Why chemicals are like blenders, not margarita machines.
October 16, 2014 7:38 AM   Subscribe

"As a chemist, I can tell you that no chemical is 100 percent safe all the time, under all conditions. Even I occasionally do a double take when I hear about the ingredients in some of our foods. But our fear of chemicals – what is often called chemophobia – needs to be tempered.

The trend seems to be toward banning ingredients because they're made in a lab, rather than the result of a natural process. I’d caution all of us against assuming that "natural" chemicals are safe. Depending on whether it was made in a lab or in nature, a chemical isn’t any better or worse. Chemicals are tools whose effects can vary greatly by the amount used and how we encounter them. Let's take the case of azodicarbonamide (ADA), the "yoga mat chemical" that came to public attention earlier this year when it became widely known that Subway used it in the manufacture of its bread. Giving chemicals such as ADA monikers based on a single product in which they're found or a single task they perform implies they are – to borrow a phrase from Alton Brown – "unitaskers." Chemicals aren't single-use tools, like the trendy margarita machine. Chemicals are multiuse tools, like a conventional, top quality blender that can make smoothies, shakes, soups, sauces and cocktails." Pumpkin spice latte, hint-of-lime chips and other chemically enhanced foods you should stop worrying about by Raychelle Burks for The Washington Post.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (95 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Can I worry about hint-of-lime chips because they are vile tasting and ruin the delicious foods they come into contact with?

I have actually never had a pumpkin spice latte. I'm not sure if I should, but not because I think the pumpkin spice flavouring is worse for me than the vanilla or hazelnut I like.
posted by jeather at 7:46 AM on October 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


Pumpkin Spice Lattes are fine. Hint of Lime chips are awful, but you can eat them if there's nothing else out and you're drinking.

This ruling is final and official.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:48 AM on October 16, 2014 [15 favorites]


I actually had my first non-Starbucks pumpkin spice latte a few weeks ago. I'm not usually big on flavoured coffee to begin with so my reaction was "Meh." However, if that is your jam, please enjoy it!
posted by Kitteh at 7:48 AM on October 16, 2014


Until you stop using antibacterial soaps, I refuse to let you tell me what chemicals may or may not be Generally Recognized As Safe.

Because, seriously, never mind the resistance issues. Look at the MSDS on those antibacterials. You put that stuff on your skin?
posted by eriko at 7:52 AM on October 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


I can't believe people are adulterating coffee with pumpkin spice (or any other adulterant). Its coffee, its supposed to taste like coffee. /traditionalist blog
posted by marienbad at 7:55 AM on October 16, 2014 [11 favorites]


Yeah, the aggressive use of antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer is a bit bonkers right now. It seems like every place I go to has them in their bathrooms.
posted by Kitteh at 7:55 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Because, seriously, never mind the resistance issues. Look at the MSDS on those antibacterials. You put that stuff on your skin?

As long as you don't concentrate, it's just fine. Ha.
posted by maryr at 7:56 AM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


I eat mostly home-made food (she said, sipping a Coke Zero), but while I don't freak out over elaborately named ingredients, I try to skip them when I buy Emergency Deadline Freezer Supplies. These ingredients are often pretty good markers of either a dish that tastes processed/off or one that has been engineered to produce a highly effective bliss point of fat/salt/sugar.

(I'm not saying that these ingredients, in themselves, directly cause these results, but just that their presence is a decent predictor of a food product that tastes too bad or too good.)
posted by maudlin at 7:56 AM on October 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


Just like GMO, I'm not concerned with the safety of chemicals added to my foods as much as I'm concerned about the ancillary effects of doing so. Adding flavor to ostensibly make a food more pleasing dulls my palate to the flavors I have evolved to crave to keep my species from dying out.
posted by any major dude at 7:57 AM on October 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


Who remembers Juicy Fruit gum? What flavor is it, exactly? Banana? Pear? Not sure?

Nope, it's good 'ol Isoamyl Acetate.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:00 AM on October 16, 2014 [10 favorites]


You basically evolved to love (sugar + whatever the people around you eat - learned aversions) x pickiness.

Evolution isn't infallible. See also: the mechanisms that determine readiness for puberty.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:09 AM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Related: the anti-scientific fad for organic foods, the unmeasured belief that organic is healthier or safer. Some stuff labelled "organic" has pretty scary production techniques, particularly when organic pesticides are involved. Also: superstitions about irradiated food.
posted by Nelson at 8:09 AM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


Duplicate link in the post is intentional?
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:11 AM on October 16, 2014


Also: superstitions about irradiated food.

Which is pretty hilarious considering how much microwave food we consume.
posted by maryr at 8:17 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


As long as you don't concentrate, it's just fine. Ha.

I have a picture of one of these where the directions start with "Apply a liberal amount to wet hands" and the cautions start with "Avoid contact with eyes and skin."

And it promises that there's no more than 0.10% Phosphorus!
posted by eriko at 8:18 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Pumpkin Spice 4 Life
posted by mullacc at 8:21 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Of course all food and all matter as far as I understand is made out of chemicals. It sounds like the point the author is trying to make, though, is that all else being equal, the addition of synthetic chemicals to food is of no consequence so long as the process complies with FDA standards. It's my considered but admittedly non-scientific belief that this is not true. I think the biggest problem, as others have mentioned, is that these ingredients are often used to mask bland, unhealthy food. It's deceptive to the brain. For example, here is the ingredients list for a Jimmy Dean three cheese frozen omelette. Do you think the author could tell me with a straight face that's equivalent health-wise to my own homemade three cheese omelette, all else being equal, since hey those ingredients aren't going to kill you.
posted by gagglezoomer at 8:24 AM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


I don't think microwaved and irradiated are remotely related, are they?
posted by small_ruminant at 8:31 AM on October 16, 2014 [10 favorites]


For example, here is the ingredients list for a Jimmy Dean three cheese frozen omelette. Do you think the author could tell me with a straight face that's equivalent health-wise to my own homemade three cheese omelette, all else being equal, since hey those ingredients aren't going to kill you.

You're begging the question pretty hard here. Why is it so utterly inconceivable that the answer might be, "Yes, these two things are roughly equivalent health-wise."?
posted by Copronymus at 8:33 AM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Gagglezoomer

Show me that jimmy dean is going to kill you beyond "yuck chemicals". I wouldn't eat it, but it's not because of the chemistry sounding ingredients list..... it's becuase as you said it is nutritionally suspect. Thee only way we get that information is.....by doing chemical analysis!

Here's your all natural egg ingredient list

Here are ingredient lists for all natural fruits, "single", organic ingredients.

The comparison that people should be making is not between your wholesome homemade 3 cheese omlette made with love in a farmhouse with beatific children watching VS omg froot loops with made by the Capitalist Scientists and the glavin nasty man made chemicals.......

PLENTY of homemade and "natural/organic/biodynamic" ingredients are harmful to subsets of the population, and plenty of "chemicals" are safe to the vast majority.

Understanding nutrition needs more science, not less, and a nostalgia-laded callback to the prelapsarian days of Food being Wholesome and Appropriate by the SOLE virtue of it coming out of the ground by Good Farmers (don't even get me going on farming vs foraged and our evolutionary gut flora history to take but one example) is an asinine intellectual and moral bankruptcy.
posted by lalochezia at 8:41 AM on October 16, 2014 [22 favorites]



I don't think microwaved and irradiated are remotely related, are they?

It's a very, very common misconception that what microwaves do and what ionizing (alpha, beta, x-ray, gamma) radiation do is in any way similar. Microwaves impart kinetic energy to the various molecules in your food (mostly the water molecules) and raise its temperature as a result. Ionizing radiation interacts with the atoms in your food, knocking loose electrons by various means, which create free radicals that are pretty damaging to living tissue but are pretty harmless to something you're just going to eat. Also, will not raise

Neutron radiation is the only form of radiation that will start producing radioactive isotopes in whatever is exposed to it. These ARE dangerous to eat, since it gets those short-range high-damage forms of radiation (alpha and beta) closer to the organs that can least handle it.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:42 AM on October 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


Why is it so utterly inconceivable that the answer might be, "Yes, these two things are roughly equivalent health-wise."?

Well, for one, it's using a partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil with synthetic butter flavoring. The chemicals are there to make the incredibly unhealthy but cheap to produce product palatable, which is a point overlooked by the article and the "Yay Science!" iconoclasts cluttering up the thread. Those chemicals and preservatives are making highly processed foods associated with negative health outcomes cheaper and more abundant than whole, fresh foods - which is a very serious problem that can't be hand-waved away as luddism.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:42 AM on October 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


Wait till people find out about mangoes and urushiol.
posted by TedW at 8:51 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why is it so utterly inconceivable that the answer might be, "Yes, these two things are roughly equivalent health-wise."?

Delivery mechanisms matter. This is seen even in very simple chemical concoctions: a brand name medicine can list its ingredients, and sit next to a store brand on the shelf, and still be more effective, even though each has exactly the same ingredients in the same proportions. The same is true of food. Saying "this chemical is part of what gives oranges their flavor!" and dumping it in a vat of year-old barely-juice concoction does not make "all natural orange juice" taste like getting an orange and squeezing it and drinking the juice. Why not? Because the delivery mechanisms are different.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:56 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Although rarely listed on the label, dihydrogen monoxide is present in nearly every food including all fruits and vegetables. The compound is normally harmless, and even a required component of our diet, but like anything else it can be deadly if consumed in sufficient quantities.
posted by exogenous at 8:57 AM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


Well I think that atoms have feelings and scientists are mean to atoms, given they don't believe they have feelings to begin with. If you are nice to the plants they will make food that heals you so you can care for them better! SYMBIOSIS! If you are a mean tyrant, kill the plants unnecessarily, over produce them, breed them in conditions they are unhappy, they will make you sick!

You laugh now, but there's actually evidence that plants can in fact have such relationships of attracting and benefiting beneficial bugs and animal life while producing toxins that harm species they identify as predators.

I don't want to eat the food from the soulless people, since I believe I have a soul, I want my food made by people who respect the sensing and feeling nature of reality despite that science doesn't actually prove that any of us have a spirit or even a meaningful existing"self" beyond a bunch of scientific processess that give the illusion of such.

I think we can grow and create in the lab and love the little creations we make and beings we're serving from there. But a lot of people see love and business as too opposites and commercial industrial business especially. Firing people, damaging the environment, outplacing local buisinessess, even damaging economies of entire cities or groups of people- these are all done by people following the priciples of "good business"

I don't trust such assholes to tell me what is or isn't healthy or what I should be consuming- or who or what in the world has feelings, since their decidions about that are based mostly on their ego identity, status, and pocket books.
posted by xarnop at 8:59 AM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil

The danger from hydrogenated oil is almost entirely the production of trans fats. But hydrogenated oil doesn't need to have trans fat, and lo and be-hold, the jimmy dean sausage doesn't have it.

Yes, eat real foods, if you can afford it and have the time to. But don't avoid freezer food because of an irrational fear of chemicals.
posted by dis_integration at 9:02 AM on October 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


"Raychelle Burks is postdoctoral research associate in chemistry at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, and the Center for Nanohybrid Functional Materials at the University of Nebraska."

Cool, a chemist gets some space to talk in the press... and then makes all kinds of eye-rolling assessments of biological impacts of compounds at very, very low concentrations. You see what's left out in there?

Hi, late afternoon dreaming hotel is a molecular biologist and an epidemiologist who has worked in risk assessment for industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals regulation for a decade. His work is like the work of tens of thousands of other people in his field globally, and they're pretty dang concerned about all that super low dose chemistry of mixtures that biological and ecological systems (not just the human body) are exposed to chronically, for periods and in combinations and under conditions that have never ever ever been examined in a critical way--because there are more than a hundred thousand of those chemicals out there. And we--as in, the fields that touch toxicology and population studies--are still trying to figure out how to come up with basic methods to untangle those effects.

So, no, it's not chemophobia to be critical of synthetic chemistry and its regulation, "natural" chemistry, and basically all the chemical trappings of modern post-industrial life (as in, oh yes, USDA says it's GRAS so it must be ok, and variations on the theme overheard at every toxicoogy conference ever). Listen, this is a weird time to be alive and there's not a consensus about the degree of safety of any long-term exposure, especially to synthetics and moieties and admixtures to which our enzymes and transport membranes and immune systems haven't had any selective pressure before the last couple of generations. This is doing weird things, some very subtle things, and we're just starting to get the assessment tools honed enough to really start detecting them--this is no different than needing increasingly high-powered telescopes and data processing tools to resolve the atmospheres of planets orbiting distant stars--it's ok to say "look y'all, we really don't know yet so we're not going to pretend we're even asking the right questions" instead of "LOL pumpkin spice is good so whatevs new food additives and stuff should be ok unless we immediately know otherwise from bullshit old school tox tests that we kinda now know aren't really predicting the human experience."
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:06 AM on October 16, 2014 [31 favorites]


Well I think that atoms have feelings and scientists are mean to atoms, given they don't believe they have feelings to begin with. If you are nice to the plants they will make food that heals you so you can care for them better! SYMBIOSIS!

Yeah, I'm going to go ahead and not take any nutritional advice from you, thanks.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:10 AM on October 16, 2014 [10 favorites]


The danger from hydrogenated oil is almost entirely the production of trans fats. But hydrogenated oil doesn't need to have trans fat, and lo and be-hold, the jimmy dean sausage doesn't have it.

Nice to see they've finally switched to transfat-free ingredients! Awareness and avoidance of trans-fats is a recent phenomena. The chemicals used to produce that frozen omelette it and food like it were not harmless until a significant consumer backlash forced them to change. Let me say that again, more clearly - for years people were damaging their health with a chemical assumed harmless. Now they're not, so everything in the food processing field is now fixed! Right? Right?

Of course not.

How can we tell which new industrial additives aren't contributing to the unarguable negative health outcomes associated with highly processed foods without extensive study? We can't. Best to avoid them completely, because I trust large corporations making this stuff about as far as I can throw their headquarters. They'll fight to suppress anything that puts their moneymakers in a bad light tooth and nail, and use the "reasonable doubt" scientific-seeming argument to make light of very real concerns, the same way the tobacco companies, global warming deniers and HFCS industry do.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:15 AM on October 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


The danger from hydrogenated oil is almost entirely the production of trans fats. But hydrogenated oil doesn't need to have trans fat, and lo and be-hold, the jimmy dean sausage doesn't have it.

Not true, most likely....federal labeling regulations only require trans fats to be listed when they are present in over .6 grams or above per serving. Many processed foods containing amounts of trans fats meaningful to considerations of health are labelled as "0" grams/serving.
posted by cultcargo at 9:21 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


maryr: Also: superstitions about irradiated food.

Which is pretty hilarious considering how much microwave food we consume.
While those two things aren't apples to oranges (they're both photonic radiation), they are apples to dehydrated apple slices.

I am not concerned about the radiation from the overhead lights; I am concerned about the radiation from the X-Ray machine.

However, I hope that scientific analysis has proven the latter safe for me, just as I assume about irradiated foods (and the evidence out there reassures me).
posted by IAmBroom at 9:27 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


In food and medicine, both the pro-science and anti-science camps annoy me. Both of them can sound so smug and dismissive, and both of them make wide sweeping assertions that insult peoples' intelligence.

On the one hand: otherwise reasonably intelligent Facebook friends sharing memes that claim "artificial sweeteners are the feces of genetically modified e. coli." Facepalm, headdesk, etc.

On the other Monsanto made its fortune manufacturing DDT and Agent Orange and is still churning out junk that threatens pollinators, but we're supposed to be totally okay with supporting them by eating food produced with their products because YAY SCIENCE. But we as consumers aren't even legally allowed to know when we're supporting them, for fear that we might actually exercise choice and they might have to change their ways.

We live in a society where companies are perfectly willing to sell cheap, unhealthy food, claim that it's healthy, and use their money and political/cultural influence fighting anyone who claims otherwise, and turning regulations against their competition.

Meanwhile, other companies are perfectly willing to make up all kinds of stuff about their competitors' artificial ingredients, so that they can overcharge people for their also-not-necessarily-safe-or-effective natural products.
posted by Foosnark at 9:46 AM on October 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


Maybe it's because I don't know anyone who has an irrational fear of chemicals and I do know a lot of people who fancy themselves general purpose champions of science, but it seems to me that these discussions always turn out to be strawman construction contests.

At this point, I'm skeptical of any 'rebuttal' that doesn't show me real, serious examples of the arguments they're rebutting. I've just seen too many examples of people completely misrepresenting people's actual concerns.

I do not doubt that there are people who make overblown claims and have irrational fears of things they don't understand, but in my circles anyway, the irrational arguments are coming almost exclusively from the SCIENCE!* faction.

* Distinct from lower case science without the exclamation point.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:55 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


You wouldn't believe the kind of crap they put in strawmen.
posted by Flashman at 9:58 AM on October 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


Amyl acetate?

Softcore.

I demand chewing gum flavored with 1-diazidocarbamoyl-5-azidotetrazole.
posted by flabdablet at 9:59 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Those chemicals and preservatives are making highly processed foods associated with negative health outcomes cheaper and more abundant than whole, fresh foods - which is a very serious problem that can't be hand-waved away as luddism.

While I do appreciate the additional information and agree that these sorts of things likely do lead to worse health outcomes in the long term, my actual point was that I don't think it's facially improbable that an expert in the field could make an argument to the contrary that they actually believe and has some merit to it. And, indeed, the phrasing of your comment demonstrates that it's not a super-obvious slam dunk that the highly-processed foods are completely worse. There is nuance to be found here.

Mostly, though, I think we are better served in these discussions by making actual arguments instead of assuming that our opponents' argument is laughable on its face.
posted by Copronymus at 10:06 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Monsanto strawmanned the shit out of this topic with an ad blitz in the 1970s: Without chemicals, life itself would be impossible. Because there's nothing like fighting one oversimplification with another.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:19 AM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


You wouldn't believe the kind of crap they put in strawmen.

I used to get sick headaches all the time before I switched exclusively to certified organic strawmen.
posted by flabdablet at 10:22 AM on October 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


Note also the text of that ad contains essentially the same sentence as the pull quote used in the top link of this post.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:23 AM on October 16, 2014


a brand name medicine can list its ingredients, and sit next to a store brand on the shelf, and still be more effective, even though each has exactly the same ingredients in the same proportions.

Can you provide examples of research demonstrating this? Are there particular brands that perform better than generics in double-blind studies? It seems to me that placebo is likely to be the most significant differentiator in performance, and no reason to suspect that generics perform worse on account of formulation issues. Is there research to the contrary?
posted by howfar at 10:23 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also: without bees, Monsanto itself would be impossible.
posted by flabdablet at 10:25 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Did you know that tens of thousands of supposedly healthy foods are sweetened with a glandular secretion of the swarming insect Apis mellifera?
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:30 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


And, indeed, the phrasing of your comment demonstrates that it's not a super-obvious slam dunk that the highly-processed foods are completely worse.

History is a tool we use to understand the present. Processed foods have a history that is very long and very well understood by clinicians who had to treat the aftereffects. Harmless chemicals are a tell-tale that less harmless chemicals also abide therein - even if they're currently considered harmless. This has played out again and again and again. To not dismiss the claims as laughable means I need to ignore the history of food safety, processed foods, health problems caused by processed foods (which continue to this very day, we have this little obesity epidemic going on), and the role industrial chemicals considered harmless (at one time or other) plays in all this.

By using history, I don't really need to understand the intricacies of food-grade chemistry. I know I will be healthier if I avoid as many synthesized ingredients as I can.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:31 AM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


I would feel a lot better about generally siding with the give-chemicals-a-chance crowd if we could drop the sneering, sophomoric jokes which assume our fellow Mefites in this thread are uneducated rubes arguing wholly from ignorance.

It also doesn't make us look any smarter to recycle jokes generally learned and appreciated best by high school students taking their first chemistry class.
posted by gilrain at 10:38 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Howfar, Wellbutrin is a good example of what sonic meat machine is talking about. Changing the kinetics of delivery can be the difference between an effective drug and a non-effective one.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:39 AM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think the one problem with this topic (and most others) is our predisposition to assume more is better. We think or learn that in some circumstances, natural is better than chemical laden, and therefore people assume that is true in every case and the most true at the extremes. We resist grays and want to live in an easy-to-follow black and white world. If I have a simple answer that X is better than Y in at least some instance, then I can go through life with the goal of maximizing X and minimizing Y. Life is just easier that way. We don't want to deal with vagaries or nuance of why or to what extent X is better than Y or even if the difference is worth it. We just like knowing the end answer so we can move towards that. Once that belief is internalized, it is hard to combat it or get people to question it. At the extremes, you end up with people like my old friend who thinks Monsanto is the evilest devil company ever and flips the fuck out if her kids have anything with food coloring in it. I don't even know what the argument against yellow dye no. 5 or red dye is, but given her confusing explanation, I suspect it is just a case of the extremes of X > Y.
posted by dios at 10:53 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


In food and medicine, both the pro-science and anti-science camps annoy me. Both of them can sound so smug and dismissive, and both of them make wide sweeping assertions that insult peoples' intelligence.

That is true. But, please remember which of those two paradigms brought us out of the dark, extended lives, and made possible the electronic systems upon which you made your comment; and which one brought you the anti-vaccination movement.
posted by stevis23 at 10:54 AM on October 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


Stevis23, I don't think it's all that cleanly divided. People are complex and dumb and live by contradictory ideas.

Possibly because we're all full of chemicals.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:07 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Can you provide examples of research demonstrating this?

My personal research wrt lactase enzyme is that the Costco brand Kirkwood lactase tablets with the same listed lactase content as actual brand name Lactose tablets are in no demonstrable way as effective, even when (already large) dosages are doubled. The evidence was extremely and painfully compelling, as well as deeply unpleasant, for everyone within a 20 foot radius of my butt.

i believe griphus has done some peer review of this study with similar results
posted by poffin boffin at 11:21 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Hi, late afternoon dreaming hotel is a molecular biologist and an epidemiologist who has worked in risk assessment for industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals regulation for a decade. His work is like the work of tens of thousands of other people in his field globally, and they're pretty dang concerned about all that super low dose chemistry of mixtures that biological and ecological systems (not just the human body) are exposed to chronically, for periods and in combinations and under conditions that have never ever ever been examined in a critical way--because there are more than a hundred thousand of those chemicals out there. And we--as in, the fields that touch toxicology and population studies--are still trying to figure out how to come up with basic methods to untangle those effects.
I'd like to ask two questions. And I don't want to come off as snarky here because I really would like to hear your answers:
  1. Let's say knowledge continues to build up in your field, better tests get developed, etc. What's the threshold where you'll say that an additive is safe enough? Is there any evidence that could ever change your opinion?
  2. What are your standards for natural products? There are hundreds of thousands of not-very-well-characterized chemicals in play here, too, aren't there? Why does the requirement for absolute proven safety get waived?
posted by aw_yiss at 11:21 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


please remember which of those two paradigms brought us out of the dark, extended lives, and made possible the electronic systems upon which you made your comment; and which one brought you the anti-vaccination movement.

Oh, believe me, I am pro-science and technology. But let's not pretend they are 100% a force for improving human lives. We have been known to use them in some really dumb, short-sighted, (self-)destructive ways in the past and in the present.

We live in a society where maximizing profit is the most important focus. Those who produce our food and medicine are (with few exceptions) not doing it because they love humanity and the environment.
posted by Foosnark at 11:26 AM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


The evidence was extremely and painfully compelling, as well as deeply unpleasant, for everyone within a 20 foot radius of my butt.

I'm not sure this passes the smell test.
posted by howfar at 11:38 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


The most incongruous part of both the pro-chemicals and the anti-chemicals stances is this; neither chemicals, nor plants, are homogenous. Both man-made and natural things vary over a wide continuum from beneficial to deadly, so you can't generalize over either one. Plants didn't evolve to be eaten by you, and most of them are full of at least some kinds of toxins to discourage herbivory. Most of those are safe to us (in the plants we eat, at least), but there's always the chance that we'll be surprised later, just like with man-made chemicals. We already know of plants that are stealth carcinogens. So you can't generalize over natural things either.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:41 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Well I think that atoms have feelings and scientists are mean to atoms, given they don't believe they have feelings to begin with. If you are nice to the plants they will make food that heals you so you can care for them better! SYMBIOSIS! If you are a mean tyrant, kill the plants unnecessarily, over produce them, breed them in conditions they are unhappy, they will make you sick!


Lolwut?
posted by stenseng at 11:49 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Can you provide examples of research demonstrating this?

Here's an article on epilepsy drugs. Here's one on generic Wellbutrin. (Note that the review of the last was inspired by anecdotal complaints.) Here's one on HIV generics.

Regarding OTC drugs, I only have anecdata, so I won't bore you with it, but suffice to say I have had similar experiences to poffin boffin above, but with fiber supplements.
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:54 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


The Wellbutrin link is a good example of the point that was being made, the other two seems a bit more complex and a bit less clear. The epilepsy data doesn't exclude placebo at all, and the HIV modelling appears to be based on the possibility that using generics in combination would actually end in the patients taking different chemical compounds to those taking a single combined antiretroviral.

Even so, the Wellbutrin link does bear out the point made, although perhaps not strongly enough to support a general conclusion about the relative efficacy of generic drugs.
posted by howfar at 12:08 PM on October 16, 2014


. Processed foods have a history that is very long and very well understood by clinicians who had to treat the aftereffects.

Show me these studies where all "processed" foods and "industrial" foods fall under one category. This is a flat out unprovable statement. You selected one tiny class of compounds, food dyes, which have been shown to be harmful to a small subset of the population.
Betanin, a natural food dye, may sequester iron, and is less stable than synthetics; breakdown products have not been analysed and may be toxic.

Harmless chemicals are a tell-tale that less harmless chemicals also abide therein - even if they're currently considered harmless. This has played out again and again and again. To not dismiss the claims as laughable means I need to ignore the history of food safety, processed foods, health problems caused by processed foods (which continue to this very day, we have this little obesity epidemic going on), and the role industrial chemicals considered harmless (at one time or other) plays in all this.

Define processed foods for $400, bub. Cooked? Perhaps fermented? What about cultivars that were selected for properties that never would have evolved without human interaction? Biodynamic treatment of materials fertilizes plants with compounds that never would have made their way there? What about transplanting foods between ecosystems, and making monocultures? Now walk into a shed, or a farm. Chop up a pile of apples, or ferment cane and and distill apple essence and rum. Perhaps take the apple oil and compare it to stuff synthesized in the lab. Show me the difference in meaningful studies.

Processed is a meaningless and loaded term. Your arguments use a meaningless broad brush, and I think your arguments are more harmful than the ill-defined problems you puport to highlight.
posted by lalochezia at 12:09 PM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Even so, the Wellbutrin link does bear out the point made, although perhaps not strongly enough to support a general conclusion about the relative efficacy of generic drugs.

I wasn't arguing relative efficacy of generic drugs, just pointing out that the possibility is there for difference in effect. I certainly still buy generic ibuprofen, aspirin, famotidine, etc.; but the fact remains that drugs can be nominally identical (same proportions of active ingredients) and still have different effects.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:14 PM on October 16, 2014


Processed is a meaningless and loaded term.

No, not really. I'm sorry you have trouble distinguishing Red No. 2 dye from beet juice, and think vinegar fermentation is the same as industrial scale liquid chromatography. I'm sorry you think impure ethanol (rum) is a harmless chemical. Most people don't have that problem. I think your arguments are meaningless handwaving that relies entirely on category errors of your own making.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:31 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Define processed and tell me what "processing" makes harmful things, and what "not processing" makes not-harmful things.

I might be making category errors, but you wont even define the words used in your "arguments".
posted by lalochezia at 12:34 PM on October 16, 2014


I hate the people mock those who have safety concerns about chemicals. People are well within their rights to question the judgement of those who are pushing to offload the maximum threshold of chemicals people can enure into legally being put into our foods and products.

One tiny trace of a chemical? Ok. But what about when loads of tracechemicals add up, all at the maximum threshold that can't be PROVEN toxic even though levels above that are?

Why do we let business push us this direction for their convenience and pocket books? The push for people to accept more and more known toxic chemicals into their bodies while laughing at them for being worried is extremely cruel.
posted by xarnop at 12:34 PM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Define processed and tell me what "processing" makes harmful things, and what "not processing" makes not-harmful things.

OK, sure, let me google that for you.
Processed food falls on a spectrum from minimally to heavily processed.

Minimally processed foods — such as bagged spinach, cut vegetables and roasted nuts — are often simply pre-prepped for convenience.
Foods processed at their peak to lock in nutritional quality and freshness include canned beans, tomatoes, frozen fruit and vegetables, and canned tuna.
Foods with ingredients added for flavor and texture (sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and preservatives) include jarred pasta sauce, salad dressing, yogurt and cake mixes.
Ready-to-eat foods — such as crackers, granola and deli meat — are more heavily processed.
The most heavily processed foods often are frozen or pre-made meals like frozen pizza and microwaveable dinners.

I've bolded the categories of processed foods that are a concern. Hope that helped.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:43 PM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Processed food just means natural foods that are subjected to a complex industrial process to make a different, often unhealthy, foodstuff, which process often includes the addition of many other natural and unnatural ingredients some of which would not even be considered a food source except in the context of the processed food (artifical colors and flavors).

Take wheat, apples and cinnamon, all naturally occuring things, process them, and you end up with something like this. Yuck.
posted by gagglezoomer at 12:47 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Slap*Happy,
I guess my definition was aimed defining the processed food that people mean when they say "avoid processed food".
posted by gagglezoomer at 12:49 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I hate it when people even treat 'chemicals' as a category.

Look, most chemicals used in food are completely different from one another. You can't generalize across the entire group of them, they differ more than the entire category of 'food'. Some of them are beneficial, many are harmless, and some are harmful, but the risks and benefits associated with any one of them are absolutely meaningless to the risks and benefits associated with any of the others (barring a few that are part of the same chemical family, etc.) You can't generalize across the entire group at all. Whether BHT is dangerous has no bearing on, say, Aspertame, nor does either have any bearing on some random food coloring. They are all completely unconnected.

When you talk about the dangers associated with chemicals, you always need to quantify which ones you mean. Saying that 'chemicals' are dangerous in food is a totally meaningless statement. You will manage to be right, wrong, and uncertain all at the same time. And really, you should take more care anyway; some 'chemicals' are just funny names for things we've used for hundreds of years (like sodium bicarbonate), or extracts from things that are well-trusted (like citric and acetic acid). Trying to say that those are bad just makes you look ill-informed. And some food additives have been tested really extensively, to the point where they are almost certainly really safe. You are probably wasting your time railing against those, too.

Basically the 'chemicals are bad' people need to work on a more accurate and coherent platform. We probably do use too many synthetic substances in our food and also shouldn't spew them all over the environment, but it's not a blanket problem with a blanket solution. Chemicals need to be individually evaluated and approved or restricted because they are fundamentally not the same.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:27 PM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Glad you defined your terms.

So: Not harmful. Unprocessed, roasted nuts 1,2

Medium harmful Foods with ingredients added for flavor and texture
So you'd discount all the cuisines of the world that added oils, flavors, or spices? They get a medium, lower in safety than all the roasted peanuts and spinach you can eat? Where's your evidence?

--

No arguments from me that some pre-packaged microwave dinner and frozen pizzas are low in nutrition (how do we know? not by saying "in the past people weren't fat, now they are, ergo 'processing'", or with your history lenses that take a complex multifactorial chain of events and reduce it to one answer).
What is it exactly about their "processing" that makes them so? Does this apply to all foodstuffs that have been through an industrial process? Show me evidence.
posted by lalochezia at 1:28 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


The most dangerous chemicals in processed foods, though, are salt and sugar. The rule of thumb about processed foods being bad is mostly because salt and sugar are cheap ways of making things taste better, and thus tend to get overused in premade food.

Even if the stabilizers and preservatives are weird, they are almost certainly less dangerous to one's health.
posted by Zalzidrax at 1:31 PM on October 16, 2014 [10 favorites]


Definitions for 'processed food' tend to be circular (processed food is food that is heavily processed), special-pleading (a processed food is a natural food like yogurt [i.e., milk that has been modified for flavor and texture] that has been modified for flavor or texture), or indirect (a processed food is a food that is made in an industrial facility). It is hard to come up with a rigorous definition for processed food that excludes common, ancient foods like yogurt, beer, and bread. Like "authentic", "processed" is a category without sharp boundaries, and with some, but far from universal, correlation with other properties like "unhealthy".
posted by Pyry at 1:47 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I love the rules lawyering that goes on in these threads. "Cutting my carrots before throwing them in a stewpot is technically processed food hurf durf!!!"

The "science paradigm" also brought us the nuclear bomb, Zyklon B, and Global Warming, so you can dismount the mechanized gas-guzzling high horse any time now.

I'm more pro-science and anti-woo than you are, and I think behavior like this is the worst kind of tribalism. You might as well be a Believer if you're going to act like that.

Stop teasing. Start teaching.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:56 PM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


"Basically the 'chemicals are bad' people need to work on a more accurate and coherent platform."

I think the chemicals are safe people should actually bear the burden of proof that there is sufficient reason to force animals, humans, or the environment at large to endure the risk of harm in order to even find out if something is harmful.

If there is not a just cause (i.e. curing a deadly disease, solving a life threatening problem) people should not be testing chemicals on innocent lives just to make bigger profits. I think the burden of proof lies the other direction.

People who are causing harm and claiming it's safe should be held personally accountable for any damages that result from forcing their garbage, into the air, water, and land and down vulnerable people's throats and into their household products (especially those who can't afford to avoid them).
posted by xarnop at 2:05 PM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


xarnop: I think the chemicals are safe people should actually bear the burden of proof that there is sufficient reason to force animals, humans, or the environment at large to endure the risk of harm in order to even find out if something is harmful.

Generally speaking, they do (or at least the companies that develop and sell the chemicals do). It's just that nobody can agree on what constitutes an appropriate burden of proof. I won't disagree that through corruption and regulatory capture it isn't as high as it probably should be, but a lot of the chemicals-are-bad people won't accept any level of proof, and/or they hold different things to wildly inconsistent standards (i.e. you can't use a food additive that's been in common usage for 50 years and tested extensively without negative effects, but you can sell a new herbal drug with no testing at all). That's not really good either.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:12 PM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think the concern with using the word 'processed' is that one can move the goalposts on the meaning to mean essentially whatever one wants. And I think a dangerous choice to make is to essentially equate processed to dangerous/unhealthy. As one can take wheat, mill it, add water, bake it, and create a foodstuff out of something that's otherwise inedible. The end result is nothing like the original material, but I'd consider the end result to be superior, if the result is to feed people. Alternatively, something more minimally processed, like drinking copious amount of pressed cane juice, or simply nibbling on hemlock, is going to have poor affects on one's health. Natural is not always healthy, and processed is not always dangerous. I know this is an obvious point to make, but I need to start at defining the extremes.

So I think the best argument to be made is that processing implies adding complexity, and with complexity comes unintended side-effects. If we know one edible thing is safe, that's great. But if we add four other things to that thing, then we not only have those four more things to deal with, we have the interactions between all those things to deal with, and some of those interactions may be unwise to put in our bodies. Furthermore, some of those things may be synthetic, and have only been eaten by humans in that form for years or decades, instead of centuries or millennia.

So we can go through the whole 'what is processed enough to start to be concerning?' game, and try to determine where we draw the line. For methods, I'm going to assume that time-tested things like cooking, smoking, pickling and the like are agreed to be safer, and more modern methods like the microwave are more concerning. Though I admit that the microwave has been around for decades now, we have a good idea of how it works and what it does to food, so there's much less concern over it now.

Nowadays, the more pertinent question seems to be the content of the food. And we find whole fruits and vegetables, and high quality meat to be safe, and so are generally called 'natural', 'whole foods', and 'unprocessed'. Along the spectrum, we find things that are derived from these foods, like vegetable oil, fruit juice concentrate, and the like. Somewhere in here is what we think of us modern GMO foods. And then at the other end of the spectrum, we have things like artificial vanillin, or additives made from things that are otherwise inedible or even toxic.

What I'm getting at here is that this spectrum correlates pretty closely with the spectrum of what humans have been eating for a long time vs. what we have been eating for a relatively short time. Though to be fair, our ancestors' have helpfully filtered out a lot on that 'long time' edge by eating unhealthy stuff, dying from it, and letting others know to stop eating it. Poisonous fruits come to mind. Anyways, I think the question comes down to, 'If we have all these foods around us that we've been eating for a long time, and we have a lot of evidence they are completely safe, why should we stop?' I hope this is a fine thing to say.

And I sympathize, for several reasons. Corporations exist to make money, and many are willing and able to perform the selfish Utilitarian calculus of, 'what can we do to make our food taste better, and make our food cheaper to produce, with as little backlash as possible?' And plenty of them toe the line by creating incredibly unhealthy foods by anyways standards (I'm thinking soda and cereal here), and using subversive social methods and advertising to get us to believe these sorts of items should be part of our daily lives. And I think it's awful that the cogs in these corps' machines grind people's well-being up for profit, and we should fight against that.

But I think modern chemistry/biology can be a huge boon to humanities' health, particularly for kids that grow up in impoverished regions. From adding iodine to salt and vitamin D to milk, or adding fluoride to water, we have absolutely saved lives. These acts have risks, and I'm sure that somewhere, there were adverse affects, but we perform our own calculus, 'what risk is worth it in the effort to save lives', and I think this is where we get to things like GMOs.

GMOs have a basis in plant hybridization, the breeding and selection of plants based on traits we find favorable, except we can now use much more exact methods to achieve our goal, some goals which we would be extremely unlikely to find in a random mutation in a plant otherwise. And these mutations can be extremely beneficial to humans, in either allowing use to get higher yields, or use less pollutants to preserve our crops, or to make the foods nutritious in ways they would otherwise not be. Golden rice, which contains a precursor to vitamin A, could be used to save hundreds of thousan's of childrens' lives each year, and improve the lives of many more. I find that to be an absolutely incredible accomplishment, and if I were to guess, the rise of GMOs will go down in history as one of humanity's greatest accomplishments of the time period.

And as I said, there are risks, some of which we can't pin down exactly, and even if we can, what one person can make the final decision? 'This new development will save a million lives, but give ten thousand people cancer.' Do we go through it? I'm of the mind that it's wrong not to. We won't get it perfect, that's for sure, but we have never gotten anything perfect. And the potential benefits in this case are mind-boggling.

I know I've digressed away from just 'lab-created chemicals' here, but the point I wanted to make is there. The laboratory is a tool, and we can use that tool for great good, or great evil. And I'm of the opinion that if we say 'no' to all food labs, everywhere, they have little reason to tend towards good. As much of a fan I am of GMOs' applications, I also wish Monsanto wasn't the company that was the head of it, but it gets so hard to find allies when people that are against Monsanto are also against all GMOs and all lab-created food of any sort, when I think they are entirely different discussions to have. So I'd encourage people to focus on 'processed foods' on a case-by-case basis, and try to steer the future of our foods towards the better ones.
posted by Skephicles at 2:14 PM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


The "science paradigm" also brought us the nuclear bomb, Zyklon B, and Global Warming

No, this is silly. Science, as the process of inference by experiment, comparison and simulation, brought us the knowledge of the objects and their mechanism of interaction that could, by the application of engineering principles (ie with a predetermined use case) be turned into a bomb or a genocidal weapon. Zyklon B is a good example of this process: the reaction to produce hydrogen cyanide was known for 50+ years before WW2; Zyklon B is simply the addition of an eye irritant to alert people of the otherwise un-senseable poison, and mixing the reagents with Fuller's Earth as a stabiliser. Nothing in the creation of this object advanced understanding of the chemistry one iota. Even the formulation of Zyklon B preceded the Holocaust by thirty odd years as it was designed as a fumigant for cargo ships. Science had nothing to do with it, and engineering and design were for an innocent purpose. Its eventual use on people was a purely a product of a political philosophy.
posted by cromagnon at 2:25 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Got a bit carried away with the post button: I was going to say that the nuclear bomb blurs the distinction because some of the same people were involved in the inferential science phase as in the weaponisation phase, and the process of weaponisation generated knowledge of processes. It's a continuum of science <> technology in practice but that's emphatically not the same as them being the same thing.
posted by cromagnon at 2:33 PM on October 16, 2014


Oh, also I know the "matter is conscious" idea sounds radical, but it's more a belief that there is at least a possibility that consciousness actually arises out of sensing properties within matter and energy themselves rather than out of a sudden spontaneous consciousness that appears out of thin air when matter is arranged a certain way.

In terms of which is more logical, my own perspective is that the spontaneous appearance of consciousness inside a cell is actually more "woo" than the previously existing sensing state of matter hypothesis given the spontaneous arising of consciousness involves more of a belief in something like a spirit or self that exists superimposed onto matter. Not to say that's not possible, but it's more likely that life is a process through which already sensing atomic particles manage to arrange themselves into preferred states.

I still believe in a hierarchy of consciousness so this doesn't mean I think atoms and energetic phenomena experience their existence the way humans or animals, or plants do, simply that individually, and collectively they may sense more and in different ways than we expect.

I dislike the automatic assumption that if we want to do something destructive we should assume whatever it is we want to control, manipulate, control, or exploit must be unconscious, it's at the root of a lot of terrible things we do to other beings and the planet. And yes I think at the cellular level and atomic level we should at least consider there is a possibility of sensing, and that things like atomic explosions may be a sign we have done something really really horrible to an entity that can sense it. Experiments on plants and animals are what I would consider "black magic" in the sense that magic is simply the powers we have to interact with and change the world. It is agreeing to cause or risk terrible suffering to other beings than yourself in order to do good for other beings. That doesn't mean it's innately wrong to do, just that.. it comes with ethical dilemmas that become very gray and should not be taken lightly.

Deciding to put non-food chemicals into people to improve marketability, and profitability of products is likewise an art that in innately cold hearted in nature- it serves no actual good, and risks great harms that people who receive nothing in return don't get any benefit for risking in themselves. The producers profit, don't HAVE to take the risks (or may partake to relieve their conscience) and if the products turn out to be harmful they can fall back on reasonable doubt and say "who knew".

Meanwhile the people who never wanted that risk to begin with may suffer actual diseases or worsened states of health or mental function that they had no desire to risk for themselves. If you're talking about a chemical that could cure a harmful disease, that a person wants to be treated for even though there may be side effects involved and they have been informed- this is a different ethical situation. The majority of the additional chemicals being put into the environment and our homes foods and products are not of any sort of noble design to uplift humanity. I'm not saying the fear of ALL chemicals isn't silly, just that to focus on how silly the "chemicals are bad" people is and make them out to look really silly (even though yes many ARE very silly) is still serving the wrong cause in my opinion because it let's everyone sit back, laugh at the sillies, and not get serious about tackling the fact that we're erring in the wrong direction with chemical exposures and certainly most often for the wrong reasons.
posted by xarnop at 3:23 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I did not believe the generic / brand medication stuff until I tried Wellbutrin. Mine sucked but I didn't even bother going for the brand, I was over that shit tout de suite. I had to look up "tout de suite." And yes, the "chemophobia" thing is patronizing and there are plenty of very concerned chemists who specialize in things like, ya know, endocrinology, cardio, or respiratory diseases that are going to have a different opinion. Heck, I use e-cigarettes and some vendors were busted awhile back for using diacetyl. It was only relatively recent that we found out it ruins popcorn-factory-worker lungs. Then we find there's a very similar molecule called acetyl propionyl that is essentially the same thing, but vendors sneak it in and say "diacetyl free" because it's true. And who knows what a "BPA Free" bottle contains, just another experiment with possibly interesting results down the road. I see a need to balance human progress with the precautionary principle rather than using pure profit as a motivation for finding things out the hard way.

As for generics and brand name drugs, part of it involves the binders and the pill-pressing process that can affect the overall bioavailability of the pill, potentially making it dissolve too rapidly or too slowly in the stomach, be destroyed too rapidly by stomach acid, whatever...and sometimes you can get away with slightly different versions of the same off-patent molecule. I can say this with certainty for supplements but would have to dig for prescription medications.

Sometimes you can sort of get away with sketchy things with bad results and mar the original "safe" formulation, like the tryptophan that killed people awhile back wasn't a very safe "version" of the L-tryptophan molecule.

An interesting thing I learned yesterday is that Niacin supplements typically contain niacinamide and will tell you exactly how much they contain. However, flush-free Niacin contains a pro-drug (essentially) of niacin called inositol hexanicotinate. There isn't so much of that going on with actual prescription drugs to my knowledge without creating a whole new name (i.e. Vyvannse is a pro-drug of d-amphetamine but is not called "d-amphetamine" or "dexedrine").
posted by aydeejones at 3:24 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


And I think a dangerous choice to make is to essentially equate processed to dangerous/unhealthy.

No, not really. You add synthesized chemicals like amaranth dye and refined palm oil to food, there are negative health outcomes. There is no danger in avoiding their like, despite assurances that they are safe. (And both Red no. 2 and margarine were considered harmless at one point - margarine was actually considered a healthy alternative to butter. It is again, with refined olive and canola oils, and who knows, maybe this time they got it right.)

Butter and unrefined oils and even cane sugar is expensive to produce, alter the flavor profile for the worse when used in excess, and have a short shelf life. Likewise beet juice and carrot juice* when used as a food dye adds, umm, vitamins. Unrefined grains decrease glycemic load.

This leads to foods that are eaten in moderation, prepared fresh as part of a meal (nutrients are more present in freshly prepared foods, unless you're enriching the hell out of everything), and have positive outcomes in terms of controlling health problems like heart disease and diabetes. That's something frozen pizza, with its amazing plethora of scientifically derived synthetic and refined and enriched, my how enriched, ingredients cannot claim.

So, no, it's not dangerous to eschew preservatives, starches, fats and flavorants that are derived from industrial processes to replace known nutritious ingredients with a convenient alternative. Sort of the opposite of dangerous, really.

(*OMG! We pureed carrots! PROCESSED! My argument is automatically invalid and Little Debbie is declared Empress.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:25 PM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Slap*Happy: That's something frozen pizza, with its amazing plethora of scientifically derived synthetic and refined and enriched, my how enriched, ingredients cannot claim.

You really need to compare apples to apples. If you're going to compare frozen pizza to anything to examine the issue if whether food preservation and packaging makes food worse for you, you can only compare it to freshly prepared pizza. You can find healthy-ish frozen foods and make really unhealthy freshly prepared stuff. I bet you'd be much better off eating health-oriented frozen meals every day than you would be eating steak and eggs, for instance.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:36 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


You add synthesized chemicals like amaranth dye and refined palm oil to food, there are negative health outcomes. ... Unrefined grains decrease glycemic load.

Then again, unprocessed cashew nuts are poisonous [from Wikipedia: "Properly roasting cashews destroys the toxin, but it must be done outdoors as the smoke (not unlike that from burning poison ivy) contains urushiol droplets which can cause severe, sometimes life-threatening, reactions by irritating the lungs"]. And as previously mentioned, iodized salt was a win for public health.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:27 PM on October 16, 2014


Deciding to put non-food chemicals into people to improve marketability

I am in favor of extensive and unbiased research into the toxicology of all things we eat. I just think the idea of "real food" vs."non-food chemicals" is incoherent and works against real understanding of what food does to our health. It's not that "everything is chemicals" but that tons of natural foods contain traces of specific well-known chemicals - particularly those which make food smell and taste like food at all - which, if concentrated and poured into a glass bottle, would be packaged with an MSDS health warning. Quite a few lead noted double lives as petrochemical-derived industrial precursors, in fact. The increasingly infamous "diacetyl" butter flavoring, the one that causes chronic lung disease when inhaled? You know where I'm going with this - it's in butter! Or as far as processing goes, smoking - one of the most time-honored methods of food preservation - amounts to saturating the edibles in question with a concoction of weird phenols and polycyclic aromatics including well-known carcinogens. I would be surprised if it isn't more harmful than adding a bit of BHT. I do get that your argument is that we shouldn't add things that *might* be harmful if we don't *need* them. And for sure it seems clear enough to me that we could do without, say, dubious synthetic dyes in everything. But when we talk about adding "probably safe" amounts of things with known (or totally unknown) toxic potential "just" to make food taste better - well, you do that any time you add, say, cloves to a recipe.

Again this is not an argument for foods to be unregulated or unstudied. I wish they were better regulated and better studied all around. But drawing arbitrary lines around "real food" is not a great place to start - "natural" is hardly less of an unscrupulous business anyway.
posted by atoxyl at 6:32 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


We've had a few similar discussions about this before, e.g. Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide.

That was over five years ago, unfortunately in the meantime chemophobia has only gotten worse in this country.

Yes, some chemicals are hazardous and should be regulated, but what's happened is the environmental and green industry has generated an artificial fear of the word chemical and this ironically has only led to increased distrust of science in general.

And it has had a hugely harmful effect on critical public health campaigns like childhood vaccination.

I don't know when it happened, but at some point the environmental movement was hijacked, and it's a damn shame, because its contributed to a divide in this country and cheapening of genuine truthful messages about the state of the world.
posted by formless at 6:33 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't think it was the "environmental and green industry" or irrational chemphobia that caused people to lose faith in the regulation of the safety of our foods and drugs, though they're happy to capitalize on it. I think the corporations' sociopathic quest for profit and the FDA's lack of transparency and, (to call a spade a spade), corruption has been the biggest contributor.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:08 PM on October 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


For some reason this reminds me of arguments against minorities for not presenting their arguments well enough being the cause of the message not getting through. When in reality more time is spent insulting those who are trying imperfectly to stand up against genuine harms being carried out but not being as skilled as scientists and getting some things wrong. People should not have to be masters of debate or have advanced science education to state perfectly valid concerns and refuse to trust industries and science communities agendas that don't value compassion, nature, the environment, or sustainable and harmonious relationships in ecosystems. Trying to make people feel like fools just because they are trying to justify why they don't want to be force fed more and more toxic gunk is helping industry perpetrate these crimes and placing the blame wrongfully on the faltering debate and advocacy skills of those trying to fight back with limited power and resources and time to invest in nutrition and science degrees to do the job perfectly. And no the public should not just sit back and let the educated elite decide everything because fuck that. People with more heart and connection to the emotional nature of human bodies and living beings often have harder time advancing in the sciences due to differences insspecialization and the cruel nature of experiments and reading material so people who would argue for gentler ethics in science get weeded out. I have had the same frustration with the silliness of the "natural" concept. Poison ivy is natural as is mercury. But what we are doing to the environment and human beings is callous and destructive, irresponsible and greedy. That some people are silly is not a sign that a preference for the diet your family ate for generations over frankenconcoctions created by assholes who want to move a product no matter who they hurt or how they damage the world is totally wise especially for people without science degrees or time to invest in that education.
posted by xarnop at 8:39 PM on October 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


You really need to compare apples to apples. If you're going to compare frozen pizza to anything to examine the issue if whether food preservation and packaging makes food worse for you, you can only compare it to freshly prepared pizza.

Challenge accepted! I make a lot of pizza during the summer on my BBQ grill, Rhode Island style. (Both sides of the dough are grilled!) We get whole-wheat pizza dough from the refrigerator case of a local bakery - it's got a refreshingly short ingredients list and costs a couple bucks - and we use leftover sauce from the big batch my wife makes up on the weekends. She uses canned tomatoes, tomato paste, fresh veggies, dried herbs, EVOO, no sugar, and lets the crockpot do the work. Toppings are skim milk mozza, mushrooms, red onion and homemade turkey meatball slices, also lefotvers. It's super easy to make, takes zero time, and it's fun. Also it's delicious.

Oh, did you expect me to compare Uncle Baron's Tomb Rising Stuffed Crust Eight Cheese California Style frozen monstrosity with the local greek pizzaria? Nope, restaurant pizza is a sometimes treat - it's decidedly not good for you, and people should only eat it as a treat. Frozen pizza is a regular staple of the diet of a lot of people. Let's compare it to a meal normal people can actually make, without a lot of money or time.

I bet you'd be much better off eating health-oriented frozen meals every day than you would be eating steak and eggs, for instance.

How about neither? I'll do "neither," thanks. Why am I expected to argue against completely irrational hypotheticals?

(And eggs aren't bad in moderation, even daily, for most people. The nutrients they bring to the table offset the downsides.)

Then again, unprocessed cashew nuts are poisonous

You're trying to move the goalposts, and you look silly doing it. This was covered up-thread, where we established definitions of lightly processed and heavily processed foods, gave examples of each, and highlighted in bold the problematic stuff. And dude, think a moment. This is a thread about an article attempting to exonerate synthetic chemicals put into food, and was not about cooking and prepping plants or even canning/freezing/pickling the same. So why are you bringing it up? Do you legitimately believe roasting cashews is equivalent to adding industrial dyes to children's cereal? Why on earth should we take that comparison seriously?
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:15 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I was responding to your bringing up refined grains as an example of a self-evidently less healthy alternative to unprocessed grains. By your standard, I guess your original statement also has nothing to do with the article we're discussing. My point was merely that refining can remove harmful compounds as well as nutrients, and that there are healthy chemical additives as well as unhealthy ones.

This was covered up-thread, where we established definitions of lightly processed and heavily processed foods, gave examples of each, and highlighted in bold the problematic stuff.

You asserted one definition. Several other people disagreed that it was that simple. Also, contrary to your highlighting, the link you took your definition from hardly mentions food dyes, and does not appear to say anywhere that they should be avoided. Instead, it tells people to be wary of processed foods that have too much sugar, fat, and sodium. Indeed, these are very likely to be the main health hazards of processed foods (I'd also add nitrates in preserved meats) -- not consumption of miniscule amounts of Red No. 2 or azodicarbonamide, which I have yet to see any evidence are more dangerous than, for example, yerba mate or cinnamon (both of which are minimally processed by your rubric).
posted by en forme de poire at 10:39 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Slap*Happy: Oh, did you expect me to compare Uncle Baron's Tomb Rising Stuffed Crust Eight Cheese California Style frozen monstrosity with the local greek pizzaria? Nope, restaurant pizza is a sometimes treat - it's decidedly not good for you, and people should only eat it as a treat. Frozen pizza is a regular staple of the diet of a lot of people. Let's compare it to a meal normal people can actually make, without a lot of money or time.

Nope, you can't compare the healthiest thing you can make to an average frozen pizza. You have to either take the healthiest option both ways (in which case you'd have to get one of the quasi-organic low-fat frozen pizza things to compare yours to) or take the something bad from both sides. Yeah, lots of people subsist on frozen pizza (the calorie to dollar ratio for low quality frozen pizza is amazing) but it's also quite common for people who travel constantly (particularly people in business and sales) to make themselves overweight by constantly eating fancy food prepared fresh in restaurants.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:49 PM on October 16, 2014


Trying to make people feel like fools just because they are trying to justify why they don't want to be force fed more and more toxic gunk is helping industry perpetrate these crimes and placing the blame wrongfully on the faltering debate and advocacy skills of those trying to fight back with limited power and resources and time to invest in nutrition and science degrees to do the job perfectly.

Get your slime on
posted by flabdablet at 12:32 AM on October 17, 2014


I swore to only eat organic food after this one unfortunate mishap with a silicon omelette sculpture.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 2:33 AM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


You have to either take the healthiest option both ways

No, I don't. You miss the point - synthetic chemical additives are put into nutritionally deficient foods to make them taste good and to aid in their manufacture and distribution.

And this is running way the hell away from the original point that avoiding synthetic ingredients with no nutritional or therapeutic value isn't actually anti-science or "dangerous."

It seems to me that you're looking for an excuse, any excuse, to haul the goalposts out into the parking lot, because a chemist is defending the yoga mat chemical used to make old bread appear fresh is somehow a champion of science, and not the tool of an industry with a shit-show record on health and human safety and a clinically proven problematic presence in the food supply and regulatory capture of the institutions that are supposed to protect the public from that nonsense.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:19 AM on October 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


I hope the spec for Internet 2.0 precludes the ability for me to see — or otherwise know — what someone else is eating.
posted by Dark Messiah at 6:53 AM on October 17, 2014


This already works, Dark Messiah: assume what they are eating is bad for themselves, society, and/or the environment. If it's at all arguable that it's not, they will describe what they eat to you at great length.
posted by gilrain at 7:25 AM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Calling for stronger regulation and accountability on industry practices is the opposite of judging individual food choices. It's making it clear that it's understandable the default easiest diet is set to something very unhealthy and potentially disease provoking and that is not innately the fault of people struggling through life and just trying to get food with various obstacles to cooking and purchasing healthy food items. We need to protect the vulnerable among us and pretending that everyone can just CHOOSE not to partake of the grotesque toxic gunk industry is funneling into the people is to ignore that we are an interdependent species that literally NEEDS to function with the assets and services of those around us and large portion of the population does not have the financial resources, land, or energy left over after exhausting work to produce all of their essential needed items themselves. We literally NEED industry and they are abusing that need to stuff things that people don't want into their food and products but people with limited income and assets are faced with a lack of affordable options to do anything at all about it. Then industry laughs at the uneducated masses for being so irrationally fearful. Why don't they just understand the nuance of science and trust the great scientists to always look out for interests? Just trust the regulations, these people know what they're doing. Why don't you just... do as I suggest... everyone else is doing it, it's not a big deal really. I persuade you... with words...
posted by xarnop at 7:27 AM on October 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Consumers prefer ingredients that they can understand. We can't look closer because we're not all biochemists. History has shown that businesses and institutions fail in keeping consumers safe, from the swill milk of last century to the melamine milk of a few years ago.

I don't care about the caramel color of my latte. I really, really don't. If I read the ingredient list and don't understand every ingredient, that affects me, even if it is merely psychosomatic. The placebo effect is a real, measurable effect that is based on evidence. If you want to sell me that latte, I'm going to make you work for it. That's my right as a consumer.

When I poke around parts of Reddit and other "OMG science is the best" places, they're really just using "science" as a tribal affiliation anyway, no differently than the "organic" tribe. Laypeople will always be laypeople. Labelling one group as chemophobes is not going to lead to better decisions. The only thing that leads to better decisions is better information and more transparency. If the ingredient list on my latte is, "coffee beans, milk, vanilla extract, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice," then that is prima facie transparent.
posted by Skwirl at 11:21 AM on October 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: You will manage to be right, wrong, and uncertain all at the same time.
posted by seyirci at 1:28 PM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


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