Saturday, September 3, 2011

What the hell CAN I Eat - Fake Food Edition

We all know I'm on a Noble Quest to Eat Better, right?  One of the biggest things I'm noticing on my Journey is how little Actual Food there is in the grocery store.  I read Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food when it first came out a few years ago (his axiom for health: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants) and I thought, "yeah, that makes sense, we don't really eat a lot of real food."

But see, I thought that meant stuff like Dorito's or macaroni and cheese.  I figured that, you know, yogurt, for example, was a real food.

I'm learning that I've been way off in jumping to that conclusion.

I've become an obsessive label-reader, and here's what I'm learning:

All those yummy General Foods International instant coffee that I love to mix with cold milk in a blender to make a pseudo-frappuccino?  Not really food.

I was reading the label of my Hill's Brothers mocha mix, and I noticed that it's loaded to the brim with phosphates.  Whereas my Starbucks Via instant coffee is simply coffee, cane sugar, and dried milk.  I put on my Sherlock Holmes hat and asked myself, "what are these phosphates, and are they bad for me?"

It doesn't seem very cut and dry.  The International Food Additives Council publishes a list of phosphates used in food, and why they're there.  They're in loads of foods.  Everything from cake mixes to soy milk.  Apparently they are often used to prevent clumping (like in my instant coffee or the aforementioned cake mix).

The FDA lists them as "Generally Recognized as Safe."  And they're approved for use in the EU.  So it looks like they're ok, except possibly for people with kidney problems.

But still, here's the thing.  So much of what we're eating isn't actually food.  It's edible food-like substances that are engineered by food scientists.  The plus side of this is that we get a lot of great food, very easily.  Just add water, and you've got creamy coffee.  They allow us to have an enormous range of food in our refrigerator that we don't even really need to cook ourselves.  I'm sure it's made food less expensive.  But the downside is that I'm loading my body up with chemicals.  Coffee is not supposed to have a non-caking agent in it.

Is this sustainable?

Take my Fiber One bars.  They're touted as being pretty healthy, right?  They taste like granola and chocolate, and they have 11 grams of fiber.  But they have Yellow Number 6 in them, which can cause tumors on the kidney, can mess with your chromosomes, and is banned in Norway.

Yellow Number 6 is approved in the US.  Maybe Norway is overreacting.  Or maybe not.  Cigarettes are still legal, after all.  Maybe in fifty years we'll all be aghast at the amount of food chemicals that we put into our bodies.

And I ask you, why the hell does a granola bar need to have Yellow Number 6 in it in the first place?

So the next phase of my Eating Better Quest is to get rid of as many of these chemicals as I can.  Tomorrow I'm going to make my own potato chips, and I might even start making my own bread, because seriously, why is there high fructose corn syrup in bread?  Of all the stupid things...

I'm gonna take this "no additives and chemicals" thing to the next level.  For thousands of years people ate without this kind of crap in their food, and honestly, I think it's still too early to call it safe.  So I'm out.  I'm getting off the chemical train.

I'm glad I'm finding all this out now, before I get pregnant again.  Because it takes time and effort to make your own bread and it's good to get in the habit now.  Dammit, I'm committed to having a kitchen with real food in it, and not something that was created in a laboratory.    

I shall report back on the chips, as well as other chemicals I'm finding in my new obsessive-label-reading experiment.

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