Monday, 4 January 2010

Mum, there's crap in my food...

Food, Inc.Image via Wikipedia

I avoid processed foods wherever possible and I’m a mildly obsessive packaging reader. I'm a bit of a foodie, have relatively good 'food knowledge' and am very aware of additives and ingredients used in food processing. I won’t buy foods that contain gunk like high fructose corn syrup, palm oil and modified starch and I’ll avoid dextrose, artificial sweeteners and the like. In fact, I'll buy raw ingredients wherever possible. And I have always had a mild aversion to American food products because of the increasing prevalence of GMOs and hormones in the US food supply.

So I was mildly surprised to find out a whole load of scary stuff about food that I didn't know.

For instance, I didn’t know that industrialised food production in the US has reached the level where there are now just thirteen abattoirs in the entire USA. Yes, thirteen. You can only begin to imagine the scale of them. Or that practices such as feeding cheap corn to cattle lie behind the massive growth in E. Coli infection (73,000 Americans get sick every year from E. Coli) throughout the American food chain – all the way down to greens such as spinach.

A good European boy, I’m strongly opposed to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in my food, but I didn’t know that over 80% of all soybean production in the USA is now derived from genetically modified seeds from Monsanto – one genetic modification being to make the seed resistant to a herbicide used on soybean plants that is sold by, wait for it, Monsanto.

And I didn’t know that 1 in 3 Americans born after 2000 will suffer from early onset diabetes – attributed to the amazing prevalence of highly processed sugars in the national diet.

These facts come to you courtesy of Robert Kenner’s thought provoking documentary Food, Inc. I watched it on the flight back from the UK and I would recommend it as required viewing for anyone considering buying any American food product. The film is all the more scary for its reasonable and balanced tone and for the cheap shots it doesn’t take.

It’s possible that at least part of the film’s reasonable tone is down to the fact that you can be held liable in at least two US states (Texas and Colorado) for making false or disparaging remarks about food.

Food defamation. Seriously.

In fact, this very law is referred to in the film when one of its interviewees, food safety advocate Barbara Kowalyck, gets cautious about commenting – the Oprah beefburger lawsuit is trotted out to show how a single comment about beef on TV turned into a multi-million dollar suit. The Oprah suit is, however, just one of many that have been lodged by representatives of US agro-industry against food producers, campaigners and others in a concerted effort to ensure that people learn as little as possible about the way that food has been industrialised in America.

By the way, here are some common processed food additives that are made out of good old cheap American corn, over 60% of which is apparently grown from genetically modified seeds today:
Cellulose, Xylitol, Maltodextrin, Ethylene, Gluten, Fibersol-2, Citrus Cloud Emulsion, Inosital, Fructose, Calcium Stearate, Saccharin, Sucrose, Sorbital, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Citric Acid, Di-glycerides, Semolina, Sorbic Acid, Alpha Tocopherol, Ethyl Lactate, Polydextrose, Xantham Gum, White Vinegar, Ethel Acetate, Fumaric Acid, Ascorbic Acid, Baking Powder, Zein, Vanilla Extract, Margarine, and Starch.

Yum yum!

BTW, as we're talking about rubbish in your food, here's what they put in Pringles, here's what they put in Aquafina water and here's some stuff that'll put you off eating foods with palm oil in them.
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Seabee said...

Having allergies to various things I'm also an avid reader of food packaging labels, and I'm constantly amazed at how many 'food' items actually have no food in them, just chemicals and additives.

On the question of mega-abattoirs, I seem to recall that when The Great Foot & Mouth Plague hit the UK not so long ago there were suggestions that it became country-wide so rapidly (unlike previous outbreaks) because there are only a few mega-abattoirs. As a result cattle have to be transported half-way down the country, carrying their diseases with them and spreading it - with the disastrous result we saw.

EyeOnDubai said...

Thanks for that. I have long held that the only packaging a vegetable needs is the skin and earth it grew in, the only processing a quick scrub to remove said mud.

However, that implies a basic knowledge of cooking processes, ingredients and recipes that seem to be currently lacking in a growing proportion of consumers. I'm almost ready to applaud Spinneys' current campaign "just the right ingredients" to encourage home cooking, except that it generally lists 'a packet of this, a jar of that and carton of the next'.

Time to start promoting SOUL food - Sustainable, Organic, Unprocessed, Local - as a good, sound basic principle for basic eating.


PDM said...

There is an interesting article here
on how researchers in Australia tried to devise, using genetic engineering a contraceptive virus for mice and instead created a version of mousepox that was incredibly lethal

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

ugh. now i'm even more freaked out.

El Shahlab said...

I read 'Fastfood Nation' few years back. It was an eye opener. Its a must-read for fastfood junkies.

I went from eating fastfood 3 to 4 times a week, to once a month..and sometimes once in months.

psychiclunch said...

Palm oil is actually a healthy oil, but it can't be recommended because of the negative environmental effects of harvesting it.

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