As a child, Cristina Alesci loved to cook with her grandmother Lidia, a native of Rome who spent decades shopping the open-air markets of the Eternal City. She taught Cristina the value of home cooking with fresh ingredients at an early age.
“You could say I was a foodie long before there were foodies,” Cristina recalled recently.
Last year, Cristina was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
“My relationship with food changed forever,” she writes in a personal essay on CNN and CNNMoney, where she is a business correspondent. “Suddenly what I put in my body seemed to become a matter of life and death. My meals were no longer a celebration of flavors but a medical exercise in reading labels, counting carbs and measuring insulin.”
When Cristina set out to learn what was in her food (and where it came from) she parlayed what had been a painful personal journey into a fascinating, four-part series for CNNMoney called “Raw Ingredients—the unprocessed story of where your food comes from.” The stories, which aired on the network last month, are a comprehensive, behind-the scenes examination of America’s current industrial food system.
"Raw Ingredients is the next generation's food story," said Cristina, who divided her reporting into segments on cereal, fish, meat and vegetables.
“Most of us already know we should eat wholesome, fresh, unprocessed food. But putting that into practice isn’t very easy,” Cristina pointed out. “Everything we put in our mouth has been manipulated in some way and that has implications on our own health and the global environment. I hope Raw Ingredients will make people read every label, ask more questions and start a new conversation about what’s in our food.”
Raw Ingredients takes viewers to places they've likely never been—from behind the doors of some of the biggest food companies in the world; to the middle of a romaine lettuce field in Salinas Valley, California; to an Iowa hog finishing farm (where pigs get fattened for market).
The series sheds light on the “vast system that is behind every meal we eat,” said Cristina in the introduction to Raw Ingredients.It’s not for the faint-of-heart. “The industry has pushed the limits of what it can produce,” she reports in her series. “And if that’s not enough, we import from places our food inspectors will never visit. So much of what we eat has been sprayed, frozen or manipulated to look perfect or cost less.”
Cristina isn’t out to scare people, she says, but to empower them so they can make better choices. "A well informed public makes for better food," she said. "Companies will make changes if that’s what consumers want. We’re already seeing it happen.”
Cristina began reporting Raw Ingredients around the same time she was diagnosed and, as she put it, “I had to learn to manage my diabetes on the fly in the middle of a field,” she said. Still, she never felt completely alone because she had the support of the Berrie Center and her doctor, Robin Goland MD, no matter where she was. About the Berrie Center, Cristina said, “I love them. In a moment of darkness they are a ray of sunshine.”