Opinion

Food Under Fire

By KRISHNAVENI TADI, sophomore

Chemicals

“It is true that nothing is good in excess, but this does not mean we should permanently eliminate certain foods from our diets.”

It is true that nothing is good in excess, but this does not mean we should permanently eliminate certain foods from our diets.

From the perfect cream-to-fluffy pastry ratio in our beloved Twinkies to the irresistible crunch of orange cheese puffs, processed foods have always been a key part of our lives. These days, however, it seems as though one can hardly proclaim his or her passion for these indulgent snacks without immediately being reminded of the various unpronounceable chemicals and toxins laced in these foods. Panera, Subway, even Kraft’s Mac and Cheese—all of these seemingly harmless and household brands have been attacked for containing obscure and supposedly toxic ingredients Yes, processed foods contain chemicals; however, everything, from all-natural purified water to man-made concrete, is made of chemicals. Many activists who assign a derogatory label to these processed foods do not properly understand the science behind processed food. Moreover, these activists sometimes inadvertently promote scientifically unproven and potentially dangerous practices under the facade of healthy eating. It is undeniable that excess amounts of ice cream provide little to no nutritional benefits, but the real danger of eating too much junk food comes from the excessive consumption of sugar, not from chemicals.

Capitalizing on our fear of the unknown, a horde of activists, including the selfproclaimed “Food Babe” Vani Hari, is leading a national movement against any product with a possibly “harmful” substance. Hari has led campaigns attacking some of the biggest names in the food industry, including popular chain restaurants Chipotle and Subway. Hari’s legion of dedicated followers call themselves the “Food Babe Army” and support her endeavors to shut down or revamp any food company that she deems harmful. For example, Hari protested the use of a substance found in Subway’s bread called azodicarbonamide that is also purportedly used in yoga mats. Her exaggerated statements undoubtedly put the image of rubber and sweat in the minds of people who had previously enjoyed Subway’s products. However, the Food Babe conveniently omitted a key fact: the chemical is not a major component of yoga mats and only exists in trace amounts in Subway’s bread as a leavening agent. More importantly, she left out the possibility that a chemical reacts differently when in contact with different substances. In other words, when in contact with the materials that comprise the yoga mat, the aforementioned chemical will react differently and produce an inedible product. Hari serves more as a fearmonger who uses her influence negatively rather than as an activist for healthy eating; her campaigns elicit terror from a watchful audience as she calls out every other company, leaving people to wonder if anything is safe from these life-threatening chemicals.

What the new age of healthconscious people is truly missing is that chemicals are the building blocks of everyday life. A chemical used in a certain manner or quantity in a given product will not have the same effect as when the same substance is used in a different amount and way. For example, Lacquer, paint typically used for hardier tasks such as painting walls and other surfaces, contains chemicals of the ester family. However, mangoes also hold traces of the same volatile organic compound. And yet, Poison Control has not reported a single case of food poisoning by Food Under Fire the consumption of the wholesome fruit. Other “health-conscious” advocates also call for the consumption of raw cow’s milk as opposed to drinking flash-pasteurized milk, milk that is processed to remove damaging microbial and bacterial organisms. I will admit, I am not an expert on dietary habits or nutrition, b u t some of the new health crazes are not only dangerous but also downright ridiculous. Advocates of natural eating, including the “Food Babe,” are simply considering these chemicals out of context.

It seems that our nation has become increasingly polarized on the health spectrum—on one end there are those who meticulously follow every new dieting fad that hits the market; on the other are those who fail to realize that dining on McDonald’s everyday may not be the wisest decision. Perhaps it is better to be in the middle of the spectrum; instead of blindly following every new eating habit or binge-eating foods inundated with sugar and saturated fats, tempering natural food such as fruit and vegetables with the occasional Klondike bar or pack of Cheetos will help you lead a balanced life.

It is true that nothing is good in excess, but this does not mean we should permanently eliminate certain foods from our diets. After all, a bit of mac and cheese every now and then never killed anyone. For whatever reason, we have been raised to associate any ingredient whose name we have trouble pronouncing with harmful effects. This false perception makes it all the easier for the anti-processed food movement and the Food Babe Army to reign over us and breed hysteria over substances that are actually harmless. Don’t let anyone pull wool over your eyes about the effects of artificial ingredients in your food—the true effects can only be determined by your scientific research. We must remember that the term “chemical” is not always synonymous with a degradation of health. It is time we stop alienating all of our processed foods and welcome some of our artificial friends back into our diets—have you eaten your Twinkie today?

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