When I was still learning to read and I had my head in a book engrossed by a story, I’d usually come across a word I didn’t recognize or didn’t know how to pronounce. When I saw it, I’d always ask my dad, “Dad, what does this word mean?” He’s a really smart man and it was natural for me to ask him about things I didn’t know anything about.
I can recall how he’d react every time I’d ask him this. He would always say, “If you don’t know what a word means, look it up!” I would roll my eyes, frustrated that he wouldn’t just tell me (I knew that he knew what it meant).
Instead, he’d pull out the big dictionary (pre- smartphone era!) we stored in the cabinet. He would make me search for the word in the dictionary. Begrudgingly I would do it, just so I could go back to reading my story.
When I finally found the word, I’d read the definition and the synonyms out loud. I’d then go back to the story and the sentence would make sense now that I knew what the new word meant.
Doing that practice with my dad not only expanded my vocabulary, but it also got me in the habit of being curious and finding the answers for myself.
There’s a saying that comes from diet culture, particularly wellness culture, that states, “Don't eat anything you can't pronounce”.
This sentiment irks me because of its fear mongering. It’s claiming that anything “science-y sounding” is unsafe to eat and should be avoided.
I feel that type of thinking takes power away from you. There’s power in information and having tools to look up that information.
Can you imagine if my dad had said, “If you don’t know what a word means, just ignore it and avoid it”? Not only would the story not have made much sense, but then I’d learn to avoid anything I’m unfamiliar with.
Yes, sometimes there are hard to pronounce ingredients on a food label, but that doesn’t mean we should fear them. Many of these ingredients are found in more processed foods that have been fortified or enriched with vitamins and minerals (science-y sounding names). Other times the ingredients in question are additives that are there to help retain freshness and prevent deadly foodborne illness.
So when you come across an ingredient that you’re unsure of, here are a few tips which may help ease your mind:
Do a quick search (emphasis on quick). You don’t need to go down the rabbit hole with it. Usually the first site to provide information is pretty credible, but the FDA is a source where you can learn more about food additives in general.
Remember, “the dose makes the poison”. Food ingredients are listed by weight, with the ingredient with the most weight listed first, and the ingredients with the least weight listed last. This means that food additives typically make up a much smaller percentage of the product than the rest of the ingredients and are tested for safety with huge quantities (much larger than one human could consume in their lifetime).
Remember to stay curious, friend :)
Photo above is by Imants Kaziļuns on Unsplash