One of the readers dropped this lovely little link in via facebook, and I’m so glad she did:
If there’s one thing in the world the food industry is dead set against, it’s allowing you to actually maintain some level of control over what you eat. See, they have this whole warehouse full of whatever they bought last week when they were drunk that they need to get rid of — and they will do so by feeding it all to you. And it doesn’t matter how many pesky “lists of ingredients” and consumer protections stand between you and them.
#6. The Secret Ingredient: Wood
You know what’s awesome? Newspaper. Or, to be precise, the lack thereof. The Internet and other electric media have all but eaten up classic print media, with the circulations of almost all papers on the wane. Say, do you ever wonder what they do with all that surplus wood pulp?
“But Cracked,” you inquire, “what does this have to do with food ingredients?”
And we look at you squarely in the eye, then slowly bring our gaze upon the half-eaten bagel in your hand.
Oh, sh-t …
And everybody’s doing it. Aunt Jemima’s pancake syrup? Cellulose. Pillsbury Pastry Puffs? Cellulose. Kraft Bagel-Fuls? Fast-food cheese? Sara Lee’s breakfast bowls? Cellulose, cellulose, g-ddamn cellulose.
It turns out that cellulose can provide texture to processed foods, so food companies have taken to happily using it as a replacement for such unnecessary and inconveniently expensive ingredients as flour and oil. As the 30 percent cheaper cellulose is edible and non-poisonous, the FDA has no interest for restricting its use — or, for that matter, the maximum amount of it that food companies can use in a product. It is pretty much everywhere, and even organic foods are no salvation — after all, cellulose used to be wood and can therefore be called organic, at least to an extent.
But the worst thing about cellulose is not that it’s everywhere. The worst thing is that it is not food at all. Cellulose is, unlike the actual, normal food items you think you’re paying for, completely indigestible by human beings, and it has no nutritional value to speak of. If a product contains enough of it, you can literally get more nutrients from licking the sweet, sweet fingerprints off its wrapper.
#5. Zombie Orange Juice
Quick, name the most healthy drink your nearest store has to offer. You said orange juice, didn’t you? It’s what everybody makes you drink when you get sick. Hell, that sh-t must be like medicine or something. And the labels are always about health benefits — the cartons scream “100 percent natural!”, “Not from concentrate!” and “No added sugar!”
And why not believe them? When it comes to making the stuff, orange juice isn’t sausage. You take oranges, you squeeze oranges, you put the result in a carton, with or without pulp. End of story, beginning of deliciousness.
But what if we told you that “freshly squeezed” juice of yours can very well be a year old, and has been subjected to stuff that would make the Re-Animator puke?
Ever wonder why every carton of natural, healthy, 100 percent, not-from-concentrate orange juice manages to taste exactly the same, yet ever so slightly different depending on the brand, despite containing no additives or preservatives whatsoever?
The process indeed starts with the oranges being squeezed, but that’s the first and last normal step in the process. The juice is then immediately sealed in giant holding tanks and all the oxygen is removed. That allows the liquid to keep without spoiling for up to a year. That’s why they can distribute it year-round, even when oranges aren’t in season.
There is just one downside to the process (from the manufacturers’ point of view, that is) — it removes all the taste from the liquid. So, now they’re stuck with vats of extremely vintage watery fruit muck that tastes of paper and little else. What’s a poor giant beverage company to do? Why, they re-flavor that sh-t with a carefully constructed mix of chemicals called a flavor pack, which are manufactured by the same fragrance companies that formulate CK One and other perfumes. Then they bottle the orange scented paper water and sell it to you.
And, thanks to a loophole in regulations, they often don’t even bother mentioning the flavor pack chemicals in the list of ingredients. Hear that low moan from the kitchen? That’s the Minute Maid you bought yesterday. It knows you know.
#4. Ammonia-Infused Hamburger
Any restaurant that serves hamburger goes out of its way to reassure you how pure and natural it is. Restaurant chains like McDonald’s (“All our burgers are made from 100 percent beef, supplied by farms accredited by nationally recognized farm assurance schemes”) and Taco Bell (“Like all U.S. beef, our 100 percent premium beef is USDA inspected, then passes our 20 quality checkpoints”) happily vouch for the authenticity of their animal bits. Their testaments to the healthiness and fullness of their meat read out like they were talking about freaking filet mignon.
And aside from the rare E.coli outbreak, the meat is clean. It’s how they get it clean that’s unsettling.
Ammonia. You know, the harsh chemical they use in fertilizers and oven cleaners? It kills E.coli really well. So, they invented a process where they pass the hamburger through a pipe where it is doused in ammonia gas. And you probably never heard about it, other than those times that batches of meat stink of ammonia so bad that the buyer returns it.
The ammonia process is an invention of a single company called Beef Products Inc., which originally developed it as a way to use the absolute cheapest parts of the animal, instead of that silly “prime cuts” stuff the competitors were offering (and the restaurant chains swear we’re still getting). Consequently, Beef Products Inc. has pretty much cornered the burger patty market in the U.S. to the point that 70 percent of all burger patties out there are made by them. Thanks, ammonia!
#3. Fake Berries
Imagine a blueberry muffin.
Even with your freshly gained knowledge that there may or may not be some cellulose in the cake mix, it’s pretty impossible not to start salivating at the thought. This is largely because of the berries themselves. What’s better — they’re so very, very healthy that it’s almost wrong for them to taste so good.
Everything is better with blueberries — that’s why they put them in so many foods. Now that we think of it, there sure seems to be a lot of blueberries in a lot of products. You’d think we’d see more blueberry fields around …
… not that it would do any good, as the number of blueberries you’ve eaten within the last year that have actually come from such a field is likely pretty close to zero.
Studies of products that supposedly contain blueberries indicate that many of them didn’t originate in nature. All those dangly and chewy and juicy bits of berry are completely artificial, made with different combinations of corn syrup and a little chemist’s set worth of food colorings and other chemicals with a whole bunch of numbers and letters in their names.
They do a damn good job of faking it, too — you need a chemist’s set of your own to be able to call bullsh-t. You can sort of tell them from the ingredient lists, too, if you know what to look for, although the manufacturers tend to camouflage them under bullshit terms like “blueberry flakes” or “blueberry crunchlets.”
There are a number of major differences between the real thing and the Abomination Blueberry: The fake blueberries have the advantages of a longer shelf life and, of course, being cheaper to produce. But they have absolutely none of the health benefits and nutrients of the real thing. This, of course, doesn’t stop the manufacturers from riding the Blueberry Health Train all the way to the bank, sticking pictures of fresh berries and other bullshit cues all over the product packaging.
Now, here’s some good news: The law does require the manufacturers to put the whole artificial thing out there for the customers. The bad news, however, is that they have gotten around this, too. First up, the Kellogg’s Mini-Wheats way:
This is somewhat recognizable. They just stick a picture of the berries there, while not actually bothering to conceal the fact that the actual cereal looks like it’s made of cardboard and Smurf paste.
A bunch of Betty Crocker products and Target muffins use the second route, which brings the cheat level even further by actually containing an unspecified amount of real berries. This way they can legally advertise natural flavors while substituting the vast majority of berries with the artificial ones.
Or, you can just take the “we don’t give a f-ck anymore” route, as evidenced by General Mills’ Total Blueberry Pomegranate cereal. The whole selling point of the product is that it contains a bucketload of blueberries and pomegranates, and the package boasts all the buzzwords the marketing department has been able to dream up.
In reality, not only are the blueberries fake, but also they’ve forged the freaking pomegranates as well.
#2. “Free Range” Chickens That Are Crammed Into a Giant Room
Buying “free range” eggs is one of the easiest ways to feel good as a consumer — they are at least as readily available as “normal,” mass produced eggs from those horrible giant chicken prisons Big Egg maintains. Hell, they even cost pretty much the same. There’s literally no reason not to buy free range even though, now that we think about it, we’re not actually sure what that means. But the animals must live in pretty good conditions. In fact, let’s buy our meat and poultry free range, too!
Well, according to law, the definition of “free range” is that chickens raised for their meat “have access to the outside.” OK … so that’s not quite as free as we assumed, and it appears to only apply to chickens raised for their meat. But at least they still have some freedom, what with the outside and all that.
Words have power, and “free range” in its original sense means unfenced and unrestrained. That makes it a powerful phrase that, no matter how smart we are, conjures subconscious images of freedom hens, riding tiny little freedom horses out on the plains, wearing hen-sized cowboy hats and leaving a happy little trail of delicious freedom eggs in their wake. There may be mandolin music.
But the reality is there are absolutely no regulations whatsoever for the use of the term “free range” on anything other than chickens raised for their meat. Your Snickers bar could be free range for all the government cares.
The industry knows this full well and happily makes us lap up the free range myth, even though in reality a free range hen lives in pretty much the same prison as a battery cage hen — except its whole life takes place in the prison shower, rather than a cell.
Awareness of the free range myth is slowly increasing, but although a manufacturer that has been pushing his luck a bit too much does get jailed every once in a while, that doesn’t do much to the overall phenomenon. In fact, Europe is set to ban egg production in cage systems come 2012. Guess what the replacement is going to be?
#1. Bullsh-t Health Claims
Nuts that reduce risk of heart disease. Yogurts that improve digestion and keep you from getting sick. Baby food that saves your kid from atopic dermatitis, whatever the hell that may be. Products like that are everywhere these days, and we do have to admit it’s hard to see any drawbacks to them. We eat yogurt anyway, so why not make it good for our tummy while we’re at it?
It’s just that we can’t keep wondering where all these magic groceries suddenly appeared from. One day your peanuts were peanuts, and then, all of a sudden, it was all coronary disease this and reduce heart attack risks that. Maybe Food Science just had a really, really productive field day a while back?
Or, of course, it could be that we’re being fooled yet again.
The vast majority of product health claims use somewhat older technology than most of us realize: the ancient art of bullsh-tting. The “health effects” of wonder yogurts and most other products with supposed medical-level health benefits can be debunked completely, thoroughly and easily. So why are they able to keep marketing this stuff?
It all started in 2002, when many ordinary foods found themselves suddenly gaining surprising, hitherto unseen superpowers. This is when the FDA introduced us to a new category of pre-approved product claims. It was called “qualified health claims,” and it was basically just another list of marketing bullsh-t the company can use if their product meets certain qualifications. This was nothing new. What was new, however, was that the list said no consensus for the scientific evidence for the product’s health claims was needed.
Since “no consensus needed” is law-talk for “pay a dude in a lab coat enough to say your product is magic and we’ll take his word for it no matter what everyone else says,” companies immediately went apesh-t. Suddenly, everyone had a respected scientist or six in their corner, and the papers they published enabled basically whatever they wanted to use in their marketing and packaging.
We’re not saying that none of the products boasting health properties work. There are plenty out there, but they’re kind of difficult to find under the constant stream of bullsh-t supplementary claims. Come on, food industry — just tell us the truth. Don’t you realize that we’ll just eat it anyway? Shit, people still buy cigarettes, don’t they?
Welp, to put it in the words of my mom, “You can’t eat anything, anymore!”
Neither the blueberries nor the wood should come as a surprise to BGG2WL readers, but the orange juice threw even me for a loop. The meat, well… let’s just say that pre-packaged ground beef has its flaws.