Thursday, November 3, 2011

If Food Is Fake, Is It Still Part of the Family Foodway?

In the last post, I pointed out that maple syrup and maple sugar go well with politics.   

Here’s more:

Late last month, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy introduced Senate bill S – 1742, entitled the Maple Agriculture Protection and Law Enforcement (MAPLE) Act.  Co-sponsored by the other Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and also by both New York senators Schumer and Gillibrand and by both Maine senators Collins and Snowe, the bill will make it a felony under federal law to sell “fake” maple food products.  In other words, if you’re going to sell it as “pure maple syrup”, it better be the real thing – not some ersatz concoction of colored corn syrup, thickener and flavoring. 

In the northeast, the maple syrup and maple sugar industry is very serious business.  With real unadulterated maple syrup currently going for about $50 a gallon, last year, the maple industry brought $30 million dollars into Vermont.

So, why should all this be important to family historians, apart from the obvious grower and consumer protection angle? 

Simple.  Food purity and food labeling have been “official” problems for more than a century.  Here’s the “family history” angle. Way back when your grandma and her ma were buying what they thought was maple syrup from the friendly neighborhood corner grocery store, there were unscrupulous manufacturers out to make a fast buck, ready to capitalize on the high-value reputation on a specialty food product like maple syrup.  They’re still around today.

Face it - everybody thinks they know what maple syrup is. 

It’s syrup, not rocket science. Your mom probably put it on your pancakes or French toast when you were a kid.  You might write it down on your grocery list and pick up a bottle or two at the store.  There are lots of name brands, so they must be all right – or so it seems.  However, if your mom or grandma didn’t live in the northeast or wasn’t what we call today a “foodie”, chances are that bottle of syrup said something like Log Cabin or Mrs. Butterworth or Aunt Jemima

Reality check:  even though you thought it was yummy when you were ten and even though it might be the “standard” that you use to judge syrup today – it probably wasn’t actually maple syrup. 

Earlier this year, the state of Vermont asked the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) to investigate whether the folks who manufactured the syrup sold in grocery stores as “Log Cabin All Natural Syrup” were breaking existing law by using the “all natural” sobriquet.   The Vermonters thought that xanthan gum, caramel coloring and only 4% maple syrup doth not an “all natural syrup” make.  Fancy that!

Then they went after McDonald’s for selling “Fruit and Maple Oatmeal” as a breakfast treat, just because the “Maple” part was all artificially flavored and fake.  (Picky, picky…) McDonald’s now provides Vermont customers with real maple syrup on request as a result.

Like I said, we’re serious about maple up here in this corner of the United States. 

Next time, we’ll see how the state of New York took an early lead to insure that the stuff your great-grandma thought she was buying was in fact the real deal.

After all, if something is a part of your family’s food tradition,  it’s always nice to know that somebody with authority and power is looking out for you and yours.

Till later . . .

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