Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Your Processed Food Is Made From Wood

Several years ago, I read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. It's a classic piece of American naturalism published in 1906, that exposed the horrible conditions of life for immigrant workers in the meat packing industry. It also exposed the unsanitary, disease-ridden, filth soaked industrial methods of meat production. The book is a rather long read at 475 pages - an Dickensian-style epic - but it is gripping as a documentary of life - and diet - in the early part of the 20th century.

One of the things that has always stuck with me from this book as well as from a practically unrelated source - the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, writing just prior to the October revolution in 1917 - was how saw dust was used as a filler in meat and, in Lenin's case, bread. It seemed to me to be a really powerful example of a thoroughly corrupt society that it would feed it's population refuse, garbage, that was undigestible by any but termites. Thankfully, that is all in the past and I've sometimes said that the food processing industry feeds us saw dust as a hyperbolic reference to Messrs Lenin and Sinclair.

Who knew that not only is the use of wood as filler not a thing of the past, it's actually growing. Only now corporate and political leaders have learned to disguise the terrible things they do to us in fancy jargon that renders it opaque. Civilian casualties become collateral damage. A global ponzi scheme is called "the derivatives market". War is called promoting democracy and human rights. We no longer call it woods chips. If we're using its proper name, we call it cellulose. If we're referring to its function we don't call it cheap filler any longer, now we call it an "extender" and ascribe to it all sorts of magical properties. Of course, cough cough, it's also cheaper than food.
Manufacturers use cellulose in food as an extender, providing structure and reducing breakage, said Dan Inman, director of research and development at J. Rettenmaier USA, a company that supplies "organic" cellulose fibers for use in a variety of processed foods and meats meant for human and pet consumption, as well as for plastics, cleaning detergents, welding electrodes, pet litter, automotive brake pads, glue and reinforcing compounds, construction materials, roof coating, asphalt and even emulsion paints, among many other products.
Cellulose adds fiber to the food, which is good for people who do not get the recommended daily intake of fiber in their diets, Inman said. It also extends the shelf life of processed foods. Plus, cellulose's water-absorbing properties can mimic fat, he said, allowing consumers to reduce their fat intake.
Perhaps most important to food processors is that cellulose is cheaper, he added, because "the fiber and water combination is less expensive than most other ingredients in the [food] product."
Cellulose can provide up to 3.5% of the bulk in meat products but other foods, which are regulated by the FDA and not the USDA, have no regulations as to how much they can contain. When we think that in addition to this filler, other goodies are added - corn products from meal to syrup, wheat, preservatives, edible oils, and so on and so forth - we can only come to the conclusion that what we're being fed is not food but a mixture of cheap energy that poisons us, causing obesity, diabetes and heart disease, along with fillers - and a dash of real food for flavouring the optics of the label. It's no wonder this stuff is so cheap - and why working class people, under the strain of limited incomes and limited time, eat the stuff day in and day out. It is literally cheaper to eat a diet that makes you fat and unhealthy than one that keeps you slim and healthy. And that, really, is symptomatic about everything with our society. We believe that we've come so far, that we're an advanced society. But the awful truth is, much of the time while we have access to more stuff, it is of a very low quality. We think it's fabulous that we can keep up on the latest fashions by purchasing ten dollar shirts and thirty dollar pants at H & M but, in reality, the stuff will dissolve in a couple of years. Doesn't matter since fashion changes every year anyway, so we'll need to buy new stuff. Isn't life grand? And we can feel like we're living well, buying and eating Michelina's or President's Choice's gourmet frozen meals that are ready in ten minutes. Isn't life convenient and tasty? Capitalism has brought us such wonderful things.


Check out this article that lists 15 Food Companies That Serve You 'Wood' - TheStreet
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