Back in the US – Crazy Food. Part Two: the “Healthy” Kind, or Not.

Part One was about fast-food.

Novelties for foreigners and Americans who have lived overseas for a while.

We were posted overseas for eight years back-to-back (Africa, Mexico, Asia, Europe – I know Mexico is not a continent), never having participated in language training. We took home leave three years ago, but lived like tourists so did not fully appreciate all the novelties. Perhaps these novelties did not even exist three years ago during our last home leave. Here is a small sample of the foods that have been marketed recently to make people buy more of what they don’t need, often disguised as healthy – and most often not.

We finally resettled in the United States, and as for each move, I dedicated myself to exploring the neighborhood and its resources. I do not like wasting my time shopping, but wish to make sure I discover the best quality and deals of my neighborhood. In a new country I always visit the surrounding supermarkets so that I can narrow down where to shop for what, and the same applies to the U.S. For example, good beef cuts are hard to find in supermarkets in Budapest or very expensive at the butcher, but Metro (a Costco-style place) offers good quality beef at reasonable prices.

While searching for the best fish, meat, vegetables, and fruits, I discovered many new food offerings that flabbergasted me. It is possible that long time American residents will have not noticed either because when you shop, you usually know what you want and look just for that so you might have not noticed the weird new offerings. They exist in every single aisle. You can eat them or drink them. They pretend to be healthy or not, and are, or not. From milk to chips, trail mix snacks to vegetarian burgers, welcome to new foods. Including pork rinds and pork crackling …

Milk
We knew that besides cow milk, you could have goat milk – so last century. To care for the lactose intolerant and vegan crowds, marketers packaged soy milk and rice milk. Even almond milk and coconut milk existed three years ago. You can now add cashew milk, almond-cashew milk, hazelnut milk, and my discovery of the day: quinoa milk and hemp milk. Hemp is a seed. It is not the marijuana drug. It does come from the plant species Cannabis sativa hence some confusion.

Asian food
Sea vegetable flakes ‘agar agar’ – Kombu the vegetable of the sea” features a happy fish dubbed “Sea Snax”. Its expiration date is in 15 months from now. How many preservatives and chemicals do you need to add to this ‘snax’ to achieve such a longevity.

Remember when Ramen noodles were the cheap meal for students – at $0.99 a pack? Now you can go organic on your Ramen with the Koyo brand, or fancy with the Lotus Foods brand which proposes Forbidden rice ramen noodles, Jade pearl ramen noodles, millet and brown rice ramen noodles. Not the same price at all.

I love ‘pho’ (pronounce ‘fuh’), the legendary Vietnamese light soup. I discovered kits to prepare it yourself. But did they need to come flavored? “Zesty ginger,” “garlic goodness” or “shiitake mushroom?” I can add the ginger, garlic and mushroom myself! I just needed the right blend of spices. The Happy Pho brand which offers the kit also makes the noodles out of brown rice.

Seaweed has become a fashionable snack these days. They used to be a favorite of Japanese people and it seemed that it would be hard to penetrate the American market. Ah – but someone had the idea to make seaweed “American” by injecting them with a good dose of “Texas BBQ flavor!” And why not propose a sea salt flavor as well since sea salt is so popular these days that you can even find it in chocolate. To remain in Asia, seaweed is also proposed with a sriracha flavor – just in case seaweed alone had an unpleasant taste …

At the Good Fortune Asian store in Little Vietnam/Eden Center, I found a drink called Essence of Chicken with Cordyceps extract near black-skinned chickens. As adventurous as I am, I didn’t dare try. The names for herbal teas made me laugh. Besides the common Relax, Cholesterol, or Immune, there were the less romantic Menopause and PMS! The produce section was very colorful with cucumbers that look like crocodiles, round white or purple eggplants smaller than a tennis ball, taro, and the unusual yampi and ratalu, both deformed roots.

Chips and Crunchy Snacks
With The Better Chip brand, we can indulge in chips (typically unhealthy) that are supposedly healthy because they are made with beets or spinach & kale, radish & chia, chipotle or jalapeño – whatever is in fashion. Not only the photo makes you believe you will eat pure beet, there is even a magnifier to show you the rings inside of a fresh purple beet. Its number one ingredient is whole grain masa flour – not beet – are you disappointed? Before you switch from crackers (‘bad-unhealthy’) to veggie chips (must be good since it’s veggie), check the facts. For the recommended serving size of one ounce (28 grams) these veggie chips bring 140 calories and 8g of fat when evil crackers bring 120 calories and only 3.5g of fat (Triscuit for example). Which one is evil?

Chips can also be made out of beans instead of potatoes, and the first ingredient is beans (yeah!), then rice and oil. Alas it does contain 7 grams of fat per serving and still 140 calories.

On this ever expanding healthy snacking (oxymoron intended) market the brand Hi I’m Skinny is a “new healthy alternative to snack food.” Instead of chips they propose sticks in healthy options: quinoa, sweet potato, and ‘superfood’ described as ‘mean & green’ in case you have no clue what a superfood might be (I remain clueless). Unfortunately, per serving size of one ounce (28g), you will get 140 calories, 8 grams of fat, 2g of protein and a tiny gram of fibers (Quinoa Sea Salt version). I’m staying with my evil regular cracker!

All is good in pork. Indeed, this ‘snout to tail’ commitment to use the entire animal is a great incentive for ranchers to raise their animals in a better environment. Delicacies such as pig ears, easy to find in Asia or on the markets of central Europe, is now modernly packaged in several flavors: the ubiquitous sea salt & pepper, maple bacon, or BBQ (no jalapeño yet). If I say pork rinds (skins) or pork cracking (fried-out pork fat with attached skin), it sounds very unhealthy and fattening. Yet, for the same amount of our earlier veggie chips you ‘only’ get 160 calories – not that big of a difference.

I knew of brownies and chocolate chip cookies that we don’t bake anymore, we purchase them in a box. I did not know the same could be possible with pies. A pie seems like a messy snack to give a child. Not with Nature’s Path proposing toaster pastries (filling is inside the dough) in many different flavors from Granny apple pie to wildberry acai and chocolate for example.

Mac & Cheese

A Kraft packet costs less than $1 (even in DC), supermarket brands cost half. But if you cannot boil water and add pasta, milk, and orange powder like it says on the package, Whole Foods has prepackaged the easy already-cooked version for $6.49 per serving!!! At this price you cannot even use a microwave since it is presented in an aluminum dish.

Yogurts

The brand Dreaming Cow proposes yogurts made with milk from barn-free, grass-fed cows and these yogurts only have natural ingredients (whole milk, agave nectar, pure vanilla extract and live active cultures for the vanilla-agave flavor) and 92 calories/4oz, 2 more than a low-fat Dannon Activia fruit yogurt. The non-fat Activia Light yogurt boasting only 60 calories needs to incorporate many ‘horrors’ to give it some taste: non-fat milk, blueberry puree, water, modified food starch, inulin, acacia gum, modified corn starch, kosher gelatin, carmine, pectin, sucralose, calcium lactate, malic acid, milk calcium, acesulfame potassium, and xanthan gum.

Vegan friendly

September 2017, I discover “pluots”. As the name indicates clearly, it is the contraction – and combination – of plums and apricots. Not called “aprum” because it tastes more like a plum than an apricot!

For vegans and vegetarians who need their “meat fix,” marketers do wonders. Vegan burgers made of beans or soy are well-known. Now they manage to imitate to perfection the look and texture of meat balls, sausages, or breast of chicken. The brand Gardein proposes “chick’n scallopini.” The photo is great, the ingredients much less apetizing: water, soy, protein isolate, expeller pressed canola oil, methylcellulose, organic vinegar, tapioca starch, yeast, cane sugar, potato starch, … color added, …

Unfortunately, when you want to drink something as natural as raw cow’s milk, the producer needs to label it for cats and dogs because State authorities have decided that humans can’t have it! Can you smell the power of lobbies behind all this?

The list goes on and on, with marketers always eager to sell more processed food, when at the end of the day, if you wish to stay healthy, you just need to go “around” the supermarket, it is where the fresh food is, counter-clockwise in many supermarkets: produce, cheese, meat, and fish.

PS – I discovered all these new offerings while shopping for ideas to match with my new habits to successfully control my weight; read more in my post about Weight Loss. This post will have many sequels to help people lose weight, even after 50, and for free.

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