food.

Have you ever noticed the supreme impact and influence food has on people?

I’m no research scientist or social analyst, but I’m willing to bet that it has a pretty hearty amount.

First, it is a life source. Humans need food to survive.

Second, it is usually a social thing. Food brings people together. Have you ever been to a party without food? It was probably awkward.

Third, it’s getting easier and easier to buy food already made and portable – or to swing by your favorite fast food joint. Food is becoming less of a ritual of developing a recipe (or finding one), seeking out the ingredients, making it, and eating it with your family/friends and more of scrounging for the easiest meal – should we even call it that? – and eating it without further thought.

I have discovered, through various sources found, experiences had, and observations made, reasoning that have dramatically changed my outlook on those three things.

Life Source

Yes, food is a life source. And food is fun to eat, right? Everyone has their favorite food(s). The ability to alter food is garnered at a young age, too. Food coloring, sprinkles, chocolate syrup*, strawberry syrup, colored ketchup, salt and pepper, artificial sweeteners, and it goes on. I know some of this stuff seems harmless, but what about those peculiar snacks: Hoe hoes, Cosmic Brownies, Pringles, and all those “fruit” flavored candies – Jolly Ranchers (here’s looking at you, Blue Raspberry), Laffy Taffies, Smarties (what is their exact flavor anyway? Chalk?), and those mysterious teardrop shaped candies with a wrapper that looks like a strawberry and a red, hard candy shell with a flavor vaguely reminiscent of strawberries and a weird gooey middle? What in the world are these foods? And why is it okay for THEM to look and taste vaguely like real food, but actual real food like fruits and vegetables are gross?

As a little kid, they were SUGAR. And sugar =’ed fun. Even then, I didn’t eat too much of those foods (thanks M & D). I ate Jolly Ranchers as a first grader because they were the reward in class and EVERYONE got one, so why not? Then I realized that I hated them. There wasn’t a flavor I liked; they also got stuck to my teeth and I had to wait for them to dissolve to get them off. Now, even today in high school, teachers pass out candy and kids swoop in and eat it up. All the while I sit there and think I would only move my lazy butt if there was dark chocolate.

The other thing is that besides the name brand candies, there are sometimes anonymous candies. You know the kind: those lurking hard candies in the tinted plastic wrappers that look all cute and sweet, but WHAT THE HECK ARE THEY? And where do teachers buy them? I have never seen a pack of those strawberry imposter candies at a store before.

Food is our life source, so why should we eat things before we know what they are? Why should we accept food that’s source is unknown? Why should we buy food that won’t go bad for three years?

Social Thing

Do you ever notice that in social situations, the packages are never around and there’s no ingredient list on the wrapper? What are kids with food allergies/intolerance supposed to do? Or when students convince the teacher to have a party in class, and the teacher says “All right, everyone chip in for pizza/donuts/etc.” What about the kids who have a gluten or lactose intolerance? What about kids with diabetes or food allergies? They can’t eat pizza or donuts! Heck, what about the kids who just plain don’t like pizza or donuts? For all the above, is the answer just a shrug and “Oh well…”?

You may ask, “why don’t those kids just speak up?” And I ask, “Would you?” Most of these situations are just awkward or avoided. It requires confidence to go against the grain in other aspects of school and life – like bullying, discrimination, etc. – so why should people with different food choices or requirements be forgotten?

When I pass up mystery candy or any old candy, the reaction I get is amazing: Sam?! Why aren’t you taking one? and sometimes I get the real hum-dinger: What’s wrong with you?

WHOA. “What’s wrong with you?” For passing up candy? What’s wrong with THEM?

THAT, right there, frightens me.

You know those shows like Undercover Boss, etc. where people go undercover as something they’re not for investigation? Have you ever tried it with food?

I’m not saying this is something to joke around with, but imagine the reactions you’d get if you pretended to have a food intolerance or that you were a vegan.

Scary, right?

The public pressure to eat whatever is in front of you is ENORMOUS.

Outrageously so.

I have gone on a gluten-free diet the past month or so to see if it would impact some symptoms I’ve been having (plus, my mother and sister both have celiac and other auto-immune diseases – which are hereditary – so I am investigating whether this helps me or not). I also have been intrigued by the benefits of plant-based diets – vegetarian/vegan choices – and the effects and ingredients in processed foods. Just plain healthier choices in general! Seems like a whole lot of hullabaloo, yes? And it feels like it, too. Most of the time I feel like I am being obtrusively disrespectful in rejecting the food in front of me. And since I don’t have a concrete prescription to not eat certain foods – it’s a choice – when people ask why, I can’t find a simple, satisfactory way to explain. And I don’t feel like explaining it to anyone, anyway. Why do I have to broadcast my personal decisions?

God forbid I am ever asked on a date to a restaurant that doesn’t have food I choose to eat. Do I have to explain to my date also? And this is just from choosing to eat this way, not from being bound by a disease, allergy, or intolerance! Do you know people can die from allergies or intolerance? Just ask anyone with a peanut allergy. Or bee sting allergy. And an intolerance left unacknowledged restricts the body from absorbing essential nutrients and other good stuff our body needs, which leads to deficiencies and other health problems stemming from not absorbing the things we eat food to absorb in the first place!

And I’m not saying everyone should know this already; it takes research to figure this all out. I know I wouldn’t be aware of any of this if I didn’t have family or friends who have an intolerance, allergy, or personal food choice. But why is this information under the radar?

Easier and Easier

Name one snack food you have that isn’t packaged and processed.

If you get down to the nitty-gritty facts about food, everything’s processed. Sugar, flour, syrup, milk, cheese, meat, butter, bread, fruit, vegetables, anything canned or jarred, anything in a wrapper or box, beans, nuts, everything. Unless you grow it at your house or farm, or buy it from local growers that you trust, it’s processed.

You may be yelling mentally, But fruit and vegetables are natural! What about organic fruits and veggies? As I said before, how do you know unless you grow it yourself or it’s local? Big farms use machines and packaging plants to pick, wash, prepare and ship produce to supermarkets.

Don’t even get me started on meats. I recently read this: Safety of Beef Processing Method is Questioned which is horrifying. Here are some snippets from the article:

  • “Mr. Roth [founder and owner of Beef Products, Inc.] eventually settled on ammonia, which had been shown to suppress spoilage. Meat is sent through pipes where it is exposed to ammonia gas, and then flash frozen and compressed — all steps that help kill pathogens, company research found.”
  • “The company says its processed beef, a mashlike substance frozen into blocks or chips, is used in a majority of the hamburger sold nationwide. But it has remained little known outside industry and government circles. Federal officials agreed to the company’s request that the ammonia be classified as a “processing agent” and not an ingredient that would be listed on labels.”
  • “Despite some misgivings, school lunch officials say they use Beef Products because its price is substantially lower than ordinary meat trimmings, saving about $1 million a year.”
  • “The Food and Drug Administration signed off on the use of ammonia, concluding it was safe when used as a processing agent in foods. This year, a top official with the U.S.D.A.’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said, “It eliminates E. coli to the same degree as if you cooked the product.” “

I then imagined, if I were a worker in a meat plant, what would I see? I don’t want to go into extreme detail, but here is my general line of thought:

  • OK, so they get the meat from the slaughterhouse…
  • Then they clean it? How do they do that? Ew… Chemicals?
  • Then they grind it up, right? Oh my…
  • I don’t want to know what happens next.
  • Then they test each “batch” (as if they made it themselves; probably did.) for E. coli and salmonella and traces of bad chemicals or whatever…the batches are thousands of pounds, though. How can they tell for sure if it’s safe?
  • It must smell bad there.
  • They honestly can’t guarantee no cross-contamination, can they?
  • STOP THINKING ABOUT THIS.

Then it got me thinking about all the other processed foods…crackers, chips, breads, jellies…gross.

Now I wish I could quit school and live on a farm and grow my own food. Then it’d be my own fault for messing up my food. At least, though, I can protest my disgust with mysterious food items by not buying them or eating them. I’d rather get asked “What’s wrong with you?” than end up sick.

* * *

There are some people who view reading labels as something people do when they’re trying to lose a few or “count calories”. But I’m not reading the fat content or vitamin percentages – I’m reading the ingredients. And although there are still countless things that go into foods that aren’t required to be on the label, there is some information on there that will surprise you. My rules of thumb are generally:

  1. If these thoughts ever cross your mind, “I can’t figure out how these are made.” or “What could this be made of?” it’s not worth eating.
  2. If the ingredient list is abnormally long for the type of food it is, it’s not worth eating.
  3. If you can’t pronounce or figure out what some of the ingredients are, it’s not worth eating.
  4. Since ingredient lists are listed in order of amount used (biggest to lowest), if the first few ingredients surprise you (i.e. white cheddar popcorn: high fructose corn syrup, corn, natural cheese flavoring), it’s not worth eating.
  5. Whether you believe the concerns against high fructose corn syrup and all its incarnates, it is a type of sweetener, and if one of the first ingredients is a sweetener, THAT’S BAD.
  6. And always, with any food, if you ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” and the answer is Maybe or No, then it’s not worth eating.

* * *

*I have recently become offended by the idea of chocolate syrup. If you think hard on it, how can chocolate be syrup? Chocolate can be bars, chips, shavings, powder, or melted. How can it be a syrup? That’s just gross and disrespectful to the art form that is chocolate.

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