, it was a cancer-causing agent, causing countless cancer-related deaths.

As I said, the larger food manufacturing grew, the more we were distanced from it’s production, and the less oversight we were granted to it’s creation and ingredients. Because (in my opinion) the government wanted to simply do what it could to ensure that the US had a consistent food supply, lots of leeway was given to big food factories to help ease them along their way in supplying our supermarkets with food – glorious food! Want an example? The food industry was able to get the FDA to change the law – imitation foods that weren’t nutritionally deficient in comparison to their whole counterparts didn’t have to be clearly marked as “imitation.” (You can skip the below quote if you like because I’ve quoted it before, but it’s valuable enough to read twice.)

The 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act imposed strict rules requiring that the word “imitation” appear on any food product that was, well, an imitation … [And] the food industry [argued over the word], strenuously for decades, and in 1973 it finally succeeded in getting the imitation rule tossed out, a little-notice but momentous step that helped speed America down the path of nutritionism.

… The American Heart Association, eager to get Americans off saturated fats and onto vegetable oils (including hydrogenated vegetable oils), was actively encouraging the food industry to “modify” various foods to get the saturated fats and cholesterol out of them, and in the early seventies the association urged that “any existing and regulatory barriers to the marketing of such foods be removed.”

And so they were when, in 1973, the FDA (not, note, the Congress that wrote the law) simply repealed the 1938 rule concerning imitation foods. … The revised imitation rule held that as long as an imitation product was not “nutritionally inferior” to the natural food it sought to impersonate—as long as it had the same quantities of recongized nutrients—the imitation could be marketed without using the dreaded “i” word. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto


I do want to go back to the point about the FDA’s law about imitation substances, though. It does a lot more to the food industry than you think it does. Take a loaf of bread, for example. Bread has maybe five ingredients in it – flour, water, sugar, salt, and yeast – but if you look on the label for the bread in your house right now? You see what – hyphenated chemicals. The food industry now has the ability to put anything in your food, so long as it is not deficient in the nutrients that science recognizes are valuable… in comparison to the food it imitates.

So, if the foods aren’t nutritionally deficient, why is this a problem?

Well, how much credit do you give food science? The rule is simply that the foods cannot be deficient in nutrients that science recognizes as valuable. What about what science hasn’t spotted yet? What about all these hyphenated chemicals that science hasn’t identified (or is prevented from identifying) as harmful to our health?

And before you call me a conspiracy theorist, consider this: it took science decades to recognize that trans-fats – once a massive part of margarine and other major foods – were hazardous to our health. Believe it or not, the government still allows trans-fats in foods, and actually allows food manufacturers to lie about how much trans-fats are in their foods. (More on that later.)

And that’s another thing – our government can only be reactionary. Because of the predicament they’re in – they can’t really test for anything with such a limited budget, and they certainly can’t keep up with all of the products flooding the market every single day. It simply isn’t possible. They can approve something today, and weeks – yearsmaybe decades – later discover the hell they’ve unleashed upon the public.

I’m not even going to get on the problems with school lunch. Just know that the USDA’s standards… don’t meet mine. And anything I pack for my child has to compete against whatever neutral-colored gobbledy gook they’re serving with that sugary milk colored with Red-400. Thanks. (Oh, and don’t you worry – I will get to the school lunch issue, too.)

I’m sorry, but I don’t know that I love the idea of these lawyer-turned-politicians determining what it is that I should be eating. I already know what I should be eating: the stuff that comes out of the ground, and the occasional bit of animal or animal by-product (cheese, milk, etc.) We all should know that.

But if I’m not The Food Police, then what on Earth is this site for?

People who use the term “Food Police” tend to fall on either side of the following spectrum: Either they reeeeeally want lots of legislation, or they reeeeeally don’t.

Am I the only one who sees the problem with this? All this talk about whether or not the government should be involved… and no talk of how to involve ourselves in making better decisions.

It doesn’t take a federal law to tell you that a cheeto isn’t grown on a vine… or grown at all. It doesn’t take federal mandates to explain to you that a fake food can never nutritionally replace a real one. At least, it shouldn’t… and that’s why, even though I don’t want to be aligned with The Food Police, I for damn sure don’t want to be aligned with those who are anti-TFP, too.

Why? Because those people not only want the government completely out of our nutritional decision making… they also want to keep us from ever learning about how to make the proper decisions. Why? Because knowledge is power.. and the more knowledge we’d develop, the more we’d realize that we shouldn’t be buying these phony products. Heaven forbid food manufacturers be compelled to create quality.

I get those people commenting on this site, too – some comments I approve, many others, I don’t – who mistakenly align me with the TFP camp. I don’t need a government to determine what’s acceptable for me to eat. Thousands of years of human existence on this Earth does that just fine. Where’s the push to educate people? To help us make our own decisions?

That’s where my site fits in.

I write about what I’ve learned that has helped me reclaim my health. My community, my stores, my options all facilitate that. I write in hopes that someone else will gain a little insight into how I’ve achieved what I have thus far, and that perhaps it can help someone else do the same. How often is this information available out there? For free even? C’mon. Really.

To put it bluntly… I don’t care what you eat. I do care that we all have accurate information about how dangerous and questionable some of our choices are. People take risks every day… and when they know the risk associated with their decisions, that’s one thing. A lot of this food stuff? The real answers are kept from us because manufacturers know full well we’d reject their products. I think that is wrong.

As often as I write about the “Come to Fitness” moment, I also write about how people have to make that realization on their own. It’s easier for me to live the knowledge I’ve acquired, answer the questions as they come to me and hope that we all can make better-informed decisions because of that enlightenment. Me trying to force you – someone I don’t know, don’t live with and aren’t personally invested in – to eat how I think is best without any consideration of your budget, your resources, your time or your abilities? It’s unfair.

That’s the real reason why I write about these issues that aren’t just “Swap this with this and save calories!” Because the reality is… it takes more than that. It takes making sure that we are aware of what we need to live healthy lives, so that we can begin to demand it. If we know that we need access to these things, we can show that the demand is there. If we never learn, we never demand and we continue to only get more of the same. I’m not pro- or anti-Food Police. I’m pro-“enlightening-and-educating-the-public-so-that-we-can-demand-more-of-our-food-industry.” And neither side does enough of that for me.

So, until they do… I’ll be over here writing… and sangin’ in the background.

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poitreenmoshun January 14, 2011 - 1:19 PM

DANGIT E!! Why are you always messing up my dreams?!?! So, since I guess I’m no longer allowed to call you The Food PoPo, I’ve come up with a list of names for you to choose from, of which I AM allowed to use:

1. The Cupcake Killer
2. Dead Weight Destroyer
3. She Who Must Not Be Named
4. The Sweetie Strangler
5. The Tootsie Roll Terrorist
6. The Baconator 🙂

*runs and hides*

Erika January 14, 2011 - 1:23 PM

I prefer She Who Must Not Be Named… Lest She Come And Empty Out Your Cabinets. 🙂

poitreenmoshun January 14, 2011 - 2:55 PM

Fudgesicle! You didn’t pick any of the ones I REALLY wanted. She Who Must Not Be Named it is aka The Cupcake Killer!!!

*theme music plays while your cape blows in the wind*

Kait January 14, 2011 - 1:35 PM

I was actually going to write you a thank you e-mail but something stopped me…now I know that this post is why!

I want to thank you for bringing AWARENESS to the issue of processed food. Your site provides a lot of information and a little bit of tough love. Since I’m being honest, I’ll admit that some days, I want to scream at you and go, “BUT HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?!” or “YOU’RE CRAZY GIRL!” But most days I find myself nodding, “Oh yea…that makes sense!” And through these emotions I realized something…

The place that you are at…that’s my ideal, my goal. I’m not there yet because I’m not ready to be there yet. I’m not ready to give up eating out with my boyfriend, friends, and family. I’m not ready to give up my glasses of fancy wine or bottles of craft beer. And I’m not ready to give up having dessert each day. That’s where I am in my life…and its not your fault or anyone else’s. That doesn’t mean I get mad at you (those screams…totally out of jealousy) or myself because I know that I have the information to make this change when I am at that point in my life! And I have you to thank for that.

So heck no…you aren’t the food police. You are just saying stuff that I think some people don’t want to hear…or maybe they’re not ready to hear it (I obviously don’t know since I’m only me). You’re brought a huge awareness into my life (sugar addiction…add me to the list) and I’ve incorporated a lot of the things you suggest into my life. And guess what?! Even incorporating SOME of your ideas has helped me to lose weight and be healthier.

So thank you speaking out and bringing awareness and not forcing your views on anyone. Those of us who visit your site CHOOSE to read it. Though I might not fully empathize and even agree with something that you write I recognize that this is YOUR blog, your views, and information on what’s worked for you!

Rebecca January 14, 2011 - 2:37 PM

Another great post–as a sufferer of PCOS — a syndrom affecting 10% of all woman (and I suspect Black women even more so)– this is important information that people need to get before it’s too late. They still do not know whether PCOS and many of the comorbid diseases is created through the diet, but the diet definitely plays a role in managing the symptoms. To do that women need to not let other people get in their head about their new diet and lifestyle and cannot let anyone make them feel bad for spending more (if that really is even the case) on healthier food options.

Eva January 18, 2011 - 9:59 AM

My mom told me that margarine came out during World War II because there were rations of butter because it was used for the army.

I remember seeing “imitation” on certain “foods” and when they stopped putting that label on food.

I don’t always eat clean but most of the time I do. My theory regarding sweets is that if I don’t make them myself, I don’t eat them.

Erika January 18, 2011 - 10:05 AM

It was… but it wasn’t until later that margarine was being pushed by the government for a REPLACEMENT for butter. That was part of the reason behind the push to remove the “imitation” labeling. Margarine also used to have to be pink to make a clear differentiation between that and butter. Not any more.

Eva January 18, 2011 - 12:43 PM

So true, actually Mom said that margarine used to be black and they had to stir it themselves and I remember when it was called “imitation butter.”

Curlstar January 18, 2011 - 1:23 PM

I’m putting in a vote for Baconator! 😀 Love that one poitree!

Natasha McLaurin August 5, 2013 - 7:28 PM

I agree with some of the others. There have been days I have wanted to say.. ugg, not another thing that is bad for me. Then I digress, and come to the reality that I need to make a change. By no way would I say I am 100 percent all natural. I still use the occasional Splenda if baking and yes… I have I can’t believe its not butter in my fridge. I see it as a process; I can say I now actively seek out real food and organic replacements, and little by little I am kicking the crap out my kitchen.

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