Looking at the labels. The politics of food product identification – by Martyn Lowe

Gluten in a can of soup.

Martyn Lowe

In December I moved in to a new flat.

Now I have a cooker & microwave, rather than just a microwave.

So I am now thinking a lot more upon what I shop for, and the issue of where it all comes from.

It is not just a question of is it all being vegie, but where it all comes from in terms of air transport / carbon footprints.

I’m still also looking at the food & food labels in terms of: – Is it vegie? What is the salt content? Does it contain Grapefruit or Grapefruit juice, which would negate the effects of my blood pressure medication? Does it contain GM crops? Is it a seasonal food & thus locally grown? Is it an organic product? Does it contain lots of very unhealthy added sugars? Can I buy this without all the extra packaging? Plus all the issues which surround whether packaging is recycled or able to be recycled? Never mind the issue of fair trade, or is it value for money? There is also another issues here in terms of what are the hidden or unexpected ingredients, such as having Gluten within cans of what the food manufactures claim to be vegetable soup.

This is a very important issue for the many people who have an intolerance to Gluten.

I’m not thinking upon these issues in isolation, but in terms of how the way food product information is presented makes for a multi-faceted political issue.

In other words it all comes down to an issue of just how to label & display all of the food which we eat.

As stated upon the Label.

Living in such an International city as London, it is very easy for me to purchase a wide range of foods from all over the world.

Many of these foods are flown in from halfway across the globe, & come with a mixture of different languages upon the packaging.

Within Europe one can find a lot of products which list the ingredients with many different languages upon the packaging.

I am also able to buy food items which do display some of the information I really do need to know.

For example: Most cheeses are marked as being vegetarian.

Many foods have a mark which shows whether the packaging is or may be recycled.

Many goods carry a mark that they are approved of by either the Vegetarian Society or Soil association. i.e. That they are either vegie or organic.

While there is also a lot of information which one can find upon food packaging that might as well not be printed at all.

There are the various E numbers which are listed, but not named upon the labels.

While the list of food ingredients is in many cases printed in nothing more than 8 point type.

Really handy for those who always go shopping with a magnifying glass! There are also various different ways in which the same food information may be displayed.

All content labels should list the ingredients in descending order of quantity.

Some items list the ingredients as a % of the contents, which is very useful if one wants to judge the amount of salt or sugar which they contain, but many food manufacturers do not follow this best practice.

The challenge.

Given all of the issues as stated above, then it seems to me that the whole issue of food labelling needs to be examined within a radical context.

As Library & Information workers we are in a unique situation to contribute towards a reform of all food labelling, & so to make for some really important environmental changes.

I’m not saying that this is something which we need to put a lot of effort in to campaigning upon, but we do between us have the knowledge & skills to highlight just what needs to be done upon these issues.

It’s not just a case of being what we eat, but how this all impacts upon our local & global environments.

Martyn Lowe