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A few guarded words about food selection

In the name of healthy eating, our well-meaning government was kind enough to put together a fancy food pyramid as a guideline to what to eat. Although I appreciate their effort, it is too mentally taxing to calculate what counts as a grain or consists of a serving. When it comes to making selections for my family's diet, it is much easier to eliminate what is not good for us to eat.

So I devised my own USDA (Unfit Substances to Digest Anytime) guidelines of what to avoid while shopping. As a health-conscious American, I was conditioned to reading the small print on labels for ingredients or nutrition information. However, in my quest to avoid carbs, sodium and extra calories, I often overlooked the much more obvious (foreboding) terms on the front of labels.

Any of the following words should be avoided at all costs: logs, nuggets, sprouts, ball, stuffed, goober, twigs, puffs and knuckles. Especially menacing are magic and surprise (food should not be a mystery), or cured (there are too many choices that have never been sick). I also rule out anything that has "kit" included in the title. When it comes to food, no assembly should be required.

If it sounds suspicious, I stay away. Kumquats, couscous, schnitzel, tofu, pomegranates, scrapple and grits are for someone else. I'm not saying that these foods are necessarily bad. I'm merely stating that if they are as rough on the digestive system as they are on my eardrums, I'll keep away.

Worse yet are those food items identified by made-up words. There are thousands of existing words in the English language. If manufacturers have to make something up, spam, fuze, snax, lunchables, weck, biskit, whiz or gogurt, they're not getting my munny.

It is amazing how we have come to accept just about anything suppliers have placed on our grocery shelves. When sales or popularity of an item wane, food executives think outside the box. This creativity-inducing concept should never be applied to food.

Cheese is a fine example of an item that was once only consumed in its natural state. Now we find it available in string form, in a can or jar, or abused in the phrase "cheese product." The biggest trick yet was letting it go moldy and disguising it under a French name. I stay clear of these and other imposters like apple chips, fruit rollups, powdered milk, pulled pork, cream of anything, anything in a pouch or instant anything.

When I see the word "loaf" associated with food that is not bread, I run. Why resort to altering food when there is evidence that many items can survive the test of time? I mentioned that food should not be a mystery, yet the perpetual life of some foods is difficult to explain. Fried pork rinds, beef jerky and those orange circus peanuts have been around for generations. The fact that these foods have remained on convenience store counters for decades defies imagination; you never see anyone buying them. Perhaps clerks use them to threaten would-be robbers. And I make it a policy to not purchase anything edible that is sold alongside chewing tobacco.

Following this simple advice has made my shopping trips so much easier. Try as I might, I've not yet been able to fit these guidelines into an impressive three-dimensional shape with clever diagrams and serving suggestions. I gave careful consideration to the food trap trapezoid, but the groups were too difficult to classify, and I couldn't figure out how to sketch a pomegranate.

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