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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Trying to Process it All

Some of the more interesting info that Michael Pollan writes in his The Omnivore's Dilemma (to me, at least) is the advent of processed foods--and its effects on our health, environment and the whole food culture in this country.

Processing food is not a recent phenomenon--just how it's done is.  Pollan writes of the 3 "ages" of food processing.  The first was centuries ago when we learned how to preserve food through the use of salt and cures and pickling.  Then, as technology advanced a bit, we started to can and freeze our foods to make them last.  But then, in the words of Pollan:
In the third age of food processing, which begins with the end of World War II, merely preserving the fruits of nature was deemed too modest:  The goal now was to improve on nature.  The twentieth-century prestige of technology and convenience combined with advances in marketing to push aside butter to make shelf space for margarine, replace fruit juice with juice drinks and then entirely juice-free drinks like Tang, cheese with Cheez Whiz, and whipped cream with Cool Whip.
As you may guess, corn is involved greatly in these technological "advances".  Maybe the best example how technology and marketing make a boatload of money for big businesses is breakfast cereals.  It takes a cheap commodity like corn and turns it into a box of cereal that's sold for $4 or more.  And this "improvement" on nature's food can be found in many places.

Pollan writes of a company called TreeTop that "has developed a 'low-moisture, naturally sweetened apple piece infused with a red-wine extract.'  Just eighteen grams of these apple pieces have the same amount of cancer-fighting 'flavonoid phenols as five glasses of wine and the dietary fibber equivalent of one whole apple.'"  Is is me or is this just weird?  The article where he read about this company was in Food Technology and was entitled "Getting More Fruits and Vegetables into Food."  That pretty much tells you what you need to know.

Where does this leave us?  In a nation full of healthcare problems, Type II diabetes (which originally was called "adult-onset diabetes" until so many kids started to be diagnosed with it) and turning corn into high fructose corn syrup to sweeten our foods.  These processed foods are cheap calories and so people eat more of it.  That's why  poverty and obesity go hand-in-hand.  According to Pollan, since 1977, American's average daily intake of calories has gone up more than 10%.  

Ahh, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  We've all heard how it isn't good for us (except for those TV commercials from the corn processors that were running the last couple of years telling us differently).  Problem is that even though we eat more HFCS, we're still eating just as much refined sugar.  The average American consumes about 66 pounds of HFCS a year, but our refined sugar intake is going up.  Yuck.

In 1984, Coke and Pepsi decided to change from sugar to corn syrup--it's much cheaper--but because of the lower cost in producing their products, they sold them in larger bottles.  Lower cost per ounce, but we drink more ounces.  Bigger is better--just ask fast food restaurants who want you to Super Size for just a few cents more.

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