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Feb 16, 2007 04:32 AM

Supermarket Snoop Decodes for Labels

Yesterday evening, I went to to hear Kimberly Lord Stewart read from her new book, 'Eating Between the Lines,' and talk about decoding food labels. An investigative food journalist, Kim separated food facts from marketing hype. Her book is subtitled "The Supermarket Shopper's Guide to the Truth Behind Food Labels."

During her talk, she gave chickens and eggs as an example of food-labeling myths. I and probably 99.9 percent of the supermarket-shopping public believe that poultry products labeled "horomone-free" are worth a premium price. Turns out that the federal government banned use of hormones in poultry raising back in 1959. That means all chickens and all eggs sold in this country are hormone-free. Who knew?

Still permitted, she says, are human-grade antibiotics, which many poultry producers believe stimulates growth in chickens. But humans who eat lots of antibiotic-laden poultry can develop an immunity, so that when they themselves are given antibiotics, the medication is less effective.

Kim obsessively researched food labeling, government regulations, industry standards, social and environmental organizations that monitor food-production practices, and what it all really means for anyone who shops for groceries and anyone who eats.

I really like the book's appendices that summarize her findings and shortcut the shopping process. There's a list of 10 labeling "reminders" (I'm photocopying them and taking them with me when I go shopping). There are charts for produce in terms of how much pesticide residue remain after harvesting specific fruits and vegetables. Other charts reproduce endorsement labels (USDA Organic, Seafood Safe, Fair Trade Certified, etc.) and explain what they mean.

When I read 'Fast Food Nation', I wondered, "Why has no one ever written a book like this before?" 'Eating Between the Lines' gives me the same feeling. I'm glad she wrote it. I nibbled at it when I got home, and I can't wait to sink my teeth into it.

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    1. Brand-name chickens that are shrink-wrapped by the producers do. Well, at least the packaging has labels -- not the chickens themslves. Think Perdue, Tyson, Red Bird, Foster Farms, Pierce, etc.

      1. Thank you Claire for the kind words. I welcome other reader's comments about the book.
        Gratefully, the author of Eating Between the Lines