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Food Babe Investigates: Supermarket Birthday Cakes

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Today I’d like to introduce my very first “regular contributor” on the blog…Vani Hari a.k.a the Food Babe! Vani, a fellow “real food” blogger here in Charlotte, first caught my eye when I read her blog post entitled “Don’t Believe the Hype – There’s No Euphoria from Yoforia….” She did such a great job investigating the truth behind Yoforia’s claims (FYI – Yoforia has since contacted Vani and asked her to work with them on making product improvements) that I thought everyone would welcome a monthly visit from the “Food Babe” here on this site. So in the coming months expect to find out more than you ever wanted to know about what’s lurking in processed food!

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When Lisa asked me to be a guest on her blog I jumped out of my seat – thrilled at the chance to reach out to all of you – and immediately knew what I wanted to write about. Hi, my name is Vani, and I share information about organic living, healthy travel and food activism on my blog Food Babe (and on Facebook). The love of real food is just one of the many things Lisa and I have in common, and I’m excited to be here today to share some startling facts about one my favorite foods.

My birthday was last week and I had only one thing on my mind. Can you guess what it was?  Nope, it wasn’t thoughts about getting older, or what presents I wanted this year or where I wanted to go on my next vacation. All I could think about was “Where am I going to get my birthday cake from!?!”

This is a dilemma for my family and me every single time there is a birthday on the horizon. We sometimes have knock down, drag out fights about where we buy our cakes…and that’s because not everyone in my family follows the same real food principles as I do. (I’m secretly hoping they will read this post so they’ll think twice about fighting me next time around!)

Growing up we would always get our cake from the local grocery store chain “Harris Teeter.” This was our go-to cake for as long as I can remember. Then in college and in my early twenties I became a Costco member and was thrilled to be able to get such a huge decadent cake for only $14.99 on my college budget. As I became more refined in my taste for cake, I thought it would be a good idea to upgrade and shop at the Fresh Market because… well… it had to be “fresher” than Harris Teeter or Costco, right? Unfortunately, as you’ll find out this couldn’t be further from the truth.

When you look into these three different cakes from three very different places – a regular grocery store vs. a huge wholesaler warehouse store vs. a specialty market – you don’t see much difference in the ingredients. They all resemble one big science experiment…

Let’s take a look at some of the cakes at Harris Teeter. This cake says “Home-style” carrot cake… but when you you look closely at the ingredients it reveals something much different….

We know why Lisa dislikes artificial colors (that are unfortunately in all the cakes I am sharing with you here today.) But let’s talk about a new and scary ingredient you may not have heard of – propylene glycol. This petroleum based chemical food additive – that’s been approved by the FDA – is also found in products like brake fluid, acrylic paints, tile grout, primer, shoe polish, antifreeze, floor polish, tire sealant and sealant paste, according to Food Facts.org. It has been reported on Dr. Mercola.com that the following symptoms can arise after repeated small doses – throat irritation, headache, backache, and kidney problems. Furthermore, ingesting very large doses of this chemical can cause drowsiness, vomiting, respiratory failure, coma, convulsions, or can be fatal.

Yes – you have to ingest a lot of this stuff to see some of these reactions – but is saying “death by a thousand cuts?” taking it too far? I don’t know – you decide. And why is this stuff in our birthday cakes anyway?

Even the cakes that Harris Teeter gets from a famous local bakery, “Tizzerts,” are just as bad as their store brand cakes because they also contain propylene glycol.

Then you move on to Costco where the ingredient list is so long I literally had trouble keeping count – but it’s close to 80 ingredients! The majority of them are fake chemical fillers and food-like substances that are obviously not real food. (Notice the inflation – the price has gone up $3 dollars since the last time I bought one.)

And what’s so American about this “All American” chocolate cake? Gosh I didn’t know you needed this many artificial colors (6 to be exact!) to color chocolate – I thought chocolate was already brown!

The most upsetting – and most expensive – cakes were from The Fresh Market where I learned they aren’t made on premises, but instead by a bread and snack manufacturer named “Vie de France.” Again, this name fools you into thinking you are getting a higher quality or fancier product. I was impressed that The Fresh Market had a book of all the ingredients they willingly shared with me, but when I found the page labeled “bakery goods free from trans fat” (which had only a very small subset of the large amount of bakery goods in the book) I was deflated to say the least. Again, most of their cakes had propylene glycol too and lots of other preservatives.

Regardless of these ingredients being clearly labeled on packaging and readily available, I see these types of cakes at almost every celebration I encounter – baby showers, bridal showers, children’s birthday parties, schools, work celebrations, retirement parties, etc. Children’s birthdays are probably the worst offender… especially at school, since the opportunities to celebrate birthdays seem endless.

The thought of consuming artificial flavors, artificial colors, transfat, and other food like chemicals made from petroleum willingly on the day we are supposed to be celebrating our life or our children’s lives seems a little ironic, doesn’t it?

What upsets me the most is that it’s possible to make a perfectly delicious homemade cake like Lisa’s Tie Dye Cake with around 10 ingredients or to buy one that doesn’t have any of these harmful ingredients I described above.

The next time the occasion arises and it’s time to get a cake, here are 5 questions you need to ask your baker before reaching into your wallet:

  1. What ingredients do you use to make your cakes? Always ask this basic question  – you may be appalled at what you find. For instance, many cake manufactures use no real sugar at all and the whole cake is made with high fructose corn syrup.
  2. What kind of flour do you use? The answer should be an unbleached flour, and if it is organic flour, even better!
  3. Do you use any preservatives in your cake? Propolyne glycol, parabens, and polysorbate are just a few of the laundry list of potential preservatives. If there are any of these ingredients or other preservatives used – I would keep looking.
  4. Do your cakes contain any partially hydrogenated oils (trans fat)? I would specifically say “partially hydrogenated oil” because legally food manufactures can still include this ingredient and say “no trans fats” at the same time.
  5. Do you use any artificial colors in your cakes? If you find out the cake is clean, but they still use artificial colors to decorate the cakes, ask for the cake to be made without them and then consider decorating the cake with organic candies, dried fruit, chocolate sauce and/or natural food colorings yourself.

You make a decision to vote with your dollars every time you take out your wallet, whether you realize it or not. With the right information and enough conscious decision making about what we eat and how we spend our money, together we can make a change. They say you can’t have your cake and eat it too – but why not?

P.S. Check out a new REAL FOOD cake recipe I made for my Dad’s Birthday this week on my blog …(oh and I’m sorry it’s not going to be this gorgeous…this is a cake I had last year traveling in Indonesia!)

Comments have been closed on this article, which was written by Vani Hari. If you have a question or comment you can reach her at http://FoodBabe.com.

Vani HariVani Hari a.k.a. Food Babe is an organic living expert, food activist and writer on FoodBabe.com. She teaches people how to make the right purchasing decisions at the grocery store, how to live an organic lifestyle, and how to travel healthfully around the world. The success in her writing and investigative work can be seen in the way food companies react to her uncanny ability to find and expose the truth. To follow Vani, check her out on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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152 comments to Food Babe Investigates: Supermarket Birthday Cakes

  • P Reis

    I remember going to a party for a child (a 2-year-old I believe) when my oldest was about 5 and my youngest a baby. They had one of those HORRIBLY brightly colored cakes for the kids — and a beautiful, homemade, pineapple, heaven of a cake for the grownups. My daughter, who loves sweets, took one bite of the day-glo kids’ cake and decided she was done. I was glad I was able to share some of the homemade treat with her on the sly — and also proud that she shares my distaste for chemical-tasting cake, given that we don’t have it around here. I’ve never had much confidence in my baking skills and so have, yes, sadly, resorted to doing it from a box, but I will be more conscientious in the future!

  • I have always thought that my made-from-scratch cakes in The Amish Garden are better than store-bought. They taste totally different that store-bought.

  • Paola horvath

    Great article. My chiropractor has a birthday cake from a supermarket made over 10 years ago in its original packaging. If stays on their shelf……it is so processed that nothing has happened to it. Crazy to think millions of people eat this stuff!!!

  • Holly

    Thank you for this post. I look forward to trying some of the cake recipes on the blog. I knew you would have some options (and information) for my little boy’s upcoming birthday! :o)

  • The power of this post made my day!

    Thank you so much my darling! Great blog.

    I built up TipsyCake with the premis scratch made cakes we are still in business 7 years later….creating custom cakes for Chicagoland and the Midwest!

  • […] “Then you move on to Costco where the ingredient list is so long I literally had trouble keepi… […]

  • SirWired

    While I agree that many of these ingredients are not truly necessary, I think you should try to avoid the arugment “X ingredient is also in this list of horribly toxic things, (or toxic if guzzled straight) therefore it must be a horrible thing to ever appear in food.” It makes your overall argument appear less credible.

    Things are harmful in doses present in food, or they are not. The fact that the same chemical may also be present in other products or deadly when consumed in crazy quantities is irrelevant, and takes away from your main points, which are quite valid. (i.e. Water is present in all sorts of evil things, and will kill you via Hyponatremia if consumed in excessive quantities, but nobody’s going to argue that water should never be present in food.)

  • […] it this stuff safe? Not really. Repeated small doses can cause throat irritation, headache, backache, and kidney problems. According to Naturalnews.com “In large quantities, studies have shown that it can cause […]

  • Chris

    I know this probably goes without saying, but if you have need for sugar free cakes, make sure they use all natural sweeteners lik Xagave (Agave in a pinch, but Xagave is better for diabetics) or steevia….there are of course other alternatives, bit don’t accept chemical substitutes.

  • Well, it does make me feel better that others don’t buy grocery store cakes due to the ingredients! We don’t buy them since my son has multiple food allergies. I’ve had a few cake mistakes since I’ve been baking cakes at home for 3 years now, but I’m slowly learning!

    I’m not saying this is the best way to bake a cake, but with all the food allergens my son has to avoid, this is the best way I can do it right now!

    http://www.mamacado.com/2013/04/birthday-cake-recipe-gluten-free-dairy.html

    http://www.mamacado.com/2013/09/healthy-first-birthday-cake-dairy-free.html