I pass a large train yard on my way to work everyday. It is amazing what you see out there in the vast myriad of box cars, tankers, and flat bed trailers. I’ve seen an entire forest loaded onto a train laid out like toothpicks on their way to God knows where and enough cars to cause traffic jams on any freeway in America.
What caught my eye today though was a particular train of say 120 to 140 cars of the entire same product. Black tanker cars in fact, all with the letter, “HFCS” stenciled in blue on them. Now ordinarily I would not have given this train any more thought than any other, but I had just finished Michael Pollans, “The Omnivores Dilemma” and well; talk about an explanation mark for his book. “HFCS” stands for High Fructose Corn Syrup by the way, and you eat it everyday. In fact, it is in so much of your food your exact intake of it is probably immeasurable!
For those of you unfamiliar with Pollan’s book, it posses the question; what is for dinner tonight? And once you have decided what you are going to eat, do you truly know what it is you are eating? Now its pretty common knowledge most of the food that reaches our table travels about fifteen hundred miles to get there and comes from so many chemical concoctions it’s a wonder they can get it to look as good as it does. That in itself is another blog on eating locally and how to sustain your own food community, but the key here is, what is in our food, what makes it up?
As you will find out, the more blurred the creation trail of what it is you are actually eating, the better it is for the producers of our food. For if you don’t understand the products you really can’t complain about them. I believe this is what we not that long ago, referred to as a “transparency issue!”
Take the usual fast food meal you might pick up for you and the kids on your way to soccer practice tonight. Now if you got a soda, some cheeseburgers, a few milk shakes, a packet of salad dressing for a salad, chicken nuggets and fries, the one ingredient you may think couldn’t possibly be in this meal is basically the most abundant ingredient in it. Since this is not a guessing game I will tell you right off, it is corn.
Not since the time of George Washington Carver and the Peanut have we co-opted something as richly as we have the kernel of corn. It is in everything you eat. Yes the name has been changed to protect the innocent, but as Pollan points out, if you are familiar with labels you know corn. It is known he says as, “citric and lactic acid, glucose, fructose, sorbitol, mannitol and xanthan gum, modified and unmodified starches, dextrin’s MSG and cyclodextrins.” Now whether this is good or bad for us, the jury is still out. For centuries man has lived on agricultural products, and while starting with corn is one thing, processing into xanthan gum is something completely different, yet done everyday and we eat it by the railroad car loads full.
The soda by the way is made up of 100% of carbon atoms derived from corn; yummy. Pollan goes on to travel with beef to CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), delves into what it truly means to be an organic farmer and eventually succeeds in creating a meal he knows where every ingredient came from. I venture to say you and I would have a hard task doing so.
It is a fantastic book, I highly recommend and hopefully when you ask what is for dinner tonight you will have a much better understanding, just what is on your table at dinner time! Toots Sweet!