Many years ago in Minneapolis, I first started thinking about what goes into processed foods when a friend of mine told me that Cargill, the giant food company, adds sand to increase the weight of its grain because (1) sand is cheaper than grain and (2) federal regulators say that a certain amount of sand is acceptable in the grain. In other words, a food company is purposely adulterating its product because it is economically profitable and the government says it’s okay.
A couple days ago an email came across my desk that lists a few other disgusting ingredients that are a part of other companies’ processed foods:
Red Dye: Ground up Beetles
Between yogurt, maraschino cherries, jams, cakes, and tomato products, you’ve probably consumed at least one pound of red dye in your life. That means that you’ve also ingested at least 70,000 cochineal beetles, according to Change.org. The bug is crushed up to make red dye.
Ice Cream: Beaver Anal Glands
Vanilla and raspberry flavors might be enhanced by “castoreum,” a mixture of the anal secretions and urine of beavers. It’s also found in perfume. The FDA-approved product is categorized under “natural flavoring,” so you won’t know if you’re eating it. After celebrity chef Jamie Oliver went on David Letterman’s show and mentioned castoreum’s presence in vanilla ice cream—”If you like that stuff, next time you put it in your mouth think of anal gland”—manufacturers adamantly denied the claims.
Beer: Fish Bladders
Isinglass, or dried fish bladder, gives beer its golden glow. The BBC did a whole segment on the substance, which is primarily used in British beers.
Wendy’s Chili: Sand
One key ingredient to Wendy’s chili is an anti-caking agent called silicon dioxide. Street name: sand or glass powder.
Jell-O: Animal Connective Tissue
Gelatin is made from collagen, which is boiled down animal connective tissue. Today, gelatin most likely is made from pigskin.
Gum: Sheep Secretions
Lanolin—a goopy, oily secretion found in sheep’s wool—is an FDA-approved additive used to soften chewing gum. It can also be found in cosmetics, sunscreen, and baby products.
Cellulose, or virgin wood pulp that is more commonly identified as sawdust, is an ingredient found in shredded cheese. It keeps the shreds from clumping up. Cellulose also appears in Kraft Parmesan Cheese—but Kraft isn’t the only company to do so. Thestreet.com, a financial news and services website, found 15 other companies that use “wood” in their products. The USDA, which regulates meat, has decided that meat products that consist of more than 3.5 percent cellulose cannot be recognized as nutritionally sound
Bread: Duck Feathers and Human Hair
L-Cysteine is an amino acid often used in dough conditioners, which softens mass-produced breads. It is made from human hair or duck feathers. Although 80% of L-cysteine is made of human hair, McDonald’s uses the duck feather variety in its baked hot apple pies and warm cinnamon rolls.
The FDA says it’s legally OK to have up to 19 maggots and 74 mites in a 3.5-ounce can of mushrooms.
Potato Chips: Cleaning Agents
Sodium bisulfite is used in most toilet boil cleaning agents. It’s also used to extend the shelf-life and bleach out the discoloration of potato chips.
Chocolate: Rat Hairs
I’m not saying that rat hairs are the secret ingredient of your favorite chocolate bars… but they might make accidental guest appearances. The FDA allows one rat hair per 100 grams in six 100-gram subsamples of chocolate and 60 insect fragments per 100 grams in six 100-gram subsamples.
These weird ingredients and impurities aren’t enough to kill you, but they do remind us that we’re treading on thin ice any time we trust companies and people who are motivated by making money off of us. And it’s not just food.
In the last few months, TV doctor and Columbia University faculty member Mehmez Oz has come under heavy criticism for promoting junk science on his widely-watched television show. He’s been lambasted by experts, by fellow doctors, even by the federal government. Last week, 10 doctors sent an email to the university contending that Dr. Oz promoted “quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain” and should be removed as vice-chair of Columbia’s surgery department. (He lost me years ago when he predicted my early death in a promotional email-administered questionnaire. What does he know? He didn’t see me. His junk emails regularly clog my spam filter like plaque in the circulatory system, and I’m sick of it.)
There is a tendency for people to cry “victimization” when anyone uses us as raw material in some money-making scheme or scam. But I suggest to you that the relationship of grifter and mark is a dance in which both partners play a part. We owe it to ourselves to be discriminating in who we trust. It is a matter of not only avoiding being fooled, but maintaining our personal dignity and integrity.
Groove of the Day
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