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Hollow Victories

March 3, 2014

Did you read the diatribe posted in the comments section recently about carrageenan?

The FLB does not believe in stifling debate. I have no problem publishing comments with opposing viewpoints on these pages. But if you can get through the whole defense of this food additive it’s hard not to be struck by the fact that the food industry is more about industry than food.

Fresh food resists being packaged, so it requires additives to reduce the amount of unsightly bulges. Chocolate in milk tends to settle when it sits on the shelf so it needs a little help to hold its suspension. If you want inexpensive deli meats to slice cleanly, that’s going to take a little something too. Food additives, carrageenan particularly, have helped otherwise untenable products look perfectly appealing under the bright lights of the supermarket.

But fakery begets more fakery, and we get artificial colors added to foods that simply don’t need them. Macaroni and cheese has been orange long before FD&C Yellow #5. But Kraft says the additive really increases the product’s appeal. Well, we stopped buying it. Tartrazine just isn’t that appealing to me.

All of that changed, in part thanks to the Food Babe and her petitions. So for the first time in a long time, I found myself buying what was once the only boxed macaroni and cheese that would ever cross my lips.

The devil is in the details.

Before we go any further, let me state for the record yet again, I am not a monk. I eat crap. I feed crap to my kids. Just this past weekend I bought Little Miss Fussy an order of mac-n-cheese wedges from Hoagie Haven. These are deep fried triangles of what I can only imagine are the cheapest most dreck-filled off-brand of industrially produced mac-n-cheese, breaded in who knows what, and likely fried in cancer producing, artery hardening partially-hydrogenated oil (chemically extracted with hexane from GMO sources).

In our family, that’s what we call a sometimes food. It’s a rare treat.

I’d like to think that boxes of macaroni and cheese that we keep on hand in the pantry for “emergency dinner” are a sometimes food too. However, at certain times we tend to lean on them more heavily than others. And I really don’t feel the need to pump my kids full of Yellow #5.

So we tried a bunch of different options. In the end, the Trader Joe’s box was the kid pick. They liked that it was still orange and that the pasta stuck to the familiar form of relatively straight and narrow tubes. If it was any less vibrant than the Kraft artificially dyed stuff, this nuance was completely lost on my children. Still, it was never the same. The flavor was different. The powder never completely dissolved into the pasta, milk and butter. And I held out hope that eventually Kraft would see the error of its ways.

Then one day, Kraft announced that they were going to be removing the yellow dye from their macaroni and cheese. Huzzah! Even though they claimed it had nothing to do with the Food Babe’s petition, the timing was awfully convenient.

Anyhow, I spent the next few months waiting and periodically checking the ingredients lists on the boxes targeted towards kids. It took a bit longer than I had hoped, but I came to realize that Kraft is a huge operation. They would have to develop, produce, and distribute not only the formulation but also the revised packaging. Plus, they would have to sell through the inventory of product already on hand.

The first one I found was Dragons.

Maybe there was some dragon movie or dragon show on TV. I have no idea. My kids live in a bit of a vacuum. Their lack of pop culture awareness will likely be a problem eventually, but for now I’m enjoying watching them create art and make music instead. I know. Freak show.

Anyhow, the dragons were pretty disappointing. There is a tradeoff in getting pasta to resemble animated forms. Replacing the traditional narrow tubes, are pasta forms that are more chunky and squared. Texturally, it’s just all wrong. Instead of being silky and sliding down one’s gullet, these awful shapes are either too toothsome or crumbly.

Oh, and I guess thanks to the licensing fees these kids’ shapes are sold for a hefty premium. But it’s a premium I’d gladly pay to get a better version of my once-favorite guilty pleasure.

Then Kraft’s Spongebob Squarepants line changed its formulation for the better. But the results were the same.

As a prisoner of hope, I was compelled to buy a box of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shapes when I saw that it too was devoid of Yellow #5. Actually, I wanted to buy a few of them just to vote with my wallet and show support for Kraft’s move away from artificial colors. Little Miss Fussy on the other hand, having been nonplussed by the other Kraft pasta shapes suggested we just buy one box and see how it tasted.

Again, the character based pasta shapes made the resulting dish entirely unappealing to the Fussy children.

So it is with no pleasure that I have to report Trader Joe’s is back to being the emergency macaroni and cheese dinner of choice in our house. Kraft’s change of heart earned them a seat at the table, but their decision to only change the children’s lines for the better has cost them our business. Yet again.

Maybe the suits will reconsider and take the Yellow #5 out of all their products. It would be a treat to welcome the brand back into our lives. But until then, the kids are quite content with the lumpy and naturally colored box of junk from Trader Joe.

Actually, I may have just came up with a technique to improve the TJ’s cheese sauce. Let me try a few things and I’ll report back.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Greg K. permalink
    March 3, 2014 4:20 pm

    Buy the Kraft packages for the cheese sauce, and use it with cheap elbow macaroni bought in bulk. Problem solved.

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