It’s our own fault. We alone are responsible for our own stupidity. We can’t expect big business to have our best interests in mind, nor expect the media to stop ringing the all-in-one Salt-Is-Bad! Fat-Is-Bad! alarm bells. Big companies want to sell us their goods any way they can. If they can take advantage of our confusion about how to eat, they will, rubbing their hands and chuckling with delight.  The New York Times editorial page can rail against such practices (as it did elegantly here), but that’s not going to change anything. What will change big business is the consumer.  But not until we start paying attention, not until we get smart.

Here’s a start: Don’t believe any claims you read on packages, period, even seemingly objective ones like the above, just stating a fact.  Look at any claim to a food’s being “good” for you as a huge red flag. “Proven to reduce Cholesterol!” “Reduces the risk of heart disease!”  Danger, Will Robinson!

The above is a perfect example, brought into our household by Donna, who agrees she ought to have known better.  Land O’Lakes is exploiting America’s knee-jerk fat-is-bad paranoia to sell us skim milk thickened with sugar and other additives. They even have to add color.

Think about it.  Half and half  is a product defined by its fat content.  It’s half and half, half milk, half cream.  Fat is what makes it good! Fat is what makes it useful!  Doesn’t it make you wonder then, shouldn’t you halt in your tracks and ask yourself what the heck is this stuff if there’s no fat in it?  Because it’s not half and half.  It’s granny with wolf’s teeth.  It a lie.  And we buy in over and over again in a million forms.

I don’t blame Land O’Lakes ad agency. They even appear to be a giant member-owned co-op, not some greedy multinational like Kraft, from who we expect such deceit.  I blame us for being stupid.  It’s our own damned fault. We need to stop paying for lies and start paying more attention to what we’re eating.


116 Wonderful responses to “Misleading Food Labels”

  • Stephen Grimmer

    Reminds me of the products in the health food stores with ‘evaporated cane juice’ and ‘brown rice syrup’ on the label. Nope, no sugar in there!

  • Kathy Lambert

    My favorite claim was a can of chili that advertised itself as “a great source of fiber” when fiber was being touted as the latest cure all. The can had some 30-something grams of fat.

    • Dragi

      The latest blurb that I see is “high in protein!” for many meat-based product. Yes, your microwave chicken & dumplings is high in protein……and saturated fat, and salt, and low in flavor.

      • Drew @ How To Cook Like Your Grandmother

        It’s sad to see people criticize misleading labeling, only to say, “Because you see, it has so much fat.”

        Dietary fat is not bad for us. It never has been. The jury is not out on this subject, it’s conclusive for anyone who cares to read the research.

        Sugar and refined carbs are bad for us. People don’t get fat — nor do they get heart disease — from eating fat. Unless they also eat sugar and refined carbs, and it’s the sugar that signals the body to store the fat rather than using it for energy.

        And for what it’s worth, if HFCS is made from organic corn, then there’s no reason to believe that organic processed food doesn’t have corn syrup in it.

        • Mantonat

          While fat itself is not necessarily a bad thing, there are fats that are better or worse for us. Fat from grass-fed beef and free-range livestock is much higher in omega-3 fatty acids. Fat from corn- and soy-fed livestock is out of balance and has much more omega-6 fatty acids. Studies have shown that diets with a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 are more likely to contribute to heart and vascular issues. So it’s not the word “fat” on a label we should be worried about, it’s the kind of food we put into our mouths that should worry us, which I think is Ruhlman’s overall point. Food that is closer to being un-messed with is more likely to not mess with us. It’s not just the stuff in the colorful boxes.

    • MB

      30 grams of fat? So? A diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates is optimal for good health.

      • ANT

        You are an idiot! NO, NO, NO, Period.

        A high fat, low carbohydrate diet is not optimal for good health. Read up on nutrition, physiology, and perhaps food before you embarrass yourself again.

  • Shannon

    Hear, hear! If you’re going to use fat — butter, cream, oil — use real fat. It will taste better and you can use less. As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out on whether fat is as bad for you as we’ve been told all our lives. HFCS is insidious and it’s everywhere, and it’s not natural! At least if you buy organic, you won’t get HFCS, although there are the other sugars hiding under alternative names that you have to watch out for, as the other commenter mentioned.

    • MB

      The jury isn’t out on whether fat (especially saturated fat) is bad for you. Saturated, mono-unsaturated and EFA (fish) fats are absolutely necessary for good health. True we’ve been told the opposite for our whole lives, but that’s really not that long (20-60 years?). Humans have been eating high fat diets for the last 2.5 million years – that’s what got us here. Why would we believe “experts” who now tell us we need whole grains, Canola and soybean oil, and margarine to maintain health?

      • Zalbar

        Because we are no longer spending long physical hours every day in providing for our families by hunting, farming, and fishing. The effects of our sedentary lifestyles are not what we were intended to do, and thus we can’t maintain the same sorts of food intake our ancestors did, not even as far back as you state, twenty to sixty years. We made our own tools, built our own houses, tended our own gardens. We tailored our clothes, we maintained our lives and the lives of our families. As society grew closer together and with the rise of cities and metropolises we now give over our prior responsabilities to other corporate and government agencies. We’ve gone the extreme other way and thrust the fulfilling of our most basic needs (food, shelter, water) to large corporate entities that are responsible to their profit margins and stockholders only. The housing market crisis (shelter) was promulgated because of it. The rise of obesity and substitution of drastically cheaper chemical agents instead of more natural ingredients.

        Bottled water. Seriously, this has to be the greatest and most lucrative scam ever invented. The first person to come up with that idea would have been thought a complete nutcase by his peers. Who’s laughing now?

        As a conclusion though, I would like to say that I have no personal vendetta against things like high fructose corn syrup. Everything has it’s place, and there are needs that it can fulfill. Not everyone is prepared to make a radical, and more expensive shift in their lives. While Mr. Ruhlman is correct in that the change must come from us, the consumer, the fact of the matter is that it will take a very long time to effect that change. The environmental movement is a good parallel for what we are all striving to accomplish, and they have barely scratched the surface of what they want to accomplish, and have been trying to accomplish for decades now.

  • Megan

    I think the most bizarre thing about that ingredient list is not the corn syrup, but the **footnote that points out what normally isn’t in half-and-half. Only the added color is given that mark. I guess corn syrup, preservatives, emulsifiers, and thickening agents are all normal half-and-half ingredients.

  • Chad

    My Dad (who just turned 78) has been complaining about this since he first saw it with your same argument – half and half was half cream and half milk. Thanks for clearing up how thery’re doing it so I can tell him because he keeps asking.

  • Maria Z

    I thought the same thing Megan did. “Sugar Free” Coffeemate’s second ingredient is corn syrup. Ridiculous. Glad it doesn’t have that evil sucrose.

  • Tags

    In an effort to submerge bad ingredients like -High Fructose Corn Syrup- and -Hydrogenated Oils- lower in the list (and appearing to be in smaller amounts), the food fraudsters have made parentheses (containing dubious combinations of ingredients that push benign-looking ingredients ahead of the bad guys) the most plentiful thing in the ingredients list.

  • Russ H

    This reminds me of the Corn Syrup ads. Where we are told that corn syrup is fine because it’s “Made From Corn”. Well, heres a flash – Cyanide is “Made From Almonds” so I guess thats okay also? In moderation of course.

  • Wooper

    I noticed the can of bread crumbs I bought a while back had HFCS in it. What the hell, isn’t this just supposed to be BREAD?!

    • Grant

      Going through and seeing just how many packages of bread had HFCS in their ingredients list is what caused my wife and I to start baking our own.

  • Garry

    michael — To call that label “misleading” is extremely generous.

    In fact the ingredients list completely destroys the idea that this disgusting concoction is “half and half,” because skim milk plus corn syrup plus chemicals is not “half and half” by anyone’s normal definition.

    It’s like slapping “Pate” on a can of dog food.

  • Natanya @ Fete and Feast

    I went on mission about a year ago to remove HFCS from as much of our diet as possible. Along the way, I learned a lot about reading labels and understanding exactly what’s in our food. What’s most frustrating/disappointing to me is that the packaging preys on our desire to do the right thing – reduce fat. Marketers aren’t dumb. As a nation we’re learning to read advertising instead of to read labels and that’s just a shame. Instead of learning to find moderation and balance, we’re learning we should expect have our cake and eat it too. But at what price?

    I can’t agree with you more that it’s our own fault. While we can’t stop companies from creating products like these, we can take the responsibility to know what’s in our food and where it comes from. Just because the product is on the shelf doesn’t mean we have to buy it. Sure, it takes a little extra time at the grocery store, and it may mean changing brands or even shopping locally from suppliers we know, but isn’t it worth it?

  • JMW

    The issue here goes well beyond what we as consumers should expect from business. It’s also about what we as citizens should expect from government.

    There is a legitimate case, well articulated by Michael Pollan, that regulation of food product labeling has broken down. There’s no way the government should allow this product to be called Half and Half. At least not in an unqualified way.

    I believe Pollan pointed out that such products used to be called “imitation”; that was required by law. To my mind that is entirely fair and should be a basic requirement of all such products.

    Unfortunately government cannot by itself solve the problems of basic consumer awareness or food education. But by allowing companies to misrepresent products like this, and by placing onerous labeling requirements in all the wrong areas, it has surely accelerated the downfall of the American diet. We should demand better.

    • MB

      “Natural” is one of my favorite unregulated terms for food. It means absolutely nothing on a label.

  • Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen)

    This particular product has come into our house because it is so cleverly similarly packaged to the full fat version. The italics ‘fat free’ in a purple background is easy to miss when scanning the isle and I bet Land o lakes knows that. It’s probably cheaper to produce, sadly, and they want consumers to buy the cheaper product.

    • Mantonat

      Happened to me with the Safeway store brand half & half. The “fat-free” carton is a shade of lavender just slightly different than the regular.

    • seanrude

      I made the same mistake. I poured some in my coffee the next day, took a sip, poured out the cup of coffee, looked closely at the carton, poured the contents down the drain, and drank black coffee that morning

  • RTaylor

    Our daughter recently has been diagnosed with Celiac disease, and Wow!, has that been an eye-opener. I already made most food from scratch, and insisted on real food in moderation, but having to read every label to find the elusive wheat or gluten containing ingredient certainly opened my eyes even more to the ridiculousness of so many foods. I must say that I am thankful to be forced to pay more attention to what’s in my food (although I’d give back the Celiac disease in a hurry).

  • Alyssa

    I had a freak out moment this weekend at the grocery store looking at tinned tuna fish. The sodium content on most cans is absolutely out of this world. 20-22% of our DV of sodium in one itty bitty can? Tuna doesn’t have that much sodium in it naturally. So I looked at the ingredients list: vegetable broth, salt, etc! Vegetable broth? In my tuna? Why? The “very low sodium” versions which just list tuna and water as ingredients are more than 3 times the price of the regular stuff. Hidden sodium. Hidden sugars. Hidden weird chemicals. At least the Land o’ Lakes fat-free half and half doesn’t have partially hydrogenated oils in it like another coffee creamer brand. No wonder there are so many food allergies today…we’re not eating food. We’re eating “food.”

    • Randy

      You can fix this. Just put the tuna in a small colander and quickly rinse it. This works and takes out the salt and preservatives.

    • Bob

      Reminds me of the commercials for ‘Ensure,’ which touted it being packed with ‘food energy.’

      Um, if I want food energy, I’ll eat FOOD.

  • Nathan Pralle

    I once had the stupidity of picking up Lite Sour Cream and regretted it from the very first second I opened the container. Simply put, nothing in life is worth the simulation of real fat/dairy/etc.

    You’re right — we need to raise a stink. My wife and I get so excited these days when we find a food label that only has a half-dozen ingredients and they’re all pronounceable and familiar. It just feels inherently good that I’m not eating something made in a lab, and the tastes are just that much better.

    • CNH

      Land O’ Lakes regular sour cream has “food starch” and other ingredients (Cultured milk, cream, whey protein concentrate, food starch-modified, sodium phosphate, maltodextrin, sodium citrate, potassium sorbate (preservative), gellan gum, carrageenan, guar gum, locust bean gum). I don’t any Land O Lakes products anymore.

      [The Daisy brand regular sour cream listed ingredient is “Grade A cultured cream.” And Breakstone lists their ingredients as “CULTURED PASTEURIZED GRADE A MILK AND CREAM, ENZYMES. ]

      • CNH

        Make that “I don’t buy any Land O Lakes products anymore.”

  • jeff

    i remember seeing an add for this on the side of a truck while driving down the highway a while back…. i almost drive off the road – i could not understand how “fat free half and half” could even exist!! now i do, and am more disappointed.

    it is like how the advertise “fat free cooking spray” – for a product that is 100% fat (it was explained by alton brown that one serving – essentially a spritz – was small enough to fit under the guideline) – funny.

  • jeff

    penn & teller just did an episode of bulls**t about fast food. they were arguing that people should leave each other alone to eat what they want. a point, despite by belief in natural foods, i agree with.

    towards the end, they made the comment about the soda tax, in that soda and other products are made cheap by government subsidizing the corn industry, so now they want to tax soda and other products that contain this cheap, plentiful product. interesting…

    • Tags

      I consider deceiving people about ingredients of the food they sell as a subset of “not leaving each other alone to eat what they want.”

  • Susan

    The wording on the front of this carton should compel one to read the label. The first time I saw this product, my first thought was “no way!” I grabbed the carton because I was curious about how they could possibly make a product of half cream and half milk, fat free! Of course, reading the face of the carton once again, I realized it didn’t actually say half milk, half cream..just “half and half”. They let you assume that because it’s sold in the dairy case that it’s half milk, half cream. (And by the way, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve read questions in the comments on blog posts asking what is half and half, even when an ingredient list offers light cream combined with whole milk as a substitute.) I guess we make it easy to be duped by sales tactics because so many don’t really know what a product is supposed to contain.

    Our assumption that all fat is bad for you is being presented, in only one context, by people that are supposed to be health or dietary professionals. We don’t even bother to examine their credentials before we accept their advice about anything that’s being presented and apply it in total. We’ll question the hell out of our personal physicians advice, yet we slurp up the crap we read on the face of a carton or hear on TV or read on the internet! It makes me shake my head…

  • Obo

    Unfortunately, more than education is needed to effect a change throughout all households in the country. For Americans to start buying real food it needs to become cheaper than the corn based alternative. This requires a change in policy on the federal level and will have implications far beyond simply putting healthier food into homes. If we want to avoid the eliminating the corn subsidy, we could go the government regulation route. But then everyone gets upset and says the government shouldn’t tell us what we can and can’t eat.

  • maria

    I’m not sure agree with this entire rant. Yeah, we shouldn’t buy into these claims and shouldn’t buy products with these claims, but we should absolutely hold responsible the companies who actually put this up and pat themselves on the back, whether they’re Land o’ Lakes or Kraft. It is purposely deceitful, whether you are buying a car, a box of cereal, or clothes. To me, it is the same as a company putting “organic” sticker on a shirt that was made at a sweatshop in Thailand. People consistently make stupid decisions when shopping, and stupid people will always exist…and continue to drive up our insurance premiums because they love fat-free or sugar-free junk food. Leaving it up to people to make these decisions is giving most people too much credit.

  • carri

    It’s ironical…and probably out of your control that right next to your rant on the web page is an ad for ritz ‘crackfuls’ touting real cheese and real whole grain. I want to see a box that just says ‘contains real food’ LOL!

  • Bill

    Oh, don’t let the co-op name fool you. There are a lot of huge companies that are co-ops. CHS (Cenex HArvest State), a fortune 100 company, is a partial co-op. Amercan Crystal Sugar and REI are too. They are just as into making money as any other company. That is why they formed the co-op in the first place; combine resources to make more money. Even most food co-ops are going down that path (at least thats what it seems like in the MSP area).

  • Bill

    It is also funny that your contrasted them with Kraft. A few years ago, Land O’Lakes bought a “cheese” factory in Melrose, MN (central) from Kraft.

  • Julian F

    While I don’t disagree totally with your point, Michael, I would like to point out to other commenters that the ingredient in question here is “regular” corn syrup, not HFCS. There is a difference and, generally speaking, corn syrup used as a sweetener is not all that bad for you. Or not any worse than any other form of sugar. It is used extensively in candy making (Karo syrup).
    I also agree with the point that it doesn’t say it is half milk, half cream. Obviously, you can’t call BS on Land-O-Lakes for this reason…in this case I guess it is half skim milk, half corn syrup.

    Finally, this discussion reminds me of an old George Carlin bit on the’s brilliant:
    “You know how I stopped eating processed foods? I started picturing the people who are doing the processing.”

    • Mantonat

      I think you can call BS on Land o Lakes because “half and half” means something fairly specific to the dairy industry and to consumers. Pretending that what the halves consist of doesn’t matter is just buying in to their logic. If it turned out to be half milk and half ground-up bald eagle, Land o Lakes could still say “it’s half and half!”

      • Julian F

        Eh, soy milk isn’t milk and that goes in the dairy case right next to the fake half and half.

        • Mantonat

          I don’t think they should call it soy milk. Maybe soy juice, or imitation milk made from soy. I know people who have switched from cow milk to soy milk “for health reasons,” yet they can’t really tell me how it’s any better for you.

  • andria

    I’ve been saying this for a while now, but I’m convinced people will continue to keep their heads in the sand for the sake of convenience. If it’s easier to buy the container to say it’s better for someone rather than go to actual effort to seek out real ingredients, they’ll buy the fake products. It’s sad, because I think these foods are really making people sick, but you can only lead the horse to water, as the saying goes.

  • Phillip

    Over the last couple of years I’ve stopped buying any highly processed foods and my grocery bill has reduced dramatically. Also, I produce tiny little bags of garbage that are dwarfed by those of my neighbors.

    I feel better, too.

    Generally I follow Michael Pollan’s dictum to not buy anything that contains more than five ingredients or contains things that my grandmother would not have recognized as food.

    I eat better these days.

    I’ve started making my own soy/almond/rice milk as well. It’s dead simple to do, cheaper, doesn’t create landfill waste, and keeps chemicals like emusifiers out of my body.

    What are those chemicals, anyway?

    I saw something in the store once that contained “artificial processed American cheese.” Wait a minute, isn’t processed American cheese already artificial? It’s made in factory out of things like skim milk and soybean oil, isn’t aged, and seems designed to have qualities which suit producers, distributors, and retailers rather than the eating public.

    Why do people buy this stuff?

    Head over to the local co-op and buy in bulk from the bins instead.

  • Deb

    Did I miss somethng here? The product says it’s “Fat Free” and that’s a specious statement worth investigating. But corn syrup is sugar. It will MAKE you fat, but it’s not fat….

    • Julian F

      They make the same claim about marshmallows and York Peppermint Patties.

    • Mantonat

      Yes, it’s a fat-free product. The point is not that Land O’ Lakes is lying about the fat-free part, the point is that half and half is, by name, a product with fat in it. Secondarily is the fact that they have to use a bunch of crap to simulate the texture of real half and half. Maybe someone should come up with fat-free lard or fat-free olive oil.

  • rockandroller

    I can understand wanting to cut back on the saturated fat in your diet, even if, as you’ve hinted at before, Michael, that’s all bunk and you can just eat whatever you want. But “fat free” anything labeled as such is not the way to go. You can adjust to plain old straight skim in your coffee. The first few cups take some getting used to, and then it becomes normal – I got so I couldn’t even stand putting any real cream in my coffee after awhile as it tasted “too thick” for me to enjoy. As I am still enjoying (?) a dairy-free diet since my baby has a milk protein allergy, I went back to sweetening coffee to make it palatable, first with honey. But it still didn’t resemble the milky coffee I really loved. I then discovered coconut milk coffee creamer (and it’s labeled “creamer” not “half and half,” which would be a lie). It is HEAVENLY. It’s creamy in the mouth without feeling heavy like half and half/cream, I like the hazelnut kind but they have a plain one as well. And very low calories and no appreciable fat – 20 cals per Tbs, 0 fat. I don’t think it has a lot of frankenfood ingredients either – it does have carageenan to thicken it, but no corn syrup:

    • simon

      Strange… coconut milk is ridiculously high in saturated fat – just look on the back of a can of coconut milk (not one sold for creamer).
      I’d venture that you’re just drinking the coconut milk version of the “half and half” that spurred on this entire discussion.

  • Karen Downie Makley

    The problem is us, culturally speaking. We, as a people, are generally a lazy, lazy bunch. We are totally uninvested in our own education about health and nutrition. We are too busy. We want it done for us. We heard some celebrity doctor on a talk show make a slapdash recommendation and we’re just going to accept his/her 30-second sound-byte doctrine without talking to our own physician or doing any of our own homework. We want to crucify big food companies for not parenting us nutritionally, but it’s really our responsibility.

    Take care of YOURSELF, America…ain’t no one gonna do it for you.

  • Jeff Cowles

    Hey All-

    Couldn’t agree more. While we have to take responsibility for what we put into our bodies and where our food dollars go, there are others out there fighting for quality and integrity for us all. I work for the leading media company in the natural, healthy and organics products industry. A handful of people have spent a decade building an amazing program (a 2009 FDA Honor Award Recipient). Here’s a link if you’re interested and I feel compelled to say that I am not trying to sell you anything:

    Thanks Michael, your ideals really resonate with me.

    Jeff Cowles

  • Paul

    The German’s had it down years ago when they set out the rules for beer (the reinheitsgebot ) … water, yeast, malt and hops. Pollan recently extended it to “Eat food …” . I seldom read ingredient labels anymore because we seldom purchase anything that has ingredients in it. We’re getting so boring that we could buy our stuff at an Amish Bulk Food store. But our meals are far from boring. Like travel, it is the journey that is often more exciting than the destination.

    • Sally

      Have you ever seen what the Amish eat? I have several recent Amish cookbooks — all full of processed foods.

  • Paul

    No sooner did I post my previous comment that i noted the ad at the top of the blog for Ritz Crackerfuls. Ahem! I say again, Ahem! It’s darned hard to be pure in a life of commentary. Want to know what is in them? Well they say “Real Cheese” which immediately makes one think, “Not”. Lots of other “..ate’s ” and ” … ites”.

  • Victoria

    Which means if we, the consumers of America, wanted TO STOP USING OIL AND WANTED TO USE MORE GREEN SOURCES OF ENERGY, the big companies in business to make money would find a way to provide what we want and are willing to pay for.

    When I make this argument, I point to all the (disgusting) low-fat and fat-free food manufactured during the period people turned into fat phobes (people who apparently had never heard of the fat-soluble Vitamins A,D,E, and K) created so people could eat low fat products, not so people could have access nutritionally-sound food.

  • Natalie Sztern

    My limited input is this and it is a philosophy I live by for two reasons: first I am a Diabetic and second I need to stay a healthy weight….Fat does not cause one to get or be Fat. Sugar causes Fat…excess sugar in the blood stream, that the body is not using for fuel; is not released in urine ie Ketosis….it is soaked up by the body’s cells and turned into fat. Yes, sugar is what causes people to get fat.

    The glycemic index is what one needs to follow for one to lose weight. Not the amount of Fat they are ingesting

    Fat does not cause excess sugar in the body and it is impossible for cells to absorb fat therefore all that Fat does, at least the wrong fat, is related to cholesterol and heart disease.

    This is what little I live by.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I do want clarify one thing I said….sugar in urine exists for Diabetics and is Ketosis. Diabetics who need to check sugar readings know when they are consuming excess amounts of sugar. The odd time I show high sugars I know two things: first I am not eating properly and second by the next week I will have put on about a half to one pound.

  • Clay

    Fat-free cheese is my favorite. If there’s not fat in it, like you said, then what the hell is it? Ever tried to melt low-fat cheese? The water cooks out and covers your chips in ABS plastic.

    In a perfect world, we’d all agree that we are lazy and don’t want to work out, but that that’s the only way to stay thin and eat a lot of great food. Then we wouldn’t need to worry about fat-free, sugar-free, no salt added anything, and just eat what tastes good and move on.

  • Decor Girl

    I keep going back to that idea by someone brilliant about “If your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as a food…don’t eat it.”

    What is the point of lables if the are set up to mislead and in many cases wrong? Please pass the cream, from the top of the fresh milk, so I can make a sauce.

    • Lou Doench

      “If your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as a food…don’t eat it.”
      I know this sounds all pithy and such, but there are a lot of great foods out there that my great grandma wouldn’t recognize as food. Like sushi, or calamari, or yogurt. My mom doesn’t think anything stir fried is food. Let’s not fetishize our ancestors when it comes to food. They ate and lived in a vastly different environment than we do.

  • Mantonat

    This is from the Code of Federal Regulations:




    131.180 – Half – and – half.

    (a) Description. Half-and-half is the food consisting of a mixture of milk and cream which contains not less than 10.5 percent but less than 18 percent milkfat. It is pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized, and may be homogenized.

    (b) Optional ingredients. The following safe and suitable optional ingredients may be used: (1) Emulsifiers.

    (2) Stabilizers.

    (3) Nutritive sweeteners.

    (4) Characterizing flavoring ingredients (with or without coloring) as follows: (i) Fruit and fruit juice (including concentrated fruit and fruit juice).

    (ii) Natural and artificial food flavoring.

    Based on this, I would think anything labeled “half and half” and sold as a dairy product would have to be between 10.5 and 18% milkfat.

  • Myrnie

    Haha- that’s awesome. I agree with your assessment completely: what IS it?

    Let’s hear it for eating real food.

  • James Hudson

    I remember the day I saw this “product” in the dairy case of my local publix. I stood there, almost yelling, “what the *@#&!!!!” “are you *@#&ing kidding me!!!!”. It got to the point where people started to stare and a manager politely asked me to leave. Thank you for writing this and letting me know that no, I’m not crazy.

  • Tags

    BTW, let’s keep in mind Ralph Nader, without whom there would be no ingredients list on food packages.

    Thanks, Ralph!

  • luis

    Gee Michael, thanks for that eye openner. I have used the product in the past and stopped using it on instinct. Now that you clarify the issue with the corn syrup discovery on the label I feel so dumb for ever have considered it. The thing that really kills me is that the label says it contains 2 g of sugar when it’s more like 30-50% sugar. This is the crime here and the food and drug folks look the other way….

  • shuna fish lydon

    I heart you for writing this, Michael. Thank you.

    I happen to be staying in my friend’s house. She keeps Kosher & does not eat any refined sugar. I read labels so closely now, making sure not to stock the cabinets with anything she can’t share with me.

    The best lie? “No added sugar” for products that have been candied! Excuse me?

    As a reminder to all, though, 1/2 & 1/2 hasn’t been 50:50 milk cream in a long time… but looking for fat free fat is just plain ridiculous.

  • MJ Harbage

    What happened to consuming “real food” in moderation? Our bodies are designed such that “unnatural chemicals” in our food make us ill. Anyone can test this statement easily & simply. One can also lose weight when needed by consuming “real food”. Healthy eating is a matter of good choices!

  • Jen Blacker

    One of my New Year’s resolutions was to ween my family off of most processed foods. We drink whole milk (have a 19 month old), eat full fat sour cream and butter. Gone are the prepacked au gratin potatoes and other things like that. I became surprised how quickly dinners do come together even without all of that premade stuff.

  • bunkycooks

    Your post sounds just like my interview with Chef Johannes Klapdohr, currently Executive Chef at Madison’s. He said much of what you just wrote about. I had so much material after speaking with him for half a day, it was impossible to put it all in one post, but you both agree on this topic. My interview –

    We should all be aware of these false ads and educate ourselves. It is up to us to eat real food and have some fats and salt in moderation.

  • sharon scott

    Try finding the ingredients, not the nutrition label, on WonderBread’s web page for whole wheat bread. It was offered by our school caterer as a “healthy option” for school lunch. First and foremost, I look at ingredient lists, not nutrition labels. I’m suspect of a company that won’t list the ingredients for their products.

    • Bob

      I’ll take Michael’s ratio for wheat bread over WonderBread-like substance any day.

      Which makes me wonder, what kind of labor/equipment outlay would be needed for a school to offer fresh-baked bread as part of the school lunch? (I know, it’s silly to ask when we have trouble funding schools in terms of teachers, materials, etc., but why not?)

  • bacchus

    there is a book on this…Omnivore’s Dilemma

    We are overloaded with variety…and have forgotten how to choose food on instinct…now the dilemma is…what to eat? All we seem to do, in order to eat healthy, is read labels.

    Food Inc. a great movie for those that do not want to read the book above.

  • cleek

    “But not until we start paying attention, not until we get smart.”

    nothing that depends on either of those things will ever succeed.

  • Jennifer R.

    We recently ran out of our homemade bratwurst. I thought bratwurst from a local grocer, known for its ‘fresh’ ingredients, would be an adequate substitute. When I picked it up and looked at the ingredient label – it listed corn syrup as ingredient #2. Corn syrup in bratwurst??? We’ll just live without it until our next harvest. Sigh.

  • Chuck Shaw

    Isn’t Fat Free Half & Half an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp or corporate caring?

  • Jill Silverman Hough

    There will always be people who care about what they eat and those that don’t, people who choose to pay attention to something and people who choose not to. The thing that gets me is people who complain about how they feel, their weight, their health, etc, and then continue to not pay attention, continue to sleepwalk. It’s kind of like when you called bullshit on Karen Page for claiming that she doesn’t cook because she doesn’t have the time – it’s fine if you don’t want to cook, just call a spade a spade, and confront/admit that whatever your situation it’s of your own choosing.

  • Chris K

    I think it’s utterly unfair to blame consumers for being stupid, apathetic, or inattentive. While all three of these things are often true, it is also a fact that “caveat emptor” only gets so much slack before society is obligated to hold corporations accountable for harmful products and unethical behavior.

    Regulation is a necessary evil NOT because people are too stupid to look after their own interests, but rather because corporations retain all the benefits of individual freedom without its attendant responsibilities.

    The problem is these selfsame corporations own the elected officials we ostensibly elect to serve the public’s interest. Essentially, they pay for the privilege of writing their own regulatory legislation.

    This allows companies like Monsanto, ADM, ConAgra, Kraft, Land O’ Lakes (Oh yeah, them too. Open your eyes, pinhead.) and their subsidiaries to foist their crappy products upon consumers with impunity.

    So if you really want to play the blame game, take a cold hard look at who’s fucking over whom, and follow the money.

    • Mantonat

      Chris, you contradict yourself. Your argument is that people are not stupid and that corporations have an unfair advantage. Implicit in this argument is that we can be as smart and alert as is humanly possible but the corporations will still be able to use deceit and trickery to sell us garbage.

      Then in the same argument you say “open your eyes, pinhead,” implying that if we are alert and smart enough, we can catch out companies like Land O Lakes.

      I think it’s clear from Ruhlman’s article that even a minimal amount of consumer awareness (reading the ingredients and nutritional analysis instead of just the front label) will help us avoid being deceived by false or exaggerated claims. And it’s the government who requires ingredient and nutrition disclosure on food packaging, so obviously someone’s got our back somewhere, despite the corruption and graft so rampant behind the scenes.

      You are correct about one thing though, even without government-mandated labeling, we should be smart enough to understand that Land O Lakes is no better or worse than any other food company trying to make a buck and that it doesn’t take a genius to realize that something is amiss with a product labeled “fat-free half and half.”

      • Chris K

        Actually, I made the pinhead remark out of frustration at Ruhlman’s attribution of blame on stupid consumers. It’s not really contradiction.

        But I strongly agree that one can’t believe anything one reads on a product label.

        Over the past year I have made a serious effort to buy as locally and seasonally as possible. It is not easy, convenient, or cheap. I’m just paying people I know who grow food that isn’t going to kill me. That’s the bottom line.

  • Stephanie

    The problem is that when they reduce one thing (fat) they add/increase something else to make up for the loss in flavor (here, it’s HFCS but in other products its often salt). You see the same thing in low sodium foods as well, reduce the salt add fat and other weirdness.
    The point is that buying packaged food is what kills you fastest. If you buy whole veggies, pasture fed meats, whole grains – you don’t have to worry about this crap.
    When you trade control (cooking from scratch) to buy time, you are also giving up nutrition.

  • Beth

    High-fructose corn syrup’s big fat secret…
    Long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides.
    Princeton University Study

    keep eating those “low-fat” products!!!

  • Charlotte

    OMG! I bought this by accident! I didn’t even notice until you posted this because it never occurred to me that a product like this would exist! I was in the store, grabbed a quart of half and half, and only noticed yesterday afternoon that it says Fat Free on the label. WTF Dairygold? Now I have to throw it out and make another trip to the store. Thanks Michael …

    • Charlotte

      and just to clarify … the packaging on the Dairlygold Fat Free is exactly the same color and layout as the regular half and half — there’s just a banner label in the middle of the box that I didn’t notice, because, as I said, I assumed that when I grabbed a box of half and half, I’d grabbed a box of half and half. Jeez. I might have to go back to gallon jars of unpasturized milk left my my local rancher …

    • Virginia Tadrzynski

      I’d take it back.. Tell the customer service it was inadequate as it is labelled as something it isn’t. They then send it back to the company to get their refund with the reason……(well, not the liquid, just the carton). At least you would have had your say.

      • Charlotte

        I think I’m definitely going to call and complain. It’s a local dairy co-op and I buy their milk specifically because it supports the few commercial dairy farmers we have left. If they think they need to sell this product, fine, but at least change the color of the carton (the way 2%, skim and whole milk come in different cartons). I was just mortified that I bought it in the first place, and I don’t understand how it behooves a dairy to sell what is essentially non-dairy creamer with some skim milk solids in it. Very upsetting.

  • Liam O'Malley

    This is a serious major peeve of mine and in fact I just wrote about it recently too.

    My favorite is the breakfast cereal packaging – in what world can Cookie Crisp be considered a “good source” of calcium and vitamin D? And chocolate Cheerios are good for your heart? Yet this is what the packages have plastered all over them.

    The qualified health claim is a dangerous thing, and we have the FDA and the American Heart Association to blame just as much as any big food product corporations, for they are the ones who have sold out the protection of our health to the highest bidder and permitted all this deception right under our noses in the first place.

  • Virginia Tadrzynski

    There used to be a radio personality in the Philadelphia area who referred to the American people as ‘Boobus Americanus’ because we would buy into just about anything that came down the pike if it were dressed up pretty and hyped like hell……I remember at a job I had in retail where some pencil pusher who had never been on the floor over ordered cases of bottled water, we had trailers full of it. This was during the whole Atkins/No Carb fad that was running rampant when eating ANYTHING with carbs was a no-no. Put a big pallet of water on the floor near the entrance and labelled it ‘LOOK – NO CARBS’ only and the marked down price…..moved it in a day, two trailers full at least. Like the late Irv Homer used to say ‘ Boobus Americanus’.

  • Virginia Tadrzynski

    Sorry to add another quip, but as far as truth in advertising goes, my all time favorite is a bag of roasted peanuts in the shell….the bag says ‘WARNING: May contain peanuts’….I damn sure hope so, that’s what I paid for!

  • Stephanie

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Even sadder: I went to the Amish market this morning and found tons of products laden with high fructose corn syrup.

    I knew they had to be shipping a lot of the vegetables from California — they’re not in season here yet.

    But the baked goods? I hoped for the best. They were all nicely wrapped in homey packages. At least the labels were attached — high fructose corn syrup was the first or second in every loaf of bread or baked product. Sigh.

    • Drew @ How To Cook Like Your Grandmother

      Stephanie, I got burned by that on a pack of oatmeal raisin cookies. Like you said, nice homey packaging: A couple of paper plates, stacked with cookies, in a plastic bag with the end tied in a knot. I was in the car on the way home when I looked at the label on the bottom and realized it had come from a mix.

  • Mimi

    One of the problems is that we as Americans have no idea what a portion size is. Did you know a portion of meat is supposed to be 3 – 4 oz.? Who eats such a small bit of meat at a sitting? We eat large portions, get fat and then the food companies tell us we have to eat lite versions of things to lose weight.

    The french paradox is really the fact that they eat the correct portions.

  • Shaggywillis

    It makes me sad when I see people (skinny or fat) buying low fat/low sugar/low calorie/100 calorie packs, etc. All of that food will never make you thin, it’s loaded with HFCS, chemicals and bull shit. Michael is right, it is our fault because we do not educate ourselves to know better. As Pollan has said, if you eat real food, then you never have to be on a diet. As simple as that.

  • Pegs

    Funny, I just saw this product in the store last week. I am proud to say I read the label and said ugh!!! The old adage works: if it sounds too good to be true, it is.

  • JIM D.

    i used to love eating the YOPLAIT Thick and Creamy yogurts until I got a close look at the label. HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP IN YOGURT. Unfreakingbelievable. At that moment I ditched the yogurt and settled for grapes. Much healthier.

  • ArtisanFood

    Thanks for posting this.

    Will someone please tell me who the hell I can complain to about misleading packaging? (In the UK). I’ve just been conned into buying a tub of Elmlea, thinking it was double cream. (If this isn’t misleading packaging, I don’t know what it is.)

    After thinking it tasted and looked a little strange, a closer inspection revealed ingredients including Hydrogenated veg oil and FIVE different E numbers.

    It says 33% less fat on the front, but how can this stuff be better for you than good ol’ fashioned, NATURAL fat.?

    As a usually diligent, somewhat cynical shopper, I’m absolutely seething that companies can get away with this, not to mention disgusted that I have consumed this rubbish. Uggh.

  • heydemann3

    My favorites are the plastic wrapped potatoes, carefully guaranteed to be cholesterol free.
    I stay away from foods that just don’t make sense. Like any fat based product in a “fat-free” form.

  • Jesse

    Thank you. I worried I was the only one in the world who thought “fat free half-and-half” was disturbing on a surprisingly deep level. I remember a strange trip through “FM”, a chain grocery outlet here. I tried to find some butter, and instead found a zillion products called butter, and not a single one made just from cream.

    Actually, it made me cry a bit, and I’m not kidding.


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