Monday, December 5, 2011

What's In a Name?

The term “Amish”, when attached to food products, enhances sales, as the obsession for hand-crafted, artisanal foods converges with the natural and local food movements. Since 2009, thirty new products having the term “Amish” in the name have been introduced into the marketplace, as the desire for simpler ways of eating has spread. It can be difficult to identify food truly Amish in origin, however, due to the diverse food distribution methods used. Amish describes one religious order among several that are classified as Anabaptist, and the term merely denotes a connection to an Amish community, rather than certifying that the food was prepared in a specific way (as with the term “kosher”). Even the connection to the Amish community can be suspect due to the many food production companies that “borrow” the word for their products whether they are produced by the Amish community or not. Many companies started by entrepreneurs with Amish heritage may have been sold to non-Amish buyers. Amish farming families have traditionally used small scale food production and retail sales to augment income. Common products include produce, eggs and poultry, cured deli meats and dairy products. Beautifully preserved fruits and vegetables in an array of colors may be displayed in jars. These include traditional canned products as well as jellies, jams, fruit butters and preserves. Other traditional items are birch beer sodas, noodles, salad dressings, soft pretzels, crumb cakes, doughnuts, sticky buns and other homespun favorites. Let’s look at the appeal of Amish foods – they are perceived as being more wholesome (healthier for us to eat), more sustainable (indicating that organic/sustainable growing methods are used) and even more “natural”, inferring that the food is produced without artificial ingredients and flavorings. Amish food, like other styles of food, can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on one’s selection of foods. Many of the products are high in refined starches, added sugars, and solid fats – the “SoFAS” or solid fats and added sugars that we are encouraged to limit by the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Vegetables, which could be the saving grace, are frequently starchy types or served in sauces. Health-wise, Amish people who have made the switch from highly active lives in farming to less demanding manufacturing occupations suffer from comparatively high rates of overweight and obesity. The Pennsylvania Amish are more active and agricultural than those in some other locations, resulting in overweight patterns similar to the general population, but with a genetic make-up less susceptible to type 2 diabetes and elevated blood lipids. As for being natural, wholesome and raised in sustainable ways, there is just as great a variability in Amish farming and food production as in the general marketplace. Manure management programs with run-off and groundwater contamination issues are a problem in many areas, including Amish. Some Amish have obtained organic certification, but most rely on traditional agricultural practices with synthetic pesticide and fertilizer use. When making market selections, look beyond the visual appeal and assess the level of sugar, refined carbohydrates, fats and sodium, while maximizing fiber and beneficial nutrients. A food with 20% of the Daily Value or more of these food components or nutrients is high and a food with 5% or less is low. For a side dish, look toward 10% or less for the SoFAS and sodium. Look at ingredient panels as your guide to how “natural” a product is. Enjoy the fresh and local aspects of our Amish communities, while making the best selections for personal health. *Some factual information for this column was pulled from: Reinagel, M., Amish Appeal: Contemporary Consumers Seek Old World Ways, ADA Times, Autumn 2011.

No comments: