It’s no secret that our Standard American Diet (SAD, really) is full of chemicals, pesticides and all sorts of unnatural ingredients. Try as we might to avoid Easy Cheese and Spam, we are inextricably saturated by Red Dye #40, Sodium Caseinate, and a host of proprietary “natural and artificial ingredients” for which the FDA will never require full disclosure on a food label.
But just in case you needed a reminder about how unnatural, unhealthy and down-right disgusting our modern, affluent, American lifestyle really is – This is what you just put in your mouth? is the book for you.
Author Patrick Di Justo started his investigative reporting on food labels in 2006 for Wired magazine. He contributed one article every month focusing on popular food and household products ranging from Beef Jerky to Egg Nog to Play Doh and Diaper Cream – and just about everything in-between. Di Justo went in pursuit of the truth behind Polyquaternium-10 (a moisturizer in Head & Shoulders) and 1-Methyl-1-tallowiamidoethyl-2-tallowimidazolinium Methylsulphate (the “tallow” is horse fat used in fabric softeners) and every other ingredient you can’t pronounce.
Any modestly aware consumer knows most of the ingredients in her shopping cart are bad for the environment and probably cause cancer. So it’s not the detailed lists of ingredients pulled from common product labels that makes this book worth reading – it’s the back-story behind Di Justo’s prolific research that will have you laughing out loud and crying bitterly at the same time.
In his piece on “I can’t believe it’s not butter” (which begs the question: well, what IS it?) we learn the FDA’s circuitous logic in defining “real” butter “as butter”, and anything with at least 80% “edible fats” in “plastic form or liquid emulsion” qualifies as margarine. Believe it or not, ICBINB doesn’t even contain a minimum of 80% “edible fats”. Instead, it contains 60% hydrogenated vegetable oils, and potentially carcinogenic potassium sorbate and calcium disodium EDTA.
“Poisonous on the cellular level and slightly harmful to mammalian DNA at high doses, EDTA is not thought to be carcinogenic – at least not as of this writing.”
EDTA – that sounds so familiar. I decided to do some investigative research of my own: it turns out, EDTA is in everything from ICBINB to canned fruits, vegetables and seafood as well as most topical cosmetics. While a singular dose may not prove lethal, the National Institute of Health admitted in a 2002 study of adverse cumulative effects from regular exposure to multiple sources of EDTA:
The lowest dose reported to cause a toxic effect in animals was 750 mg/kg/day. These chelating agents are cytotoxic and weakly genotoxic, but not carcinogenic. Oral exposures to EDTA produced adverse reproductive and developmental effects in animals. – National Institute of Health, Final report on the safety assessment of EDTA, 2002
While EDTA is “not thought to be carcinogenic” it IS proven to be cytotoxic (deadly to cells) and genotoxic (capable of mutating and killing genetic material)! When faced with these facts, it almost seems like Di Justo is letting ICBINB off the hook.
Besides the blatantly incriminating light shed on obviously unhealthy, unnatural products, Di Justo gives us a taste of the secret herbal inspirations behind products like “natural male enhancement” supplement Enzyte (oatstraw, folks!), Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Pie Ale (real clove, cinnamon, ginger and allspice), and K-Y yours + mine couples lubricant (honey). Not to say anything else in these products could be considered “natural” – except for the beer, of course.
Have you ever wondered why a “serving size” is so small? Apparently, the FDA bases a serving size on “the amount of food customarily consumed per eating occasion by persons 4 years of age.”
Do you remember the good ol’ days of Red Dye #2 and do you ever wonder where it went? Di Justo spent considerable time on a massive government database “Everything Added to Food in the United States” (EAFUS for short) to find Red Dye #2 was banned in 1976 for being a suspected carcinogen (after the damage had already been done…). But we are still living with and consuming Red Dye #40, a petroleum derivative laced into candies and cereals and linked with ADHD in children.
“In the US, the Center for Science in the Public Interest says that 40’s key safety studies were flawed. They want the FDA to ban the dye; the FDA is thinking about it.”
In his commentary on Cool Whip, Di Justo observes, “The whole thing seems like a bizzare attempt to manufacture cream by extraterrestrials who have never actually tasted cream but know its chemical make-up.” That statement could very well sum up every product in this book. And yet, the multi-million dollar industry that feeds on our complacency (the advent of food labels had dispelled our ignorance) is still getting away with poisoning our food and environment. The stakes are economic melt-down massive for these mega-conglomorates to admit they are pumping our children full of poison and causing irreversible environmental damage. Di Justo was repeatedly ignored, placated and rejected time and time again by companies like Nescafe, Doritos, Kraft, and of course the FDA. Di Justo tracked down food chemists, professors, historians, lawyers – anybody who might have a piece of the puzzle behing our most popular, can’t-live-without, all-American products.
When he asked Alpo where they get their liver for Purina Alpo Chop House Beef Tenderloin Flavor in Gourmet Gravy – they stonewalled him right off the bat, and then wouldn’t return any of his calls.
“It’s when they don’t come out and say where they get their liver that people start questioning; the whole ‘I don’t have to tell you where I got my liver’ attitude they get when they’re asked…well, it can’t help but make people suspicious. And the only thing they’re hiding is the awkward likelihood that on any given day, they honestly don’t know whose liver is in Alpo.”
Listen up, America: we are surrounded by food labels that only require partial disclosure. We know ingredients like EDTA and Red Dye #40 are injurious to our health, the health of our children and our environment. And yet, we still buy these products without questioning, without demanding change. We are the guilty party in the biggest criminal heist of history – the no-holds-barred compromise of our food supply, the very stuff that keeps us alive. Read this book, folks, and then look through your pantry. This is the sad reality of our “standard” American diet – this is the frightening truth we must face before we can really change.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review! Check it out!