Action Pack Stories: Health - Food Additives

This blog post is part of a series that demonstrate how our Climate Action Unit's Action Packs are used! This post covers the "Health: Food Additives" Action Pack. 

Have you ever stopped and read the labels of the foods you consume? Or even researched what exactly all those weird-sounding ingredients are? Yeah, me neither. 

The “Health: Food Additives” Action Pack changed this for me, though. Throughout this action pack, I learned what food additives and preservatives are, why they’re used, their detrimental effects on our health, and how to eliminate these pesky and problematic substances from my life by taking personal pledges.  

Basically, food additives and preservatives are sneaky substances, often incorporated into packaged and processed foods so they last longer on the shelf, look better, are easier to package, taste better, and/or add nutritional value. But these substances can have seriously negative effects on our health and are known to increase the risk of a myriad of health complications. 

In this action pack, there was an activity in which I got to choose one of my favourite processed foods, write a list of its additives/preservatives, and then research their health implications. I chose Oreos, because I love them dearly, and was quickly disappointed to find out that Oreos are destroying forests of palm trees (and orangutans!!), as well as increasing my risk of heart disease, obesity, and cancer. As much as I love Oreos, I'd rather not eat them knowing what goes into their production, let alone their possible effects.

During this Action Pack, I also discovered lots of easy ways to cut down on eating these harmful substances and, in fact, the action pledges I took continue to help me minimize my intake of these substances.  

The first action pledge that I made was to “read the labels on foods to minimize my consumption of preservatives.” One of the key things I learned from an article in the Action Pack was “If you can’t spell it, don’t eat it.” Sure enough, all those weird-sounding ingredients, such as ascorbyl palmitate, potassium nitrate, or monosodium glutamate aren’t good for you! Now I try my best to avoid them. I've begun to carefully read the ingredient labels on the foods I am purchasing. It turns out even my beloved hummus has preservatives!  

The second pledge I made was to “find natural replacements for the processed foods that I eat.” Since I was still grappling with the heart-wrenching information that Oreos are killing both myself and the orangutans, I rallied my roommate and embarked on creating a healthier homemade alternative to my cherished Oreos. We actually ended up making a healthier version of Nanaimo bars. It turned into a fun night with a delicious outcome. The bottom layer was made with dates, cocoa, coconut flakes and pecans, the “custard” middle was created with soaked cashews and coconut cream, and the top layer was melted dark chocolate. And the best part? No additives or preservatives! 

The second pledge has continuously been my favourite because I’ve now made my own vegan cheeses, vegan ranch sauce, healthy pies, dumplings, and have transformed all of my other favourite foods. And honestly, I think my friends and family have been benefitting just as much as I have. 

I truly appreciate how this action pack encouraged self-reflection of my own consumption of processed foods and illuminated how many healthy alternatives exist. I feel like being more aware of the foods I consume and cutting-out foods that have negative impacts just adds a little extra sprinkle of daily self-care into my life.


About the author:

Isobel joined the Be The Change Earth Alliance team as an intern in May 2019. Isobel recently graduated from UBC’s geography program where she spent five wonderful years developing an honest and wholehearted passion for all facets of our invaluable planet, including its necessary call for an improvement in sustainability, conservation, and of all being’s livelihoods. Her zeal for the world was sparked when she was eight years old during a trip with her family to the chocolate factories of Switzerland. Since then, Isobel has lived in a Monk’s treehouse in the hills of Northern Thailand, volunteered on a chicken farm in Australia, worked as a nanny in Paris, spent a summer picking grapes on a vineyard in Greece, spent a semester learning history in Germany, and conducted research in Indonesia on their waste mitigation policies- all of which has aided in her understanding, appreciation, and love of the world and all its inhabitants.

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