Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Reclaiming Food

We, as individuals, are gradually losing control of our food.

For the majority of human existence, we have been in more or less full control of food preparation. We roasted our own meat, churned our own butter, and stewed our own vegetables. Gradually, mostly over the course of the last hundred years, we have ceded this control to others.

People in industrialized nations now rely on processed food and restaurants for the majority of our diet. Our food has been outsourced, and it's killing us.

The problem is that the incentives of individuals are different from the incentives of restaurants and corporations. The individual cares about the enjoyment and healthfulness of food. The corporation and restaurant care about money. It's not a conspiracy against our health, it's just a difference of motivation.

This explains why processed food is so unhealthy. Is a food manufacturer going to use butter or dirt-cheap hydrogenated soybean oil in that cookie if you can't tell the difference?

The only reason we accept this state of affairs is we're completely disconnected from the preparation of these foods. For example, let me tell you how hydrogenated soybean oil is made. First, the oil is separated from the rest of the bean using heat and extraction with organic solvents like hexane. Then, the oil is mixed with nickel (a catalyst) and exposed to hydrogen gas at high temperatures. This causes a chemical reaction (hydrogenation) that results in trans fat, which is solid at room temperature like saturated fats. The oil is now a grayish, rancid-smelling mush. They filter out the nickel and use chemicals and heat to deodorize and bleach it, creating the final product that is ubiquitous in processed snack foods. Delicious!

If you were able to watch this whole process with your own two eyes, would you still eat hydrogenated oil? If you had to make it yourself, would you? How about if I told you eating it is associated with a dramatic increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and probably many other diseases?

It's time to re-connect ourselves with real food. It's time to reclaim food preparation.

Join me as I explore traditional methods of food preparation, one of our most valuable conduits to health and well-being.


Unknown said...

Increasing the shelf life is another way hydrogenated oils save money for food processing corporations. Shelf life and profits are also the main motives for other problematic technologies they use such as irradiation and GMOs (which I hope might be topics for future posts).

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hey Reid, welcome to the blog.

Yeah that's true. Extending shelf life is one of the main things that has driven food processing. White flour, refined oils, canned food. Those things all have really long shelf lives.

A food that has a long shelf life lends itself to economies of scale. You can make a huge amount of white flour in a few factories in Washington and ship it all over the country. You minimize the workforce and equipment so the cost is lower.

Unfortunately, you also minimize the nutritional value.

Prairie Crone said...

Have been enjoying your blog so much I decided to go back and start reading from the beginning, so here I am!

Thanks for all the time and thought you are putting into this.

Tomas said...

One year after Prairie Crone, I started reading from the beginning as well!