Your Guide to Reading Between the Tines

Guest Blogger: Kirby’s Mom Talks Turkey…and Stuffing, and Cranberry Sauce…

Note from Laurel:  On Saturday, my momoo called me up, somewhat flabbergasted by her experience doing her Thanksgiving shopping.  She was surprised and upset by what she found when she actually read the labels on what she was buying.  As I listened to her, I thought, “This would make a really good post.”  And so my first guest column was born.  The following post was written by my mom, also known as Kirby’s mom.  (That being her adorable four-legged daughter with dog breath.)  Mom, thanks for being a good sport.

Pretty, no?  Also cold.  This is why I live in Arizona now.

Hey there, Simple Spoonful readers!  I’m your guest blogger for today, so I guess I should introduce myself.  I’m your average mom from a small town in the Cheesehead state (see above pic).  For the most part, I always tried to feed my family traditionally balanced meals.  You know, meat, veggies, and starch with some dairy on the side.  Four food group sort of stuff, back when everybody still used the four food groups.  I’ve been known to garden for the family and even canned some of my own fruits, veggies, and jams over the years.  My kids all made it to adulthood without looking any worse for the wear.  (Right, kiddo?)

For a few years, my daughter has been telling me I should pay more attention to what I put into my shopping cart, but it’s only recently that I have finally decided to really look at what’s sitting on the shelves of my pantry.  Now keep in mind, when you live in Hooterville, there are not too many options for fresh, locally grown foods once the local farmers’ market shuts down for the year.  We all wind up shopping at the local chain store or spending the time and gas money and go to the big city for your co-op, off-season indoor farmers’ market, or other natural foods store.  However, my family decided to celebrate Christmas at Thanksgiving this year so we could all manage to be there.  Which means that I have to have all presents made, wrapped, and under a tree by the middle of next week.  That pile of unsewn Christmas gifts is the main reason why, today, I wound up shopping for my Thanksgiving dinner at a local grocery store in the neighborhood instead of making the trip to the city.

So there I stood, in front of the frozen turkey section of the meat case,  digging out my glasses so I could actually read the ingredients on the plastic turkey wrapper.  First off, I had to find the list.  They kind of hide the ingredients (maybe hoping you won’t look?).  I wasn’t expecting much–turkey and salt, probably, so I was ready to feel proud of myself.  This will be simple, I thought.  It’s turkey, right?  Oh, no.  After turning the 20-pound frozen turkey over and over, I had frostbitten fingers but no ingredient list.  Finally, I found it.  And guess what?  They had added sugar to the turkey.  Really.

I have diabetes.  I was not impressed. I decided I might have to upgrade to a more expensive turkey.  I looked at the high-end birds, but the ingredients there listed sugar or corn syrup as well.  Then I looked at 49-cent-a-pound specials and–sure enough–sugar there, too.  Finally, I had one brand-name option left.  Any predictions?  You guessed it.  Sugar and/or corn syrup there too.  I think that the sugar was part of the basting or injection process, but still.  Do we really NEED to have sugar in our Thanksgiving turkeys?  I mean, we know there’s going to be plenty of pie and crisp to go around.  What ever happened to basting a turkey with its natural juices instead of sugar water?  This is just a straight turkey.  You don’t even want to know about the frozen turkeys that came with the gravy packages.  Based on the ingredient list, I’m not sure it really qualifies as “food.”  It was a chemical soup of MSG, preservatives, artificial color, artificial flavor, etc.  Plus, the gravy you get with frozen turkeys tastes terrible.  Have you ever tried it?  I’ve bought that brand in years past, but we always threw out the gravy packet.  My homemade gravy was much better, and I’m not a particularly good gravy maker.  I didn’t even give it to the dogs.

So I called over the butcher to ask if there was anywhere in the store I could find a turkey that didn’t have sugar or corn syrup in it.  He suggested a fresh turkey.  Unfortunately, it was the same deal–sugar in the solution they injected into the turkey.  At least the fresh turkey didn’t have MSG, a small benefit.  I stuck it into my cart.  I had no other option if I wanted the turkey that day.

By that point, I was pretty discouraged.  So I wheeled my cart into the aisle with the cranberry sauce.  Sigh, again, high fructose corn syrup. And if that wasn’t not enough, they added regular corn syrup too, just for good measure.  I did expect sugar in cranberry sauce, but not a double dose.  I’ve never made cranberry sauce, but I think it would be fairly easy if you used agave nectar and the natural Pomona’s Pectin I used to make grape jelly this month.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the time this Thanksgiving.  Maybe I can experiment before Christmas and come up with a good recipe.  I’ll let ya know.

At this point, I was a little ticked off by how much time I was spending on things that I should be able to breeze through and feel good about.  I was a woman on a mission–I had stuff to do and things to be sewn!  I grabbed the seasoned packaged bread cubes that I always use for my stuffing (had to be safe, right?) and tossed the package in the cart.  A split second later, I grabbed it right back out to read the ingredients.  I figured I had to know the truth, even if it was ugly.  You’ll never guess what was in the ingredient list.  Ok, if you had a pulse through the first half of this post, you probably will.  High fructose corn syrup.

So now here I am, writing this post for my daughter’s blog.  You know what?  The whole experience was very frustrating.  As of right now, the only item in my Thanksgiving dinner that does not have sugar or corn syrup in it is the squash that I stored from the last farmers’ market. (Did you hear that, kiddo?  I did something good!  I bought local and stored it for later!)  Now some folks would add brown sugar and marshmallows to their squash, but I never have.  Just butter, lots of good ol’, artery-cloggin’ Wisconsin butter.

You know, with all this unexpected corn syrup and sugar in everything, who needs dessert?  Ok, that’s a silly question.  You can’t have Thanksgiving without something sweet to top it off.  I think I’ll ask my daughter to help me make a pumpkin pie with agave nectar instead of sugar.  Now there’s a fun thought.  Of course, that would mean that besides the farmer’s market squash, the only thing in my Thanksgiving dinner that does not have sugar in it will be…

…the dessert.

How did we get here?


5 Comments so far

  1. Sis/Aunt November 16th, 2008 3:18 pm

    WOW! I’m afraid to look at the turkey in my freezer that I got on sale last week. I was so proud of my purchase. Way to go sis! Burst my bubble!

  2. Michelle @ What Does Your Body Good? November 17th, 2008 8:12 am

    That’s a great post, and excellent account of exactly what happens when we start to question the way we’ve been eating for the past, oh, however long! It’s just amazing. (And speaking of turkeys, don’t get me started on what you can’t find on the label about birds bred so big they can’t mate and their legs break…)

  3. What I’m Up to Today « 9 to 5 Poet November 17th, 2008 7:28 pm

    [...] sustainable food look really yummy, while making mass produced food sound pretty scary. Check out her mom’s post about finding forms of sugar in all of her Thanksgiving ingredients.  [...]

  4. Laurel November 17th, 2008 9:28 pm

    Ha. I hear you, Michelle. If any omnivores want to think twice before enjoying turkey next week, check out my general post on CAFOs. I liked your post on the labels as well…come back soon!

  5. Kim November 17th, 2008 10:47 pm

    Laurel- I can see where you get your brilliance and humor from. Yay, Laurel’s mom! Thanks for the enlightening column. I hope there will be more to come.