Ahhhh. Back from vacation with a fresh tan, a swollen liver from all the piña coladas, and a dead brain. If you see a lonely brain going around and around a baggage carousel somewhere, let me know, because I think it took a different flight.
Let me preface this week’s musing. I live in the happy little hippie hamlet of Ashland, Oregon, frequently on those annoying “Best Places in America to Live” lists. All of them. There’s no doubt about it, it’s a picturesque and quaint place, surrounded by pine and oak trees, rivers, and mountains. It’s small—about 20,000 population—but we have very good restaurants and cultural offerings due to the tourism drawn to our Shakespeare Festival. I’m not a theater person myself, but I have no trouble benefiting from the spoils of it.
Folks who live here live here deliberately. Many move here before they’ve even secured a job, that’s how desirable it is. And that’s a big risk seeing as how tough the valley can be job-wise and how expensive the cost of living is. But having been here for 5 years, I can say that I get it. The charm has never worn off.
But it’s always a bit of a culture shock when I leave town. I forget that drivers yell at pedestrians and women get cat-calls for just walking down the street. I forget that people smoke. That people get in their cars to go four blocks. That people love shiny, expensive sports cars and drive them like maniacs.
And, yes, I forget that not everyone eats or prioritizes local, organic foods. It really is a happy little bubble I inhabit.
But the biggest wake up call for me on vacation had to do with ice cream. Now, I ain’t gonna lie. I ate plenty of ice cream on vacation, though I was rather proud of myself for maintaining a pretty good Paleo/Primal menu the rest of the time. As far as off-plan choices go, real ice cream is fairly benign, save the sugar. At least in the hierarchy of evil desserts, it ain’t a massive gluten and trans fat bomb.
*Cue scary violins* Or is it?!
When I partake of the occasional ice cream at home, I either buy an organic, all-natural one or go to a local shop that makes their own with good ingredients. I tried making one myself with coconut milk, but it really didn’t turn out at all. Unfortunately, when something is cold, it reduces the ability of the sugars to come across, and without some sugar, it just doesn’t taste very good. But I plan on having lots of fun experimenting with recipes this summer.
So while safely ensconced in our vacation rental on the Keys in Florida, my in-laws had bought a bunch of Breyer’s ice cream. I remember when Breyer’s was first available years ago. They advertised themselves as “All-Natural”, which we all know now means just about nothing. I had always been a chocolate ice cream type, but when I tried their “All-Natural” vanilla bean ice cream, I was an instant convert. Good stuff.
This time around, we had flavors like Rocky Road (a personal fave), Mint Chocolate Oreo, Cherry Vanilla, and Vanilla Fudge Brownie. They were okay, but to my adjusted taste buds, they just seemed too sweet, too cloying, and even downright weird. And no wonder. Of those, can you guess which was the only one that could legally be designated as real ice cream?
It was the Vanilla Fudge Brownie. Everything else was labeled as “Frozen Dairy Dessert.” One glance at the ingredient list was all I needed to understand the differences. Here’re the ingredients for their Rocky Road:
FROZEN DAIRY DESSERT [MILK, SUGAR, CORN SYRUP, CREAM, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), WHEY, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, GUAR GUM, CAROB BEAN GUM, CARRAGEENAN, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, TARA GUM, NATURAL FLAVOR], MARSHMALLOW SWIRL [MILK, CORN SYRUP, SUGAR, CREAM, WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, GUAR GUM, CARRAGEENEN, NATURAL FLAVOR], CHOCOLATEY COATED ALMONDS [CHOCOLATE FLAVORED COATING (SUGAR, COCONUT OIL, NATURAL COCOA, NONFAT MILK, WHOLE MILK POWDER, BUTTER OIL, SOY LECITHIN, NATURAL FLAVOR), DRY ROASTED ALMONDS].
Yikes. Stabilizerville. And I’m guessing the butter oil here isn’t the kind Weston A. Price prized so highly.
So what’s the legal definition of ice cream? Via Rachelle Keller’s blog:
In accordance with the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, the Food and Drug Administration enforces a set of standards which regulate the labeling of food products.
Ice cream is defined as a frozen food made from a mixture of dairy products, containing at least 10% milkfat.
After two nights of those post-dinner indulgences, my tummy hurt so bad I couldn’t even see it as a harmless indulgence. It just wasn’t worth it anymore.
I mentioned to everyone that I noticed the label said “Frozen Dairy Dessert” and it inspired a conversation. Everyone (all SADers) remarked how they should check their labels better, which surprised me a bit. But then I looked around at the margarine in the fridge and the “peanut butter” on the counter with two kinds of hydrogenated oils in it and came to a sad, sad realization. All these words I type, all the conversations I have, all the efforts I put in…this is a losing battle.
We Paleos and Primals and WAPFers and real food advocates are a special group. Elite even, if you want to get all hierarchical about it. We have the means and the know-how to opt out of the cycle of garbage presented to us as food, as solutions, as “normal”. If you accept Peter Pan peanut butter as normal, you are also accepting modern healthcare’s medical and pharmaceutical solutions as normal. You’re accepting feeling like crap every day as a normal part of the aging process. You’re accepting the possibility of physical and mental decline before you reach 80 as normal. And if that is your choice, then I cannot help you.
Lets be honest, folks. I’m preaching to the choir here. If you’ve been converted by anything I’ve written, please feel free to set me straight, but I’m willing to bet there isn’t a single soul who can say that. Chances are, someone bigger and smarter like Robb Wolf or Mark Sisson got to you first, which is great because I don’t care how folks get under the umbrella of real food, just that they do. But there’s no getting around the fact that I’m operating within a small niche here. It’s starting to feel…confining. And I’m starting to chafe a bit under those handcuffs.
I’m feeling the urge to break out a bit, explore other topics. The gears have been turning in my mind about this recently, and sharing it with you here will keep me honest about it and force it into motion. There are some big changes on the horizon which will probably involve some potentially annoying shifts for my readership. I don’t know how or when these will take place, but I’m imagining a more comprehensive approach to all this information. I will of course continue with nutrition and evolutionarily-inspired movement, but I’d like to go into some bigger areas of discussion that my poor interdisciplinarily-geared mind likes to pollute with ideas from other fields. This will probably involve a name change, but I’ll be sure to have everything route to the new site when it’s ready. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to maintain my blogging schedule of Tuesdays and Thursdays. There’s only one potential project at the moment that would possibly derail it, and I haven’t decided how to go about attacking that yet. It’s a creative writing pursuit that doesn’t involve nutrition at all, and I’ll share more of that in the future when it begins to take shape.
But did our ice-creamcapades have a happy ending? Later in our vacation, I saw that there was an ice cream shop where the owner makes all the ice cream by hand, Mr. C’s Gourmet Ice Cream. I had to stop by. Big confession here: I got the Reese’s Peanut Butter ice cream in a waffle cone. It was amazingly mind blowing, peanut butter is one of the things I miss most from pre-Paleo days. I noticed that the ice cream melted quicker than anything we’d had out of a box of Breyer’s and its texture was closer to the stuff I’ve made at home (it also didn’t give me a tummy ache, even with the cone). It’s these very things that processed food companies try to solve: How can we make the ice cream melt slower? How can we improve its mouthfeel? How can we please our market testers? Nowhere in any of this tunnel vision do they ask how to make it taste better or be better for us. And you know what? In comparison to the stuff I got at Mr. C’s, their project is a complete and utter failure. For all their laboratories, market testing, and test tubing, they can’t produce a superior product. So what’s the disconnect?
It’s up to all of us to choose wisely. These companies will never offer anything that benefits us. They’ll never figure out the right formula because nature already has the corner on that market. Each of us, individually, have to make decisions that reflect that. It’s the only way to starve the beast.