When You Grow Your Food—You Know Your Food

When did food get so complicated? Not complicated to prepare, of course; it seems like companies delight in creating ever-more-convenient foods for us to enjoy, right out of the package or after a short trip through the microwave. But at what cost does that convenience come? The more simplified the methods of preparation and consumption are, it seems, the more complex our ingredient labels have become. And many of us are starting to question whether or not that’s a price worth paying.

That’s why more people are growing their own food.

Processed Foods & Their Ingredients—Mystery After Mystery

You’ve probably seen a few lists of the “grossest” ingredients in processed foods. Maybe you’ve heard about carmine, a red dye created from crushed beetles, or cellulose, which is essentially very, very fine sawdust. Both are quite common in various processed and prepared foods. But these two ingredients, at least, are relatively recognizable and have been used extensively for a long time.

We’re less concerned about the ick factor than we are the simple fact that it can be difficult to know what you’re eating—and that can let more than an icky ingredient or two slip by you. For example, are you familiar with butylated hydroxytoluene? Probably not. But not only is this additive used in jet fuel, rubber, and embalming fluids, it’s also used in foods—as a preservative.

So what? Well, if you do a bit of research on this one very common ingredient, you’ll find that there’s a fair bit of controversy surrounding it. It can be “reasonably anticipated” to be a cancer-causing agent in human beings, according to the National Toxicology Program. Its MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) cites its potential to cause liver damage.

Another common ingredient in your processed foods: soybean oil. Now, whether or not you enjoy soy products, the majority of soybeans grown in the United States have been genetically modified.

This article isn’t about whether or not these two particular ingredients (or any particular ingredients) are or are not safe. In fact, it’s about just how hard it is to know that. Check the ingredients label on nearly any processed food product. There are, at least, half a dozen ingredients — oftentimes many, many more. How many of them are you familiar with? How many would you need to research? And how many, when you did research them, would turn out to be controversial?

Your Food Doesn’t Have to Be Part of a Debate


We are not going to discuss in this article that we say GMO foods are not safe/ sustainable/ destroy diversification, or that butylated hydroxytoluene is something that should be avoided. It’s impossible for you as the consumer to know for sure without doing research, and for ingredients this controversial, GMO, Hydroxytoluene etc, that research must often be extensive and clearly conclusive. It’s not enough to simply read popular blog posts from those you agree with; you’ll have to look at scientific literature.

Most frustrating to researching these ingredients/ preservatives, new synthetic and chemical ingredients are developed all the time. So, even if you applied yourself to learning about every new ingredient you came upon, you’d never be done. And then there are the “invisible” ingredients: “artificial flavors” and “natural flavors,” for example. Pesticides and herbicides, for another. Even when you purchase produce at the grocery store, you’re at the mercy of mystery ingredients.

It Doesn’t Have to be All or Nothing

Of course, you probably won’t transition to growing every meal immediately, or perhaps call that this is . But the fact of the matter is, for every single bite of food that you do grow for yourself and consume, that is another bite that you can trust completely. When you grow your own food, you know your own food. You know, for example, that strawberries you’ve grown, self-processed and transformed into healthy treats don’t contain Red #40 like a processed strawberry snack.


Start today. Start big, or start small. Start with just fresh herbs if that’s your fancy, or a window box with peppers. Start with a raised garden in the back, or a container garden on your deck. But do start.

And remember, you’re not alone! There’s a vibrant, growing community of people who have turned away from mystery ingredients and have turned toward growing their food so they can know their food. has people of all walks of life sharing their experiences. Here at, we have a wealth of resources dedicated to helping you. Our How To section is a great place to start.

Whether you’re a beginner that wants to learn how to grow a seedling into a plant, or you’re looking for a fast and effective way to start a larger raised garden plot, we can help! Maybe you want to incorporate an herb garden into your suburban front lawn, but you’re worried it won’t look right with your landscaping—take a look at our herb spiral how to. But that’s only the beginning. Take a look at our Plants section as well, and our Permaculture Projects category!

Wherever and however you decide to start, know that you’re doing something good for your body, yourself, and your environment when you grow your own food. There’s no mystery about that.

The Permaculture Research Insitute

PRI Zaytuna Farm functions as a model farm (in development) and permaculture training facility. Geoff and Nadia Lawton, world-renowned permaculture educators and consultants, lead the project. Much of Geoff and Nadia’s time over the last few years has been spent away from the Institute, consulting and helping set up projects in diverse locales around the world. Seeing the worldwide demand for knowledgeable permaculture consultants and teachers increase exponentially, as fuel and fertiliser prices skyrocket and the effects of climate change, soil depletion and water shortages begin to hit hard, priority and focus is now shifting back to the Institute, where growing the training program will increase the output of quality teachers to help fill the growing need for them.

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