Crapples To Crapples

Untreated European apples with "browning."

Untreated European apples with natural “browning.” See what a difference a little diphenylamine can make?

Ah, Europe. A place where they eat cigarettes like Halloween candy going out of style yet worry about every little nit when it comes to their food.

Viva dichotomy!

“Oui! Next week I may hack up a cancerous thing that used to be a lung but today I will live, dammit, live! The juices of life must be savored to the fullest! The one thing we must absolutely never allow is diphenylamine in our food, you damn foolishly greedy capitalistic yanks.”

I, for one, say thanks. Because, without the European Food Safety Authority banning this, that and the other thing, I wouldn’t be able to say things like: “Oh yeah? Well Kraft Macaroni & Cheese still contains two artificial dyes banned in Europe.” Chef Booyah la de Fuckin’ Dah!

Kraft Foods is an American food company that was owned by a tobacco company until recently when they jury rigged the corporate legalese by rebranding Philip Morris as Altria Inc. and allegedly, in 2007, successfully underwent a Siamese twins separation operation, at least theoretically on paper. That’s because Kraft wants you to know they care about what you put in your body. Kraft Kares ™.

“Parents have told us that they would like fun Mac & Cheese varieties with the same great taste, but with improved nutrition,” a Kraft spokesperson said in a prepared email statement. Yeah, right. I’d bet my life that not a single parent in the history of time ever uttered to Kraft the phrase, “We want the same great taste.” Kraft is nothing if not imaginative. Kraft is not known for great taste. It’s known as something Mostly Edible ™ that you can shove in your face hole when you are too lazy to get up off your Americanized lard ass and make something real. Yes, the word “artificial” actually means something.

Recently Kraft was hit with a grass roots campaign to remove Yellow Dye No. 5 and Yellow Dye No. 6 from it’s line of mac and cheese products. Kraft responded by replacing the dyes with spices to maintain the “famous yellow-orange color,” but only in products like SpongeBob SquarePants and those with “Halloween and winter shapes.” Say what? We’re talking about food, right?

Kraft also promised to keep the dyes out of new products like Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and “How To Train Your Dragon 2” from Dreamworks. Again, this is food, right? And if mutants don’t get the whacked out dyes, there’s something just plain wrong. At least then we could say, “Ah. I know how you turtles became mutants.”

In the most telling move of all time, though, Kraft foods told food worriers to “suck it” when it came to their flagship product, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

“Making ingredient changes isn’t as simple as it would seem,” the company statement continued. “All of the ingredients must work together to deliver the distinctive taste, appearance and texture consumers expect and love from Original KRAFT Mac & Cheese. Our fans have made it clear they won’t settle for anything less.” Wow. I’d ask what color the sky is in the Kraft world but we already know. It’s famous yellow-orange. Must be hellish.

So what are these dyes and, more importantly, why are they so crucial to the process of making distinctive great taste, appearance and textures in “food.” (Hint: Behind your back they call that crap “mouthfeel.” Mmm. That sounds good!)

“Yellow Dye 5” is also known as Tartrazine. It’s found in products like Nabisco Cheese Nips Four Cheese; Frito-Lay Sun Chips Harvest Cheddar and other Frito-Lay products; some Hunt’s Snack Pack Pudding products; Lucky Charms; Eggo waffles and other waffle products; some Pop-Tarts products; various Kraft macaroni and cheese products; Betty Crocker Hamburger Helper and other products. It’s hard to say what it actually is. Information about how it is made is strangely hard to come by. Unconfirmed information suggests is it derived from a byproduct of production of coal tar or crude oil. “Regular internet sources say it comes from benzene, a colorless runoff from crude oil, mixed with nitric and sulfuric acids to make aniline which is then modified to change the color saturation.”

“Yellow Dye 6” is also known as Sunset Yellow. It’s found in products like Frito-Lay Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Crunchy and other Frito-Lay products; Betty Crocker Fruit Roll-ups; some JELL-O gelatin deserts and instant puddings; Fruity Cheerios; Trix; some Eggo waffle products; some Kid Cuisine Kung Fu Panda products; some Kraft macaroni and cheese dinners; some Betty Crocker frostings; some M&M’s and Skittles candies; Sunkist Orange Soda; Fanta Orange. Wikipedia says it is manufactured from aromatic hydrocarbons from petroleum.

Again, these are the products that Kraft essentially says it has no choice to use because of consumer demand. By God, what would happen to the world if an elbow macaroni cheese product was the wrong color? It’s too unimaginable to even contemplate.

And that brings us back to apples. Like delicious Pacific Northwest apples. I heard an industry spokesperson on the radio saying something along the lines of, “It hasn’t been proven to be dangerous.” If that doesn’t sound delicious, I don’t know what it.

“Here, Johnny. Stick this in your mouth. Masticate. Swallow. Don’t worry. It’s safe. As far as we know, today, it hasn’t been proven to be dangerous.”

Factoid: Johnny Appleseed would secretly rub apples in his crotch before passing them out to friends to eat. That’s where crabapples came from.

So some folks are worried about diphenylamine used on apples. I decided to find out more. “Diphenylamine is produced by contacting aniline with an alumina catalyst and a sulfur content.” Apple producers apply diphenylamine to apples after harvest to fight something they call “storage scald” which is the process of apples developing brown spots when “stored for several months” which, in turn, makes the product less appealing to consumers.

As near as I can figure they want to maximize profit on fruit that they wish to store for “several months” rather then getting to market as fast as possible. Viola. Diphenylamine to the rescue.

Is diphenylamine on apples safe? Well, that’s the big question. Apparently apples on U.S. shelves may have up to four times the new European limit. Critics say that washing an apple may not remove the substance. Experts in the U.S. and Europe don’t know for sure, so Europe’s action could be viewed as precautionary.

Why not just label everything and let consumers make up their own minds? It turns out there’s a fly in that ointment, too. Much of this arcane world of complex and mysterious chemistry is hidden from the average consumer. Rather than scary words “diphenylamine” our products are labeled with euphemisms like “artificial and natural flavors.” Why is that? Because very often the people that make foods are the same ones who vehemently oppose any attempts to label them. Wow. What an interesting coincidence.

“Trust us. We only give you what you want. We have your best interests in mind. So what if this also happens to be the most profitable course of action for us? That’s a coincidence.”

Weird how the people who say things are safe to eat are the ones who profit from the eating.

Shouldn’t food be a game about what’s best to eat rather than “what the hell can we get away with sticking in there?”

Bold. Fresh. Natural. Flavors. Like your chemistry teacher would have wanted.

What would a world with no food coloring added to macaroni and cheese look like? I’d like to find out. The steaks couldn’t be higher. It’s a matter of taste.

12 responses

  1. The problem with the “label everything” strategy is that consumers are stupid and have no idea about biology and even less about toxicology. The tartrazine toxicology reports are easy to find: Google Scholar tartrazine toxicolology and you get a host of articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Some of them are older than me http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0041008X6490095X

    So how much is too much to have in your food? Some people would argue A SINGLE MOLECULE IS TOO MUCH and that suggests they’re stupid and don’t understand how your body handles xenobiotics, which it’s actually pretty well-equipped to do. Though not as well-equipped as a dog is, actually.

    People will scream — THIS COMPOUND CAUSED TUMORS IN RATS! You know why? Because toxicology experiments are designed to show toxicity. If you give a compound at 100 mg/kg and it doesn’t show toxicity, guess what? You then dose it at 300 mg/kg and 1000 mg/kg or WHATEVER IT TAKES to produce a toxicological effect. Carcinogenicity studies can be carried out for years. (which is why it BLOWS to be a lab-rat) By these experiments everything is toxic. Everything.

    Now in NO WAY am I advocating pre-fab “food products”. I think they’re nasty and unnecessary. We try not to buy anything in a box if we can help it. But we live in a society that demands pears 12 months a year. So pears need to be grown and shipped and bought and eaten before they rot. Hence, preservatives. If you don’t want preservatives then eat local and live without pears for a big section of the year. If you’re worried about pesticides and preservatives look them up, and compare doses — the doses you’re getting versus the ones seen to produce a toxicological effect.

    Speaking of pears, lets talk about arsenic in pears. Recently, J&J was forced to reformulate “No More Tears”TM to remove arsenic, because we all know from Agatha Christie that arsenic is poisonous (who cares that you need it to live as well, but that’s too fine a point for most people), therefore it must be gotten rid of. Of course, you get more arsenic exposure from EATING A PEAR than washing your hair with NMT (TM). So by consumers’ logic, no one should eat pears because they’re little toxin bombs. This, of course, is ludicrous.

    So — you’re left with “Label Everything” advocacy groups that don’t understand biology and evil corporations trying to make profits, often at whatever cost. So what’s a consumer to do? Buy local when you can. Don’t buy things in boxes. Grow your own. But if you do, watch out for those minerals in the soil — I hear they’re really toxic.

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    1. I had you on my mind as I wrote this post. I know our potatoes haven’t always seen eye to eye in the past. (Boo.)

      I agree with you in theory. The problem, as I see it, is almost a complete lack of trust and the knowledge that people would sell you a lead sandwich if they could make a buck and get away with it. Hell, the food industry is the same people who created and fight for Ag-gag laws that criminalize trying to document when they get off on torturing defenseless animals for fun. Those are not exactly the sort of people I’m in a big hurry to trust – with anything.

      Bottom line: There is a basic human right to know what you are eating. Short of that, there is absolutely no opportunity for informed choice. (Or, as you correctly point out, uninformed choice.) Will a lot of people be dumb with the information? Yeah. But that doesn’t negate the truth that it should still be a right.

      Shouldn’t the free market decide? And doesn’t the choice require true information to have any meaning?

      Let Farmer A test his business strategy in the marketplace by selling apples that are pesticide free. Let Farmer B test his “Pesticide Plus” approach that, he says, means better tasting and better looking fruit at half the price. If the market chooses the latter at least it was their choice.

      No information means no choice. And I just don’t trust humans in that way.

      You forgot to mention that all food is also radioactive. Science is fun. 🙂

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      1. I fully support transparency in ingredient labeling and people having the opportunity to know what’s in their food.

        I don’t agree with labeling canards like “organic” and “GMO free”, because the requirements for these and their meaning and accuracy aren’t scientifically valid.

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      2. I, for one, think canards have no place in our food! Unless they have been killed humanely. 🙂

        I was thinking the other day it would be nice if we could have some national science board that would decide things for us based on facts and truth. But when you consider the wide range of basic things were humans disagree that clearly wouldn’t work. Even the Earth being the center of the universe is still being debated by some. We fail.

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      3. In theory, the Food and Drug Administration has that job. They actually do a much better job at drugs than food, I think. There’s TOO MUCH food to adequately monitor.

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  2. My husband and I grow our own strawberries, rhubarb, chives and raspberries.

    We like that but I swear the goddamn raccoons make it hard not to karate chop them in half when they eat our crops. Little fzckers.

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    1. Sounds like a nice garden. Rhubarb? Fun. For our first Portland front yard garden we’ve got stuff like kale, onions, potatoes, carrots, beats and more. Planning a corn field along the house. The squirrels love hopping around the rows. Fun.

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      1. Thanks, Shouts.
        I’m envious of your future corn field. Swap a strawberry rhubarb pie for some of your corn?

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  3. Okay, I really literally laughed out loud at the crab apple! Brilliant!

    But anyway, I love petroleum in my food and I also like that great radioactive green mint chocolate chip too! love the post 🙂

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    1. Ah, thanks. You found the best part. Petroleum, right? Who’s the dude who let that black sludgy gold flow through his fingers and had the vision to think, “Delicious,” because smart. Green radioactive? That’s just too clever. Fun factoid: All foods are radioactive, but you didn’t hear that from me. #truestory

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      1. I guess they are — hence radio-carbon dating. Hadn’t considered that! But green mint chocolate chip ice cream just *looks* dangerous, doesn’t it? Dangerously delicious!

        Some of the ingredients in food make you shake your head. I can see the food-scientists (official term, please?) in their labs: “yeah, I know what it is, but it won’t kill ya none, so just tell em ta eat it!” Ugh.

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Bringeth forth thy pith and vinegar

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