Should We Worry About Food Additives?
Do you read labels? I do, even though some of my friends scoff. They say we’re all going to die anyway. I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of poor health. So, I read labels and look for those food additives science tells me to avoid. Read on and I’ll wager that Michelle convinces you to do the same.
Posted by Michelle
For some, eating food is a simple task–you go to the store or restaurant, pay money, and eat your food. For many others (myself included), it’s not so simple. Having become concerned about the additives in much processed food, my attempts at food acquisition have become part detective novel. While looking for healthy choices, I now puzzle in suspicious bewilderment at the novel-length list of ingredients in what appears to be a simple item on the menu. The dizzying alphabet soup of acronyms, mysterious colors of indeterminate origin, and multi-syllabic laboratory chemicals sometimes make me wonder if my breakfast is actually the periodic table of the elements masquerading in bagel form.
Skeptics may argue, isn’t all food processed in some way? The harvester has always been at odds with entropy, so finding ways to keep food safe for consumption over a period of time goes hand in hand with survival. Since humans have been making food, we’ve been cooking, smoking, and drying, and mixing in additives to preserve our food. For most of time, those additives have been of natural origin: salt, vinegar, sugar, smoke, and beneficial bacteria for fermentation.
Within the last century, however, modernized food processing has provided synthetic alternatives to the ancient time-consuming processes. Rather than having to put up our own food, the stores now offer that glittering array of shelf-stable, colorfully packaged, and easily accessed processed food. Chemical food additives have taken the place of drying, fermenting, salting, and culturing, making food cheap, easy, and texturally consistent. These convenient packages have swiftly taken over the American diet, and now account for a whopping 70% of a typical American’s caloric intake.
So what’s the big deal about food additives?
Isn’t this just the march of modern science wresting us out of our primitive past? Check any ingredients label you have on hand and you’ll probably find those now familiar additives keeping your packaged food in a state of stasis: mono and diglycerides holding high-fat food in artificial suspension with water, bromates and polysorbates keeping baked goods springy, and corn-derived asorbic acid, BHT, and BHA preventing oxidation, just to name a few.
These ingredients have become so ubiquitous it is easy to gloss over them and accept them as normal. But are they a good alternative to the old methods of food preserving? Well, the safety of any of these ingredients is a constant and heated debate, depending on which part of the internet you visit. Some will claim that since they’ve got FDA approval, they must be innocuous; while others will claim that those very same additives are responsible for a slew of health problems and diseases.
Are food additives really natural?
Since the majority of food additives are chemically or enzymatically altered to be in a form that they couldn’t be naturally, I have to wonder what effect their long-term use has on the natural human body. As for me, I firmly believe it is the responsibility of the consumers, if they are concerned, to research this and decide for themselves what they are willing to put in their bodies. (And frankly, once you realize you’re not comfortable with something like carboxymethylcellulose being in your salad dressing—since it causes tumors in 80% of the test rats injected with it—maybe it’s time to start reevaluating your grocery list.)
What’s a concerned, informed consumer to do? As for our house, we avoid any and all additives, particularly preservatives, and have relearned the old ways. The food we make tastes better, generates less waste, and makes us feel better after eating it, especially since we know every ingredient that went into it. We don’t find “convenience” worth the harm that processed food could potentially inflict on our family, and honestly, after making our own fresh bread, yogurt, and pickles, the store-bought stuff just can’t compete.
So, my conclusion of the matter is this: at their best, artificial additives allow you to conveniently feed yourself shelf-stable, sub-par food, and at their worst, they could possibly be grievously harmful. If your health is worth it to you, then it is worth it to do the research, reclaim your food from the science lab and put it back in your kitchens, made by your own hands. Yes, it takes time to cook and prepare, and there’s no real way to get those lacto-fermented beans to ripen faster. But maybe there shouldn’t be. Perhaps the process of taking the time to be responsible for your food is a necessary, natural part of being alive, and something we all did up until about 60 years ago. So sure, that sauerkraut is going to take longer to make, but after putting in the time to make it right, it will nourish your body (and maybe a little bit of your soul) in ways that no package ever could.
Traditional food preservation methods include fermenting. The lacto-fermentation process increases the bio-availability of many nutrients, as well as extends shelf life. For everything you need to begin your fermenting journey, visit the Fermentools store.
Andrew and Michelle are the new owners of a 12-acre homestead in rural America. They are just embarking on this journey that is far removed from their city-life upbringing, so they realize that they have a lot to learn in order to succeed in this new place.Come along with them and read more about what they learn as they make this transition at their blog Simple Life Homestead.