The great French magistrate and gastronome, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, once said,"Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are."  If we are to take that literally, then those of us who dine at the table of processed foods might best be described as "children of the corn".

Most highly processed foods contain at least some form of corn.  I am not talking about the sweet corn that is part of many of our fondest memories of summers long gone, but what is often referred to as #2 corn.  This is the same corn that feeds most of America's livestock, and it can be synthesized into any number of things including fabrics, plastics, adhesives, whiskey, herbal supplements, "natural flavorings" and any number of food additives including the ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup.  It is also the primary source for hydrolized vegetable protein which is more commonly known as monosodium glutamate or msg.

I'm pretty sure the average person knows when he or she sees corn, but how many people know that hydrolized vegetable protein is corn-based msg?  I would bet that most people have no idea that some of the foods they are consuming contain msg.  That's because the FDA doesn't require msg to be labeled as such unless the msg content in the hydrolized protein exceeds 98%.  Up to that point, it's still considered corn.

So what is exactly is the point in having a label on a package that most people can't interpret or understand?  In my mind, there really isn't one.  It seems to me to be some misguided attempt at protecting the public health.  The only problem with that is that the information they're supplying doesn't come with a key for decoding it.  I challenge you to pick up a box of conventional breakfast cereal and read the ingredients list.  I would bet that you wouldn't know what some of those ingredients are.  So what benefit is that to you?

Many cities around the country have started to require that certain types of restaurants include calorie counts next to their menu items.  This idea has recently been debated in the city council chambers of both Minneapolis and St. Paul.  I would argue that not only do most people not know how many calories they should consume in a normal day, but they have even less knowledge about from where those calories should come.  So here is yet another well intentioned but misguided attempt at protecting the public health.  Wouldn't it make more sense to educate people about the benefits of eating whole foods versus processed foods or about how consuming food loaded added sugar contributes to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes?  It took almost thirty years for people to get the message about cigarette smoking, but it seems to have finally sunk in.  Sure, plenty of people still smoke, but that is their right.  If they choose to do so, they do it with the full knowledge that their health stands a good chance of being negatively impacted.  Why can't we engage in the same educational effort when it comes to our food?

It's not just the general public that is uneducated about these things.  Years ago I was doing some work for a company that banned artificial trans fats as an ingredient in all of its locations.  I was told to use use canola oil.  I don't particularly like the taste or viscosity of canola oil, and I had been using grape seed oil.  A district manager challenged me on that proclaiming that he had no evidence to support the claim that grape seed oil had as little or less artificial trans fats as the canola.  I had to explain to him that both oils were naturally polyunsaturated and had no artificial trans fats at all.  I don't think he knew what he was talking about, and he is a food service professional with many years of experience.  Obviously, educating people about their food should be a priority.

That same company, like the city of Chicago, banned foie gras.  Fortunately, Chicagoans came to their senses and reversed the ban.  First of all, not all foie gras is created equal.  The gavage method, typically known as force feeding, is what most people think of when they think of foie gras.  An alternative method known as ad libitum allows the ducks or geese to feed freely and merely exploits their natural tendency to overeat prior to migration.  This no different than letting your pet dog get too fat except you probably aren't going to eat his liver.  Nonetheless, cadres of offended humanitarians have singled out the product of this one tiny industry for banishment from our tables.  I have no doubt that many of these same people have no problem going to the supermarket and purchasing pork from animals raised in confinement, feedlot beef and eggs from debeaked chickens that live out their miserable lives in cages so small that they can't turn around.

I say enough with all of this nonsense.  If the person who keeps a rabbit as a pet objects to me serving rabbit my restaurant, how is that any different from the person who owns a goldfish objecting to the consumption of salmon?  In the same vein, if someone wants to eat a triple stacked bacon and blue cheese burger on a buttered bun with a side of trans fat fries, then let him do it.  Let the government stop regulating our lives and the food we eat and instead assist in educating people about personal choices.  To each his own as he sees fit.
   

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Remembering September 10, 2001