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Monday, July 25, 2011

Defining Organic- Don't Be Fooled By Tricky Marketing

Have you ever picked up a food product that had a giant ORGANIC stamped on the front, only to turn it over and discover that the ingredient list is anything but?  Navigating the sea of organic labeling can be so confusing that a lot of people abandon their efforts to eat organically, some even chalking up the whole organic movement to a scam.

The thing is, those people are on to something.  I'm a huge advocate of eating organic and supporting organic farming, but if I didn't know what I do about labeling, I'd most likely be a skeptic, too.  But real organic food IS out there!  There are several things you need to know about how organic food is labeled, and the legal definition of words that are used on food products, in order to ensure that what you're buying is, indeed, organic. 

Once you know the tricks of the trade, shopping for organic food is a breeze. 

USDA Labeling

The most obvious way to tell if a food item is truly organic is to look for the USDA Organic label.  Luckily the United States has a rigorous qualification system that regulates what can be labeled with the word "organic", and the USDA Organic label is what shows that the product is conforming to those strict regulations. 

For one-ingredient items, like produce, the identifying sign may use the word "Organic", and each individual item can bear the USDA Organic seal, usually in the form of a sticker.     

For items that contain more than one ingredient, like a box of cereal, there are three categories where the USDA allows for the word "organic" to be used in labeling.

1) 100% Organic: Foods with this label are made with 100% organic ingredients and may display the USDA seal. Salt and water are not included.  These products may display the USDA Organic seal.   

2) Organic: These products contain at least 95 - 99% organic ingredients (by weight). The remaining ingredients are not available organically but have been approved by the National Organics Program.

3) Made with Organic Ingredients: Food with this label must contain 70 - 94% organic ingredients. These products are not allowed to use the USDA Organic seal; instead, they may list up to three organic ingredients on the front of the packaging.  

Any food item made with less than 70% organic ingredients can only use the word organic in their ingredients list.  These products will not bear the USDA Organic seal. 
 
It's All In The Wording

Since use of the USDA Organic seal is voluntary, you don't have to look far to find companies that try to trick consumers with misleading packaging. 

1) Company Name: There are no rules regarding what words a company can use in their name, so it's important to watch out for companies using the word "Organic" or "Organics" in their name, which they display on their product in a way that misleads consumers into thinking that the product is organic when it is not.  If you see the word "organic" on the front label and it's not obvious if it's a part of the name, do a quick check of the nutritional panel to see if the ingredients are organic.  If not, it's simply a naming ploy.

2) Natural: The terms "natural" and "all natural" have absolutely no meaning in the United States from a legal standpoint, as the USDA has no rules when it comes to using "natural" on food packaging.  Companies take advantage of this, hoping that unsuspecting consumers will think their product is organic and not look at the ingredients list. 

Another way that "natural" is used to fool consumers is by disguising ingredients that have fallen out of favor, such as MSG, which is now called "natural flavoring." 

What shopping for organics comes down to is looking for the USDA Organic seal, checking the ingredients list and shopping for your food at places that you trust.  My favorite place to get organic food is at the Farmers Market, but I also love to shop at natural food grocery stores.  Not only are they more likely to carry truly organic food items, the staff is usually quite knowledgeable about organics and can answer your questions and offer alternatives.

Also keep in mind that the USDA Organic certification process is an expensive one, and many farmers abide by the rules but simply can't afford to get certified.  You can find these growers at Farmers Markets by their "No Pesticides, No Sprays" signs, or by asking, and once familiar with their names, you might start to notice them in your local stores.

With a little bit of effort and knowledge, you can find the organic food that you're looking for.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Guests At The Circus

I've always been a little torn about our love of the circus. 

We go to see acrobats, tightrope walkers, giant bicycles, flying trapeze artists, silly clowns, strongmen, elaborate costumes, optical illusions and shooting flames.  We go to feel the danger and the excitement as gravity is defied, for the glow-in-the-dark twirlers and plastic red noses, and to see the magnificent animals.

It's that last little part that's kept me on edge.  Yay for the circus!  Not so yay for their reputation with how they care for their animals.

Circuses have been the target of animal rights activist groups for decades, and it's hard to look past the undercover videos and pictures that have surfaced showing terrible conditions and abusive training techniques.  While things seem to have gotten better, perhaps from all the attention, it's hard to know exactly what's going on behind the scenes since there are no national regulations regarding training.   

So I accepted an invitation by the Ringling Bros. for a behind-the-scenes tour of their Animal Open House and to see their opening night performance.  I thought it'd be a good opportunity to see the animals up close and get a better idea of how they're treated.

I have to admit, the tour was exciting.  We saw gorgeous horses, including a miniature pony, zebras, Asian elephants and Bengal tigers.  The highlight of our tour was watching Assa the elephant getting her daily bath. 


The animals seemed well cared for, and the trainers were gentle with them.  The trainers even rush to put tubs under the elephants when they pee to keep the area clean!  We learned that Ringling Bros. has a Center for Elephant Conservation for breading and retirement, which provides information to people around the world on animal husbandry.

We returned later that night for the actual circus show, and it was just as fantastic and magical as it could be.  My favorite parts of the evening were when a man was shot out of a cannon ON FIRE, the Chinese Troupe on bouncy stilts (oh, how I want bouncy stilts!) and the Russian Acrobats, who did over 300 flips, jumps, rolls and leaps on an 80 foot tumbling track!


Gabi's favorite parts were the clown acts, the Brazilian dancers (who she got to speak Portuguese with before the show) and, of course, the elephants.

The animal acts were impressive, but I was happy to see that their presence didn't dominate the show.  Their overall short stage time combined with what I saw in the Animal Open House is giving me hope that things have finally turned around in regards to their care and handling.

If you are in the San Diego area, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baily Circus will be here through Sunday with their all-new show, Fully Charged.  If you live elsewhere, check out their tour schedule to see if they will be traveling near you.  Ninety minutes prior to each show you are able to visit the Animal Open House, too, and you can form your own opinion on how they're being cared for.

The best part of the whole evening was when Gabi looked up at me and asked, "Mommy, what culture is THIS?"  I had a good laugh before I told her, "Circus culture, honey.  They are a culture all their own."

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Turning Seven

Today my sassy, saucy, fearless daughter turns seven.

I should have known that when I told Gabi she could have anything she wanted for breakfast, she'd pick Green Bean Casserole. I tried to sway her to something that I would like better, I mean, more breakfasty, but she was unyielding in her choice.

Unfortunately, Gabi informed me that there's this rule that you have to listen to the Birthday Girl. (I wish I'd known about this rule two months ago when it was MY birthday.)

So off to the store I went for canned green beans, fried onions and cream of disgusting soup. The funny thing is that Green Bean Casserole is Gilberto's favorite American dish, too, and today is also his birthday. They have been giddy with anticipation. To round things out, we are also having ham steaks, even though Gabi says that Green Bean Casserole is quite enough on its own. Pardon me while I puke a little.

She's also been almost unable to contain herself over the excitement of presents.  While we were on our way home from cupcake shopping yesterday, she convinced me that she should be allowed to open a Birthday Eve present, just like we do on Christmas Eve.  She then started demanding clues.

Me: Okay, one of them is something that you can carry with you.

Gabi: OH MY GOSH! You got me a ShamWow!

Me: What? Uh, noooo. Not a ShamWow. Why would I get you that?

Gabi: Is it that brownie pan that makes each piece crusty? You know, the section one?

Me: A brownie pan? You want a brownie pan? It's not a brownie pan, but even if it was, you can't carry it around with you.

Gabi: Yes you CAN. In your purse. Wait! Did you get me FUSHIGI BALLS? I've been wanting those since forever!

Me: No! I didn't get you Fushigi Balls! Keep guessing.

Gabi: A PUPPY! No? A lava lamp? You know what I would love? Those really cool hangers that are all attached in a row, and when you hang your stuff on them and fill it up, you take down one end and it hangs down in your closet!  It makes a lot more room in there.

A few nights ago I kinda forgot to put Gabi to bed. At 11:30 I ran downstairs to get her, and I think she must've been watching the As Seen on TV infomercial channel for three straight hours. It would explain her excitement about getting a ShamWow or Perfect Brownie pan.

The gift that you can carry with you? Was a Roxy wallet. She reacted properly enough, but I think she really would have preferred something that cost $19.99, and not just for one, but TWO of them. I'll have to keep that in mind for Christmas.

Gabi still hasn't woken up this morning to open the rest of her presents. Her big gift is going to the San Diego Safari Park, and we'll be heading off as soon as we're done with our Green Bean Casserole.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

I Swear It Was The Toddler

I was woken up yesterday morning by an action figure to my cheekbone.

This guy, to be exact:



Those action figures are DENSE.  I'm thinking it was the boot, but whatever part it was, it split the skin and gave me a black undereye. 

Right after it happened it didn't look too bad:



But by the end of the day it looked like someone had walloped me a good one:



Then this morning I was woken up by Mason's head slamming into my mouth, splitting the inside of my upper lip and causing a LOT of bleeding.  I swear, that kid has the hardest head, which is good for him but bad for me.

Throughout the day it's gotten worse, and now it's a blood blistery, swollen mess.   

I was supposed to go to a Bloggers event tonight, but opted to stay home and nurse the part of ego that's attached to how I look.  And I wouldn't be much use at an event that involves talking anyway, since I've developed an odd mumble to minimize pain causing lip movement. 

We've decided that it's time for Mason to start sleeping in his own bed.  My heart hurts a little at the thought of him sleeping on his own, but my face hurts more.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Best Use Of Permanent Mounting Tape EVER

I get such a kick out of this commercial, because it could totally happen.   




Both of my kids like to run off with my phone and leave it in the wildest places.  Like: 

  • on the floor behind the toilet
  • in my daughter's underwear drawer
  • inside a Ziploc baggie box
  • tucked among the bags of pasta in the pantry
  • behind the couch cushion
  • in a DVD holder
  • on a ledge UNDER the kitchen table (part of the leaf system)
  • in the linen closet inside a folded towel
  • on the patio in the stroller basket
  • in my daughter's toy cash register
  • in my laptop

It's a miracle my phone stayed on every single time and I was able to call and track it down by listening for it's ring. 

Though I must admit that half the time I call it, it ends up being right in front of me.  Or in my hand.  That's right, one time I lost my phone and didn't realize until I'd dialed my number that I was calling myself ON MY PHONE.