Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Food for Thought: A Day in the Kraft Kitchens

My second day in Toronto dawned bright and early, and this time, I was smart and stayed downstairs so that I didn't wake Emma's barky dog. Yay, me! However, Mother Nature threw in a little surprise for the day that I really didn't expect at all.

Joey


Snow. Before I left for Toronto, I asked on Twitter what kind of coat I should wear and people informed me that Toronto can be nice one minute, crazy snowing the next, and they were totally right. Snow. TONS of snow. Snow that would shut down Vancouver easily. Dry, blowing, cold, snow. Good thing I brought the warm jacket. These Toronto people are prepared for snow, and Emma had us at the Kraft kitchens just in time to grab a coffee and get a seat before we listened to the President of the company, and had the opportunity to ask questions.

Kraft Kitchens!


I know what you're thinking. Did she raise a ruckus? Did she tell them of the evils of packaged food? Nope. I listened. Actually the other bloggers there asked a lot of good questions. Many of us were food bloggers who all cook from scratch and so I was in good company. What about sodium? Msg? Tartrazine?

We were told that Kraft is trying to rid many of their products of artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives but they say it's a slow process, because consumers are so used to things like Kraft Dinner being day-glo orange, they might not react well to it suddenly being a shade lighter. They weren't kidding-when I tweeted about this, the immediate reaction I had was people complaining that their beloved Kraft Dinner needed to be left alone. Seriously?

As for my question about the cheese and milk from cows given growth hormones, the milk Kraft uses for their natural cheeses comes from Canadian cows.

While we talked, I got the sense that while Kraft is making changes, which are wonderful, why should they? Kraft, and other companies like them, make money from food that's crap because people buy it. What would be the motivator to change? People don't just BUY the food, they LOVE it. In fact they love it so much that Kraft has 11 BILLION dollar companies under it's name.

Eleven companies. Each worth a billion dollars. You'd probably be surprised how many products are owned by Kraft. I know I was.

Huh.

This highlighted to me that our problems with food are so much bigger than just the companies that make it, but it includes the people who grow it, those who market it, develop it, buy it, and how nobody seems to know how to cook anymore. People say that they don't have time, and so companies like Kraft want to solve your dinner problems. So helpful!

To be fair, many of the recipes at the Kraft Kitchens were pretty healthy, but some just aren't. I can't convince myself that Cool Whip is actually food or get used to putting salad dressings in all sorts of things. How hard is it to use real spices like oregano and basil with a little olive oil when you saute something, rather than a salad dressing with MSG, lots of salt, and other preservatives?

With that food for thought, we were given a little tour of how recipes are developed in the Kraft Kitchens. One of the first stations I stopped had had stacks and stacks of recipe books, with print outs of all kind of research about what foods most kitchens in Canada have, and even what utensils most people own. As I listened about how the recipes are developed, I couldn't help but notice something:

Jamie is IN Toronto Too!


A fellow food revolutionary! I admit I was surprised. Not surprised that it wasn't the Food Revolution cookbook. When I found this I messaged Jamie to let him know.

Soup Challenge


Another station had us guess the sodium content in some foods. Now having been watching our sodium intake for the past year, I thought I was pretty good-and I was! I guessed the correct soup in the taste test challenge.

My creation


After our educational tour of the facility, we were divided into teams, given a recipe, put in a kitchen, and we cooked. I made a quinoa salad that was delicious, and it was a lot of fun to get some hands on activity in the kitchens. Now, this was tricky-I didn't want to be rude, but I like to be honest, and so bit by bit, I let the Kraft staffers know how I felt about some of the products.

-Kevin won't eat Kraft salad dressing because many have MSG, which gives him a headache, and they are high in sodium.

-Recently we checked the sodium content on a bottle of Kraft BBQ sauce and noticed how high it was, we simply pitched it in the garbage and vowed to make our own.

-some products, such as cheese whiz or singles slices are downright disgusting.

-I really don't agree with their term 'speed scratch', or using processed food products to make a 'sort of from scratch' meal because REAL scratch can, in my opinion, be quick, easy, and much healthier.

-That being said, I do LOVE some of their real food products (Nabob, Baker's chocolate, Magic baking powder, Kraft peanut butter)

We ate, we talked, and ate, and ate....did I mention we ate? I was so full by the end. One thing that really impressed me was that Kraft was SO conscientious about making sure that my food didn't contain nuts, and it was such a relief. Often I attend functions and I can't touch half the food because they are full of nutty items that would make me sick.

I must say that the folks at Kraft were very kind, respectful of our different beliefs, and were lovely, hard working, amazing people. I truly enjoyed my time there and it was so thought provoking that the next day as I wandered through the Toronto airport, I picked up this book to read while I thought about food, companies, and my role on this blog. I am not a scientist or a farmer, marketer, someone with a food science degree, or a famous chef. I'm a writer and a home cook with a love for real food.

The thing is, it doesn't end there. I'm also someone who believes with every fiber of her being that you CAN cook from scratch-REAL scratch, and it can be fast, easy, delicious, and good for you. Period. You can do this, and I'm going to prove it. Right here on this blog, day after day, in my own kitchen.

One recipe at a time.


Disclosure: Kraft paid for my airfare to Toronto and one night hotel to attend this event, and gave me a bag full of their products to sample. I was not paid to write this post, nor asked to do it at all. These opinions are entirely my own.

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