Last week purchasing a standard sweet chilli chicken sandwich from a local supermarket I passively turned the packet round and scanned the ingredients listed on the back. As expected the usual elements one would expect to see in a sandwich were present: wheat, chicken, mayonnaise… However, as the list carried on I glazed over as slowly it evolved into something not too dissimilar to Heisenberg’s shopping list. A whole table of unfamiliar and complex chemical words were there.
These days it’s almost impossible to avoid these chemicals called preservatives. They really have changed the consumption of food in the modern world. Preservatives prolong shelf life. Without them, kiss goodbye to your milk, bread, ham and cheese in days. These chemicals are added to foods to fend off mould and bacteria that may begin to break it down.
Regardless, this part of an ingredients summary can become so inaccessible that we often become passive to what exactly we are eating. It’s difficult to know just how safe the preservatives infused through the processed products we eat can be - other than the fact that they are legal. That, alongside the mainstream media’s incessant scaremongering and the government's archaic advice, is enough to put anyone’s head in a spin. Ten minutes of online research has terms and phrases like ‘cancer’, and ‘DNA damage’ appear. Just how much of this is myth? Is the processed food industry killing us, are we drowning in disinformation? At the root of much of the stress surrounding nutrition is the consumer caught in middle thrown to and fro.
The Big Fat Conspiracy
An example of this confusing posturing by the nutrition establishment came in March of this year when the nutritional ‘experts’ with their incessant preaching about the dangers of saturated fats were left fumbling after a scientific study found that such fats had no correlation with coronary heart disease risk. The study involved over half a million participants and the cumulative findings of 72 academic studies.
Awkwardly the British Heart Foundation, who had funded the study, officially pushed the opposite direction - anti saturated fat - leaving a few red faces. Likewise modern polyunsaturated fat spreads, which if you remember had been pushed as an alternative to the traditional saturated butter spreads, were found in the same study not to be of any significant benefit to the heart.
In fact many of the margarines, that had been crafted by big food corporations throughout past decades and hailed as an alternative to unhealthy egg based spreads, were found to contain seriously dangerous transfats.
It stands that the food industry has gained a lot from these debates. It has used all sorts of nutritional hot points to drive the consumer toward processed low-carb, low-calorie or low-saturated fat alternatives produced in a lab or factory and away from natural farm produced foods. Until the 1960’s farm grown eggs were one of the biggest sources of protein consumed by the average person in the UK. However, when the nutritional establishment discovered cholesterol, egg consumption slumped, giving rise to the low-fat corn based alternatives and effecting Britain's farms.
Despite the complete turn around in some scientific debates the ‘experts’ in government and in the charity sector have chosen not to back down and instead repeat their nutritional mantras as truth while the consumer scrambles for low-fat yoghurts and cornflakes. Commentator and author Joanna Blythman wrote recently, “The crucial phrase "avoid processed food" appears nowhere in government nutritional guidelines, yet this is the most concise way to sum up in practical terms what is wholesome and healthy to eat. Until this awareness shapes dietetic advice, all government dietary guidance should come with a tobacco-style caution: Following this advice could seriously damage your health.”
Now, as the internet allows direct access to scientific studies and new media streams push conversation on a grass roots level the debates have opened up. It seems with food, as with all things, collective knowledge is everything and, consequently, voting with our wallet or purse can change the whole industry.