Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Guess the Product, or How I Learned to Love Pigweed

I guess in the past two years I've become something of a Food Nazi...for good reason. I've read Fast Food Nation and Twinkie Deconstructed. I've watched Supersize Me; Food, Inc.; and The Corporation. And there's only one conclusion I'm able to draw: We're being a broken food chain (which we broke), a culture of convenience, and the greed of giant conglomerates that seem to be run by some inhuman(e) force. Whether it's in the form of e. coli, salmonella, or some other food-born pathogen or by toxic ingredients or methods of food production, poison is poison just like "a rose by any other name."

So after The Hubs and I got back from the grocery Sunday and I found a bag full of unlikely purchases, I was a little aghast. Apparently, we had accidentally picked up someone else's stuff. On the one hand, I feel a little guilty that they paid for something they didn't receive. On the other hand, no one should eat these things. See if you can guess what they are (no cheating by Googling them!):

Number One
Enriched and bleached flour, sugar, cocoa processed with alkali, corn syrup, leavening, corn starch, modified corn starch, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil, carob powder, propylene glycol, mono and diesters of fatty acids, distilled monglycerides, salt, dicalcium phosphate, sodium stearyl lactylate, xanthan gum, cellulose gum, artificial flavor.

Number Two
Sugar, water, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oils, corn syrup, coca processed with alkili, corn starch, salt, mono and diglycerides, polysorbate 60, modified corn starch, citric acid, potassium sorbate, artificial color, soy lecithin.

Number Three
Enriched wheat flour, wheat starch, salt, beef fat, hydrolized soy protein, onion, caramel color, corn syrup solids, sodium caseinate, spices, garlic, natural flavor, disodium inosinate and guanylate, extractives of paprika, and yeast extract.

In exchange for the 435 calories, 31% of your day's recommended intake of fat, and 32% of your day's recommended intake of sodium per what the manufacturers consider a serving if you ate all three in a single meal, you get 16% of your recommended daily intake of iron and 8% of your calcium. So, virtually nothing.

And that's not even the whole meal. I'm guessing that the person who was thwarted in her/his attempt to buy these products probably eats from a lot of boxes. So I estimate, judging from processed food websites, that another 800 calories would go into the meal for a total of 1208 calories, and I tried to be modest in my assessment, choosing components of the meal that made sense to me based on cooking magazines and sticking to the serving sizes suggested by the company websites.

Now, for those of my audience who don't know me personally, I never touch anything that tastes remotely sweet (it's the reason I don't eat bread...too sweet), yet as far as your health and the health of the environment is concerned, sugar is the most innocuous ingredient in the lists above. However, at 39 grams of the stuff (the government has not established a recommended daily allowance for sugars), that's 156 empty calories, so I'm not advocating the liberal consumption of sweet stuff, especially if it's in the form of high fructose corn syrup for reasons I'll outline below.

4Backstory. The first time my parents allowed me to stay home alone was a Saturday when I was twelve and an apparent moron. They went antique shopping; I went on a Pepsi and candy bar binge. I remember that I drank twelve soda pops in the 16 oz bottles (yep, they came in glass back then, kids). I remember because I was pretty proud of having downed two six packs of Pepsi. I don't remember how many candy bars I ate, enough that at some point, my stomach revolted, and I was still barfing when my folks came home around supper time. My mom literally sent me to bed without any dinner...probably more to end the puking than out of anger. At any rate, that episode cured me of my sweet tooth. I switched to carrot and celery sticks. Oh, and apples. In fact, one time I ate 14 Johnnie apples in one day, and I was pretty proud of myself. Until I started throwing them all up...kind of like bobbing for apples in reverse. Yes, I might have OCD. No, I'm not a big fan of apples anymore, either. 3End backstory.

The four ingredients that are the worst in the product lists, in my opinion, are the flour, the soy (all the different forms of it, including soy lecithin), the cottonseed oil, and the corn (all the different forms of it, probably including the monoglycerides). Here's why.

Enriched white flour is pure starch and nothing else...until the millers add back all the vitamins they stripped out of the flour in the first place, which seems like a monumentally inefficient system. So you might be getting the same vitamins, but you're not getting any fiber (which helps you to poo, it's true). Worse, Americans consume far too much of this starch in pasta, bread, stuffing, cereal, cookies, etc., etc. Think about what grocers call "The Prison" section of the store (so-called because if you put a few carts and a 3-D display in the aisle, you're probably not going to get out alive or without making at least one impulse purchase). Most of what's contained in it are boxes, cans, and jars containing white flour. ("Jars don't contain anything with white flour in it," you say? How about Manischewitz matzo ball soup?)

Convenience foods.

I see flour as an important cause of our rising obesity rate, which, yes, is an incredibly complex phenomenon, and flour alone is not the culprit. But it didn't help that the USDA advocated 6-11 servings of grain-based foods a day in the outdated Food Pyramid. If I tried to eat grains to the exclusion of everything else, I still wouldn't be able to consume that outrageous amount every single day, and I'd probably lose all my teeth from malnutrition if I tried. Not to mention the fact that the encouragement to eat whole grains over the processed stuff that comes in your box of Fruit Loops was in pretty damned fine print. Also not mentioned on the Pyramid is the fact that there is fiber in beans, fruits, and vegetables as well as more vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. See, there is a Big Grain (think Archer Daniels Midland), but there is no Big Bean, Fruit, and Vegetable because the producers of onions, strawberries, and butter beans, etc. are largely independent (or worse, located in other countries which increases the carbon footprint of their produce). Big Grain has a big lobby, so they got a huge piece of the Pyramid pie where fruits and vegetables get less than half the space. And beans are inexplicably lumped in with meat. Beans contain virtually no fat, are practically free if you buy them dried, and they're damned filling. But my government is going to sit there and tell me I should be careful and not eat too much of them? That's just stupid. But it goes to show what happens when your crop doesn't have a lobby to advocate for it with the USDA (US Department of Asshattery).

We can lump soy, cottonseed oil, and corn all into the same group because, in my opinion, they're bad for you and the environment for the same reasons. Monsanto* started out as a seed company, switched to the chemical business, and then became a chemical and seed company. Some scientists who work for them got the idea to develop an herbicide from a chemical called glyphosate (far more environmentally friendly than atrazine, previously one of the more common herbicides, I freely admit). Then, they took their profits a step further by genetically modifying soybean, cotton, corn, and canola seeds. In the case of soybeans, for example, they splice the bean's genes (tee hee) with some genes from a bacterium that produces an enzyme that makes the plants invulnerable to glyphosate; hence, "weeds" die, crops don't. (N.B.: It's supposed to be a single gene, but my understanding is that it's impossible to remove the one gene without also removing a couple of others and these have become a part of the genetic material of the modified seeds. If I'm wrong on this count, you may leave a message in the comments with a correction. I point it out for informational purposes only.) And here's the deal: 94% of all soybeans, 73% of all cottonseed, and 72% of all corn (excepting sweet corn, which is a tiny crop in comparison to the stuff you see driving on the freeway) comes from genetically modified seed.

In an ironic twist, "weeds" have proven that natural hybridization can happen as quickly and efficiently as the brilliant scientists who work for the aforementioned company can come up with new ways to genetically and recklessly alter life. In other words, the "weeds" glyphosate is supposed to combat are quickly becoming resistant to it, to the point that 12 million acres1 of U.S. cropland is overrun by Monster "Weeds." In the south it's pigweed, an edible, highly nutritious plant (which is why "weeds" is in quotation marks: one woman's "weed" is another woman's salad). The result of these Monster "Weeds" arriving on the scene is that farmers are either using more and more glyphosate on their GM crops or are applying atrazine as well as glyphosate.

Let's break it down: "herb," from the Latin herba meaning "grass" or "herb"; "-cide" from the Latin cidium, a form of the verb caedere meaning "to kill." These are poisons. Both the aforementioned company and the EPA have maintained that the product does not cause any harm to humans or animals, but the evidence is mounting that, in fact, it does2.

4Sidenote. Linda J. Fisher, who was president of Monsanto from 1995-2000, worked as an adiminstrator of the EPA under George W. Bush. She is now a vice president of DuPont. Just thought I'd throw that in there. 3End sidenote.

There is the possibility that glyphosate is responsible for a wide number of negative effects ranging from birth defects to dilation of the heart. And it is definitely toxic to aquatic life, which is why products containing it state on their labels that you should not pour your leftover herbicide down the drain. And if you think that rinsing these crops with water removes the herbicide, you are mistaken. Research has shown that the majority of chemicals applied to fruits and vegetables remain...even after washing them with a produce detergent3. (You should still rinse your produce because it IS effective at removing pathogens.) For these reasons, it seems to me that more application of glyphosate is not a good thing. Any application of atrazine is definitely not a good thing. And if the Monster "Weeds" continue taking over cropland, countries around the globe that depend on the U.S. for much of their food supply could be looking famine straight in it's skinny little face. Starving to death is not very good for anyone's health.

So I challenge you. Guess the products if you can. More importantly, vote with your dollars. Stop buying over-processed food with ingredients whose name you can't pronounce. Grill a bunch of vegetables and a lean meat for dinner; have cut up fruit for dessert. Better yet, go pescetarian, vegetarian, or flexitarian (someone who eats meat only occasionally). Make it a game to figure out how to transform a food you generally don't have time to make into a "from-scratch convenience" food. Love blueberry pancakes? Triple the batter, divide it up, and throw what you don't eat into the freezer. Try to buy as many organic products as you can afford. If not, you'd better start looking up recipes for pigweed because you may be eating a lot of it in the near least here in the sunny South.

I'll reveal the products and the imaginary meal I conjured up for the 1208 calorie dinner next Wednesday along with some suggestions for substituting "from-scratch convenience" foods. Oh, and pigweed. I'll have a recipe for pigweed...which will get you through the glyphosate catastrophe and the zombie apocalypse.

*The company in question has a nasty habit of sending cease and desist letters to anyone who might exercise her first amendment right to express a negative opinion of said company. All views expressed here are opinion only.

1 comment:

  1. Genetically modified foods scare me. I wish we had a labeling requirement. IF no one cares, fine. It won't make any difference, right?