Why make it from scratch?

Would you expect Tropicana Cherry Berry Blast to contain some cherry and berry juice? Should Betty Crocker Carrot Cake Mix contain carrots? Apparently there is no rule that says a product must contain what the name implies because there are no cherries, berries, or carrots in those products. Without the use of artificial coloring, however, neither company would be able to get away with the ruse, so the Center for Science in the Public Interest is petitioning the FDA “to require food companies to disclose on the front of food labels whether a product is artificially colored.”

“Betty Crocker is certainly free to make virtually carrotless carrot
cake, and Tropicana is free to make berryless and cherryless juice,”
said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “But consumers
shouldn’t have to turn the package over and scrutinize the fine print to
know that the color in what are mostly junk foods comes from cheap
added colorings.”

I’m not holding my breath waiting for the FDA to force corporations to admit that they’re using cheap, artificial ingredients to increase their profits. The FDA has been turning a blind eye to misleading labels for decades. If you’ve been to one of my book signings, you probably heard me talk about how shocked I was 24 years ago when I discovered that Jiffy Blueberry Muffin mix contained zero blueberries, so it was one of the things that caused me to start cooking from scratch. Red dye 40 and artificial flavors are way cheaper than cherries, and the same is true for artificial blueberries and artificial carrots. That just sounds so wrong — artificial carrots! What’s in an artificial carrot, anyway?

corn syrup, flour, corn cereal, partially hydrogenated cottonseed and/or
soybean oil, a small amount of “carrot powder,” unspecified artificial
color, and Yellow 6 and Red 40

And what exactly are you saving when you buy the mix? You’re not saving money. Even if you used real carrots in your carrot cake, it would cost you less to make it from scratch. You might be saving five minutes because you have to grate the carrots. One of the first things I realized when I started baking from scratch was that it was only saving me two or three minutes for most things because it only reduced the number of ingredients to be added by three or four.

The really unfortunate thing about these so-called foods, however, is that they are filled with artificial ingredients, empty calories, and genetically-modified ingredients (corn syrup, corn cereal, and partially hydrogenated cottonseed and/or soybean oil in the artificial carrots alone) — and they are completely void of any nutrition. And if we eat empty calories, we have no room left to eat the nutritious food that our bodies need.

You will even find nasty surprises in convenience foods that seem to be good for you, such as mashed potatoes.
What more do you need other than potatoes boiled in water, a little
milk, butter, and spices? Well, if you’re making mashed potatoes that
will be shipped for thousands of miles to be served in a fast food
restaurant, apparently you need far more than 25 ingredients! This is
what you’re eating when you have mashed potatoes at KFC:

Potatoes, Salt, Maltodextrin, Whey Product [Containing Whey Solids,
Sodium Caseinate (A Milk Product), Calcium Phosphate, Calcium
Stearoyl-2-lactylate, Calcium Hydroxide], Partially Hydrogenated
Vegetable Oil (Soybean and Cottonseed), Mono and Diglycerides,
Artificial Colors, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Calcium
Stearoyl-2-lactylate, Spice. Freshness Preserved with Sodium Bisulfite,
and BHT. Liquid and Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Salt, Soybean Lecithin,
Natural and Artificial Flavor, TBHO and Citric Acid Added to Protect
Flavor, Beta Carotene (Color), Dimethylpolysidoxane, An Anti-foaming
Agent Added.

It’s been 24 years since I read the ingredients on that muffin mix box and started to wonder if my unborn baby might grow up healthier if she didn’t eat all the convenience foods I grew up eating. Starting to cook from scratch seemed like a winning scenario all the way — it would save us money and we’d be eating real food. I had nothing to lose. And today I am so glad I decided to try! My children all reached adulthood without any of the “normal” childhood illnesses that plagued me as a child, and as I’m getting uncomfortably close to the half-century mark, I’m healthier than I was when I was a teenager.

There are so many things in this world that we have little or no control over — like air and water pollution and who-knows-what is being emitted from cell phones and all of our other beloved electronics. With so many diseases at unprecedented levels in our society, and with so many things in our lives that did not exist half a century ago, it’s hard to always know which variable is causing what disease, but we do know that diet plays a huge role — sometimes being the primary cause of diseases like heart disease and many types of cancer, and sometimes contributing to the disease by not keeping our immune system in top condition to fight off things like the common cold and influenza.

And the other completely unexpected benefit of cooking from scratch is that you will eat far less junk food. I am not going to take the time every day to make french fries and cookies, which means I’ll be spending my time eating nutritious food and filling up my body with the best fuel available. Plus, when you’re making foods from scratch, you will be highly unlikely to make something that has a disproportionate amount of sugar and fat. Do you know anyone who puts TEN teaspoons of sugar in a glass of iced tea? Probably not, yet that’s how much sugar is in a can of soda — or more accurately, that would be the sugar equivalent of the amount of high fructose corn syrup that is in a can of soda. Most soda would taste absolutely disgusting without all the sugar.

The more you know about your food, the better you will eat — and research actually proves this. But I didn’t really need a study to tell me that people will eat better if they are more connected and knowledgeable about their food. It just makes sense. Who really wants mashed potatoes with 25 ingredients or carrotless carrot cake or blueberry muffins with artificial blue bits rather than real blueberries?

6 thoughts on “Why make it from scratch?”

  1. So true! I live in an apartment so I do not grow everything myself but I try make food from scratch and choose good options in the store. I was raised pretty much that way too and I do not have any prejudice against 'real cooking'. I do sometimes use mixes, mainly custard but I eat that less than once a month so I do not think that matters too much and even if I love proper food I am no 'food taliban' and I do make some compromises. My mother like me used some mixes like instant mashed potatoes which I absolutely detested. I swore to never eat it again once I left home and kept it. What finally supported my decision was that I found out that instant mashed potatoes affect your blood sugar more than the same amount of sugar and who would eat half a plate of sugar? My partner however loves the taste of instant mashed potatoes and have requested it, I have promised to give him that as soon as he has finished the same amount of sugar as he would eat mashed potatoes but for some reason he has not yet taken me up on the offer…

  2. More and more my husband and I are becoming convinced that we have spent our whole lives under the pretense that what we were doing and eating was good for us… now we are realizing that "convenience food" was all bad, all the time. We are trying to eat healthily, and though we still do buy some convenience foods, we are on track to get away from it as we go on.

  3. Boy, are you ever right. Today's supermarket food should not be allowed to use the word "food"!
    I cook from scratch and know what I eat! I am convinced that the many problems that plague children today relate to what's in the "food" they consume!

  4. Unfortunately Deb, the answer to your question is MILLIONS. millions of people do want that stuff beacuse they buy that stuff, They buy that stuff because they are convinced it is cheaper and easier. It takes lots of time to change mindsets but with each well written book like yours, each farmer willing to give tours, each restaurant willing to cook with locally grown foods we are able to slowly turn tides.

    But it does take time. Great post.

  5. Hello! Someone in my Facebook group shared this area with us so I came to look it over. I’m plainly loving the information.


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