J500 Media and the Environment

The Processed Produce Section by KaylaReg

Growing up, my mother would never buy me Twinkies. Not because she knew those adorable snack cakes were made with sorbic acid (made from petroleum), corn dextrin (used as the adhesive on postage stamps) and ferrous sulfate (found in disinfectant and weed killers). It takes someone like Steve Ettlinger, author of  Twinkie Deconstructed, to examine all 39 ingredients in the dessert to fully explain the health and environmental risks that come with Twinkies and processed food in general.

Of course, my mother’s problem with Twinkies wasn’t with the chemicals in it. If Ettlinger came out with an “Instant Potatoes Deconstructed,” I doubt it would change her grocery list. She was more concerned with living by the food pyramid than checking for mycoprotein, and in a perfect world that should be enough for healthy eating. Both of my parents worked full-time jobs to put well-balanced meals on the table, so even when we had to pass up a grilled chicken breast for instant chicken tetrazzini, fruits and vegetables were still always on our plates. More and more though, the problems considered unique to processed foods are spanning into the produce aisles on which we depend to make healthier choices. Unlike a box of Twinkies, however, the grapefruit I eat for breakfast doesn’t come with a label telling me what’s actually in it or from where it came.

The 2007 Hawaii–Los Angeles Multiethnic Cohort study, widely discussed by networks such as Fox News, showed that eating small amounts of grapefruit every day increased a woman’s risk for breast cancer by nearly a third. The study failed to mention, though, that the grapefruits used weren’t organically grown, but had been exposed to the heavy pesticides and insecticides, many of which are estrogen based, that come with conventionally grown citrus farming. They also failed to account for the numerous other studies, including this one by Cornell University, that have shown an increase in breast cancer cells when exposed to estrogen based farming chemicals such as DDT and Round Up.

The science behind fruits and veggies doesn’t stop there. The United States is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t require genetically engineered (GE) foods to be labeled as such. Alternately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) places a huge burden on companies that have eliminated GE ingredients to label their product as NON-GE.

There's more to this grapefruit than what meets the eye. More than likely, herbacide, pesticide and other feats of chemical engineering have gone into growing this citrus item.

According to truefoodnow.org, neither the FDA, Department of Agriculture, nor Environmental Protection Agency have conducted any long term tests on the human health or environmental impact of GE crops. Doctors and scientists around the world warn that such crops could likely come with hidden health risks, such as new allergies or antibiotic resistant diseases. Laboratory and field studies have shown that the use of GE crops can also harm beneficial insects, damage soils and contaminate neighboring crops with GE genes, potentially resulting in uncontrollable weeds.

I know one clear answer to this would be to only shop at natural food stores or buy organically. But like my mother, I don’t always have the time or option to go the extra mile. We can’t all be perfect consumers all of the time, but it’s unfortunate that today, sticking to the food pyramid is only one small part of committing to a healthy lifestyle.

– Kayla Regan

Food Fears: The Revolving Door We Can’t get Out of by jmuselmann
January 29, 2010, 4:59 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 2 | Tags: , , ,

The question of what was actually contained within food came to me at an early age. The whirlwind of fearful concern generated among mommies about the caffeine content in Surge, then one of my favorite sodas, had successfully put down the bright green, syrupy soft drink, forever banishing it into a nostalgic martyrdom. At least that’s how I saw it.

It’s newer and more tamed incarnation, Mountain Dew, was what I took up next. In sixth grade, while enjoying a can during lunch (cans of it somehow tasted the best), a mean girl came up to me and said, “You know Mt. Dew lowers your sperm count, right?” I almost spewed. The idea of a sperm count was a new concept to me, and so was the idea that something that I drank could affect it.

Later I heard all sorts of things about Yellow 5, the food dye that was supposedly the culprit behind my heightening insecurity of my own masculinity (as if I need any help with that in middle school). Call me old-fashioned, but the only thing I was raised to be mindful of was fat, and when fat meant you got fat. It was a simple transference.

But with new worrisome terms like trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, and sugar—used both in food advertising and the media that covers it—a card is taken from the back of the deck: High-caffeinated energy drinks line convenience stores today (with caffeine pills at the register, if you don’t have time to drink it), while sugary coffee drinks seem to be suspiciously targeted toward children more than ever. When I was a barista, my job turned into a daycare when school ended.

Will it take another concerned group (of mommies or otherwise) for a concerted effort against harmful, or simply unwanted, ingredients to be successful? Or was it possible only in ’90s, when the U.S. was not addled in recession, exhausted in war, nor stumped by healthcare reform? Despite increasing food research and coverage in the media, I can’t help but think that substantial government interference is about as realistic a possibility as a Surge resurrection.

—Jacob Muselmann

Convenience Culture by bpirotte
January 29, 2010, 4:56 pm
Filed under: Food + Health, J500 Week 2, Society + Media | Tags: , , , , ,

I’m hungry.

But I’m also busy.

I go into my kitchen, open the fridge, and find nothing appealing. There’s some cheese, yogurt, fruit, and juices, but I’m not in the mood for something like that. I want something with more “substance.”

So, I open up the freezer. Right there, in the front, is a giant bag of frozen chicken breasts.

It seems to be staring at me, imposing a feeling of guilt over me. It’s seems to be pleading, “Don’t you remember? You JUST watched a documentary called Food, Inc. telling you about the evils of processed chicken. And Tyson was SPECIFICALLY mentioned!”

My stomach’s voice seems to overpower that of my head. I get out the bag, stick a couple on a skillet, and in just a few minutes, I’m eating chicken. How convenient.

But isn’t that our problem? We, as citizens of the modern world, have an obsession with convenience. We want to be able to eat pleasant-tasting food in a very little time. Think of fast food–you don’t care what’s in your burger. It tastes good, doesn’t it? And you got it in less than five minutes. You probably didn’t even get out of your car.

I’ve been astounded in the past few weeks hearing commercials that now boast having 100% beef in a hamburger, or 100% cheese on a pizza. WHAT HAVE I BEEN EATING?!The sad thing is, though, on that late night on my way home, I will probably stop at McDonald’s for a double cheeseburger, or order that pizza from Domino’s.

So will we be able to change our habitual want for convenience? When food advocates stress the importance on spending a few extra dollars to help the current problem, I think their emphasis should be more on what can be done to change our want/need for convenience, or cater to that convenience through healthy, unprocessed, and natural foods. Is this a possibility? I think we’re moving forward. Look at McDonald’s newer healthier choices. But the want has to start somewhere for companies to change, and we, as habitual, convenience-seeking consumers, have to be the ones to initiate.

Ben P.

Fake vs Real by tesshedrick
January 29, 2010, 4:37 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 2 | Tags: ,

Throughout my childhood years, I could always count on the freezer being stocked with my snack food of choice, Twinkies!  Do not ask me why my mother kept the seemingly shelf-lifeless snacks in the freezer, but boy did they taste good coming out of the cold.  Probably consuming hundreds of boxes of Twinkies during my childhood, I do not regret eating any of them.  Why, you may ask; well my friends, ignorance is bliss.  How was I supposed to know that this soft, spongy, creamy (my mouth is watering right now) piece of “cake” was in fact FAKE!?  That’s right, I didn’t.  Unfortunately now I do; I am sad to say that now that I know the truth behind the infamous Twinkie, I cannot shield my eyes anymore.

Why is it that so many kids associate childhood with unhealthy foods such as Twinkies?  You don’t normally hear of adults saying that their favorite food is a Twinkie.  Marketing campaigns targeting children is one of the contributing factors is the media.    Food commercials are geared towards  children, and the timing of the commercials are at commons television viewing times of children.

One might guess that this slice of heaven couldn’t contain more than a few ingredients.  WRONG. Try 39 ingredients for each small cake.  And these ingredients are not any that you can find in your average kitchen.  One way to explain the ingredients in a Twinkie is, take a fake Coach purse.  If it is a really good fake, you can’t tell the difference between that one and the real Coach purse.  The same goes for the Twinkie ingredients.  Since eggs, milk, and other perishable ingredients cannot be used in Twinkies, for that would deter and defeat the purpose of the seemingly endless shelf life of the cake, other ingredients must be used to mimic the real ingredients.

Personally, I find this disgusting, and I cannot believe that children are consuming this artificial food.  Parents need to start teaching their kids at an earlier age about nutrition and how to eat healthy.  There are numerous websites that offer great tips for making nutritious, fun meals for kids.  It can be done, everyone!

–Tess H.

The Government’s Role in Processed Foods by jackiemcc

After reading several articles about Steve Ettlinger’s Twinkie, Deconstructed, I began to speculate the government’s concern of unsafe processed foods.

In his book, Ettlinger explored the secrets of processed foods, like the Twinkie. Through his research, he discovered that ingredients used in industrial materials may in fact be also used in the foods you think are safe to eat.

In his article that cited Ettlinger’s book, Don Lee from the Los Angeles Times discussed China’s involvement as a supplier of many of these harmful ingredients. He further discussed China’s poor food safety record , and how that is a concern for many U.S. consumers.

As much of a concern that this is for the customers, I began to wonder how concerned government officials really are about these unsafe ingredients. In his article, Lee cited that “The Food and Drug Administration has said it checks just one percent of all imported grocery items and food ingredients, excluding meat and poultry products.”

This leads me to believe that the governments, both in the U.S. and China, either are not informed of the real harm of these imported ingredients, or they simply do not care.

In many of the articles I read about Ettlinger’s book, the U.S. import and manufacturing companies declined to comment. Personally, I find it hard to believe that government officials don’t know what is happening. Because these companies declined to comment, it most likely means they were at least told about the issue from the reporter. They probably know it’s a problem, but they don’t want to believe it, which is why they keep declining all the interviews. Any other thoughts on this?

What we need to do is inform and persuade government officials of the issue’s severity.

On a more local level, an article in the University Daily Kansan, the University of Kansas’ student newspaper, was about the recent discussion “Food for Thought: The Culture of Food in the United States” that took place on Monday. Part of the discussion was about food production and distribution in the United States.

The article quoted Sara Thomas Rosen, the event’s moderator, saying, “We don’t think how about the shrink-wrapped meat bought at the grocery store came to be.”

I wish I had heard about this event before it happened, because I think it would have been very useful to attend for our Media and the Environment journalism class. From the article, I get a sense that it would have reinforced the idea that we need to educate more people about our country’s food production process.

At least we are making some headway on the awareness of the issue here in Lawrence, but we still have a long way to go for the country.

—Jackie McClellan

Venturing into the Cullinary Unknown by amandajayne16
January 29, 2010, 3:49 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 2

As a self defined ‘environmental novice’, my knowledge of the subject is a steady learning process of reading suggested books and articles, or anything that happens to have the word ‘green’ of ‘Eco’ in its title. With just a handful of texts at reference point,however, I find my thoughts about my own food consumption are starting to change.

Consumers should be skeptical about the food they eat.

It was at a recent International dinner that I attended, when my new found inquisitiveness about food origins was first brought to light.

In an attempt to entice the guests, the hosts had changed the names of their food items to give them a more ‘International’ feel. The labeled items perched on the table were,however, nothing more than quirky gimmicks.

Names such as ‘New Orleans dressing’, appeared only to whet the appetites of the unsuspecting consumer rather than to promote  something of a Southern origin. There was no malice intended by the cooks, however, I realized that this type of practice is an everyday occurrence by food production companies across the globe.

In Steve Ettlinger’s article, ‘From a Chinese Oil refinery to your Twinkie’, the content mystery of the perceived ‘All-American’ Twinkie is explored.  He reveals that the comfort food is derived not from the humbling roots of a wooden farmhouse in Iowa, but from an unknown trail of chemical plants and suppliers ranging as far afield as China to Sweden. The chemical’s exact origins remain a mystery to even the American food manufactures that produce the snacks.

This is not a isolated affair. In truth, each day most of us are tucking in to a culinary enigma. In small print the chemicals may be listed but their origin as Etlinger explains is an “international nexus of suppliers”.

Anne Underwood reacts to the complex nature of our processed food publicized by Ettlinger. She refers to the, “incomprehensible and barely pronounceable ingredients” that take the place of ‘real food’ that will spoil more quickly or not quite stimulate a person’s palate at the speed that chemicals do.

The Pump Energy Food, is a New York based restaurant that has a mission “to make it easy for people to eat well”. They have produced a comical video that emphasizes the unknown nature of what is in our food.

I was particularly struck by one scene in which the viewer is prompted to ‘Hide your salad’ by pouring some kind of unrecognizable product over the leaves and tomatoes. Through some research, I discovered that my usual salad dressing of choice and most produced, contain a chemical named Xanthan gum. This is used to thicken the mixture whilst still retaining its ability to smoothly exit the bottle and cling to the food below. Worryingly, this same ingredient is used in the theater industry to make fake blood or even slime.

At least now, if I am ever accused of having a restrictive diet of just salad, I can add comment that it is not merely salad but salad with slime.

Amanda Jayne N

Deconstructing blissful ignorance by Lauren Cunningham
January 29, 2010, 3:45 pm
Filed under: Food + Health, J500 Week 2

I’ve recently become addicted to Mad Men. The show, set in the 1960s, depicts the lives of people in the advertising industry in New York City, including the family life of the main characters, which as a modern day viewer can show some past flaws that now seem ridiculous.

I can’t help but chuckle when I see pregnant characters on the show reach for a cocktail or smoke a cigarette in nearly every scene. Obviously, we, as a society, know now that alcohol and tobacco can have serious, harmful side effects for pregnant women, but in that time period, they were oblivious to those. Imagine their reactions when studies came out proving the awful side effects their actions.

Well, after reading reactions to Twinkie, Deconstructed, I experienced what I imagine was the same type of revelation that those characters in Mad Men would have had. Of course, the degree of revelation would probably be different, but the same kind of realization after ignorance occurred with me.

I’d like to give myself some credit and say that even before reading about Twinkie, Deconstructed I figured that Twinkies weren’t healthy and definitely weren’t natural — in the way they look and taste — and therefore, probably weren’t made with natural ingredients. But like most other consumers, I was ignorant to all of the harmful ingredients in Twinkies and more importantly, where those ingredients come from. If more consumers knew about the off-shore food additives that appear in most foods they eat, I think they would be more inclined to eat natural, local-grown foods.

It’s amazing to me that even in 2010, we still don’t know everything about the food we eat, but we’ve learned all about the negative components of things as alcohol or cigarettes that aren’t consumed everyday. The Twinkie was made in 1930, and I don’t know if the same ingredients were in that version compared to today’s version, but I’m sure there were some overlapping ingredients.

As the popular saying goes, ignorance is bliss, but what happens when that ignorance evolves into problems that have major consequences? If people are happier being oblivious to what they’re eating, than knowing about unnatural substances, then those same people should realize the eventual health issues they might encounter.

Consumers should realize that they might have to pay more for healthier, natural foods and that to find those kind of foods might require some education. Reading about Twinkie, Deconstructed can be a start to realizing that ignorance toward what we’re putting in our bodies isn’t so blissful.

— Lauren Cunningham