A meandering blog with no clear topic. You will find me talking about knitting, building, kids, social and economic issues, Alaska, and lots of other stuff.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

What is food made of?

So, I was in the middle of cooking dinner the other night, and my four year old had a question. Four year olds are notorious for their ability to ask questions that parents don't know the answer to. He asked me, "What is food made of?" A fairly simple question, and I am not even sure what I said in reply, but I have been pondering it for days.

What is food made of?

Well, I guess it depends. If you eat a fairly good diet, food typically consists of a variety of ingredients that are generally recognizable as either plant or animal. For example, that night, I was making spaghetti. In my spaghetti sauce, I include tomatoes, tomato sauce, onions, mushrooms, garlic, oregano, basil, and a few other spices, as well as a scant tablespoon or so of organic sugar. And spaghetti sausage, which consists of meat and spices. All of these ingredients are fairly straight forward, and readily identifiable.

But the spaghetti noodles? Their ingredients are wheat, niacin, iron lactate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, and folic acid. The wheat is obvious. But the other things sound like they come from a chemical plant, not a garden. And, yes, I know that a lot of it is the vitamins that they use to enrich the flour the noodles are made of. BUT... that enrichment would not be necessary if they were made of whole wheat, which has not had the vitamins stripped out of it during processing.

But it is vastly cheaper to buy noodles that have had the vitamins stripped out of them and then artificially replaced, than it is to buy noodles that are made with wheat that has been left alone and closer to its natural state. Weird, huh?

And there is even more to the story. How many people have seen the movie Shrek? Well there is one part where Shrek tells Donkey that ogres are like onions. Donkey is confused, and thinks he is talking about the fact that they both stink. But he isn't. He explains that onions have layers, and so do ogres. If you haven't seen Shrek, you can see it here, in relevant part:


Fun, huh? Great movie. It's one of those great kids movies that the adult jokes go right over the kids heads, but keeps both kids and adults well entertained. Disney has gotten really good at that lately. Or maybe I have just gotten old enough to understand them? I digress.

My point is about layers. My spaghetti sauce. On the surface, as I said, the ingredients look pretty close to where they came from. But the tomatoes and tomato sauce? They have been canned, and I know what happens to vegetables when they are canned at home, but what happens to them in industrial canning? I don't know. But they are not organic tomatoes, so they are almost certain to have pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and whatnot on or in them. So do I need to add pesticides to my list of what food is made of? How do I explain that to a four year old? Actually, I didn't.

I have to say that I am the last person that should be complaining about what our food is made of... after all, I practically live on diet pepsi, which as far as I know, doesn't have a single ingredient that exists outside of a soda factory. But I know that I shouldn't, and that I need to quit one day. I know I would be healthier and feel better if I ate closer to nature, and that includes drinking something less chemical laced than diet pepsi.

It is something to think about.

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