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Sunday, March 07, 2010

there is no defence for this food

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So, I've been a really, really crappy blogger lately. And I apologize for that.

However, I certainly haven't been idle in terms of food and eating....and especially in terms of reading. It seems to becoming de rigueur these days to read up on food and condemn factory farming practices and supply chain conglomeration and all those things.

So being the diligent little foodie that I am, I've been doing these things. I've read books (The End of Overeating by Dr. David. A. Kessler, Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer). I've watched movies (King Corn, Food Inc.). I've read articles (from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, from various other news outlets).

I've been horrified, grossed out, temporarily name it.

But it's honestly hard to grasp just how ridiculous and fragile the North American food supply is. I mean, yes, we've all heard about recalls of ground beef, spinach, lunch meats and all that stuff. But that seems pretty straightforward.

But then you look at the current recall on hydrolyzed vegetable protein. And your first reaction is hydrolyzed vegetable protein, and have I eaten it?

To answer the first, HVP (which sounds like a disease, if you ask me) is made by boiling cereals or legumes [like soy, corn or wheat] in hydrochloric [wha?????] acid, and then neutralizing it with sodium hydroxide.

To answer the second, yes, you've probably eaten it.

So.....we are boiling stuff we don't need in a highly corrosive solution and then making it palatable with a caustic metal base.

This totally sounds like something I'd want to eat. You?

Anyway, the resulting HVP is used as a flavour enhancer in processed food. So it's used in things like soup, sauces, chili, stew, hot dogs, gravy, snacks, dips and dressings. And sometimes it's blended with spices to make seasonings. A quick investigation into my own pantry found me four products containing HVP - a salad topping mix, a soup, a burger seasoning mix and a peppercorn sauce. These items are full of sodium and other chemicals and probably had no business entering my house in the first place.

So I've tossed them.

Anyway, what I find interesting about this particular food recall is that it really shows how incredibly fragile the processed food supply is. So you have this one company in Nevada that makes this nasty stuff.

And then they sell it to all kinds of food manufacturers (lots of brands and varieties) that make even more nasty stuff.

And those manufacturers sell to grocery stores all across the continent.

And we buy this crap, mix it with another ingredient or two, and feel like we're actually cooking something.

And so basically anyone in the ENTIRE CONTINENT who has purchased processed food since September 2009 needs to have a good go-through of their cupboard and fridge contents.

All because of one small company in Nevada.

And how many other small companies might there be out there helping to pump our foods with chemicals and "enhancers" that we simply don't need?

I'm just looking at the label of my instant leek soup....on the ingredient list, I see corn starch (okay), wheat flour (okay), modified milk ingredients (hmmm), onion powder (okay...), dried vegetables [potatoes and leeks], corn syrup solids [wtf did they do to it to make it solid?], salt, monosodium glutamate [blech], canola oil, hydrolyzed corn protein [HVP!!!!!], guar gum (huh?), natural flavour (awesome....what is it?), spice, natural colour and sulphites.

Ummm....that doesn't sound like potato leek soup to me. To me, potato leek soup is leeks, potatoes, broth and maybe some cream. And it's not very hard to make.

What this potato leek soup is, is actually a conglomeration of chemicals from a conglomeration of companies that food scientists have discovered tastes a lot like potato leek soup. And it tastes a lot like the potato leek soup that most people want to eat.

And this totally reminds me of a recent experience at work. A while back, we had a chili cook-off. There were ten entries (including mine) and they ran the gamut - there were spicy entries, mild ones, wildly varying ingredients. But when voting time came, there was one particular entry that won by a landslide (it had 10 votes, and the next closest had 3).

And it wasn't my chili, hehe.

It was actually canned chili. I'm happy to say that *I* didn't vote for it....I found it lacking in texture, with a bit of a dog food smell.

But most people DID vote for it (over half!). It was processed, hyper-palatable food that a team of food scientists has spent months perfecting and testing. I.e., it was a representation of what most people felt an ideal chili should taste like.

You can't win against that.

And anyway...I guess this big long entry goes to's time that we cut the chemicals out of our food and start eating tasty, healthy home-made food that isn't going from the chem lab to our tables.

More on this later....thanks for being patient, and now that I'm well and thoroughly riled, hopefully you'll see some more entries from me....

I'd love to hear your comments and insights....


Morgan said...

Thanks for posting! I'll be doing a pantry purge later today. I am researching local, grass fed, organic beef right now actually. I don't think we'll ever be anything but meat eaters at this house, but we want to start buying from the farmers around us rather than the supermarket.

Janny A. said...

Thanks for the info on this. I actually hadn't heard of this recall and it is seriously made me rethink all the food in our pantry too. I really need to start cooking more... Thanks again L.! :)

kendra said...

i try to buy local and organic whenever possible. only eat grassfed beef, and chicken without antibiotics or hormones. i pay extra for free range eggs and organic milk products. i stay away from processed foods. Or... until i read this... i thought i stayed away from them? this is totally NEW news to me. i've never heard of HVP before. thanks for enlightenment. i'll be going through my pantry today.

it makes me really angry. i feel like everytime i turn around there's something else to worry about in our foods. what's next, really? i think you're right-- the only true way of knowing is making everything yourself. sometimes that's not practical, so i'm trying to find a way to figure this all out.

Jenny said...

In a perfect world, which we are far from, we'd all grow our own food and rear our own cattle. Sadly, not enough land comes with new homes these days - LOL

But seriously, thanks for the news re: HVP - totally wasn't aware. I try to eat clean, organic and with as little artificial ingredients as possible. That being said, I am sometimes the victim of convenience items.

I think the problem is that many of us in North America don't actually invest in our diet as much as we should. We complain about the price of fresh vegetables, yet watch PVR shows on our large screen TVs, after a long day of shopping for crap we probably don't even need.

Lesley said...

I just looked at the list of recalls, and realized I ate something listed there!!! Thankfully, I haven't gotten sick. The worst part is: it was at a get together we had for the gold medal game, and it wasn't even stuff I usually buy/eat. ugh. UGH.

Thanks for the informative post. This stuff is gross. How did we get to this point? This makes me way more aware of any packaged stuff I buy (which I am glad I usually avoid, even if it means some meals aren't as yummy as they could be.. I'd prefer blandness to crazy chemicals in my food any day).

Stacey said...

I actually had a giggle when the news came out on the HVP recall. about 9 years ago I finally diagnosed myself with an intolerance/allergy to corn and all corn byproducts which required me to pretty much abandon any and all processed foods. My friends and family are somewhat skeptical when I tell them the names of some of the processed food/chemicals that I can't have.

HVP is pretty high on the list of what I can't have. Some people I know that have been cutting out corn syrup from their diets are surprised when I point out that they need to revamp their salad dressing recipes since worceshire sauce contains a lot of corn syrup. It all boils down to HVP and the other chemicals are what's necessary to have stable packaging on a shelf and are also much cheaper than real food to boost vitamins/protein content.

oanababy said...

I went vegetarian after reading Eating Animals about 6 weeks ago. We used to buy very little meat before, and had a quarter-share of organic, grass-fed beef delivered every year, but we ate meat-based dishes when we ate out. I have been lucky in finding a local organic cruelty-free egg farm and I buy organic local dairy products now whenever possible. I am trying not to use any processed foods when cooking but like you, am finding it quite difficult. It's also been a challenge eating out (no more ramen, kimchi, banh mi, etc.) Thank goodness I have a job and can afford to make these (somewhat expensive) decisions for my household.

Brian Spolarich said...

I'm hardly a whole food purist, but I tend to prefer to cook my own food because its 1) cheaper, and 2) tastes a heck of lot better. I used canned broth and stuff like that, but generally do shop around the edge of the supermarket because that's where the tasty stuff is (veggies, cheese, meat, dairy, etc.), and I can make my own even tastier stuff with it.

I eat too much pasta, but it is such an efficient way to make a tasty dinner and have three or four servings of lunch leftovers for my husband and I.

My town has a farmer's market April-Oct, and I've gotten to know the folks that grow the food I buy there. I actually learned this value from watching Mario Batali on the Food Network: buy the best of whatever's in season, and figure out how to make something with it.

I don't do it because of some principled stand against or for anything, but simply because I like to cook and eat, and I get a lot more satisfaction from making (and eating!) the food I made myself.

I also feel like I understand more about what foodways are about, how my food preferences are impacted by where I live, my economic advantages, etc.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great post. It's amazing the chemicals that are combined with food now. It's disgusting when we think about the fact that we're eating chemicals rather then food.

Unknown said...

Leslie, I nominated your blog for an award. :) Details are on my last blog post.

jillian said...

we have the same books on the shelf and are watching those documentaties *and* had a very similar chili cookoff experience---the one that won used cream of something Campbells, blech. all the kitchy canned convenience products of my childhood, comfort foods and things I mindlessly purchase but often never eat, must must go on the realz! I feel lucky to have the means and the evidence to live better and be a better inhabitant of this planet - something I gave lip service to as a well-meaning student but only started implementing recently. I like your blog. welcome back.

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Nan said...

I loved your rant! Did not know about the HVP recall. I am starting to try to cook without mixes and other processed foods. I have the time and I have the interest, just have to get into the habit of thinking "from scratch" instead of "quickie". Mostly eating plain chicken, fish, fresh veg and steamed rice. But not always.............

Annie said...

thank you for this post -- a reminder to snap to attention. We rarely buy processed 'crap' -- but it does happen at times. And then I have guilt trips over it when I read intelligent posts like these - or watch movies like food, inc (i was ready to buy a farm and grow 100% of our food!! well, maybe 95% we can't grow everything locally!!)

thank you.

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