Food…and Cats in the News

Coming Soon to a Grocery Store Near You: Cloned Cow

Scary huh? Cloned cow. Oooh. Spooky.

Well, not really, no. At least, not to me.

You know, there are reasons to get het up about factory farming. The maltreatment of animals, the unsanitary conditions of barns and slaughterhouses, the degradation of the environment due to poor waste managment–but should we really be upset about eating meat from a cow that was cloned?

Or more likely, eating meat from the offspring of a cow that was cloned?

Well industry officials and consumer groups warn that if the FDA does what is expected to do and permit the sale of meat from cloned cattle or the offspring of cloned cows in the US, that there may be a severe backlash from concerned consumers.

I am not certain why, except that the mere mention of the word, “clone,” brings up memories of George Lucas’ godawful movie, “Attack of the Clones.” (I still have PTSD from seeing that film. Eueesh.)

But be that as it may, apparently, some people are afraid of eating cloned meat. Again, I don’t really understand why–there are reasons to mistrust genetically modified organisms in our food supply, but being worried about cloned cows just strikes me as neo-luddite and weird.

However, considering the cost of cloning, and the possibility of a backlash, doesn’t it make sense for the beef industry to just say, “That’s nice,” and go on their merry way without cloning cows? They’ve been getting on fine without it so far–I haven’t noticed any beef shortages recently.

I mean, just because the FDA says they can sell cloned meat, doesn’t mean that they have to.

I think consumer mistrust in cloned cattle shows just how badly our public schools fall down when it comes to teaching science.

Okay, I will drop the subject before I start ranting about Intelligent Design and how it bloody well isn’t a theory, and if people actually knew the difference between a scientific theory and a philosophical construction, we wouldn’t even need to have that argument in the first place.

On to the next news item:

Synthetic Chemicals in Organic Food?

The FDA isn’t the only federal agency getting crap from consumers these days–the US Department of Agriculture has fomented a controversy by proposing an amendment to the rules governing the USDA Certified Organic labelling program that would allow foods which contain artificial ingredients such as ammonium bicarbonate, ethylene gas and xanthan gum, to still wear the USDA organic label. This time, the Organic Trade Association and the Organic Consumers Association are going head to head over the issue, with the OTA (which represents companies such as Kraft, Dole and Horizon) claiming that removing these food additives would hurt their bottom line, and the OTC claims that they are standing up against “corporate agribusinesses” which threaten to take over the organic food industry.

Now, here comes Barbara, the poopoohead skeptic again, pointing out what should be obvious: all of these ingredients go into processed foods that wear the organic label. If you want to avoid these sorts of ingredients, then avoid procesed foods. Ammonium bicarbonate is a leavening agent, ethylene gas is used to ripe fruit and xanthan gum is a thickening agent.

Let’s start with the leavener, shall we? What are leaveners? They make baked products rise. What kind of leaveners are there? There are organic ones, such as yeast, which is a living organism, and which works by fermenting alcohol from sugar which produces carbon dioxide bubbles which then leaven the baked good. There also are chemical ones such as baking powder, which is a base and an acid, which in the presence of moisture and heat, react explosively, producing carbon dioxide bubbles which leaven the baked product, making it light and fluffy and not hard and cardboardy.

I hate to tell these organic consumers this, but they probably have chemical leaveners in their cupboards and use them every time they bake whole grain bran muffins and organic granola nut oatmeal cookies. If they have baking powder in their homes, they have a chemical leavener that is not “natural.” From what I was taught in culinary school, ammonium bicarbonate isn’t even used that much in the food industry anymore, and according to various sources on the net–it is seldom used by food processors. Even if it is used, it is no more harmful than the stuff in the stuff we use at home.

On to ethylene gas: it is a naturally occuring plant hormone in gaseous form that is emitted by some fruits and vegetables as a byproduct of ripening which causes the ripening process to continue.

Have you ever bought bananas which were too green, and then put them in a paper bag, and closed it up, then went back in a couple of days to find ripe bananas? Or if you want it to happen in a day, you throw in apple in with them? Was it magic that made the bananas yellow?

No. It was ethylene doing what it is supposed to do, naturally. Without ethylene treatments, most bananas would not ripen, so there would be no yellow organically grown bananas for people to eat.

As for xanthan gum–what is it and how is it made? It is a polysaccuride produced by allowing sugar to be fermented by a bacterium called Xanthanomas campestris. And what is fermentation?

A natural process.

So, here is my issue with this issue, which, if we go by the three examples used by the author of the article, is really a non-issue. (Some of the other thirty-five food additives may indeed be less than desireable in organic foods.)

With the exception ammonium bicarbonate, the other two chemicals/food additives are naturally derived. So, what exactly is the problem?

If you don’t want these things used in processed foods that are labelled as organic, then come up with alternatives, stop eating processed foods or deal with runny yogurt, unripe bananas and cardboardy crackers and shut up. Bake your own crackers, for god’s sake, and you had better not use baking powder, because–horrors–it is not natural.

There are reasons to get irritated with the USDA over the organic labelling rules. Their willingness to allow the use of harmful pesticides or toxic sludge on organic farms comes to mind. But freaking out about ethylene gas (which is chemically the same whether it is emitted by an apple or created in a laboratory and sprayed over bananas) is ridiculous and makes folks who care about organic food look like a bunch of idiots.

Once again, I say this: if our science education in this country was a little bit better, we wouldn’t have these issues. Instead, we have consumers going off half-cocked on very little information and sometimes, just blatant superstition and suppositions.

Now, on to our “duh” newstory of the day:

Fried Fast Food Makes Kids Fat

Again, I say–well, duh.

Apparently, more and more kids are eating more and more meals outside of the home in fast food establishments where they eat lots of deep-fried stuff and lo, and behold–this is not making them slender.

These are the conclusions of a recent Harvard University study of the eating habits of more than 14, 000 US adolescents between the years of 1996 and 1999. During that time period the number of meals eaten outside of the home more than doubled, resulting in a higher body mass index for boys and a less varied and healthful diet for all participants.

The remedy suggested by the researchers: keep the kids home to eat, or failing that, teach them to eat more healthfully at fast food places by choosing a grilled chicken salad instead of a burger and fries.

There is a problem, of course, with that second idea.

Fast food restaurants specialize in making burgers and fries, not salads, and the former taste much better than the latter.

The likelihood of a kid picking a grilled chicken salad at McDonalds over a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and fries is about as great as my chance of having a torrid love affair with oh, I don’t know–Antonio Bandaras.

It ain’t gonna happen folks.

Here’s a little tidbit to prove that I am not only a cynical harpy, but also a soft-hearted sentamentalist:

Cats Rescued from Hurricanes Arrive in Oregon

Forty-one cats rescued from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, arrived safely in Oregon on Monday, where they will be put up for adoption. They are in the care of The Cat Adoption Team of Sherwood, Oregon, a non-profit, no-kill shelter and hospital with room to house 600 cats.

Over 6,000 animals have been rescued by volunteers cleaning up after the two devastating hurricanes, thus far.

See–there are good things in the world.


RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. I get so angry with people going on about “chemicals” in food, cleaning products, etc. I’ve never forgotten the speaker who came to my high school back in the Neolithic 😉 (actually in 1967), who pointed out to us that WE are made up of chemicals, and that everything we eat, wear and use is made of chemicals. She changed the way I look at things forever.

    Comment by Dakiwiboid — October 4, 2005 #

  2. Re: fast food choices. Sure, people will pick the Quarter Pounder. You’re right– it does taste better. And besides, have you read the nutrition information on a fast food salad lately? Several of the ones at MacDonald’s and Wendy’s have as much– if not more– fat and calories than one of their burgers.

    Comment by knitvixen — October 4, 2005 #

  3. Hello and welcome, Dakiwiboid! (I had noticed that I had a kiwi reader, but didn’t know who it was–nice to meet you!)

    Yeah, well. I get tweaked about irrational chemicalphobia, too. It bugs me.

    That said, I have no doubt that there are at least a couple of things on the list of thirty-eight food additives that are probably undesirable to have in something labelled, “organic,” but it just so happened that the three the author picked to whinge about were not really anything to get one’s panties in a bunch about.

    There are reasons to be concerned–but naturally occurring substances which are used in harmless ways are not it.

    Knitvixen–I should have mentioned that–if the kids have a grilled chicken salad, maybe they should make certain not to eat it with dressing (which pretty much dooms any salad from being consumed by any kid), because the amount of fat and sugar present in the dressings featured at places like McDonald’s is astronomical.

    The amount of fat in the new Apple walnut salad dressing is huge.

    Maybe I should just do a whole post devoted to a comparative analysis of the fat content in various menu items at fast food joints.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — October 4, 2005 #

  4. Barbara, that would be an interesting post. I need to go watch Supersize Me and read Fast Food Nation again; I’ve been eating entirely too much takeout since the move, and it’s really doign a number on my general health.

    Curse fast food and its terrible seductive convenience.

    Comment by knitvixen — October 4, 2005 #

  5. Most fast food is undigestible by me these days. I find this to be inconvenient, but I guess it is better than being able to eat it and eating too much of it.

    Both of those are great resources, btw–I love them.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — October 4, 2005 #

  6. Well, I’m just a fan of the kiwi bird, not a New Zealander. I enjoy your column a great deal. I’m currently a contract worker for Sara Lee Bakery, where I’ve learned a great deal about food additives while packing up people’s files for shipment to a new office, or thinning them down. (Hey, they pay me $15/hr. for it!) Xanthan gum was a surprise to me, as were a number of other additives which turned out to be natural products once I read about them. By the way, look for the baking industry to start pushing fiber as the next new trend. This is no bad thing.

    Comment by Dakiwiboid — October 4, 2005 #

  7. See, that is what I get for making assumptions! Well, I guess I will have to wait a little longer to find out who my quiet Kiwi reader is.

    I see you snagged my Antonio Bandaras line and used on LJ–good on you! Glad to make you laugh.

    A lot of food additives started out as food items–I learned that while in culinary school, but I had also read up on it a bit while on my own, pre-internet. Nowadays, no one really has an excuse not to find out what xanthan gum is before heralding the Apocalypse because it is in organic yogurt.

    Fiber in industrial baked goods is a good idea–and it is quite possible to do it while making the stuff taste good. Few people have time to bake their own bread, for example, and it is quite possible for bakeries to do a great job, using whole grain products and minimal food additives. There are a couple of bakeries in central Ohio that do fantastic jobs with whole grain products that are tasty, yummy and good without feeling heavy or “health-nut” like.

    I just wish somebody could come up with a way to make whole wheat pasta that didn’t taste like rotten gummy cardboard, though. Blah.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — October 4, 2005 #

  8. Not that I disagree on the general idea of your section on “chemicals” in organic food, but…

    You don’t *need* xantham gum to get a non runny yoghurt (or sour cream, or…), as long as you are willing to go for the full fat version.

    I am always flabbergasted to see how hard it is to find full fat dairy products in the US, and even more so full fat *organic* dairy products. Looking at the available selection in stores, it looks like that the people that go for the organic products are even more likely than the average American (or should that be the average Californian?) to be terrified of fat, and that’s saying a lot.

    My husband bought organic sour cream last week — of course it was low fat. We bravely tried it out (nothing else to put on the quesadillas that night) but ended up tossing the 3/4 full pot after dinner. Low fat, low taste, weird texture.

    My first look at the yoghurt aisle at the local supermarket was a horrifying experience of culture shock to my sheltered French sensitivities. Five years later I still haven’t recovered.

    Comment by Agnès — October 6, 2005 #

  9. Welcome, Agnes–

    Guess what? I agree with you.

    I utterly despise “fat-free” yogurt and sour cream. UGH! Nasty stuff. Gummy-textured with weird off-tastes.

    You are right, Americans, for all that we are all obese and godawful fat (or at least, so the media tells us), are horrified of fat. Well, some of us are, anyway. I’m not. I eat fat, just not in copious amounts.

    That is the thing–moderation. Americans cannot do the moderation thing, I guess. I don’t know why. But have the full-fat yogurt and just eat a little bit less of it, okay? Or the full fat sour cream and don’t have it every damned day.

    I do drink lowfat organic milk, mainly because the whole milk is so rich–it tastes almost like drinking straight cream to me–this is because for years I drank conventional milk which just doesn’t taste like much.

    BTW–Brown Cow brand makes full fat yogurt, as does Seven Stars Dairy. They are both fantastic and full of flavor. As for full fat sour cream–Horizon, which probably shouldn’t wear the USDA Certified Organic label because of their farming practices, does have very tasty full fat sour cream, and Organic Valley, which is a series of locally owned co-op dairies puts out really nice full fat sour cream.

    I am sorry for the culture shock–there is good food here in the US–even some of it processed–but you have to look for it.

    Anyway, welcome to my blog–and thanks for commenting!

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — October 6, 2005 #

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