You are what you eat, quite literally. If that's true, and there is ample evidence to suggest that it is, then I'm a walking, talking hunk of Malic Acid, Disodium Guanylate and Monosodium Glutamate. And my pancreas is likely made entirely of high fructose corn syrup. I'm a firm believer that the more ingredients a snack has, the more delicious it is. And I've got the gut to show for it.
While there may not be a 12-step program specifically designed for processed food addiction, there certainly could be, and it would likely be more popular than all the current recovery programs put together. Gone are the days of going to the local market and buying fresh meats, fruits and vegetables. Not to say that it doesn't happen, but it's more of a novelty than our normal modus operandi. "Oooo, let's go to the farmer's market today and get some real food! We'll feel so healthy afterwards."
No; today, time is at a premium, and Americans need as much "simple and fast" as they can get. We're always on the go, and we don't have the time to prepare a fresh meal three times a day. And the effort! We're so tired all the time after a long day's work. Who wants to come home and chop garlic, cut onions, dice parsley, trim steaks and make fresh salads? Who wants to clean up afterwards? Just about nobody. It's a special occasion when it happens, and it wears us out.
We'd much rather just pop something in the nuker, or pick up some take-out on the way home, and sit down and watch some cable. The problem here is that we have given control over what we put into out bodies over to someone else, and they don't usually have our best interests in mind. In fact, they are only happy to create unhealthy foods that get us addicted, and could really care less about our health. The folks at Frito Lay and Pepsi Cola are nothing but drug dealers whose products just happen to be legal.
So the question is; how did we become a society that tolerates the eating of shit?
Processed foods started out innocently enough, and like many inventions, out of wartime necessity. When Napoleon was kicking ass and taking names all over Europe, he began to realize that his armies died without food, and his vanquished foes would regularly lay waste to the areas he was about to conquer. So Nappy B. needed to preserve food, and one of his fellow Frenchmen with an outrageous accent (some guy named Nicolas Appert) came up with the idea of vacuum-sealing perishable items and then boiling them. And viola, mes amis! Processed food was born.
It was a good idea for its time, but somewhere along the way, it got bastardized (not to be confused with pasteurized) when marketing entered the process. The practice of processing food just for necessity gave way to the art of making food as addictive as possible. Now we're hooked on sweet, salty and syrupy whoknowswhats, made in the lab like crystal meth, and we need help.
Thus, the question: what is all that shit in my Doritos and is any of it good for me or necessary? Let's find out about some of the more popular crapola.
Maltodextrin: You'll find maltodextrin in most any bag of potato chips. It's a sugary starch made from corn, and is apparently very digestible. Its purpose is to be starchy and sweet, making you want to keep eating slivers of the fried potatoes on which it was sprinkled. In short, it's sole purpose is to addict you.
Partially Hydrogenated oils: Hydrogenation is the process of heating edible oil and then shoving hydrogen bubbles through it. If you do this for a while, you get pure fat. If you stop halfway, you get an edible oil that is, you guessed it, partially hydrogenated - think buttery taste, but cheaper to produce than actual butter. Who the fuck thought of that? I don't know, but I do know that they contain lots of trans fats, which as you probably know, cause all sorts of nasty problems. To quote one website I found on the subject: "Consuming partially hydrogenated oils is like inhaling cigarette smoke. They will kill you -- slowly, over time, but as surely as you breathe. And in the meantime, they will make you fat! " But golly, it's so yummy n' buttery!
Monosodium Glutamate: Ah yes , our old favorite, MSG – and not just for Chinese food anymore! MGG is in just about everything these days. Pretty much every major mass produced soup – Campbell's, Progresso, etc. – contains MSG. Those little flavor packets which accompanied the Ramen noodles that got you through your college years? MSG is usually the second or third most abundant ingredient. Pretty much every chip in any Frito Lay product has a healthy quotient of MSG as well. So what is it and why should we be worried about it?
MSG is generically categorized as a "flavor enhancer", which is about as non-specific as it gets. For most people, a little MSG every blue moon isn't going to cause much harm. But for a significant percentage of the population, MSG is a nasty little bitch. Everything from migraine headaches, nausea and other digestive upsets, sleeping problems and drowsiness, to heart palpitations, hair loss, asthma anaphylactic shock, rapidly increasing diabetes and several additional ailments have been attributed to MSG. That's quite a list. I guess there's a reason that Chinese restaurants that don't use it like to advertise that fact. But how can MSG do all that and still be legal? Money of course. MSG has its own lobbyists, and despite the fact that it is a substance that overexcites neurons to the point of cell damage and, eventually, cell death, it is still quite legal.
My advice? Stay as far away from it as you can.
There are lots more, but I wanted to concentrate on the grand daddy of them all:
High Fructose Corn Syrup: There must have been a law passed at some point in the recent past that declared that high fructose corn syrup must be added to all foods. I mean, the shit is in everything! Even the aforementioned chips usually contain "corn syrup solids." Basically, HFCS is the cheapest available sweetener. And Americans are certainly addicted to things that are sweet; as a result, everything needs to be sweet, so people will keep eating even when they aren't hungry, and food companies can make money.
Today, Americans consume more HFCS than actual sugar, and have done so for several years. This is mainly due to the fact that soda doesn't contain sugar anymore, long ago replaced by its less expensive counterpart. And pretty much every jam and jelly, every condiment and anything else that Americans consume on a mass basis, also contains the magic fattening glop.
So what's so bad about it? Mainly, it is the way in which it is processed by the body. In study after study, male rats simply die when fed large amounts of fructose (the ones that are fed just sucrose, sugar's other main component, turn out just fine). Their hearts became enlarged until they explode, and their nuts never develop. As small as a rat's cajones are normally, after a high fructose diet, they become downright microscopic. Females were able to pull through to adulthood, but their reproductive systems shut down. Not that it mattered, as their potential suitors have no balls with which to produce rat sperm. And since fructose cannot not be metabolized by any organ other than the liver, these same rats had livers that looked like those of a life-long human alcoholic – scarred and enlarged to the point of non-functionality.
So this means that fructose is really bad for developing, living organisms. Just think about how much soda kids drink, and what that means for our developing youth. But it's not just soda – it's in everything, even things you would never expect. Nutri-Grain Granola bars contain a fair dollop of HFCS. A1 Steak Sauce marinade, Nabisco Wheat Thins, Wishbone Caesar Dressing, Bloody Mary mix, Del Monte pickle slices, Robitussin cough syrups … the list goes on and on.
You might read this and think "Gosh, it's terrible those kids are addicted to high fructose corn syrup," and not believe for an instant that you're hooked as well. But every time you have a craving for Pop Tarts, Rick Krispy Treats and Eggos, or maybe you never buy any other jelly except for Smuckers because the others don't taste as good … yup, you're an addict. Make no mistake about it - what you're doing is forking over your hard earned dough over to the crack dealer.
It's really little wonder health problems – obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes – are getting more and more prevalent. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that "Well, if you eat enough broccoli, that'll kill you too." No it won't! No one ever got fat eating fresh fruits and veggies. Brussels Sprouts don't lower your sperm count. An apple a day won't cause a miscarriage.
So try and resist the bastards! If the product you're about to eat has 439,052 ingredients, shove it down the throat of the nearest Frito Lay executive you can find.
Evan Redmon is a manager of a public golf course in Washington, D.C. and writes a few things about stuff sometimes. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you really want.