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Food Without Integrity

October 27, 2015

Bacon is bad for you? Of course it is.

I don’t want to make light of cancer. Cancer sucks. But as far as I can tell, cancer is like death’s safety net. Bear with me for just a moment. Everyone dies. That’s inescapable. Most people die of other things. The list of things you can die from is shockingly long. And some are so banal, it’s hard to imagine how they can be fatal. Actually, it’s not that hard to imagine. Life is fragile.

Cancer would seem to exist so that if perchance, you manage to avoid dying by one of the other tens of thousands of things out there that can kill you, you won’t go on living forever. In the end, the cancer will finally get you.

Sure. There are things we can do to speed up the cancer. And avoiding those things would be good. Of course there are some things we can’t avoid. Drinking the water. Breathing the air. Eating the bacon.

The truth is that it’s not just bacon. Lots and lots of food and beverages might hasten our demise by cancer (or other things) to a certain degree. But you won’t find me giving up young raw milk cheeses either.

You’ve got to ask yourself, is the juice worth the squeeze. Which brings us to the issue behind the issue.

Okay. Bacon is bad for you. Nitrates, nitrites, smoke, salt, and animal fat. But for me the big question is, do any differences exist between bacon from pork that was raised on GMO feed in a concrete building without seeing the sun its whole life and pork that was raised outdoors foraging on unsprayed pasture? And are there any differences between bacon produced with the nitrates from celery juice instead of the ones synthesized in a lab? And how about the source of the smoke?

Perhaps if bacon is part of an otherwise healthful diet, complete with fermented foods, whole grains, and plenty of water, those deleterious effects of the bacon are diminished? I have no idea. But those findings would be much more interesting to me than the current news making its way around social media.

What I do know is that what people imagine they are buying when they pick up a pack of bacon at the local market is a far cry from what’s being sold on the store shelf. Nobody imagines large factory farms with lakes of manure. Nobody stops to think about the torment and stress caused by gestation crates. Nobody pictures the food scientists working hard to cut corners of production to maximize product profitability.

Some bacon gets its signature flavor from liquid smoke. Most bacon is injected with brine rather than being dry cured. And bacon is a fairly food-like food on the supermarket shelves these days.

This past weekend I was cutting out coupons to send to soldiers as part of the troopons program. Cutting coupons isn’t something I regularly engage in, so it was a bit of an eye opening experience to see all the consumer packaged goods being hawked in the pages of the coupon circular.

There is so much junk food. There were no coupons for healthful staples, like old fashioned oats, bags of cornmeal, or raw nuts. Nope. Everything was for some super sweetened, value added version of stuff resembling food.

You may have seen those images from Cracked.com that were going around Facebook recently. These examples of “honest packaging” really called attention to a few of the shenanigans that are going on with beloved American brands.

Betty Crocker strawberry frosting is lampooned for being, “Three kinds of sugar with oil – no strawberries here!” Supermarket frosting is the worst, and every time I have to buy it for my children’s school, it drives me bonkers. But I especially enjoyed the one for orange juice, since most people still don’t realize how fresh never-frozen orange juice from Florida can be available all year long when it comes from a seasonal crop. The short answer is science. But I’m not the only one to question whether such a product should be called 100% pure juice.

The treacheries of food labeling and what’s currently permitted are mind blowing.

What’s even more flabbergasting are the products that don’t even pretend to be the real thing. This summer I ran across a milk carton on the shelf that still has me shaking my head. It was called, “Ultra Skim Fat Free Milk” and its main selling proposition was that it “Tastes Like 2%.”

Wait. What? Skim milk that tastes like 2%? What on earth could this stuff be? Thankfully, with food it’s relatively easy to find out by reading the ingredients. It’s skim milk, with artificial color, carrageenan (which gives it a fattier mouthfeel), and “natural” flavor.

Oh dear. Here’s a crazy notion. If you are afraid of milk fat, but hate the taste of skim milk, find something else to drink.

The rest of the packaging continues to haunt me and trouble my mind, because it was just so misleading. On the label it read, “Milk tested for antibiotics” which a less informed shopper might take to mean that this milk was produced without the use of antibiotics. But that’s not the case. All milk is tested for antibiotics. It can’t be sold in this country without passing the test with flying colors. Those are the rules.

To further pump up the false perception that this was a healthful product, the label carried a slug that read, “Naturally Gluten Free Food” which felt like shameful pandering to the gluten free set. But no milk should have gluten. It’s milk, dammit.

And finally, front and center the label said “Eco Friendly” suggesting that buying this weird manufactured milk product would somehow be good for the Earth. But closer examination would reveal that the milk carton was beseeching its readers to “Be Eco Friendly” not by buying the product, but rather by recycling the carton when it’s empty.

Food manufacturers are trying to trick you. People are trying to scare you. Don’t let them.

As one of my old friends used to say, “We’re all born with a fatal disease. It’s called life.” We’re all going to die anyway. Be brave. Stay vigilant. Eat well.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. llcwine permalink
    October 27, 2015 10:26 am

    mmmm carageenan…aka seaweed ….who wouldn’t love it in milk????

  2. October 27, 2015 10:56 am

    You sound like the Garrison Keillor of food with that sign off. Great post. I expressed my opinion far less eloquently on facebook yesterday. I think it’s interesting that this study targets food that was originally preserved as a method to keep it shelf stable for longer and not kill us in other ways. I still take the study with a grain of salt. I’m thrilled to be working in a butchery using extraordinarily happy pigs and cows to make delicious cancer-causing bacon, bresaola and other delights.

  3. October 27, 2015 11:13 am

    Every time the subject of processed foods come up, I repeat the same mantra…

    People don’t care. And you can’t make them care.

    I wrote the rant against pumpkin flavored junk on my blog, and later had a discussion with someone who said to me, “Well, I love my pumpkin spice coffee creamer”.

    If people cared, there would not be thousands of processed foods on the grocery store shelves. There would not be hundreds of chain restaurants selling highly engineered, processed, crap.

    It’s getting better for sure, but there will always be a very large segment of the population that is apathetic toward wholesome, minimally processed, fresh foods. They have better things to worry about.

  4. October 27, 2015 3:15 pm

    Nice post. On a lighter note, most Halloween candy is gluten free!

  5. boya3706 permalink
    October 28, 2015 8:55 am

    I eventually also got too lazy to cut out coupons because they are all for things I never buy (except sometimes ziploc bags). Though the target cartwheel app does have coupons for some healthful things if you have a SuperTarget. I got a canister of steel cut oats (in the container with the man on it) for 25% off last time.

  6. October 29, 2015 11:21 am

    Great post! I could not agree more. My inbox was filled with the WHO research article from clients, friends and family and I am sick of the scare tactic they are trying to use with a meta-analysis. If we focused on quality food and quality of lifestyle habits maybe we could get better results.

    And seriously Ultra Skim Milk? I’m appalled ha! If I found that in a store i’d want to throw things at it and perhaps dump the fake milk all over the less than real orange juice.

  7. November 10, 2015 7:44 pm

    I read this post right around the time all this hype started surfacing:

    http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2015/10/26/processed-meat-and-cancer-what-you-need-to-know/

    It’s pretty long and scienc-y, however the jist of it is, the reason cured meats are in “the same class” as cigarettes as cancer causing is because of the level of certainty scientists have with the correlation, NOT in regards to how much cancer it actually causes (spoiler alert: not really all that much). And that, yeah, it’s probably a good idea to cut back on your meat consumption, anyway, because Americans eat too much meat. (Because we can, because it’s so f***ing cheap, which is a whole other problem.) So, yeah, someone who otherwise eats a balanced, healthy diet that likes to have some bacon at brunch on occasion is probably not putting themselves at a significant risk for cancer.

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