Saturday, May 3, 2008

To Hell With High Fructose Corn Syrup!

Walk into your grocery store and take a look around... sure the food *looks* like it used to... now pick up the package and take a look at the ingredients... exactly... What the fuck happened to our food, when exactly did it happen and more importantly, why! As I've looked more closely at the ingredients I find in the food I feed my family with, more furious I become.

My backlash against this is to strive to rid myself and my family of unnecessary preservatives and chemicals in our diet! Modern science is starting to prove what people have for many years believed. The farther you move away from the raw ingredients, the more processed the food, the worse it is to be for you. Another thing to think about is this... Our bodies evolved to eat the food that was available to us... which for a majority of human history has been without things like sulfur dioxide and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

You would think this would be something that would be relatively simple to do, as I've found out, it's actually really hard and insidious problem to solve.

One of the things that I've taken to is reading labels much more extensively, much to the chagrin of my wife! Surprisingly I've found that the fancier brands seem to be the more processed. Once place that I seem to find high fructose corn syrup needlessly is bread. I searched for 5 minutes yesterday looking for a loaf of bread that doesn't have HFCS in it. I finally found the store brand (which happened to also be the cheapest) was the only brand I could find that was at least -minimally- processed. As I use up and replace things in my house, I've been trying to find minimally processed replacements.

How I think we've got to this juncture is as American's we've been suckered into thinking that cooking is too hard. Especially anything more complicated than something that you can take out of a bag or be instantly heated up. I think a big part of this is gullibility in the face of marketing. Turn on the T.V. and you'll here all manner of ads to the tune of "Don't have time to cook dinner for the family? Use our ready made, prepackaged, microwavable dinner!". What they won't say in the commercial is that it's loaded from top to bottom with chemicals even your high school chemistry teacher would throw their hands up at.

What my wife and I have found is that with some common sense and a good cookbook, we can make pretty much make anything you'd eat on an average night in about an hour. This runs the gambit from a simple chicken dinner (with homemade French fries) to well... you name it.

Now, while we cook and we consider ourselves pretty good at it, we're not elaborate cooks. As we've explored our cookbooks we've had more than a couple "you mean, it's that easy?!?" moments. One of them was when we make al graten potatoes the first time. For a long time we'd bought the box ones because we thought there were elaborate steps to making them...nope.

What we've found consistently is something the big companies don't want you to know...
1. If you've got the time to preheat an oven or boil water, you've got the time to prepare the things you'll need to make the dish.
2. You'll sit down, take one bite and go "Damn, this tastes better!"
3. For the jackass who just commented under their breath that they don't have the time... make time to spend time around the table with your family!

As Americans get on this "reducing our carbon footprint" kick, I hope some of that mental and financial energy goes towards taking a hard long look at the industrial food chain that many Americans sit at the very end of. I hope when they start looking at the food on their table and contemplating what's in it and what they're putting into their bodies they'll become (as I have) horrified and sickened at what they find.

I hope they're horrified and sickened at two levels.

The first level is at the massive amount of chemicals and needless over processing that's in their food. From a carbon point of view I see as needlessly spent energy. Billions of BTU's used to create additives and preservatives, not to mention the packaging and the ink, etc. Then the energy used to put all that together, the oil used in the plastic packaging on the inside. Let's just say there's a foil package on the inside, so there's some aluminum thrown in there for good measure. Aluminum takes massive amounts of energy to refine... it's no coincidence that first power lines from Niagara falls went to an aluminum processor...

The second level is when you think about all the energy that went into bringing all the raw materials together to make the final product and then shipping that final product to the grocery store.

Now contrast that against the relatively simple path that the raw ingredients took to get to your plate...

I'm not saying that there isn't going to be processing involved. Unless you've got a garden and eat out of it extensively everything takes energy. It's just a question of how much and where it's wasted.

To a certain contingent of people my argument will seem pointless. They'll shrug and say "so what, I'll eat a few preservatives, but I'll recycle the box!" These people I consider the completely enshrined industrial eater. No argument I make will sway them.

To the rest of us, I plan to continue down the path of eating locally and trying to remove as many unnatural chemicals as possible from my diet... and saving the planet at the same time!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Maybe $10 a gallon gas isn't such a bad thing...

Standing around the water cooler, a couple of my co-workers were fussing over the idea that gas might get to $7.00 a gallon this summer.

I mulled it over for a second and came to the conclusion that this is probably a good thing. In the short term, it's going to cause a far number of people some serious pain, but in the long term it'll probably go a long way towards helping our environment, local economy and encouraging innovation.

The obvious thing that high priced gas is going to effect is transportation. I like millions of other Americans get up every morning, kiss the wife and kid goodbye, get into my car and drive to work. I had the foresight to buy a pretty fuel efficient vehicle (Honda Civic) I'm getting somewhere in the neighborhood of 37mpg driving at 50mph. My commute is pretty typical at ~30mins. However, even with that said, I've already talked to my boss about working from home. Think about the ramifications of millions of people suddenly driving slower and telecommuting. Not to mention the poor bastards who thought buying an Escalade seemed like a good idea... Think of all the CO2 that won't be going into the atmosphere! Actually I take that back, I have no sympathy for the stupid fuck who buys an Escalade, that's just obscene.

Agriculture is another area that high fuel prices will cause a fundamental shift. As it stands right now a local farm using sustainable farming methods just can't compete with the industrial model. Why is this? There are a number of reasons, but to name a few, it's cheap corn and cheap oil. What happens when suddenly those raw materials become insanely expensive? In a nutshell, I believe we'll see a return to the local farm. Why is it that a steak from a local farmer whose only inputs are sunlight and grass is twice the price of steak that was made from corn and fertilizer? I believe it's because the government subsidizes the latter instead of the former. I have to admit, this idea is not mine, go borrow or buy "The Omnivores Dilemma: A natural History of four meals". You don't have to agree with it or it's premises, but feeding your head has never been a bad thing!

I'm not going to parrot what's said in that book, you should really read it. The author brings up some very good points, not the least of which is that we've basically backed ourselves into a corner. We let several powerful corporations combined with some questionable farm policy and our own willing ignorance to now put us in a situation where our entire food infrastructure is highly centralized and completely out of our control. What's even more frightening is that the food this infrastructure creates is inferior and I believe is killing us.

With that all said, 10$ a gallon gas will do the one thing that I wished 9/11 should have done, which is to get us off oil. Fuel economy and sustainable and renewable energy has stagnated because it was cheaper to just do nothing. The status quo was that the oil would just keep flowing and the argument was to worry about it tomorrow. I call this argument "IJOTH" (Innovation is Just Over The Horizon). Don't worry... some magic thing some guy develops somewhere will fix it! Good luck with that...