What We Know About Food

I listen to a huge amount of podcasts throughout the week, but without question the most popular podcast recently was SERIAL. It was an amazing story of tragedy, our justice system, and mistakes. The host did an exceptional job of breaking down the details and digging into a murder case that took place over a decade ago.

By the end of the first eleven episodes, I was sort of sad and also lost.

The final episode in this season was called “What We Know” and it simply laid out the facts that are known in the case. It was amazing in its scarcity. I won’t give away much in case you plan to listen to it (which you should).

But it got me thinking about the food world. With all the new reports, books, and studies that come out every day now, what do we really know?

It was very hard for me to find things in the food world that I thought were absolutely, undeniably true.

But these are five things that I think I can say we absolutely know about the food world today. Do you agree?!

1) Restaurants Use Scarcity


It became abundantly clear last year that scarcity is a major element of marketing for restaurants and food manufacturers. Is there any reason why Starbucks only offers their pumpkin spice latte for a month every year or why McDonald’s occasionally just discontinues the McRib? (PS. just make your own)

The reason is because scarcity creates urgency and demand. People want things more when they imagine they won’t always be available.

I imagine this will only ramp up in the future, but there’s a pretty simple check on it as a consumer. Any time you see something as a limited offering, ask yourself if there’s a reason for it. Is the reason just to get you to buy it today?

2) Losing Weight is not Easy


I wanted to include some sort of weight loss item in this list and the real truth is that the only thing we know is that it’s hard.

In our Western world, we are bombarded with delicious snacks, foods, and treats. Denying those and finding time to work out occasionally is difficult at best. Any shortcut is almost certainly a shortcut to nowhere.

If it’s not hard, it’s probably not working.

3) Food Fads Come and Go


I recently saw a package of bacon in the store labeled as gluten free. YA THINK? Not to get into a gluten debate here, but the whole gluten free thing is getting out of control.

As long as people have had the luxury of talking about what they are eating, fads about what to eat have existed and will continue to exist.

Paleo. Gluten. Low Carb. Sugar free. Marketers are capitalizing on these terms to take advantage of people who don’t know better. I don’t know that any of these diet concepts are wrong, but I also don’t know that they are right.

So I’ll just say that fads exist and more are probably right around the corner (did you hear about the new hamburger only diet?)

4) Good Food Costs More


Quality items cost more. It’s true for clothes. It’s true for cars. It’s true for food. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get a great deal occasionally, but it’s going to be relative. Don’t expect to be an extreme couponer and eat a lot of fresh produce. It’s not going to happen (read my rant on the hidden costs of coupons).

If you want to eat healthier, it will almost certainly cost more than eating poorly. There would have to be some major societal shifts and changes before this is not true so I think I can safely say this is known.

5) Buying Food is Confusing


Food labeling is one of my biggest pet peeves. Many of the labels on food (Don’t get me started on “all natural”) mean approximately zero and just confuse people.

It’s hard to know if what you’re buying is a quality product, if it was made well, and if it’s good for your family. The best we can do is try to take time to research and choose and try things. Even with new labeling laws that passed in some states recently, I think it goes without saying that buying food in America is confusing.

What Do You Know?

I’m sure that some of you disagree with me on what I think I know! But also, I’m sure you know things that I don’t know or wasn’t sure of. At a minimum, can we all just agree that SERIAL is amazing?

Leave a comment! 

Candies pic by Roadside Pictures. PSL pic by Kyle Wilson. Scale photo by Jeff Golden. Low Carb sign pic by MTSOfan. Produce section pic by I5 Design. Pickles pic by Kathy Neufeld.

24 comments on “What We Know About Food

  1. I know that food is not a person. It is not an enemy, a lover, or a friend. Food is food. It isn’t good (or bad). It isn’t scary or comforting. It’s just meant to be enjoyed and experienced.

  2. I agree with you, Nick and if we don’t buy “junk” food, there are extra dollars to be spent on whole foods or organics. My motto, and my family groans every time I say this, moderation in all things. Recently, 8o’clock coffee had a special on “Central Perk”, the coffee of the Friends program. It was buy one get one and I did. It is a smooth mellow cup that would be nice to have every once in a while. It is also on the “limited time only” list. Is it or was this just a ploy to see if anyone would buy it? If it turns up as a regular choice I’ll know. Good blog and sometimes we need to be poked about what goes on in the food world.

  3. I know that I probably go into a rant/rage almost every time I am at the supermarket and see the word “natural”! Nick, I completely agree, don’t get me started, we could be here for days. If I had my way, that word would be BANNED.

  4. My comment to the “N” word (natural) is that arsenic is natural and I’m not going to eat that. I, too, tend to fly off the handle when that word is mentioned. sheesh. And losing weight is harder to do than quitting smoking was years ago.

  5. Wheat makes me fart. I’m not gluten intolerant (well maybe I am?) nor do I have celiacs disease, but I have eaten Paleo for a year and a half now and whenever I give in to pizza or a panini, I “flare up” again. Oh yeah wheat also give me back rolls!

  6. Nick, I JUST finished Serial last night (I listened to the entire podcast over the past three days), and as someone who works in the legal field, I have been obsessed with the case. I know this isn’t exactly a food-related comment, but I would love to know your thoughts.

    1. Well, my thoughts are lengthy, but since Bets is a public defender we definitely sway to the side of they didn’t have enough proof for “beyond a reasonable doubt”… by a long shot in my opinion. But at the same time I know how hard it is to get someone released from prison without very convincing evidence. So I guess in short I think, A) I’m not sure if he did it B) he probably shouldn’t be in jail and C) he probably won’t get out of jail. So yea… SAD.

      1. Yeah I agree with that evaluation :( I cannot imagine spending so long in prison for something you may not have done – and being convicted on such little evidence! I am curious about the possibility of a motion to DNA test those samples though. Fingers crossed…

  7. Interesting article, Nick and some valid points. I totally agree about food labelling, although I think our laws around this here in Australia are better than yours. As a point of interest, I am gluten intolerant and I have friends who are coeliac and they really can’t have even the tiniest bit of gluten. So, I have also questioned the gluten free bacon issue – because why would bacon have gluten? Apparently, it is something to do with the preservatives they use, which have gluten.. Another confusing thing about food. You really do have to question everything you eat.

    1. Hey Sam! Thanks for the comment. Yea.. US labeling laws are terrible. Probably the worst. As far as I know there’s no preservative that’s used in the curing process that has gluten in it. US manufacturers are just capitalizing on the gluten free craze here. People think that gluten free equals healthier for everybody even if they have NO idea what gluten is (case in point: Jimmy Kimmel recently asked a bunch of people on the street what gluten was. Nobody knew even though nobody wanted it… weird. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdJFE1sp4Fw)

      1. I also think marketers are just trying to capitalize on ignorance, but a side benefit has been that people with celiac’s or other gluten sensitivities can eat some things more confidently. I know some people used to have problems with tostitos sometimes and not others. Someone found out that at one plant they used the same line to make corn tortillas as flour tortillas. People with celiac’s would have to look at the barcode to try to figure out which plant the particular bag came from. Just as an example. I can imagine gluten getting into all kinds of stuff it shouldn’t be in just because of how processed everything is these days. But, if Chiquita starts labeling their bananas as gluten free….. ;)

  8. I pretty much always agree with you and love you much-except for the losing weight part “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” ― Henry Ford …
    Sugar is a big deal-I lost 20 with very little effort in a short period of time and I’m over 50 and kept off for 2 years…Once I “detoxed” from sugar (and I was definitely addicted) it came off with ease.

  9. Great points! The only thing I would disagree is that eating healthy is more expensive: it can be, but it doesn’t have to be necessarily. It won’t be fancy, but it is entirely possible to eat healthy on a budget. I think this argument is often used as an excuse to not put effort into healthy eating.

  10. A rule I try to stick to with food is if you’re trying to avoid the “real” version of something because it’s bad for your health, chances are the “fake” version isn’t going to be any better for you. I try to avoid anything that says “diet”, or “lite”, and definitely “sugar free”. I work at a Starbucks and it’s horrible to see the regulars coming in for their daily dose of aspartame…

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