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.

 

 

 

A Lesson in the Demise of Senator Skelos

Former New York State Senator Dean Skelos is going to jail for steering government contracts to his son as well as constructing quid pro quo arrangements for his son. The man was president of the State Senate and now he is convicted felon. At a newsy level his story is just another corrupt politician in a state with a long history of government corruption; however, the Skelos drama was almost an immitigable tragedy for the environmental health of the state.

One of the contracts Senator Skelos was trying to steer to his son was a consultant’s post for a fracking consortium. The deal was contingent on the state legislature passing a bill allowing fracking and Governor Cuomo signing off on the bill. The bill passed, regulatory agencies waffled, and only at the last minute did the governor refuse fracking in the state.

In one of the depositions, Skelos stated something to the effect that nobody wanted fracking in the state anyway. For a sum of a few hundred thousand dollars, the senator was willing to ruin the groundwater across numerous counties affecting thousands of residents and to accelerate climate change with the release that much more carbon into the atmosphere. The greed is bad enough but there is more to consider.

The consequences of fracking cannot be remediated. There are no courses of action that can purge the contamination of aquifers due to fracking. Further, there is no method to recall and seal away the millions of tons of carbon that are released into the atmosphere by fracking. Fracking is destroying areas of the country for lifetimes to come at the least and accelerating possibly irreversible climate change, which is our worst fear. Skelos was willing to do this for $400,000.

At every stage of this fracking debate in New York State, citizens and environmental organizations fought hard, bring to bear the science, the community concerns, and the moral imperative to keep fracking out of the state. Skelos did not give a scintilla of a thought to the science though he did not dismiss it. Worse, he ignored it. He had no moral compass, meaning that all of those impassioned arguments against fracking were trivialized as well. He heard all of the rancor and discord, dismissing it all in a narrow quest for the money.

Those of us who fight for legislation based on climate science are a serious lot, taking upon ourselves this burden as a life or death issue. It is. Former Senator Skelos and his ilk repudiate our fight as if it is just another political skirmish, another opportunity for scoring political points or securing personal financial gain. Their approach is morally reprehensible. Humanists and God believers alike are repulsed for the same reason of short-sighted moral bankruptcy.

The lesson of Senator Skelos is that we cannot relent on the pressure we bring to bear. Dean Skelos was never going to listen but Governor Cuomo did. In any given legislative or regulatory push, we may never know where our voice of reason and merit will overcome the obstacles. So we push; we push everywhere. To friends and foes alike, let all take note that we will not stop until our planet is pulled back from the brink.

Lessons From Granola #6

RE: The Other Ingredients and Dollars

Notes

  1. Vanilla is very expensive when purchasing the small bottles at the grocery store, best price I found was $7 for 4oz (118 ml) at Korger or $5.50 for 2oz at Publix (59 ml). Vanilla is the most expensive ingredient of the recipe when purchasing in the grocery store. I use approximately one liter a year, which would be $59 at Kroger or $93 at Publix. In contrast, vanilla Beans cost $2.99 or $3.99 a bean at my usual spice store but I can also purchase them on Amazon, 5 beans for $8. A liter of inexpensive vodka cost $8. Add three beans to one liter of vodka and hide the bottle in a cabinet for 9 months. The product is full-fledged, delicious vanilla extract. Doing the math, I make vanilla for $17-20 a year.
  2. Raw nuts and fruits, even dried beans and peas, are also difficult products to track for purity. The Ball Corporation has put out a product since the 1970’s called Fruit Fresh© that is a preservative that retail consumers can purchase in powder form. Fruit Fresh is advertised as a product that keeps foods from turning brown. Food manufacturers and farm wholesalers have access to a liquid form and other competing products. MSG is an excellent preservative and adds flavor to factory farmed products that are often deficient in flavonoids. Sulfites are also common in these sprays. The big strawberries that are popular at this time are often sprayed with a product that gives flavor and sweetness to the fruit while increasing their shelf life. In my experience these chemicals do not wash off in water.
  1. Molasses, boiled sugarcane, comes in two basic categories, blackstrap molasses and molasses. Each of the two categories will have two choices: sulphured and unsulphured. Blackstrap is more caramelized and tends towards bitter while regular molasses may be blended with other syrups. Sulphured is a manufactured product in which Sulphur Dioxide is added. Don’t breathe the stuff. The best bet is unsulphured Blackstrap, which is also recommended by the American Heart Association.
  2. Do NOT purchase spices at the grocery store. Herbs and spices lose their taste within one year. Every item for purchase in this section of the grocery store is old and already devoid of full flavor. If there is not a spice store near your location, order online for a better product and almost always a better price. Amazon.com is not the best retailer for spices and herbs because they carry the same grocery store brands. Look here, here, or even here (larger quantities) for an idea of what you can stock in your house.

Bon Appetit!

I hope you have enjoyed this research project into a commonly considered healthy food. Please consider a few takeaways:

  1. Reading labels is not enough. Each ingredient may deserve a label of its own contents. Caveat Emptor!
  2. Pure is not necessarily better but purity establishes a baseline from which an informed consumer can make choices of what to eat.
  3. Food manufacturers are sensitive to complaints. If enough consumers complain and force the comments into the media cycles, they will change formulations.
  4. Food is not a zero-sum game, where the consumer must always trade off one priority to gain another.
  5. When it comes to creating quality foods that are healthy, money is not the most significant barrier. Preparation time is the most consuming component.

Lessons From Granola #5

RE: Honey It’s Not

In April of 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offered a draft copy of new regulations concerning the labeling of honey sold in the United States. This proposed regulation was a foot-dragging response to a petition filed in 2006 by the American Beekeeper Federation requesting the FDA to specify the definition of honey as being only the substance that comes from bees. After five years (2011) the FDA rejected the request with the reasoning that every reasonable person knows what honey is. Three years later in 2014, the FDA was forced by its weak justification to agree to regulate the labels on honey but only as a gesture of confidence for the consumer, not beekeepers. The regulation is still in draft form as of this writing.

Here are the numbers. In 2013 residents of the United States consumed 400 million pounds of honey. The beekeepers of the United States only produced 149 million pounds. We imported 251 million pounds of honey or at least a golden colored substance called honey. One batch that came through Mexico that year was so adulterated that Customs seized it. The American Beekeeper Federation wanted the definition in place to stop the importation of adulterated honey. Their argument was only if the honey was free of fillers and unadulterated with other non-bee substances should the product be called honey.

In 2013, American honey cost $2.12 a pound for producers. Importing from other countries was much cheaper, especially if the honey was bulked up with inexpensive filler. Imports from Brazil, Mexico and the Soviet Union were impounded by the FDA during the 1990’s but apparently little has been done to stop the flow of adulterated honey in the intervening years.

Honey imports are not inspected because “FDA laboratories do not have the instrumental capability to analyze honey according to the Official Methods of Analysis of AOAC International, AOAC Official Method 991.41, which requires an isotope ration mass spectrometer.” (FDA Import Alert 36-01). This admission of the FDA that they do not own a spectrometer highlights that the honey you see on the shelf in the grocery store is honey-flavored corn syrup or more common, honey-flavored rice syrup. Rice syrup already has a color and consistency similar to honey.

The proposed labeling regulations will be meaningless. The FDA has no equipment to analyze honey and most honey is imported, where there is no monitoring of contents. A food corporation can plead ignorance and there is no follow-up regulation that an importing company must verify the purity of the honey at its source – a willful but legal ignorance.

Rice syrup is just as bad for the human body as corn syrup, which is already documented as harmful. The health benefits of honey, which has been used in wound care and medicine for millennia, are absent from the common products labeled “Honey” on the grocery shelves. Bacteria cannot live in honey. Thus coating an open wound in honey seals the injury from infection. The other words such as “pure”, “genuine”, “100 percent” are all empty, unregulated words by the FDA on honey labels.

Pure honey is expensive. However, purchasing the most expensive honey on the shelf is no guarantee of purity because there is no definition of honey and labeling is worthless. This is one product where the only guarantee is buying from the source, that is to say, direct from the beekeeper.

If this circumstance is not difficult enough, we are experiencing a die-off of European honeybees in the United States. The likely culprit is a pesticide manufactured by Bayer. “The deadly pesticide is one of a fairly new family known as the neonicotinoids—“neonics” for short—developed a decade or so ago to replace organophosphates and carbamates, which are also highly toxic but dissipate far more quickly.” (earthjustice.org) However, lobbyists for the company have convinced the Department of Agriculture not to pull the pesticide from the American market despite the European Union banning the pesticide in 2011. There is a distinct possibility that we will not taste pure honey for years to come in the United States.

My recipe began with a base recipe that called for ¾ cup of honey. Obviously the recipe was written for a more innocent time. By switching to molasses as the source of sweet and gooey, the honey was cut back to two tablespoons, although it could use more. Molasses has a harsher taste, wonderful in barbeque sauce to balance the bite of vinegar; however, using molasses forces the cook to rely on the maple syrup for a gentler, sweet taste. Due to the present lack of confidence in pureness of honey, this recipe must reach out for other sweet ingredients that must be combined to make up for the lack of honey. Tch.

Lessons From Granola #6: The Other Ingredients and Dollars

Lessons on Granola #4

RE: Salt Ain’t What It Used To Be

Table Salt refers to rock salt that has been ground to a fine crystal. Salt is a mineral and for people who are looking at the ingredients in their food, unadulterated salt should be an easy find. After all, salt is so plentiful in our day that we throw hundreds of tons of in our streets in the winter. Ironies among the ironies, the salt we throw on the streets is purer than the table salt in our dining areas.

The ingredients in Morton Salt© are:

SALT, CALCIUM SILICATE, DEXTROSE, and POTASSIUM IODIDE

Salt, the mineral, is an integral thread in the history of human civilization and is still essential. Potassium Iodide was added to pure salt in the 1920’s as a preventative for goiter, a disease caused by a lack of iodine in the diet. Calcium silicate is an anti-caking agent that stops the salt crystals from melding into thicker chunks because of moisture.

Dextrose is another name for sugar, albeit a more processed product than twice boiled sugarcane. Why add sugar to salt? The answer is a question of profit – How does one make salt taste better than the next choice for salt on the grocery shelf? Why sugar, of course. The salt producers have also experimented with adding MSG to table salt in the form of Citric Acid. Most have removed citric acid from their formularies as of this date, preferring to hide MSG in Dextrose, which is a known MSG product. To read more about the ingredients, read this article on salt published in 2010.

Food manufacturers are sensitive to complaints about their ingredients. Both Morton and Diamond Crystal now produce a table salt without iodine that also has no sugar. For pure salt, look to purchase Kosher Salt, although all kosher salt products are not the same. Morton adds anti-caking agent to their product because their method of creating the kosher grind (a larger crystal than table) creates a flakier, more intense salt. Diamond Crystal does not have such an agent.

To clarify the record, Kosher Salt does not refer to Jewish dietary laws of kashrut. Salt is a mineral and does not require rabbinic supervision. Kosher in this case refers to the size of the salt crystals. Kosher salt is a larger grain used often to soak the blood out of cuts of meat. The product is used in kashering kosher-slaughtered meats but in and of itself is inert in Jewish law.

NEXT: Honey Not!

Lessons from Granola #3

Dietitians recommend oatmeal. Doctors recommend the gummy stuff too because it is good for your heart and an excellent source of nutrition. Oatmeal is one of the ancient recipes that reaches back into the Medieval Period if not earlier, making oatmeal one of those more primitive and therefore more unadulterated recipes that excites food purists. The ancient history is correct but the recent history is a bit more convoluted. I am not sure your ancestors four or five generations back would be pleased with our oats.

The ingredients listed on the round container of Quaker Oats, a subsidiary of Pepsico:

WHOLE GRAIN ROLLED OATS, SUGAR, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SALT, CALCIUM CARBONATE, GUAR GUM, CARAMEL COLOR, NIACINAMIDE*, REDUCED IRON, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE*, RIBOFLAVIN*, THIAMIN MONONITRATE*, FOLIC ACID*.

Compare and contrast with a more expensive brand of rolled oats, Bob’s Red Mill:

WHOLE GRAIN OATS.

The irony of this comparison is that the more expensive brand has only one ingredient. There are fifteen ingredients in the cheaper brand and some of them are nearly unpronounceable unless you are a practicing chemist. Why fifteen ingredients?

Quaker Oats is a highly processed product. A byproduct of manipulating the oats in the production process is the loss of nutrients. The more processing, the more loss. The manufacturer adds synthetic nutrients back into the oats to compensate and can actually add more to boost the nutrition claims. There are no impartial definitive studies that prove that the human body ingests synthetic nutrients in any significant quantities although there are studies that we do not absorb all of the synthetic nutrients, purging them from our bodies in our urine. These additives serve another purpose than health though. Food manufacturers are often called out for manipulating the nutrition labels on the side the packaging, trying to fool the consumer into believing that the product is healthier than it actually is.

For consumers the idea of eating whole foods such as WHOLE GRAIN ROLLED OATS is to eat minimally processed foods. A basic formulation of rolled oats is processed to a small degree – oats on the plant are not flat. Health conscious consumers want minimally processed foods. In contrast, a manufacturer wants to increase market share by having more consumers purchase their product and by having the dedicated customer buy more of the product. These two different agendas do not have to be in opposition but overarching greed is enough incentive for a manufacturer to take advantage of the relationship between producer and consumer.

The usual method for increasing sales is not price. Price is a one-shot proposal for coupon-cutting budgeteers. Increasing sales on a broader scale usually means adding salt, fat and sugar. Notice that sugar is second and salt is fourth on the Quaker Oats listing of ingredients. However, there is another powerful weapon for promoting appetite for a product: monosodium glutamate otherwise known as MSG. MSG is flavor and it is addictive. There are four ingredients on the label that definitely contain MSG and a fifth that probably does. The four definite items are natural flavor, artificial flavor, guar gum and caramel color. The probable fifth is salt. MSG is intimately connected to significant and sustained weight gain.

The first and largest ingredient in my granola is oats, and already the recipe is landmine for the unwary. By choosing the wrong manufacturer, you lose nutrition and you gain weight. A bag or a box of ROLLED OATS should be just one ingredient, rolled oats.

Next Episode: Salt Ain’t What It Used To Be

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?