World's Fair

How to Read a Food Label

In a post a few weeks ago, I included links to some current and recently passed legislation on food, food safety, and food labeling. One of them, H.R. 875 — a bill “To establish the Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services” — has a particular devotion to “science” and “science-based” data and “science-based” practices. It’s all so very post-Bush era. Debate about it is now starting to ramp up on-line.

But what got me thinking more about food and labeling was the Honest Tea Organic Honey Green Tea with 250 mg of EGCG Super Anti-oxidant I recently bought. Several days later, I’ve just completed reading the label. (

Here it is, in full

, or right click to open in a new window.)

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The name isn’t even the half of it. The iconography, non-product claims, and various attributions are telling. I am especially taken by the moral constitution of the product, its honest, healthy, and beneficent virtues overflowing from those mere 16.9 fluid ounces.

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So the tea is certified. In many ways. It’s got the USDA certification, generally regarded as the weakest possible certification available.It is also certified by Pennsylvania Certified Organic, which, according to its website, “is a membership-based non-profit organization that educates and certifies growers, processors and handlers of organic crops, wild crops, livestock and livestock products in Pennsylvania and adjoining states.” But wait, there’s more: this bottle of tea is also Kosher (that’s the “U” circle), has no gluten, is free of GMOs, and, apparently, can plant trees. That is one amazing product. Is it the tea that plants the trees or the bottle? Or the label itself? Whichever, it’s all recyclable or recycled or reduced or reused, depending on how you read the famous recycle triangle there on the right.

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And have you talked to your kids about Epigallocatechin Gallate yet? Maybe now is the time because now more than ever, neutralizing free radicals is something we need to be doing not just as healthy consumers but as healthy citizens. By the way, did you go to the American Institute for Cancer Research website yet? It says to, I did. You can’t go wrong by allying your product with cancer research.

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Where were we? back to the recyclable matter. Plastics vs. glass. This bottle is PETE, which is polyethylene terephthalate. That’s in the polyester family. PETE bottles are generally more recyclable than others because they are nearly exclusively actually made of PETE. But don’t take my word for it. Just read the label. You might counter-argue that while there are “many places” glass can’t go, there are also “many places” PETE can’t go. But it’s hard to argue with such a fine-looking label, I’ll admit.

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Finally, if you thought alliance with cancer researchers was a good idea, you’ll certainly enjoy this alliance with the Sierra Club, America’s oldest environmental organization. Along with the “plant a tree” thing above, this too is a non-product claim. The tea itself has nothing to do with the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club has nothing to do with epigallocatechin gallate or polyethylene terephthalate or the celiac disease gluten exacerbates. But I do respect John Muir and I am inspired by mountains.

So drink up and be a good environmental consumer. Or citizen. Which is it?


  1. #1 HP
    April 14, 2009

    That gluten-free tea would go great with some caffeine-free bread.

  2. #2 Alex Besogonov
    April 14, 2009

    To be fair, there are people who are allergic to gluten. So it’s nice to be sure that tea does not contain it.

  3. #3 Bob O'H
    April 14, 2009

    Hmmm. It doesn’t seem to be fair trade. Does this mean that they’re also honest about exploiting workers in the developing world?

  4. #4 gillt
    April 14, 2009

    From what I was told by an organic farmer who also keeps honey bees, organic honey is a myth. A typical worker bee radiates, I think, 2 miles from the hive, so unless your bees are on an island, it’s hard to insure a 12 mile circumference around the hive contains nothing but organic flowering plants.

  5. #5 pam ronald
    April 14, 2009

    thanks for this post. I am going to spread it around.

    The proliferation of these kinds of labels are really just too much. The thing is -it works. Most people prefer a product that is “natural” “GMO-free” “Organic” and will pay more for such a label. Consumers are getting exploited. We need products barcoded with information on how they were grown what pesticides were used and how efficiently land and water resources were used.

  6. #6 x
    April 14, 2009

    Why would tea have any wheat protein in it in the first place?

  7. #7 dreikin
    April 14, 2009


    PETE is fully recyclable, phthalates-free, doesn’t leach, [etc]

    PETE: polyethylene terephthalate


  8. #8 Katelyn
    January 26, 2011

    Still doesn’t contain phthalates, despite its presence in the name.

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