What Are You Really Buying At The Grocery Store?

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Raise your hand if you also feel like you want to punch someone when you leave a grocery store. It’s not just because the aisles tend to be overcrowded, shoppers are grumpy, or even because carts are constantly ramming into my heels. It’s because the goal is simple — buy good, healthy food — yet the execution always seems overly complicated. 

For example, I stand in the cereal aisle and there are dozens of choices, all with pictures, labels, and terms that sound nice, but the truth is I have no idea of how to make sense of them. So, after quite some time feeling helpless, I decided to do a deep dive and try to figure out what all these labels mean...only to find, much to my dismay, that my research actually made me feel more confused.

So, I called up two of the women I trust most in food, Marion Nestle and Laurie David, for some expert advice. Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, and has also authored multiple books on food policy. David is a cookbook author, food advocate, and the producer of the highly acclaimed food documentary, Fed Up.

With their help, I was able to get a handle on what "organic," "natural," "fair-trade" and other widely used food labeling terms actually mean. Read on to learn the basics for yourself — and don't be fooled by clever packaging again.