Thursday, September 11, 2008

Food Allergies and Crap Foods

I saw an interesting commercial last night. A boy and a girl (maybe early 20s) were picnicking in the park, and the girl offered the boy a popsicle. He told her her couldn't eat that, it had corn syrup in it! "You know what they say about corn syrup!" She asked him what they did say. He thought about it for what seemed like an eternity, and then apparently decided that he had no idea what they say about it, and that corn syrup must be okay. He then took the girl's popsicle from her and asked why she didn't bring two, or something like that. I can't say I was surprised when I saw that the commercial had been produced by some sort of group of corn farmers or something.

I think you know I'll be the first to tell you what's wrong with corn syrup: it tastes like crap. My dear cousin Ali would also tell you that she's allergic to it, and that if she ate enough of it, it would likely make her deathly ill. I'll come back to Ali in a moment.

Some of you may be thinking back to recipes that I've posted here in the past. Both the Tux Cake and the Beastie Cake had corn syrup in them, and in both cases it was corn syrup that I intentionally added. Am I hypocritical? Did I suddenly have an epiphany when I saw the popsicle commercial? It turns out corn syrup does have its uses. I keep a bottle of it in my pantry, and when I'm doing sugar work (and sometimes chocolate work), I might pull it out. It has very specific properties that I look forward to employing when I'm doing candy work. As an invert sugar, there are certain things that it can do that regular sugar just can't. In fact, one of those things is to help keep regular sugar from misbehaving.

That said, I've thought and thought and I can't think of anything besides candy that I would ever use corn syrup for. And in fact, there have been times when I've used honey, or real maple syrup in candymaking instead of corn syrup, because they're both invert sugars, and they taste several times better.

Look at a few other products in the store. How about barbecue sauce? Can you believe how much corn syrup they add to that? Dark brown sugar would taste much better, but it's not cheap like corn syrup is. How about bread? Have you ever wondered why so many breads list "high fructose corn syrup" as an ingredient? Sugars do play an important role in breadmaking, but cane sugar works just as well as corn sugar. Back before I even met my wife, I decided not to buy bread with corn syrup, and in the three years that we've been married, that's never been a problem. It turns out the stuff with sugar or brown sugar tastes better anyway.

Some people might point out the preservative properties of corn syrup. I would point out that cane sugar is a preservative too. So are honey and real maple syrup. Sugar is a preservative, no matter what form it comes in. So why use corn syrup instead of cane sugar? Because it's cheap. Manufacturers can charge you exactly the same for a product, whether it uses cane sugar or corn syrup, but they stand to make a lot more money when they use corn syrup. In this day and age, many companies will used it as an excuse to lower their price below the superior product of their competitor. They don't care that the cane sugar version of their product tasted better. It tastes "close enough", and some people can't even tell the difference. In fact, they've been doing it for so long that most people don't even know what the real stuff tastes like.

And of course, there are allergens. Even with all of her allergies, I'm sure there are plenty of soft drinks that my cousin Ali would be able to drink if they weren't crapped up with corn syrup and worse. It's been theorized that the recent epidemic of food allergies may be caused by overexposure to certain foods, particularly preservatives. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that exposure to latex can cause a person who previously had no problems with it to become increasingly allergic to it. It wouldn't surprise me to hear that there are other things out there that do the same thing.

If this were true with foods, it would certainly explain why a lot of people who led perfectly normal lives previously were suddenly and tragically diagnosed with a variety of illnesses and allergies that they literally have to change their entire lifestyle to deal with. Ali certainly wasn't born being allergic to wheat. She ate it her entire life with no ill effects, until at some point six years ago, it started making her sick. She eventually found out that a long list of foods were making her sick, and she had to re-learn how to cook, and ultimately how to eat.

Ali posted an article about Food Allergy Basics that was extremely informative. She's not the first person I've met with her condition, and by far not the last. Every few weeks I'll have a student in my class that can't partake of the catered lunch with everyone else because of some allergy or intolerance. When I find out, I always make sure they get a copy of my Gluten-Free Focaccia recipe, so that they can have something to eat that doesn't taste like crap. Now Ali's given me another resource to give them as well.

You don't need to give in to the major manufacturers, just because they shove their products in their faces. Maybe now would be a great time to re-learn how to cook and eat, before your body forces you to do so anyway. It might be a good time to start wondering why corn farmers are suddenly starting to put out propoganda about how safe and good their product is. When somebody suddenly makes a point of trying to convince you that there's nothing wrong with their product, maybe there's more to the story than they're telling you. Find out for yourself.

1 comment:

  1. I saw that commercial and thought it was stupid, too. I am not a big fan of corn syrup. Mostly because Dr. Oz told me not to be, but now I really know why. Thanks so much for the much needed learning experience!


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