it's not easy to buy food anymore. i remember having no choice at the market. there was one kind of sugar, one kind of eggs, and you could only find whatever fruit and vegetable were in season. not once during my childhood have i eaten strawberries in december. today i go to the grocer and there's seven kinds of eggs. conventional, organic, antibiotic-free, no added hormones, free range, and on it goes with everything until i feel like i'm recovering from a vertigo spell. then you hit the meat counter and the implications run deeper than i had imagined.
do you know where your meat comes from? in sweden they've added a second bar code, that brings up images of the farm where the animal was raised, genetic information, health history, what it was fed and other such details. chances are if this were done here you'd loose your appetite. i simply can't believe we've reached a stage when talking about the origins of our food has become inappropriate dinner conversation. salmon farmed like chickens, fed on grain, like chicken. cattle pumped full of antibiotics every day, as preventative measure. the corn they eat mixed with their own fat, which led to the outbreak of mad cow's disease, and has since been replaced with chicken and/or pork fat. add to that some nice feather meal. add to that chicken litter, growth hormones and antibiotics. this is what happens today in industrial cattle feedlots, and it's all deemed acceptable by the FDA and USDA. a cow grows from 80 pounds at birth to 1,100 pounds in 14 months. it used to be at least 3 years before they headed for the slaughterhouse. in 'the omnivore's dilemma' michael pollan recounts how during a visit on a feedlot he asked a manager why they don't liquefy the enormous quantity of manure to spray it on the neighbouring farms. it's because the farmers don't want it: it's so toxic the crops would die. there's more: of the cattle reaching the slaughterhouse, 30% to 70% have abcessed livers. this is the meat we eat, from animals with shot livers and toxic shit.
there's still more: ever give your kid a chicken nugget? me, too. but never again, and here's the many reasons why not: it's 54% corn. of the 38 ingredients, 13 can be derived from corn. on top of those, there's several completely synthetic ones, obtained not from chicken or corn, but from petroleum in a chemical plant. leavening agents, anti-foaming agents, and preservatives, including dimethylpolysiloxene, a suspected carcinogen and an established mutagen, tumorigen and reproductive effector. worse still, 'to help preserve freshness' nuggets are sprayed directly with tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ. this is a form of butane, and according to FDA standards it can comprise up to 0.02% of the oil in a nugget. says pollan, 'which is probably just as well, considering that ingesting a single gram of TBHQ can cause nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation and collapse. ingesting five grams of TBHQ can kill'.
what's with the junk in the picture? it's proof that not all processed food is junk. i bought the pizza dough at trader joe's, and it's done essentially as i would do it. the pizza sauce i got from a can. to those tomatoes only herbes were added, not high fructose corn syrup or thickeners and emulsifiers. the vegetables are organic, and they are local, which means they're as fresh as they come. the goat cheese is a processed food, but only contains goat milk, herbes, garlic and a cheese culture. no exotic molecules. and if you're wondering if it tasted better than its frozen/delivered counterpart, consider this: those veggies, fresh and crisp do not require much intervention. but i did toss them in a bit of cold-pressed olive oil, mixed with a bit of walnut oil, and a splash of toasted sesame seed oil. serve it on a bed of spicy, tender arugula, and this pizza is as far from junk as cake is from cauliflower.
this was brought on by mark's recent post on how to distinguish real food in the sea of processed food. my theory is this - since none of us carry mass spectrometers to the market to analyze the chemical signature of foods, simply and carefully read the ingredient list. do not be duped by flashy 'heart healthy', 'fat-free', 'all-natural' boasts. just look at all the ingredients, and if there's anything in there that your grandma would not recognize, find an alternative. it may be convenient to buy processed foods. but convenient for whom? i think it's more so for the food industry than it may for the consummer. food is my passion, and my absolute priority is my child. and i refuse to feed her stuff that will endanger her health. read 'the omnivore's dilemma' if you haven't already, and read 'real food has curves' by bruce weinstein and mark scarbrough, which is a practical seven step plan to get off processed foods. i can't commit to fully organic, i simply can't afford it. but i can avoid those products so laden with chemicals they can't be called food anymore. and i can look up a near-by farm and sign up for their CSA program, which will provide me with fresh veggies every week, and will at the same time support local agriculture. convenient. and healthy, too.