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67 Merchants Row
Rutland, VT, 05701
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(802) 417-1528

Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) promotes local food knowledge, production and market opportunities for farmers and community members throughout our region.

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An Eye Opening Experience

Phil Gurley

By Tara Kelly

Do you know what’s in your food? It might be more than you think. Photo by Steve Peters

Do you know what’s in your food? It might be more than you think. Photo by Steve Peters

There are two things you need to know for this story to make sense.   First, I work a more-than-full-time job and have three kids.  This means, like many people, I am often juggling so many priorities it leaves my head spinning.  Second, I am not a morning person.

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to contribute something to eat or drink to an evening function at my daughter’s school.  It was a busy time and baking cookies just wasn’t in the cards that week.  So when I reviewed the list of needed items, I agreed to bring a quart of half-and-half.  The day before the event, I found myself working late and making a 10PM run to the grocery store to pick up a few things needed before driving home.

Fortunately, the priority “buy half-and-half for the event” made its way through the morass in my brain and directed my body to go over to the dairy cooler.  Once there I determined that the container size I needed was not available from Thomas Dairy, the brand I would normally buy.  And my tired brain was having trouble problem-solving so it didn’t occur to me I could buy two pints.  So, I picked up a different brand.  It said “no artificial growth hormones”.  I thought that was good enough, threw it into my cart, and dragged myself around the store to get the other things we needed for home.

As it turned out, the event at my daughter’s school was canceled.  Early one morning a week later I was rummaging in the fridge for milk for my coffee and saw the forgotten half-and-half.  I opened it with a bit of wariness but found it didn’t smell offensive.  So, I put it in my coffee and went to work.  I repeated this procedure for nearly a week, each time expecting the product to have spoiled.  But, what luck – it hadn’t!

Then the big Valentine’s Day snowstorm came.  This left me working from home and making a second cup of coffee by early afternoon.  For once, my eyes were wide open and my brain was functioning.  As I reached for the container of half-and-half I noticed the container declared the product was “fat free”.

Fat free?!  That seemed a bit strange to me.  How could a rich dairy product like half-and-half be “fat free”?  So, I read the label.  Here is what I found:  nonfat milk, milk, corn syrup, artificial color, sugar, sodium citrate, dipotassium phosphate, mono and diglycerides, carrageenan, natural and artificial flavors, and vitamin A palmitate.

I also found an asterisk that referred back to the no artificial growth hormones claim that said “No significant difference in milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormones”.  The more I paid attention to the label and questioned its claims, the more confusing and misleading I found it to be. And that’s the problem.

People are often too busy to read the fine details of food product labels and investigate the unknown and even unpronounceable ingredients they might find. Like most people, when I reached for that other brand of half and half I thought I was simply buying a quart of milk and cream. In reality, I was buying and consuming something else entirely. Artifical dyes and highly processed corn syrup? No, thank you.

I dumped the remainder of the container down the drain and vowed to stick with Thomas Dairy and the raw milk I get from the farm in the next town. I know these local businesses and know they don’t have chemistry labs to sweeten, color and unnaturally extend the shelf life of my milk and cream. If I have concerns, I also know I could talk with a real person, one of the people who actually produces the milk, to ask questions and get clarity.

Tara Kelly is the Executive Director of RAFFL, the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link. You can reach her at tara@rutlandfarmandfood.org.

Originally published in the Rutland Herald.