Category Archives: miscellaneous

Unnatural ingredients

Unless eating a strictly whole foods diet, it can be tough to tell what exactly is in your food, even when reading the labels. The ever elusive ‘natural flavors’ on packaged foods can conceal ingredients, making it particularly tricky for veg eaters to know whether or not a food contains animal products. Even more a mystery, ‘artificial flavors’ can be made up of natural or synthetic chemicals, sometimes including those banned in other countries. News to me was that these two terms can also conceal ingredients of an entirely separate class — those that come via the biotech industry.

Companies such as Senomyx and Linguagen have been working for years on tricking the taste buds. By activating or blocking receptors in the mouth that are responsible for taste, they are able to help companies decrease the salt, sugar and other ingredients in their products, including somewhat more controversial ingredients like MSG. “We’re helping companies clean up their labels,” said Senomyx’s chief executive, Kent Snyder.

These chemicals are formulated using the same process employed for developing new drugs. Often, because they are utilized in only small amounts, they are not required to go through stringent FDA approval process for food additives. Instead of being listed separately, like artificial sweetener Splenda, they are lumped in with the other artificial flavors. However, where it took Splenda 11 years to get approval, it took less than 18 months and one 3-month animal study for Senomyx to get approval for one of their first products.

Another example, a company called Intralytix has created bacteria-killing viruses that are meant for treating the food supply. In 2002, they petitioned the FDA to allow the use of these bateriophages (a.k.a. phages) as food additives and were subsequently the first company to get approval. Their first product to hit the market is sprayed on ready to eat meats and used to kill Listeria. They are also seeking approval for a phage that can be sprayed on beef before grinding to kill E. coli. The FDA doesn’t know if these phages are safe to consume on a regular basis or what the consequences might be of consuming them over a lifetime. However, they do not require even so much as a note on the label to let people know the meat has been treated with the virus.

In these and other cases, I think what most upsets me is that consumers have no way to know that these ingredients are in their foods. How can we make safe choices if we’re not fully informed? We’re dependent on the government to police the industry and frankly I don’t trust them to do a thorough job. The FDA has failed to keep our products safe time and time again.

Do you feel safe feeding your children live viruses or supressing their newly developing taste buds? I know I don’t! The best we can do seems to be to purchase products in as natural a state as possible and from local or well-known sources.

Some additional articles and sites talking about the secretive world of food additives and flavorings:

Why McDonald’s Fries Taste So Good
“Complex flavors are being made using enzyme reactions, fermentation, and fungal and tissue cultures. All the flavors created by these methods — including the ones being synthesized by fungi — are considered natural flavors by the FDA.”

What Everybody Ought to Know about Food Additives
“Nobody knows the effects of the many different additives used in the thousands of different combinations. To make matters worse, because of political pressure, the FDA allows manufacturers to add small amounts of cancer-causing substances to our food. So, not only are many of our foods not healthy, they’re unsafe.”

The Food Commission Guide to Food Additives [PDF]
From the UK. “540 food additives and over 4,500 un-named flavouring agents are permitted in the foods we eat. On average we each eat about 14 pounds (6.5kg) of food additives every year. “

Fall

I’ve long considered fall to be my favorite season, but I’m not so sure anymore. While September and October are filled with gorgeous colors and mild temps, late fall seems marred with violence. Colder weather brings with it the start of the hunting season, the Thanksgiving holiday, and the remembrance of a traumatic experience.

One morning a few years ago, as I was completing my morning run I saw a flock of geese winging their way towards me. As they circled to land in a field, their honking filling the crisp air, I heard shots. There were a group of hunters on the other side of the road shooting in my direction from approximately a block away. As some birds would drop from the sky and go missing from the group, the others would circle around as if looking for them, bringing them back to the onslaught. I stopped and cried out, pleaded silently that they’d wise up and turn away, but it made no difference. One by one they all fell; the hunters had shot down the entire flock of more than twenty birds. Tears streaming down my face, I ran home and called the police. These men were a danger, shooting towards traffic and homes. The police said they’d check into it, but by the time the sent someone to our edge of town the hunters were gone.

I have no respect for the practice of sport hunting and don’t understand why so many around here partake. Nationwide less than 6% of people hunt, but in our area of the country the stats double. During this time of year we are constantly reminded of this violent form of recreation. I see stickers on bumpers in traffic, men dressed in neon orange wandering through ditches, and celebratory pictures of people’s latest kills masquerading as desktop wallpaper at work. Last year my grandma received a Christmas card from a family member with a group of relatives in camouflage showing off the racks of several dead deer. People talk about it at the office, coworkers and executives alike, oblivious to the fact someone might object.

I hear it called a sport. It can’t be a sport when the other side doesn’t know they’re playing. True gun sports do exist, like target or trap shooting, and I know there are bow sports, but most of the hunters I know would fail as athletes.

I hear people say that they do it because they love the outdoors. I don’t buy it. There are dozens of things to do outdoors that don’t involve traipsing around with a gun in your hands looking to end the life of an animal. What about hiking, boating or snowmobiling?

I hear talk that the meat is good, cheap. That’s not a justification in my book. Of course as a vegetarian I’m biased, but even for those that do eat animals, what percentage of animals hunted are eaten? Many, many animals are shot but not killed. More yet are killed, but remain unretrieved. And to claim cost savings is a stretch. By the time you add in the costs of the weapon, ammunition, gas for driving around in pursuit, special clothes, hunting licenses, etc. you could have had at least a week’s worth of shopping.

I hear talk of conservation initiatives, how the licensing fees are used to promote environmental causes like preserving animal habitats. But what good is encouraging the perpetuation of a species just so that you can kill the offspring a few years down the road?

I think the biggest thing that bothers me about hunting is the obvious lack of compassion and empathy for animals. It’s the total and utter disrespect for other living beings to the point of killing them. It’s the selfishness that I see every day driving the interstate, extended to a life or death situation. It’s cruelness for pleasure.

If kindness to animals is a sign of human advancement, we have a long way to go.

Judging others

I was down on myself for awhile for passing judgment on others, something I’m very quick to do, especially when it comes to things in which I believe strongly. I think I’ve finally decided that it’s OK to do this. Comparison is a common way for people to learn, a form of evaluation. (Sesame Street taught me this. Which one of these things is not like the others?…)

Watching interactions between others and determining whether I would take the same or a different action forces me to think about issues I never might have considered, allows me to make choices in advance and often points me to areas where I can see I need to do more research or where DH and I need to have a discussion.

The important thing is to know when to share a viewpoint and when to keep your mouth shut. Judging in my head is a lot different than openly announcing that I agree or disagree. At best it can foster discussion, but at worst…

Good idea, bad presentation

or Just say NO to the Illuminati! 

Sometimes good ideas just need a better spokesperson. Some very logical, reasonable ideas are dismissed because they are championed by seemingly crazy people. It’s dissappointing to find that sometimes the people that share my perspective are the same ones that believe cell phone towers are used for mind control.

The more you know…

I can see why they say ignorance is bliss. The truth — if you can ever say what you’ve discovered is absolutely the truth — can be frightening and limiting, cause you to doubt previous decisions you’ve made, pass judgement on others. Once you know the wool has been pulled over your eyes once, its much harder to be trusting in future. Sometimes the more you know the scarier it gets.