Often, I've used this space as a forum for venting about what I find wrong with our food supply. I have railed on high-fructose corn syrup like there's no tomorrow. Hydrolyzed anything was never intended for my ingestion. Tuna canners quietly reducing what's on our store shelves from six to five ounces (while keeping the price the same) was another gripe. Questionable marketing has been a rant as well, even when it comes to pet food and supplies.
While in a Biloxi Petsmart over Memorial Day weekend with my sister and her friends, I took the opportunity to grab some snapshots of the labels from Nestlé Purina's latest, Chef Michael's Canine Creations, not only because I find the commercials offensive, (the whole scenario is annoying), but also because of the company's attempt to make us (the gullible general public) believe that these overly branded offerings are any better than standard fare in the canned dog food segment. The labels contain the word "flavor." This to me is a harbinger of disappointment. Are we expected to believe there's any authenticity to products that use this tactic?
The ingredients list "water sufficient for processing, beef, chicken, liver" and "meat by-products." OK, fine. It continues: "wheat gluten, carrots, peas, added color, artificial and natural flavors, filet mignon flavor...."
What exactly is filet mignon flavor, and from where does it come? Should one expect a label calling the product inside the container "Filet Mignon Flavor" to contain any actual filet mignon? I suppose not. And, if not that, then what of the remaining ingredients?
Salt was next on the list, then carrageenan. According to Wikipedia, this is a vegetarian and vegan alternative to gelatin that comes from red seaweed and has been used as a food additive as early as 600 B.C. in China. Eighty percent of the world's supply comes from the Phillippines. The additive seems harmless enough, but statements near the bottom of the page suggest that one type of degraded carrageenan may be linked to gastro-intestinal cancer, carrageenan "induces inflammation in human intestinal epithelial cells," and is reported to interfere with macrophage activity which is key in human immune response.
Following that is potassium chloride, also known as KCI. Loosely translated, KCI is a salt. But in excess this chemical, which is used in fertilizers, can cause weakening of cardiac muscles or cardiac arrest. KCI is the last of three drugs administered for executions via lethal injections.
After that delightful component the list includes calcium phosphate, a bone mineral found in cow's milk and which also largely comprises tooth enamel. Locust bean gum is next, which is extracted from Carob tree seeds as a thickening agent, followed by sodium tripolyphosphate, a preservative "generally recognized as safe" by the FDA. It's used in meats, seafood, poultry and pet foods in addition to being a "builder" for cleaning products. Who would have thought that a component of dishwasher detergent would be edible?
Guar gum follows which seems benign enough. It is used in the manufacture of textiles, paper, explosives, pharmaceuticals, and in oil and gas drilling, mining, and hydroseeding. Because it possesses eight times the ability to thicken when compared to corn starch, it's economical in the production of baked goods, meats, dairy, and prepared foods. This sort of reminds me of the economic impact of a certain corn-based syrup but without the negative effects.
As the list continues the phrase, "better living through chemistry" comes to mind in spite of the fact that I believe this philosophy is stretched -- sometimes to our detriment. Behind guar gum is zinc sulfate, which delivers the mineral in animal feeds, but is also used in fertilizers, the manufacture of rayon, zinc plating processes, leather and skin preservation and acne medicines.
The label continues, providing a list of vitamins and minerals: vitamin E supplement, ferrous sulfate, sodium nitrate (to promotoe color retention), copper sulfate, thiamine mononitrate, manganese sulfate, Vitamin A supplement, niacin, calcium pantothenate, Vitamin B-12 supplement, riboflavin supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, potassium iodide, Vitamin D-3 supplement, folic acid, sodium selenite, biotin.
Finally, I have come to the same conclusion that I've drawn about most things in the grocery: my household benefits from my avoidance of prepared foods. I know I will have to dedicate more time to shopping because I'll continue to read every label of every product I pick up. I will shop at Whole Foods and better still, the Cooper Young Community Farmer's Market. It's in these places I can trust that my bananas aren't gassed to make them ripen more quickly, my beef and pork come from sustainable sources, my fruit and vegetables won't be coated with high-fructose corn syrup-based wax, and I won't be feeding my dog dishwasher detergent.