Most people, as they get older, are forced in one way or another to think about what they eat. Fortunately, I have not had medical reasons to do this; I am grateful for my partner whose athleticism has made him a tad health-conscious. I admit the happiest outcome for me in greening my diet has been the small vegetable garden on my terrace.
But this morning tale is not about me and my migratory habits. It is about something far more basic that regards everyone in the West and in urbanized cultures around the globe. So I beckon the question: if you do stop and think about what you eat, do you ever ask, “is this food?” Sounds crazy but is a Dorito chip more nutritious or more harmful to the body than eating a piece of paper? I wondered what harm the paper was when I accidentally blended the slivered pack of preservative powder that I scooped up unknowingly from the store-bought container of greenfood supplements. I also admit to gorging on Doritos when I was younger and I don’t mean 18. I am as much a product of this society as everybody else I know.
Let’s look at the definition of food from dictionary.com:
Any nourishing substance that is eaten, drunk, or otherwise taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, promote growth, etc.
I was recently in a mega-sized U.S. grocery store and on display was a new type of Frito-Lay potato chips. Be prepared, this may be really abusive to your senses: Capuccino Lays. Apparently it won in a nationwide contest competing against three other flavors that surprisingly sounded more food-like (bacon, ginger, mango). I am waiting for Starbucks to come out with a capuccino laced with the aroma of potato chips or maybe a few gourmet chips bedded on a cloud of foamed milk. Okay, I rest my case.
Admit it, though. It is difficult to enter a grocery store, nevermind a 7-11 or dépanneur as we like to call them in Quebec, and pick off the shelf anything that has not been processed, refined, and converted to something less than food. Now you might say that the produce section is exempt. We may not be buying pineapples injected with formaldehyde as they are now doing in Bangladesh (knowing this first-hand) but your body is going to know the apples were sprayed with pesticide.
Sometimes no conversion is necessary because the ingredients were not food to begin with. Well, here are two examples that put me over the edge, a peering over the precipice that told me there has got to be another world, another dimension, another place, with a different standard of what is considered “within normal range.”
“Natural flavoring” that is commonly found in many items in the grocery store conjures up images of something fruit- or plant-based – vanilla, strawberry, banana. But because the FDA definition of what is natural has such a wide berth, you may be surprised to hear that you are eating beaver butt. (See here for full article: http://www.foodmatters.tv/articles-1/are-you-eating-beaver-butt-without-even-knowing-it-shocking-truth). It is an anal secretion called “castoreum” that beavers emit to mark territory. Apparently – maybe you will find it good news – it has a pleasant scent and is a common ingredient in perfumes. So don’t think monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the only stimulant to the taste buds; beaver butt contributes an odor to the same effect.
Now let’s put to the food test a cherry pie that you can buy at the grocery store, the one you are more likely to find on the shelf and not in the bakery section, but who knows. This analysis looks at the transformation process from the farm to the shelf. You may not need to read every line. You will quickly get the message.
(Translated from the French, full article here: http://2ccr.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/bon-appetit/)
The dough: For flour, wheat grains were coated with a fungicide before planting. During culture, wheat is sprayed with pesticides, hormones and the doses of fertilizer. After harvesting, the beans are fumigated with carbon tetrachloride and carbon disulfide, then sprinkled with lopyriphosméthyl. Then flour is treated with nitrosyl chloride and ascorbic acid. This is to make the dough rise. Baking powder is treated with calcium silicate and starch is bleached with potassium permanganate. Dough also receives an antioxidant (to prevent rancidity) as butyl hydroxytoluene.
Cream: The eggs come from a factory farm where the chickens are fed with pellets containing antioxidants (E300 to E311), emulsifiers (calcium alginate), preservatives (formic acid), coloring (caffeine capsa) of binders (ignosulfate) and finally palatable (MSG) so they can swallow it all. They also receive antibiotics, and especially coccidiosis. Eggs, prior to drying, are emulsifiers, surface active agents such as cholic acid and an enzyme to remove sugar white. The milk comes from a factory farm where the cows are fed a diet rich in chemicals: Flavophospholipol (F712) sodium ascorbate (F301), tocopherol synthesis (F307) Buthyl-hydrox-toluene (F321) propylene glycol alginate (F405), tartaric acid (E334), propionic acid (F280) chemical nitrogen (F801) dyes, and finally palatable so that cows can eat it all, like monosodium glutamate. The oils were extracted with solvents such as acetone, and then refined by the action of sulfuric acid, followed by washing with hot, neutralized with caustic soda, chlorine dioxide bleached or potassium dichromate and deodorized at 160 ° C with zinc chloride. Finally, they were restained Curcumin. Cream pie, once manufactured, receives flavors and stabilizers such as alginic acid (E400).
Cherries: received between 10 and 40 pesticide treatments a year. Cherries are bleached with sulfur dioxide and recolored uniformly carminic acid or erythrosine. They were immersed in a brine containing aluminum sulfate, and to the output, as a preservative are potassium sorbate (E202). Finally, they are coated with a sugar that comes from beets, which received their fair amount of fertilizers and pesticides. This sugar is extracted by defecation lime and sulfur dioxide, the discolored sulfoxilate sodium and refined norite and alcoolisopropylique. It is refined to an azure blue anthraquinone. Because of these treatments, the cherries have therefore lost their taste, so it is necessary to add an artificial food flavoring. The flavoring is a synthetic recreation of taste and smell from artificial elements from the petroleum chemistry. The example developed here is the icing, but is identical in many other flavors. Artificial cherry flavoring thus consists of the following synthetic molecules – Ethyl acetate butyrate acetyl méthylcarbinol- isoamyle- caproate Ethyl caprylate caprate isoamyle- Ethyl butyrate terpenyle- géraniol- butyrate geranyl – Ethyl acetoacetate Ethyl heptanoate benzoïque- aldehyde aldehyde p-toluic. END translation.
I sometimes visualize a future world which to us here and now will sound absolutely futuristic. I will overhear a pedestrian conversation 50-100 years from now that goes like this:
– “Oh look, it’s one of those Frito-Lay trucks. I wonder what that’s doing here.”
– “No kidding. Someone probably bought it and converted it for the fun of it. Look, it’s an electric van. You know, it’s like those ads for cigarettes my grandfather used to talk about, in the days when smoking was a social activity.”
– “Hard to imagine how people like my parents remember eating chips that had nothing to do with food. Absolutely zero value to the body and worst, contributed to heart disease, high cholesterol, and on and on.”
– “Yeah, in those days, they would talk about ‘organic’ food as if it were something extraordinary.”
– “Hey, we’re here. [enter grocery store]. I know, I’m not a purist but I do like to know what I’m putting in my body is actually food.”
– “My Mom says they used to have an enter aisle just for cereal. Half an aisle is still a lot to me. Look, this one is only ‘50% food.’ What does that one say?”
– “This one is 80% food. What’s the non-food in it? I try not to buy anything below 80%.”
– “Yeah, it’s a good thing we all have our vegetable gardens and no longer have to worry about the food industry and their wanton use of pesticides.”
– “Well, I think we still have a long way to go. And they should have bigger warning labels for items below 50% food content.”
For the pessimists amongst us, maybe it’s truly not our future world. Maybe it is simply another world somewhere else.