Baking Bagels Because of Beavers

In my years as a baker, I have never made bagels. That’s changing today. And it’s all the fault of the beaver. Or perhaps I should say I am baking bagels today because the food industry of the US uses castoreum in many foods but allows the manufacturers to label castoreum as “natural ingredients.” And while we can’t argue that the anal scent glands of beavers are certainly “natural,” it isn’t something I particularly want to feed to my kids.

The story of the poor dead beaver’s anal glands hit the inter webs (again) last week and it got me scrutinizing the label on my kids’ favorite sack lunch item ever: a blueberry bagel. (I don’t know if the bagels contain castoreum, by the way.) However, I do know that even the stuff listed on the label of those dang bagels is a bit question-raising. So there I stood in the bread isle of my local grocery store, comparing the labels of the “house brand” and the “nationally known” blueberry bagels. And neither of them made it into my grocery cart. They both had high fructose corn syrup, which I try to limit in my kids’ diet, but that wasn’t the reason I set them back and picked up a jar of yeast instead.

For example, both products listed “oil” but added a parenthetical addendum. That oil used to make the bagels my kids ate last week may have been  in part: cottonseed oil, peanut oil, canola oil, or soybean oil. As far as oils go, none of those are oils I choose to purchase and cook with for my family. My primary issues with cottonseed and soybean oils is that both are grown for mixed use (animal and human consumption) and I have concerns about the levels of pesticides present in the resulting oils. Of course, the FDA states that the pesticide levels are within the “safe for human consumption” levels, but this is the same organization that allows beaver anal glands be labeled as “natural ingredients.”

And the blueberries in those bagels? Turns out they are not actually dehydrated blueberries (which are expensive) but a nifty little process of turning cheaper items (like dates) into something dyed and flavored to be something like a blueberry. A frankenberry perhaps? Again, the FDA says this is okay, that it has no appreciable effect on the people who eat them.

Funny how the more processed and “FDA approved” our food has become, the unhealthier our bodies have become.

It’s not that I don’t trust them, I just would rather know exactly what it is that I’m feeding my kids.

In 2013 I am focusing on feeding my kids real food. Food without plastic wrappers. Foods with short lists of ingredient. Foods that my 6 year old can pronounce every word on that ingredient list. And anytime I read “natural ingredients” I’m probably going to wonder just what that ingredient is that the manufacturer decided to not actually list.

So I’m going to try my hand at making blueberry bagels. I’ll be using real flour, from real wheat plants and real blueberries (dehydrated) and real olive oil (uncut with soybean oil – check your manufacture to see if your olive oil is being cut with cheaper oils). Sure it will take me a whole lot more time to make bagels than just grabbing a bag of bagels off the shelf at my local grocery store, but at least I know how to pronounce all the words I’d write on the label.

In case you think I’m being a food-freak, here’s some health facts that I have to keep in mind:

  • My youngest child was dairy-intolerant at birth. This means he could not digest the protein chain in dairy and although he seems to have outgrown this, it is something for us to keep in mind.
  • Because he couldn’t have cow-milk based formula (I breastfed him but needed to supplement with formula), he had 1-2 bottles of soy-based formula until he was 14 months old. After he started drinking soy milk in a cup, we realized he had developed a cross-over sensitivity to soy.
  • My sister is highly allergic to soy and many other foods.
  • My father is lactose intolerant.
  • I am allergic to gluten.
  • My husband appears to have a lactose intolerance.
  • My nephews are both allergic to nuts.
  • All three of my kids are allergic to penicillin as I am.
  • My daughter has had stomach issues since being a toddler. She is non-responsive to typical acid-reducers.

Food issues are very real in my house and for my family. So I’ve become a label reader. And if I can make my kids’ tummies happier by feeding them real food, as well as making it safer to feed my extended family, then I figure I should give it a whirl.

So. What’s in your favorite food? I dare you to read its label.