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Engineering in Food and Farming

July 25, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI think it’s safe to say that everyone reading this blog, and everyone you know, cares about the safety and quality of food that you eat. It’s true for the person in the city who’s never been on a farm and is depending on the store. It’s true for the mom running the combine in Kansas. It’s true for the family of the sick teen in Missouri hoping for a transplant before time runs out – nutrition matters.

We want the best for our families. We want it at a reasonable cost and we want it produced in a manner that we like, if possible. There is no sterile in nature. There is no absolute protection from listeria to protect the pregnant mom from losing her child. There is no absolute protection from e.coli or salmonella or a host of other issues that we can reduce but not always entirely eliminate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd yet we strive to. Companies seek to pack more nutrition into each product, even in products that would never meet. It struck me recently, that with all the furor over “evil Monsanto” and “NO GMO” screamed on Facebook pages, there’s not much said about the rest of it.

The argument against GMO – Genetically Modified Organisms – is that it’s not natural. Have you ever seen a fish swim naturally into a dairy tank? Yet when we add “heart healthy” Omega 3 to yogurt – fish oil to dairy – isn’t that essentially the same thing? People clamor for that. Heart healthy boosted orange juice. It’s not done ‘naturally’ but is a perceived benefit to many.

We have focused so much on the individual components we lose the big picture. While we focus on no carb, high protein, heart healthy, we lose the balanced picture. People say we need to eat like 100 years ago but it’s come to my attention 100 years ago was pretty much a mess too!

We’re stuck in a cycle of research finds something, people demand it, food companies do everything they can (including questionable marketing, sometimes) to fill the demand, then when people look closer at how the demand was filled that’s criticized.

Consider this:

In 2000 Unilever introduced its Pro Active sterol-enriched margarine in Europe. Plant sterols and stanols are naturally occurring components of plant, fruits and vegetables are chemically similar to cholesterol. They thereby block the absorption of cholesterol in the body and have been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels. However, the sterols and stanols added to margarine and other food products have been extracted from a range of food and nonfood sources – such as wood pulp or vegetable oils – which may undergo further processing. The sterols and stanols in Benecol, for example, are primarily sourced from tall oil derived from the pulping of pinewood. The crude tall oil is first fractionated into its component parts, with the plant sterols hydrogenated to form stanols, then esterified with monounsaturated and polyunsatureated fats.
Manufacturers now add these extracted and reconstituted sterols and stanols to a range of foods and drinks, including orange juice and milk. In order to achieve significant blood cholesterol lowering effects, these stanols and sterols are added in greater quantities than typically found in single whole foods. However, while many studies have demonstrated the ability of sterol and stanol enriched foods to reduce LDL cholesterol levels, there are as yet no human studies that demonstrate that the plant sterols and stanols added to food directly reduce the incidence of heart disease. Instead, this casual connection is assumed on the basis that other cholesterol lowering therapies – particularly those involving statin drugs – have been associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease.”

This quote is from Nutritionism: The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice by Gyorgy Scrinis. It’s a book that has me thinking about everything we ‘know’ about nutrition, the good for you-bad for you- good for you switch of some foods, the focus on one thing at the exclusion of the others. Bread spikes glucose, some say, but that is reduced with combination of the meat from the bread, which isn’t taken into account.

I think of the heated exchanges about small things that most of us are not as well versed in as we like to think we are. In this day of the internet everyone’s a doctor, lawyer, nutritionist because there’s information at our fingertips, but usually not someone there to tell us if the information is valid or not.

People are incensed that there’s *wood pulp* in our food and the greedy food companies that put it there. “How dare they!” critics scream. They dared because people said they wanted it, bought it, and yes there was money to be made.

Many items today are ‘fortified’ and individual nutrients added so with eating fewer things we get more nutrition. Is this a bad thing? Isn’t that an individual answer? If you don’t want margarine, which some say is a fabricated creation entirely, with all the added vitamins and nutritional components then buy butter, eat a varied diet to get those nutritional components naturally.

More all the time I marvel at the ability of the human body to heal itself, as well as the frail way that a virus or germ can take someone to extreme illness. While we strive, as all farming operations do, to provide safe, healthy food – there are many scientists, politicians, private people working to determine what is safe, what is healthy and what YOU should eat!

Shouldn’t that be your decision? Read this book (it’s linked above) and consider the information within. It looks at a range of claims and scientific studies, and how it links with politics including the recommended daily allowances, which has changed over time. Read, consider, empower your food choices but do look at as much information as possible. This is a place to start.

Because we believe it is your decision.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 25, 2013 10:49 AM

    Reblogged this on DownTheBackRoad and commented:

    Some thoughts on food…what do you believe?

  2. July 25, 2013 1:55 PM

    I think we’ve given up our health and food security up to a corporate few that don’t really care about our health or food security. Corporations have one god – profit. People should take personal responsibility for both those things – it’s not easy, but what things in life are easy?
    As far as GMOs, they are unnatural…and for profit. There is ultimately no true reason for them to exist except to increase corporate profits. They aren’t sustainable; they haven’t been truly tested (except by those that sell them); they don’t make any ecological, agricultural, or environmental sense.

    • July 25, 2013 7:06 PM

      Actually GMOs are developed for many reasons. We don’t use them, but why the outrage about that and not directly the food itself (what’s being discussed)? Corporations are out for profit – from Ford to Apple to, yes, those in agriculture and food. Food fortification etc happens because people want it – and corporations have the funds to fill what they want. Much of what is “known” or “unproven” is perception, but every household makes the decision what to bring in their home for dinner. Be that organic, processed convenience food, farmers market, CSA or Tysons – each is a decision.

      • July 25, 2013 8:22 PM

        Actually food “fortification” happens for manufacturers to sell product and advertising sells it to the consumer by making it appealing. What is in the food is not as important as selling the food. Certain dyes and additives have been found (it’s not a false perception) to be bad for your health across the globe and have been banned by many countries –except for the U.S. Food companies will take strawberry jam (made with strawberries, water, sugar and lemon juice) reformulate it and sell it in the U.S. (made with strawberries, artificial flavor, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, red dye #1, and red dye #2) just because they can get away by selling the cheaper stuff here. Do you have a choice?Maybe, but the corporations have the funds and power to limit those choices.
        GMOs are forced upon us in a Great Experiment. The majority of studies about their safety are done by the same people who sell them and profit from them. We can’t vote with our money and let the GMO creators know we don’t want them because we don’t really know what products they are in or not in. The fact that 92% of Americans want labels on genetically engineered foods should give the food industry a hint. But at present you don’t know what you bring into your home to cook. They’re in 80% of the food on grocery store shelves.Today, 91% of soy produced in the United States is genetically modified, as is 85% of corn and 88% of cottonseed, just to name three.
        I guess what I’m getting at is that it is your decision. But are we really given the real truth and ability to make good choices. You can’t make a good decision if your information is missing, hidden, or altogether absent.

      • July 26, 2013 11:40 AM

        With research people DO know. Effort. Empowering food choices. That’s what this blog is about. That doesn’t fit your anti-GMO message, but it’s available. As I’ve said elsewhere, and in this blog, people have food choices. Many are more concerned about nutrition, cost, a host of other things besides GMO and for them GMO is not an issue. It’s repeated on the internet 92% want labels, but in action that 92% changes nothing. I GUARANTEE you if 92% of Americans started buying direct, buying nonGMO, buying certified organic, buying those food choices that are there that are not GMO, GUARANTEED GMO would be gone because the market to pay for it is there. But the fact is most just do not want the effort, cost, changes needed to make that happen and want others to change. Those pushing against GMO are doing it dishonestly and people see that. It will backfire.

        Focusing on GMO is a minute part of the food issues America faces. It’s like focusing on only Vitamin A to balance our diet. There’s MANY other factors out there. I’m sure your blog is different in tone than this one, but here when we say supporting food choices it includes those different than our own. At SlowMoneyFarm we have heirloom, nonGMO choices – and about 125 open slots for shares for 2014. Fill those and we’ll talk about nonGMO demand! 🙂

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