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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Columns

Toxic sugar and pink slime


Students should start reading ingredient labels before stuffing their faces with whatever looks good in the C-store.

The food industry favors price over quality, and companies are not afraid to use cheap ingredients and dubious preparation methods. They know consumers would love a one-dollar hamburger. They know most students have no concept of partially-hydrogenated oil and high-fructose corn syrup. The industry knows as long as the food is half its weight in sugar, it tastes delicious.

This status quo is finally being shattered thanks to viral internet pictures and relentless health professionals.

For example, the Food and Drug Administration recently decided to “offer more choices” of ground beef product to the National School Lunch Program. This was only after the majority of the public finally understood the definition of “subsidized lunch.”

For those who don’t know, beef product (AKA pink slime) is mechanically separated leftover meat tissue and sinew mashed together into a glob of bacteria infested feces. They then mix enough ammonium hydroxide and nitrates into the mix to slay an elephant. With E. Coli gone, they treat it with some flavorings and food colorings until it becomes “Mmm Mmm good.”

Pink slime is not only in the school lunches, it’s in every low-price meat item from dollar store jerky to Burger King’s hamburgers. How does the public tell the difference between mouth watering Angus beef and soylent brown? Aside from flavor and price, they cannot. Why do consumers care all of a sudden? Photos of pink slime have been all over the internet for years. Prior to this outburst from concerned parents there were scores of “food crazies” and “health freaks” preaching about the unhealthy nature of the American diet. No one listened. Was it because the FDA allegedly checks our breakfast, lunch and dinner? Was it because consumers don’t have the time to care?

Letter-graded meat product aside, there is a larger issue for consumers, especially among children — sugar.

Gone are the days when you could glance at a food label and know that sugar in the first three ingredients meant a bad choice. A plethora of weasel words mask sugar and they’re peppered throughout the label. The problem is that these sugars add up. Brown sugar, molasses and honey are the more known and arguably more benign forms. Not many consumers can see red flags over maize, rice and wheat. But these simple carbs easily turn into sugar, and yet the industry sees the need to add more.

We’re not talking about cakes and cookies, but instead, food that’s not even meant to taste sweet. Imagine the classic PB&J. The sandwich is two slices of bread riddled with table sugar, with cheap HFCS jelly (the only thing meant to be sugary) and honey-covered peanut butter. Add a soda containing 40mg of HFCS and the average school kid is well on his way to being misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, not to mention real health problems like diabetes and childhood obesity.

This is why the February issue of the online journal Nature published an article titled “Public health: The toxic truth about sugar.” The authors pointed out that sugar is everywhere, people are consuming way more than they should and, like Rhett Butler, no one seems to give a damn. They also suggested the government needs to step in to regulate sugar since the industry wouldn’t and the consumers couldn’t.

Some people go for low-cal meals and diet sodas that contain a sugar substitute. Think aspartame, stevia, cyclamate, saccharin and sucralose. But these have their own health issues. Some concerns are unfounded, and some are swept under the rug of willful ignorance.

You’d have to be Sherlock Holmes these days just to make sure you’re not nibbling processed cheese from a bovine growth hormone-injected cow, sipping an insulin shock of sweet-tasting tooth-rotting soda or chomping down a genetically-modified apple from who-knows-where sprayed with who-knows-what. Since most people have school, jobs and families to raise, it’s amazing they manage to eat at all.

Still, it’s good to know that the food industry is not immune from whistle-blowers, even if the public response is slow. Like it or not, it’s time to wake up and smell the pesticide-filled coffee.

David Haydon is a political science senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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