“Clean” and Other Buzz Words

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Long-time readers know that I pay close attention to food advertising, partly because I write about food, and partly because my daddy was Don Draper. (Mad Men fans: Really a cross between Don Draper and Pete Campbell.) The buzz words leap out at me, in all their meaningless grandeur.

Panera is currently assuring us that all of their food is “clean.” This does not refer to their kitchens being sanitary, though I assume they are, but rather to them eschewing certain ingredients, namely “artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors or colors.” I have no problem with Panera omitting these ingredients. I do, however, disagree that this adds up to their food being “as it should be.”

You’ll notice certain omissions from the list of banned ingredients: sugar, flour — even white flour — and soybean oil among them. I would far sooner eat the artificial ingredients Panera has left out than these three natural but unwholesome ones.

This all came to my attention when I ordered Panera’s Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken. I was distressed to discover after I ate it that contained 23 grams of carbohydrate, 7 of them fiber, for a usable carb count of 16 grams. That seemed high to me, so I looked up the ingredient list:

Romaine, Kale, Arugula & Radicchio Blend (Romaine Lettuce, Kale, Arugula, Radicchio), Citrus & Pepper Chicken (Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast Fillets With Rib Meat, Water, Seasoning [Lemon, Mangosteen, Natural Smoke Flavor], Sea Salt, Dehydrated Garlic, Dehydrated Onion, Sugar, Dry Lemon Peel, Spices, Dehydrated Rosemary, Dehydrated Basil, Citric Acid, Malic Acid And Paprika For Flavor, Vinegar, Rice Starch), Avocado, Tomatoes, Hard-Boiled Egg (Egg, Water, Citric Acid), Green Goddess Dressing (Greek Nonfat Plain Yogurt (Cultured Pasteurized Nonfat Milk, S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus), Mayonnaise (Soybean Oil, Vinegar, Eggs, Egg Yolks, Salt, Sugar, Water, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Ground Red Pepper, Dried Garlic, Mustard Oil), Champagne Dijon Vinegar (Champagne Wine Vinegar, Organic Blue Agave Nectar, Shallot, Dijon Mustard (Water, Mustard Seed, Vinegar, Salt, Turmeric, Tarragon), Sea Salt, Black Pepper), Basil, Basil Pesto (Basil, Canola Oil, Water, Romano Cheese [Pasteurized Cow’S Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes, Powdered Cellulose], Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Chopped Garlic, Salt)), Pickled Red Onions (Red Onions, Sugar, Water, White Wine Vinegar, Distilled Vinegar, Calcium Chloride, Sea Salt), Applewood Smoked Bacon Pieces (Pork, Water, Sugar, Sea Salt, Celery Powder, Thyme Extract).

By my count, sugar shows up four times on that list, along with the even-more-dangerous agave nectar. This explains why the dressing tasted oddly sweet to me, the reason I looked up the numbers in the first place. I have made Green Goddess dressing. The recipe did not include sugar. The rice starch also adds unwanted carbohydrate.

Too, there is soybean oil in the dressing, likely because Panera purchases rather than makes their own mayonnaise — most commercially made mayonnaise is made from soybean oil.

I also suspect that many, hearing “clean,” assume that all of Panera’s ingredients are organically grown. Looking at the ingredient list I see nothing to back up that assumption.

Don’t get me wrong. The salad was tasty, and there are far worse quick meals out there. I just take issue with the claim of “clean” eating, a term which, of course, has no legal definition.

But this was perhaps the lowest carbohydrate item on Panera’s menu. Unsurprisingly for a company whose full name is “Panera Bread,” most of their menu items are based on flour, and hence high carb and loaded with gluten.

I looked up Panera’s Broccoli Cheddar Soup, another menu choice that did not overtly mention grain or grain products. A bowl of the soup contains 30 grams of carbohydrate, 6 from fiber, for a usable carb count of 24 grams. Here is the ingredient list:

Broccoli Cheddar Soup (Water [Filtered], Whole Milk [Milk, Vitamin D3], Broccoli, Pasteurized Processed Cheddar Cheese Food [Cheddar Cheese {Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes}, Whey, Whey Protein Concentrate, Skim Milk, Sodium Citrate, Salt, Milkfat, Lactic Acid, Oleoresin Paprika {Color}, Annatto {Color}], Whipping Cream, Carrots, Corn Starch, Onions, Chicken Base [Chicken Meat Including Chicken Juices, Salt, Chicken Fat, Yeast Extract, Sugar, Flavoring, Potato Flour, Carrot Powder, Turrmeric], Seasoning [Wheat Flour, Salt, White Pepper And Not More Than 2% Canola Oil Added To Aid Processing], Salted Butter, Dijon Mustard [Water, Mustard Seed, Vinegar, Salt, Spices], Pepper Sauce [Distilled Vinegar, Red Pepper, Salt]).

It may not contain any artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors, or colors, but there are at least a few ingredients in there that aren’t in my pantry, don’t know about yours. (I’m also puzzling over why they use skim milk, but then add both milkfat and whipping cream. Also about the difference between “milkfat” and butter.)

Panera is not the only company using buzz words or phrases to appeal to the health-conscious. Campbell’s advertises their soups as being made with “farm-grown ingredients.” Are we to believe their competitors have their tomatoes, celery, and carrots assembled in factories? This is a particularly clever ploy. Again, I’m betting more than a few consumers hear “farm-grown” and assume “organically grown.”

I have also seen ads for packaged meals — frozen or boxed stuff — using the term “home-cooked” — meaning, of course, that you warm it up in your own kitchen. I broke my left wrist twice in the first half of 2016; I pretty much lived on rotisserie chicken and bagged coleslaw. I don’t care where it was cooked half so much as I care what’s in it.

So pay attention to what counts. There is no harm in eating organically raised foods and eschewing artificial ingredients. There is, however, great harm in eating all-natural, organic, farm-grown, home-cooked sugar, grains, and garbage oils.

Here’s how I make Green Goddess Dressing:

Green Goddess Dressing
A mid-20th Century classic!
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise (homemade is best)
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon anchovy paste
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
3 tablespoons minced onion
1 tablespoon lemon juice

The easiest way to do this is to put everything in your food processor and run it until the garlic and onions are pulverized. Store in a tightly lidded jar in the fridge.

Yield: 2 cups
16 servings, each with: 119 Calories; 13g Fat (95.0% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber, 1 g usable carb

NOTE: With that fat percentage, this is great for Fat Fasting. Spoon it over a wedge of iceberg lettuce, or dip it with a few celery sticks or cucumber rounds.

I’m going to go make mayonnaise.