The Pretensions and Potholes of “Pure Food”

There is nothing quite like pretentious people whose condescension and arrogance destroys a community’s good will for everyone else. They leave behind them a wake off-putting ill will and sour judgments for those who come after them, those who are not pretentious but have the same issue. Purity of food for purchase is a maddeningly complicated issue but it is doubly so for those with food intolerances. Their pursuit safe food to consume amid the complications of the industrial food complex is exacerbated by the elitist aspersions cast upon them as they search.

Typically, two sorts of people pursue a pure food diet: those who believe that a diet stripped of modern food chemistry processes will prolong and enhance their lives, and those who already have health issues, especially people with catchall vaguely understood syndromes such as Chronic Fatigue and Hashimoto’s. Controlling what one consumes is not typically curative but avoiding certain ingredients is a significant strategy for mitigating symptoms.

Pure food is a trial of patience. Trying to maintain such a strict regimen is expensive and takes significant hours for researching, shopping multiple sites both online and bricks-and-mortar, and then cooking. (Try finding a can of tomato sauce without citric acid in it.) As an exceptional and desired purchase, pure foods are often the most expensive in the store; they spoil faster.

Pure food is any ingredient that has not been genetically altered, fertilized with aluminum-based chemicals, and has not been adulterated with man-made chemicals before it reaches your kitchen. Pure foods do not really exist in the 21st century. Most of the common grains have been genetically altered the laboratory. The pursuit of high yield fields or insect-resistant stalks using modern laboratory techniques rapidly changed the genetics of wheat, corn, soy, and other grains. There is no way back either to earlier stocks. Economics play a role as well, emphasizing bigger harvest varieties, which are not as tasty or nutritious as progenitor varieties. Even more, processes used in the fields, such as killing the wheat with Roundup® two weeks before harvest to dry out the stalks for easy harvesting, are not the best for human health. From seed genetics, to field maintenance and onto harvesting, every step has the potential to corrupt the purity of the grain.

An enthusiast must seek out “heritage grains” or “heirloom vegetables and fruits” to find ingredients that our inherited guts have learned to digest easily from centuries past. However, if the farmer uses common fertilizer, which is an aluminum product, the plant is absorbing unwanted elements from the soil. Harvesting using the chemical-kill technique reduces the purity of the grains (by absorbing the killing agent) while the techniques of harvesting fruits and vegetables before they are ripe and zapping them with gas to ripen later along with FruitFresh® to give them flavor introduces all the chemicals a food purist is seeking to avoid. A shopper in a grocery store or a specialty shop cannot truly know what happened to that product, grain, vegetable, or fruit before it arrived for purchase.

Eggs are an issue. Besides the factory-style cruelty to animals, the eggs that chickens lay are the product of what the chickens eat. The same rules apply to all manner of meat. Feeding animals is expensive, yet there are inexpensive alternatives, all of which are neither healthy for the animals nor for the human consumers.

Milk? Do not purchase ultra-pasteurized, which is seared milk overlaid with chemicals to mask the burnt flavor.

The popular response to this search for purity is BUY ORGANIC. An entire shelf of books has been written on the falsehood of the term, organic. In brief, the USDA’s primary mission is to help American food companies sell their products. Their secondary, some claim tertiary, mission is food safety for the consumer. In this context, Organic is a poorly regulated term with a porous definition and many legal exceptions. Ultra-pasteurized cream can be/is still labeled organic.

Pure foods cost more but the price sticker is not proof of quality. For those with food intolerances, the only method is to experiment. If the ingredient makes you feel ill, which is typically headaches, nausea, cramping, slight temperature, inflammation, popped-out belly, or messy bowel movements, do not eat it again. (Sound like fun, let’s try it again!) This method is neither healthy or even easy to pursue – try counting the number of discreet ingredients a person eats in one day. Further, limited diets restrict a social life, going out for meals with friends or going to visit others in their homes becomes an always losing game of how long can I stay before I feel sick?

The pretentious person takes this pursuit of pure food as a moral crusade, opting to justify their food choices as a pursuit of ethical and moral principles that have been compromised by greed and power. They play a blame game and it is this blaming behavior that sets teeth on edge and causes eyes to roll. For those trying to mitigate symptoms of poorly understood, often disbelieved diagnoses, the issue is not moral even if the moral component exists. The issue is just being able to eat without getting sick.

Food purity is not Western diets versus the rest of the world. Where allowed, food flows from distant points all around the globe. Modern chemistry and food processing techniques make this world-wide distribution possible, making the variety of available foods at any time of year astounding. However, this global food market is not always necessarily good or healthy. Food intolerances are spreading and escalating. While others can debate that food purity is a moral and economic issue, food purity is a health issue for those most affected. The afflicted still hope for a magic list of foods they can consume without getting sick, and perhaps this is the core moral issue.

 

 

 

Lessons from Granola 2

Re: Gluten Free misdirection

Members of my family have food intolerances that include wheat and corn. They have tested negative for Celiac Disease, meaning that they do not have a wheat allergy, or precisely, a gluten allergy. People with symptoms such as inflammation across the body, belly bloat, and unusual weight gain (such as 2, 3 or 4 pounds in a twenty-four hour period) have a greater probability of having an intolerance of some sort rather than a gluten allergy. A simple blood test of Celiac Disease can sort out the truth. My family members have intolerances but the question is what substance or substances can their bodies not tolerate?

Gluten Free is a meaningless term for people with food intolerances. It is not the gluten in and of itself.

The issue may be the preferred processes of large scale monoculture agribusiness. Two weeks before the harvest of wheat, corn and soybeans, farmers are instructed to spray their fields with herbicide, typically Roundup©. By killing the plants at the root and drying up the plant, sophisticated combine harvesters need less maintenance and repairs. My family may be more sensitive to herbicides.

Others have mentioned pesticides and fungicides used during the growing season, although these substances usually run off earlier in the growing season, causing other sorts of environmental damage. More often, purists point to manufactured fertilizers. When Egypt built the Aswan dam, replacing the annual flooding of the Nile River, their agriculture changed in fundamental ways. The flooding had brought nutrients from the center of the continent to naturally fertilize the land. The Egyptian government responded to the loss by building synthetic fertilizer factories. The taste of the vegetables changed dramatically, giving off a metallic or aluminum flavor that replaced the more organic flavonoids. I was unable to locate any studies on the increase or diminishment of the nutritional content of Egyptian produce after the placement of the Aswan dam. There are no studies on the rise of environmental ailments either.

In the United States, the ORGANIC label means herbicides are tightly controlled. The Federal Regulation on Organics reads: “Herbicides, soap-based—for use in farmstead maintenance (roadways, ditches, right of ways, building perimeters) and ornamental crops.” Crops are harvested differently than the large-scale agribusiness crops; the plants are more likely to be alive at the time of harvest. Herbicides cannot be used on the crops themselves, only in the adjacent areas used for keeping the farm up and running and farmers cannot use harsher chemicals.

I wish this was the end of the story, a tale of virtuous farmers producing a better food for us to eat. This is only the beginning, however. Most of us do not purchase our grain products directly from the farm. This granola is gluten free because the recipe is oats and buckwheat but, alas, in the American food market, even the simplest ingredients can trip the unwary.

Next Episode: Aren’t Oats Good For You?