Sep 202010

I have not written much here about food.  In fact, the only post that would come close was a report on the success of our verandah-garden some time ago.  Recently I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about food and what goes into it, which all started with some research into those little numbers that typically appear in the “ingredients” list on the side of food packets.  I was sure that lots of those numbers stood for fairly ordinary food items, but I had a suspicion that some of them were hiding nasty un-foody chemicals.

It is fairly easy to identify the numbers which are simply shorthand for regular ingredients, as their names are familiar.  Number 330, for instance, is nothing more mysterious than citric acid.  Trying to sort out the more unpleasant additives is a much more difficult challenge.  Chemicals must be approved before they are allowed to be used in food, but there are some officially approved additives which can be linked to health problems.  The difficult part is that most of these cases are only documented anecdotally, and it is easy to find conspiracy theorists who massively over-react to the more sensible data.

The best discussion of harmful additives, exploring the science as well as many personal anecdotes, is the Food Intolerance Network website.  They have a handy summary of additives to try and avoid, which I have printed off and placed in my wallet.  I’m not claiming this list to be the definitive judgement on food additives, but it is a good enough starting point for me to perform an experiment every time I go shopping for groceries.  I’m trying to find out how easy it is to live without eating “bad numbers”.

bread loaf on cooling rack

Making food from scratch is the best way to be sure of what goes into it.

I  have to admit that I’ve been surprised by the ubiquity of unpleasant additives.  Preservatives are especially widespread, and can be found even in many “health” foods.  There are some particularly interesting “results” of my experiment that I will be writing up and sharing here over the next little while.

Perhaps it isn’t obvious why I’ve chosen to write about food in this “Changing the World” category.  However, I believe that global health and personal health are related.  It seems apparent that sustainable interaction with our natural environment will maintain the most abundant way of living.  There’s little sense aiming for a planet that will support life to the full, if we’re eating ourselves to death or depression or distraction.

  4 Responses to “Thinking about what goes into food”

  1. Really good book on the subject you might want to check out called ‘In Defense of Food’ – well worth checking out!

  2. At risk of diverting the discussion here, I have been reading some books loaned to me by a friend. The books are about self-sufficiency, which relates in some way to the avoidance of commercial food sources. I am interested in the books because they have some advice about farming that I could use. Anyway I was amused by this quote: “But the thing that I have learnt is that it was a mistake to try to live like this alone… If a number of families could get together then cooperate in a flexible sort of way… then I think they could lead very good lives indeed.”

    It seems to me that in the strive to be self-sufficient and avoid whatever evils of wider-society these people have rediscovered (in a sense) economies of scale and hence economics!

    I guess I wonder if at some stage in the process of making our own food we will think, “I would like to preserve that.” After that, is it too much longer before we are using potentially deleterious chemicals? Just a thought.

  3. Luke – Lachlan has heard the guy who wrote “in defense of food” give a public lecture.

    Clinton – Traditional preserving doesn’t involve preservatives! Canning and jarring don’t and if you dehydrate your own fruit you avoid the sulphites and colours which are found in commercially available dried food.

    Fresh and seasonal is always best though, even if one just focuses on taste.

  4. [...] Publications « Thinking about what goes into food [...]

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