Wednesday, August 15, 2012

0 Attack of the 50-Foot Frankenfood, and It's a Rather "Cheesy" B Horror Flick ;)

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I've written a little exposé on suspect #1, cheese. More specifically reduced fat and fat-free cheese. Yep, I'm putting cheese, quite literally, under the microscope today. Some of you have probably already heard about this, and so it's probably old hat to you, but in case you haven't, I'm about to enlighten you. Now, please brace yourself, because what I'm about to say will probably shock and horrify you. :) After all, the title of this post is "Attack of the 50-Foot Frankenfood," so I'm sure you've already got a pretty good idea of what to expect. Lol.

So here it is: Most kinds of cheese you find at the supermarket, regardless of their fat content, contain some rather unnatural and just flat-out weird ingredients that don't belong in cheese. Just read the labels. So, that's what I did one day, and here's what I found. Now please keep in mind that I was mostly focused on park-skim (i.e., low-fat) mozarella cheeses, since that's what I'd originally intended to use for the lasagna recipe I was making for the book, 7 Weeks to 10 Pounds of Muscle.

First, let's look at the fat-free version of mozzarella cheese: however, before we begin, let me state for the record that, even before I found out what was really in fat-free cheese, I had zero interest in eating it. Just based on taste alone, I refuse to use or eat the stuff, because, in my humble opinion, it tastes like plastic. Hahaha. Also, they've had to do a number of unnatural things to it to get it to be fat-free. In other words, fat-free usually means chemicals. It has pretty much all of the same unnatural ingredients found in reduced fat cheeses and then some. For example, Kraft fat-free mozarrella lists the following ingredients on their package: "Milk Skim, Water, Milk Protein Concentrate, Whey, Corn Syrup Dried, Sodium Phosphate, Contains less than 22% of Salt, Milk Part Skim, Sodium Citrate, Sorbic Acid As Preservatives, Cellulose Gum, Carrageenan, Color(s) Artificial, Buttermilk, Soybean(s) Oil Partially Hydrogenated, Flavor(s) Artificial, Lactic Acid, Flavor(s) Natural, Cheese Culture, Enzyme(s), Vitamin A Palmitate." Yikes. That's a real minefield. Plus there's this warning: "Soybean(s) Oil Partially Hydrogenated is exempt from being labeled as a soy allergen according to U.S. labeling laws. There are only slight traces of the soy protein present to trigger a reaction, however people who are allergic to soy should use caution and check with their allergist before consuming this product." (In terms of labeling issues, that's yet another ingredient that food manufacturers have been able to skate around.) However, if we put aside this allergen issue for a moment, regardless, we all know what hydrogenated oils -- a.k.a. trans fats -- can do.

I really don't have enough time to address every single ingredient on this list, but since dried corn syrup is shown as ingredient #2, the second highest concentration, I think that says it all right there. What's that doing in cheese? (Last time I checked, authentic cheesemakers didn't put that stuff into cheese.) And then there's there's a whole host of other things I could go on about in this list of ingredients: "Sodium Phosphate, Sodium Citrate, Sorbic Acid As Preservatives, Cellulose Gum, Carrageenan, Color(s) Artificial, Flavor(s) Artificial, Vitamin A Palmitate." Is there really enough space in this article to address all of this without it turning into an epic treatise on the subject? Nope. ;) Yeah, I'd be here for weeks. What is it that Jamie Oliver said on his show, "Food Revolution"? Oh yes, something like this: If you pick up a product and it has 18 zillion ingredients in it, then put it back on the shelf. Why? Because if you read the ingredients carefully, you'll find a TON of chemicals in it. Products that contain a smaller list of ingredients tend to contain more whole ingredients, because it doesn't taken 18 zillion of them to create a food product. In a natural product, you'll find things like "milk, eggs, flour, salt." Simple and whole. Just look at the evidence and do the math. :)

And now, to address part-skim version: For reduced fat Sargento mozzarella, the list of ingredients is as follows: "Reduced Fat Mozzarella Cheese (Pasteurized Reduced Fat Milk, Cheese Culture, Enzymes, Vitamin A Palmitate), Potato Starch and Powdered Cellulose (To Prevent Caking), Natamycin (A Natural Mold Inhibitor)." OK, so let's look at the first ingredient. At first glance, the first three ingredients don't seem that suspect on the whole. (Sure, some of us could get into a debate about pasteurization, but let's not do so now for the sake of brevity.) Except for the Vitamin A Palmitate, (which, if taken in high doses, has raised some concern), they also sound like typical cheese-like ingredients, right?! Well, not so fast. There's also the fat reduction process to consider. In other words, what's being done to those ingredients (i.e., reduced fat mozzarella's subset of ingredients -- pasteurized reduced fat milk, cheese culture, enzymes), in order to make them lower in fat? During the fat extraction process, much of the nutritional value is removed -- things like Vitamins A, D, E, and K, and even a minor amount of naturally occurring Omega-3's, as well as other compounds -- but only a few of these nutrients are added back in. In this specific case (for the reduced fat Sorrento cheese), a synthetic form of Vitamin A, Vitamin A Palmitate, is added to replace the naturally occurring Vitamin A. I'll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions from that.

Next on the ingredients list, potato starch. Yes, that's right. I said "potato starch." And of course, if you've ever seen cheese made (at a farm or elsewhere), that's not a very cheese-like ingredient. So, what the heck is it doing in there?! Sure, it has some intended function, at least in the eyes of these particular food manufacturers, but I'd rather buy cheese with a shorter shelf life that doesn't have so many odd ingredients in there. Call it what you will, but when it comes to cheesemaking and cheese eating, I am a purist at heart. :) The methods that have been used for several hundred years of cheesemaking seemed to work pretty well, so why tamper with a good thing, eh?!

"Powdered cellulose," the second to last ingredient, is listed next. As I'd discovered last year, much to my horror and dismay, this is a sneaky word for "wood pulp." (Clearly, this is an attempt by these food manufacturers to hide/obscure what's really in our food.) OK, now if you're not cringing at bit and starting to get uncomfortable with where this discussion is going, then there's probably something wrong with you. Hahaha. Let me just say this: If you've just eaten part-skim mozzarella from a company like Sargento, Sorrento, or Kraft, and are just now attaining enlightenment as to what you've been eating all this time, you might not be exactly thrilled to find out that you've just eaten wood pulp, which, as anyone could tell you, ISN'T actually FOOD. Not unless you were the weird kid at preschool who hid under the table to eat paper and glue paste. ;) Yes, several "Big Food" companies now add "wood pulp" to cheeses, which is actually a change from what large-scale food manufacturers used to do. To paraphrase Food, Inc., "Our food system has changed more in the last 50 years than it has in the last 10,000." (OK, I just found the exact quote: “The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000…. Now our food is coming from enormous assembly lines where the animals and the workers are being abused, and the food has become much more dangerous in ways that are deliberately hidden from us. This isn’t just about what we’re eating. It’s about what we’re allowed to say. What we’re allowed to know.”)

And lastly, there's the chemical, natamycin, which is listed as a "natural" mold inhibitor. It's natural, so it's OK to eat, right?! Um, er, well.... If you do some additional reading about natamycin, it's still listed as a food additive, and more to the point, is an antibiotic. Remember what doctors typically say about the importance of not overusing/abusing antibiotics (because it lessens their effectiveness)? Think about that for a moment. Think about how much dairy some people eat, and just how many antibiotics they've already (cumulatively) put into their system, which also includes prescription drugs. And it's not just cheese either. To quote Wikipedia, "The EU Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) states on the usage of Natamycin: 'However, in view of the general principle with regard to the undesirability of using antibiotics in foodstuffs the Committee is strongly opposed to proposals for further food uses of natamycin such as use on ham and wine and other beverages.' " Note that this is the EU issuing this report, and not the US. Hmmmmm.

BTW, in case you were curious, I did a comparison of all of the various brands of nonorganic, shredded mozzarella cheeses in the supermarket, and here's what I found: between low-fat and fat-free, low-fat is the lesser of two evils, as they don't seem to treat it with as many chemicals, but all the same, I'm not saying that it's a good idea to eat that stuff. "Would you like some wood pulp and antibiotics with your meal, good sir?" ;)

So, now it's scorecard time: in terms of unnatural or just plain, uncheeselike ingredients, Kraft was by far the worst. Sargento was one of the better ones, but not by much. After reading the labels of all of these brands, you'll probably either want to (a) clean out your refrigerator and forsake all nonorganic cheese from here on out or (b) completely sink your head in the sand and go into a state of denial because you (1) don't care about what you put into your body, and/or (2) feel helpless and just don't want to deal with your own fears. ;) Sure, these findings are scary, but that should be a wake-up call for everyone, not a time to go back to sleep.

So, even if you've been paying attention to chemicals in other foods but didn't realize that nonorganic cheese was also a frankenfood, now you know. So, when it comes to cheese, I wood recommend reading the labels, er, I mean, would. Hahaha.

In conclusion, here's my position on the matter: If I'm going to eat cheese, I'd rather eat the naturally made, full-fat stuff, but in moderation. I don't typically eat cheese or milk anymore, period, because of what it seems to do to my respiratory and digestive systems, not to mention that studies have shown that it actually weakens bones (contrary to popular "wisdom" and what the National Dairy Council ads would have us believe), but these are different topics all together. :)

What a crock. Hahaha.
Upon hearing the sorts of things I've mentioned above, some people might say, "Well, then what am I supposed to eat? If I had to forgo everything that had unnatural stuff in it, then not much is left to eat." Wah, wah, wah. What a crock. There's plenty of natural food out there if you just make the effort to look for it.

Here's another complaint I hear: "But it's much more expensive than non-organic food." Again, it's your health we're talking about here. What's more important, short term savings or huge doctors' bills down the line? Guess which'll cost you more in the long run?! Again, do the math.

Also, politics are to blame for the high cost of organic food. Guess who the government's giving subsidies to these days? Yeah, it's the fat cats who don't need them. Subsidies for corn, wheat, etc., given to big agribiz over smaller, organic farms. And this enables those big companies to lower the cost of their crappy, unhealthy food and, in comparison, makes the organic stuff seem really expensive. And a lot of that corn from those large corn subsidies is being turned right into corn syrup. Yep, corn syrup. And it's in TONS of foods that people eat, and as a society, it's making us sick.

I think subsidies are a bad idea in general, as it hands over too much control of the marketplace to government legislators, who are, in turn, unduly influenced by the money and interests of powerful corporations via Capitol Hill lobbyists. Who gets to decide which crops or other products will make the most money this year? Yeah, my point exactly. Why should some companies, and by some, I mean predominantly large agribiz, be artificially buffered by government money, while others, i.e., the smaller companies, are left in the dust? Smaller businesses cannot hope to compete with the Congressional power that money can buy. Is democracy so easily sold to the highest bidder? Does this allow fair competition in the marketplace? I don't think so.

Don't like these policies? Then get in contact with your local/state/federal government representatives. Don't just complain, get off your duff and try to DO something about it! Join a coalition. Start a petition and learn how your state/federal government works, so you can find go through the proper channels to redress the issues and find out how to get these issues on the ballot.

Furthermore, if you're in a situation where the money is tight, wouldn't you rather spend the money to eat right than buy a few extra, expensive toys that I probably don't need anyhow?! If we really examined our spending habits, we'd probably see that some of what we view as "necessary" really isn't. If you're living paycheck to paycheck but are still buying crap you don't really need, then it's all your fault if you don't have enough money left over for good food. You have no right to complain about it. It's a false argument. Don't have the money? Yes, you do. You just are just choosing other things over your own health and the health of your family. Time to get your priorities straight. ;-P Yeah, I'm doling out the tough love today, and I don't care who hears it.

And here's another complaint I hear that needs to be debunked: "But I can't find organic food in my area." Whine, whine, whine. If you look for obstacles, you will surely find them. ;-P Well, either make the effort to really look or if you can't find enough organic products/products in your area, then do something about it! If your supermarket doesn't have enough of these foods to your liking, then let them know. Demand better, or if they don't comply, find someplace that is better. And if you're really in a pinch, don't forget about online resources: you'd be surprised how much organic food -- yes, even fresh produce! -- can be ordered online. There's an incredible variety of products from which to choose. Also, these days there are plenty of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture distribution centers) around the country. Plus, there are, in fact, some local farms that don't turn their food into mutant creations. You just have to want to find these resources. They even exist in big cities, so you can't use that excuse either. ;-P Or, if you have the space or access to a community garden, you can always grow your own. It's actually really fun and rewarding to watch your fruit and veggies grow. Who knows, you might even like gardening and find you've discovered a new hidden talent. :)

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