Food Snob Chronicles — A brief study in absurdity
I’m a label reader.
Not just an ingredients reader. An entire label reader.
I notice whether something is labeled ‘naturally flavored,’ or ‘artificially flavored’ … or ‘naturally and artificially flavored.’ I see — almost immediately — that a product is Kosher, gluten- or trans fat-free, imported or ‘new label – same great flavor.’
Most labels tell a story. And some of those stories are worth further investigation.
The latest label (and advertising) for Hunt’s tomato products has piqued my curiosity more than any canned marketing in recent history. The Con Agra company claims that its tomatoes are peeled using Flash Steam®. Is this a proprietary method? Something new? I took to the telephone to find out.
‘Hi Emily. I’m calling you to find out about your Flash Steam that you are advertising on TV and on your cans,’ I greeted the nice lady who answered my call at Con Agra’s customer service department. ‘Can you tell me about this?’
‘Sure,’ she replied. ‘We steam our tomatoes to remove the skin. This helps us to avoid the use of lycopene — like other companies use.’
‘Lycopene?’ I inquired. ‘Isn’t that supposed to be good?’
‘Well, it’s a chemical,’ she replied. ‘We want people to know that we don’t use lycopene in the processing of our tomatoes.’
‘But, your competitors advertise on their labels that lycopene helps fight against cancer in men,’ I responded. ‘I never knew that it was used in the commercial peeling process. This is interesting.’
Emily then asked me if I had any additional questions.
‘Yes, I do. What type of chemicals are used in the field?’
‘Well, keep in mind that water is a chemical,’ Emily said. ‘I know that sounds strange, but it’s true.’
‘Sure,’ I responded. ‘H2O. I learned that in chemistry, but I’m talking about pesticides and such.’
‘We grow our tomatoes in California,’ she responded. ‘And, we do use water.’
‘But California has pests too,’ I said. ‘Do your growers use pesticide?’
Emily couldn’t answer the question, so I didn’t press. In all fairness, she also eventually came around and corrected herself on the whole lycopene thing. (She wasn’t sure what her competitors use, but she assured me that it was bad.)
So, I began studying her competitors. Muir Glen, a purveyor of organic tomato products, also uses steam. The customer service line at Contadina, a Del Monte company, was closed. However, my research didn’t yield any evidence of chemical usage during the peeling process. Ditto on Red Gold. I not only did in-depth research into web-based documents, but also ran company products through Fooducate, my favorite nutrition app.
Vegetable oil: Made from fresh lettuces, cukes and peppers
My wife tells me that this one’s a stretch — on my part.
When I look at labeling on olive oil, I see olives. Canola oil labels have pretty little yellow flowers. Even my truffle oil shows a handful of truffles scattered about a flat surface.
Wife’s argument: The vegetable oil label shows a suggested way of serving it.
My retort: Why doesn’t vegetable oil show a migrant worker picking soybeans?
Farm fresh? Processed within hours? Really?
Canned vegetables are just that — stuffed in a metal container with water and sold with a two-year shelf life. Furthermore, canned veggies are cheap. Is this not why most people buy them — opposed to their fresh or frozen counterparts?
By no means is such a label a deal-breaker, but I’m thinking there’s a marketing department out there with way too much time on its hands.
Food label marketers aren’t the only ones doing it
‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Reservoir Dogs’ are intense. So is a well-flavored blood orange sorbet.
But, the only truly intense lotion that I know of is sold in the family planning section of the drugstore … or so I thought.
So, I paid more than a meal’s worth of homage to my Irish brethren this week. And, I developed a new addiction in the process. Thanks a lot Saint Patrick! While the Reuben Rail Splitters (my own invention) are more German-American-Texan in nature (I used Nolan Ryan brand Smoked Sausage), the Colcannon pancakes are still pretty much Irish — sans boiling.
Reuben Rail Splitters
2 lbs – Kielbasa or Smoked Beef Sausage
Stone Ground Mustard
3 cups – Swiss or Smoked Provolone cheese, shredded
Spicy Louis Dressing
12 – Jewish, Russian or Pumpernickel Rye slices, toasted as desired
Preheat grill to medium-low.
Slice sausage in half, lengthwise, then cut into 5-6 inch pieces (to fit on bread). Brush each piece with a liberal amount of stone ground mustard. Place on grill — skin side down — and cook for about 7-8 minutes. (Rearrange during grilling, as necessary, to provide even cooking.) Flip sausages so that the skin side is up. Turn off grill and close for about 3-4 minutes. Remove from grill.
Place about 1/4 cup of grated cheese on the bottoms of six bread slices. Top with sausages, then sauerkraut and Spicy Louis Dressing.
Serve with Colcannon pancakes. Makes six dinner-sized sandwiches.
4 cups – Prepared Colcannon
2 – eggs
1/4 cup – All-purpose flour
Vegetable oil, for frying
Combine eggs and flour with prepared colcannon. Mixture should have a heavy batter-like consistency. Add a little water or flour, as necessary.
Heat about 1/2-inch of oil to medium-high in a large skillet.
Ladle about 1/4 cup of batter into hot oil. You might have to lightly flatten it somewhat with the base of the ladle. Repeat, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Allow to fry until browning becomes visible around the outer bottom edges — about 3-4 minutes — then carefully flip, using a large spatula.
Place cooked pancakes on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
Makes about 16 (very addictive) Colcannon Pancakes.