I often think of highly processed food as “plastic food”, mostly because it comes so heavily packaged in plastic and because of the fact that compared to fresh whole foods it tastes so artificial. Processed cheese slices are probably the best example of what I think of as plastic food. They just look like shiny, bright orange plastic squares with almost no real dairy content whatsoever and they taste absolutely nothing like the read cheddar cheese that they supposedly mimic. We’ve all been approached by a child playing house in one of those Fisher Price kitchens with the pretend food and when they ask us to taste their home cooked meal we laugh and say “num num num num” as we pretend to eat it. But of course we’d never take a real bite out of it. It’s plastic! It would taste aweful and be terrible for our health. Hmmm, exactly.
We all know that processed food is bad for our health. Even if you’ve never read any of the studies, it’s just common sense that feeding your body artificial flavours, chemical additives and preservatives is just not a great idea. But I thought I’d attempt to shed a little light on just where exactly all these unhealthy food additives come from. Essentially it all boils down to two words; corn and soy!
Before looking into it, I had no idea that such a wide variety of food products could be derived from such a small number of inputs, but a diagram I found on ADM’s website (see link below) shows just how few common denominators there are in a long list of hard to pronounce processed food ingredients. Corn and soy beans represent an enormous percentage of all crops grown in the American mid west, otherwise known as the “corn belt”. But that’s not because Americans love to eat corn on the cob. No no no, it’s because corn is cheap to grow and it’s easy to process into hundreds of other things ranging literally from things like high fructose corn syrup (sweetener) to the multi talented dextrin, a carbohydrate produced by the hydrolysis of corn starch. Dextrin has dozens of useful applications not only in food processing plants to enhance the crispiness of food batters, coatings and glazes, but also in the textile industry to increase the weight and stiffness of fabrics, and even in the stationery industry as a binding agent for the glue on envelopes and waxy paper coatings.
So there you have it folks, American farmers don’t grow corn because the world likes to eat corn, they grow it because the world likes to dip cardboard boxes in it, swallow their pills with it, burn it in their vehicles, and even wear it in their shirts.
But the list of uses for giant surpluses of corn and soy brought on by excessive government subsidization doesn’t end with corn syrup and dextrin. There are dozens of even more bizarrely named food additives and preservatives like isoflavones, lecithin, sorbitol, lysine, astaxanthin, and yes even polymers. Polymers as in “plastics”? Yep, one of the myriad byproducts of heavily processed corn is, quite literally, “plastic food” or more accurately, “food plastic”. ADM’s website boasts of their achievement of creating “polyhydroxy alkanoates (or PHAs) that are made from corn sugar and can be used in everyday products like cosmetic packaging, cell phones, office supplies and shopping bags.” Fantastic! This means we can stop pumping oil out of the ground to make plastic, right? Wrong.
Guess where all the energy comes from not only to turn corn into plastic for making cell phones, but also to make corn into ketchup, chicken nuggets and soda? Well, the milling, crushing, grinding, hydrogenation, enzymatic interesterification, saccharification, extraction and deodorization are all energy intensive processes that require burning vast quantities of natural gas or oil. So when you look at the system as a whole, we’re now growing food and turning it into plastic by using oil, instead of just making oil directly into plastic. Have we really solved an environmental problem or just created a new one by using up hundreds of thousands of acres of fertile land to grow cheap corn?
Now, if you’re thinking that I’m just an extremist wingnut screaming about the evils of food corporations, then rest assured, this is not a conspiracy theory or extremist evangelism. I’m not saying that the companies that process corn and soy are wrong to do so. There are some incredible benefits of using grains that can be grown, stored and transported efficiently for the wide variety of purposes that science has discovered. I’m also not saying that people who eat heavily processed foods necessarily need to repent and switch to any other particular diet. I’m just saying we should be taking a deeper look at what we put in our bodies and where it comes from. You can start by visiting http://www.FarmOn.com and by checking out ADM’s site for yourself.
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