During my years attending Rutgers University, there was one very tall building near the main campus in downtown New Brunswick that literally stood out: the appropriately white and sterile-looking corporate headquarters that was (and still is) Johnson & Johnson. Knowing they were based right there led my young self to assume that every Band-Aid ® and gauze pad I’d ever purchased in the red, white, and blue box was manufactured somewhere nearby.

Fast forward to today, more than (ahem) twenty years later. A box of Band-Aids ® sits beside me. Times have changed. Their distinctive logo remains the same, but the box design has been modernized in ways unimaginable back then. The FSC, or Forest Stewardship Council logo appears on the box. In a nutshell, this means their boxes are made from responsibly managed forests. The box also reveals that this all-American seeming product is made in…Brazil! There’s a possible irony there that I’m just going to avoid for today.

And that brings me to the main point of this post: how often do you read labels? For someone like me with food allergies, or for anyone who needs to be mindful of sugars, sodium, and any range of other health concerns, label reading is a way of life. As you can see from my observations above, it has branched out past food! But even the most staple food items – like canned products – can lead to startling revelations. When was the last time you read your cans of beans?

Yep. These two cans of kidney beans are sold under the same label of a popular U.S. grocery store. Finding this in my pantry was surprising, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Globalization and keeping costs low are the name of the game for major manufacturers…of everything. But do I need to be buying organic beans from China? No way. This label-inspired reality check quickly led me to switch to another brand whose labels indicate that their organic beans are “California or Arizona family farm grown.” Now there’s a can of beans I can dig into when soaking and cooking their dried counterparts is too inconvenient.

And perhaps this is a good reason why, whenever we can (pun intended!), we should remember to peruse the tags, wrappers and labels that make informed consumers of the curious among us. Choices are ours to make!