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Thursday, February 2, 2012

More Than You Want to Know

I've been doing research for my next book in the series The Frugal Way, Smart Grocery Shopping. 

Research, you say. On groceries?


Food is a lot scarier than any horror story you'll read in fiction. Did you know that in any given grocery store, the majority of packaged foods are made up primarily of six foodstuffs, corn being the number one ingredient?

I thought this was crazy-talk at first. How do you get cheese out of corn?

Apparently, the boys and girls in the lab have been busy extracting key components, primarily from corn and soybeans, and introducing them into the food chain as...FOOD.

The vegetable itself isn't used for food, but rather the molecular chain they extract out of it, producing sugars, starches, and gums. Look at the ingredients list on any processed food. Those words you can't pronounce? Those are very likely corn or soybean extracts.

Good for replacing nutrients and adding filler to processed foods. Not so good for health.

And you can't get away from it--not from the grocery stores and certainly not when you eat out. These ingredients are in virtually everything. 

This leaves you with one of three choices. Grow your own food. Avoid all processed foods. Shop certified organic stores.

I'm no doctor, but I wonder if people would have less migraines, diabetes, and high blood pressure if they avoided these processed foods all together. 

I don't think the derivatives themselves are harmful (in small doses), it's the fact that processed foods are artificially 'stuffed' with these extracts rather than actual food. These derivatives are what add flavor, bulk and preservatives.

Why is it so hard to get away from processed foods? It comes down to two very insidious reasons. 

1. The extracts make the food taste good. The sweetness and fat are palatable to our taste buds.

2. It makes food incredibly cheap. In the US, we have become so efficient at producing corn that we can undercut anyone in the world. That's why you can buy a burger for a dollar. The corn grown to raise that beef and create the preservatives in that bread is so cheap, the fast food chains can make their burgers for pennies. 

If you were to raise your own cow, grow your own wheat, lettuce, cucumber, tomato and mustard seed, that hamburger would be outrageously expensive. The agri-giants have lulled us so deep into complacency that we don't even question how our food is made--until someone dies and it makes the evening news.

My book on Smart Grocery Shopping is about saving money at the grocery store, but I couldn't write it until I researched why you can get certain products so cheap.

It's a double-edged sword--one few of us can avoid.

If you'd like to learn more about where your food comes from, I suggest watching the documentary, Food, Inc. (on Netflix) or reading Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food.

Even though I'm not using much of this research in the actual writing of my Smart Grocery Shopping book, it gave me a base of knowledge so I could write the book more intelligently.

Have you ever wondered about our food supply? Or are you too afraid to ask? I wouldn't blame you. Very scary stuff.

Smart Grocery Shopping should be ready in March. If you haven't picked up Smart Budgets for Busy People, you might want to start with that first.

Oh, and don't forget there's a companion Facebook page for The Frugal Way series. I regularly post freebies, discounts and the occasional frugal tip.

Subscribe to The Frugal Way.


L.G.Smith said...

I read corn is the most genetically modified food. Something like 85% of corn is modified. Husband has started a vegan diet and I'm about to join him. Really, this food stuff really scares me.

Have you seen this article/video. A must read/watch for anyone who eats commercially processed hamburgers.

Raelyn Barclay said...

Preachin' to the choir. Even though I don't buy the convenience foods, preferring to cook from scratch, this stuff is everywhere.

And it is a catch-22. Everyone is hurting financially, having to cut corners wherever they can. People have been sucked into the fast-paced, need it now mentality. Our health is the price.

My mother has always been the health nut of our family and, as a (retired) nurse, she has the knowledge of what those unpronounceable words are. I fully attribute my father NOT being insulin dependent on her diligence.

I've said it before, Maria, you are living my dream. I would love to get off the grid food-wise.

Mike Keyton said...

You are right, Maria. We are, necessarily, being fed the same industrial diet we feed our lifestock.

Interesting thought for vegans. Scientists are now able to produce artificial meat. By that I'm talking about the molecular componants of meat rather that tofu or modified soya. You might avoid such a food on the same lines as being wary over processed food in general. But would it be acceptable to, for a want of a better phrase, a 'moral' vegetarian who avoids meat because it necessitates the death of an animal and the 'waste' of food in feeding an animal>

Pam said...

Informative post. It's just another reason why I serve fresh food & organic as much as possible and stay away from processed crap.

Ellie Garratt said...

Now that is scary, and as someone who suffers from migraines, I do wonder if such things could be the culprit. Given me a lot to think abou.

Congratulations on the frugal books!

Barbara Ann Wright said...

My husband and I tried to go all organic a few years ago. We shopped at certified organic stores or farmers markets. We couldn't keep it up. It was too expensive and because of the lack of preservatives, we had to go out of our way looking for organic stores sometimes twice a week. We lost money at the store and at the gas pumps, and we lost significant time, as well as patience. I'll be interested to read what you have to say about food.

Angela Brown said...

I admit I am one who is curious but not curious enough to seek the answers. Sort of like going to a French restaurant only to upchuck everything two minutes later after some some froo-froo waiter kindly tells you that you've been scarfing down snails.


But knowing is, unfortunately, important. I've been attempting to eat a bit healthier lately. I can feel the pain in my wallet. And boy does that soybean-corn-pink-slime-hamburger sound even worse now though I can afford one of those any day of the week.

Would that be a Catch 22?

Maria Zannini said...

Sorry to be gone so long. Bad internet day. Then my car died. It's been that kind of day.

LG: I've seen pink slime in other documentaries. Not too long ago Taco Bell got taken to task for using too much TVP (textured vegetable protein) in its taco meat. Personally, I'd rather eat TVP than slime.

Jamie Oliver mentioned in the video clip that those renderings were fed to dogs. I will testify that MY dogs eat real food that comes. No inedible bits for my guys.

Thanks for sharing that video.

Maria Zannini said...

Raelyn: This conundrum is worse than the average person knows. Part of it is due to extremely slick marketing from the food companies. But the other half is the legislation and lawyers that help this crap slide.

Case in point. Cows are force fed corn to get them fat fast. Cows in nature, don't eat corn. They eat grass. Eating nothing but corn creates problems that the meat producers "cure" by introducing more antibiotics and chemicals.

We are in for a big fall. And it will happen in our lifetime.

Mike: You guys have it a little better in the UK. Your people are very vocal about not allowing genetically modified food despite tremendous pressure. In the US, we are raised from childhood to keep those blinders on.

Attitudes are changing. But how many more people have to get sick or die before there's enough outrage?

Pam: Big agri-companies make it very difficult. But at least people are beginning to understand and make informed choices.

Maria Zannini said...

Ellie: Welcome back! When it comes to migraines, I truly believe there is a relationship between diet and the severity of migraines.

Barbara: I hear you. Not only can it be expensive, but you're still not guaranteed where your food comes from or how it was handled. To keep prices down, you have to eat locally and you have to eat what's in season. That means no tomatoes in the dead of winter and brussel sprouts in August. Most people don't want to do that. I don't--but that's why I grow my own. You and I live in an area that can grow food 10 months out of the year.

Angela: I tend to eat very simply. It helps that I'm not much of a cook so all my meals use very few ingredients.

But it is far tougher than most people realize. Nearly everything is tainted with additives, from mayonnaise to cereal.

I didn't post this to preach. I just want people to have the information and think about it the next time they're at a restaurant.

Sarah Ahiers said...

i knew a chick who had a corn allergy and was constantly miserable, because corn is in EVERYTHING - toilet paper, plastics, food.
I felt so bad for her, because there was really nothing she could do
I've yet to wach food inc, even though i completely agree with and am aware of the message, because i'm worried it'll just depress me.

Shelley Munro said...

I hate all these additives in food, and have been muttering about them for years. As you say, it's hard to avoid them. I stand in the supermarket and read labels. Hubby and I try to make things from scratch if possible, which at least deletes some of the additives.

Maria Zannini said...

Sarah: Ref: corn allergy
Oh, man, that's awful. I can't imagine being so sensitive to corn.

Ref: message
It is depressing, but at least there are people out there trying to make others aware and hopefully change legislation. It's working in the UK. But the US still has a way to go. Too many people with deep pockets.

Shelley: I know what you mean. Sometimes it takes me so long to shop because of all the label reading I do.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

You've hit upon one of my favorite topics as a health teacher. The facts about cheap food is, I believe, one of the major factors in why poor people have more weight problems than people who can afford to buy the more expensive fresh veggies, fruit and other unprocessed foods. Looking forward to your book.

Tracy Jo said...

It is all so disheartening to me. Since my Dystonia diagnosis, I have become very aware of what I put in my body. I never wanted to get extreme about it but am heading that direction. Whole Foods is my favorite grocery store!

Jennifer Shirk said...

That is scary stuff. I try to stay away from processed foods too. Like Jack Lalanne used to say, "If man made it, I don't eat it." LOL

Melissa McClone said...

Food is so scary. I was doing some book research and stumbled across an article on the 5-10 foods you don't want to eat. It was put together by scientists, I think, and went over what you should buy organic vs. what was okay. I was surprised to find microwaveable popcorn on there. They said that is one of the worst things for you. My kids were not happy that I've outlawed that. But hey, I survived without it. And popping it the old fashioned way isn't as fast, but it works!

Clarissa Draper said...

I just watched FoodInc last week. I think I'm now vegetarian.

Maria Zannini said...

Susan: Ref: Weight gain vs cheap food.

There's a definite correlation. What's even more seductive is the convenience of processed food. It's fast. It's easy. And it doesn't require any thought from the consumer.

Tracy Jo: You're an excellent example how a good diet can reverse or control disease. I wish there was a Whole Foods near me. :(

Jennifer: I've never heard that saying before. Love it!

Melissa: I still remember the kettle corn my mom used to make.

Clarissa: Eye-opening, isn't it? I think the thing that disturbed me most was how smooth and convincing the lawyers for Monsanto were. They almost got me believing Monsanto was the injured party.

Marianne Arkins said...

Have you read "An Omnivore's Dilemma" or "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan? He's one of the most logical and sensible authors on food I've read (and interesting ... I tried reading "Food Politics" by Marion Nestle and nearly fell asleep).

RE: We are in for a big fall. And it will happen in our lifetime.

Totally agree... think back: how many kids with peanut allergies did you know? I didn't know ANY and I went to thirteen different schools, most of which were VERY big. There are four kids with severe allergies at my DD's school (with a total population of just under 100 students).

How many kids did you know with ADD or ADHD?

How many did you know with Diabetes?

Even when I was young, you could eat raw eggs or cook your beef rare without fear. My dad scrambled cow brains with his eggs. We didn't fear ecoli or mad cow disease or even salmonella.

Interestingly, though, lately I've seen signs in my grocery stores apologizing for being sold out of organic produce and dairy due to a higher than normal demand.

Maybe people are finally learning.

Maria Zannini said...

Marianne: I like Michael Pollan's analysis. He's the one I linked to above. He was also a consultant for the documentary, Food Inc.

ref: allergies
The same could be said for dogs' diet. Before WWII when dogs were fed table scraps, you didn't have the mass amounts of disease that you do now. It's related, but there are too many companies in bureaucrats' pockets for anyone to blow the whistle.

We keep covering it up with antibiotics. One of these days (and soon) those wonder drugs are going to stop working.

Dee said...

I know processed food isn't good for me, but it's just too easy and I'm lazy. And you nailed it... it tastes good. Very addictive.

Marianne Arkins said...

RE: Dog food -- which is why I make my own for Dakota and buy organic for the cat (wish cats were less picky).

I'm absolutely certain the reason I lost my last dog to cancer is because of (A) her food and (B) the various pesticides aka Frontline, Vectra, etc that were used on her.

I use none of that on Dakota -- and yes, it's a PITA, but it's worth it.

:::steps down off soap box:::