That’s Not Food: Less Preachy, but Still Important

Between the scrum of last election and the hormonal chaos of a hysterectomy, I seem to have misplaced some of my obnoxious opinionatedness. I miss it a little. I’m sure you won’t. On the subject of food, for instance, wherein I have scrawled many a manifesto, I had come to be a little freaked about about pretty much everything.

MSG is still evil, it doesn’t mean I don’t eat it. I know how to eat well, it doesn’t mean I do it. Still, there are some things that just shouldn’t be allowed to be called “food.” One of those things is Sodium Benzoate.

I’ll make it short and quote my latest issue of Martha Stewart Food:

“Sodium benzoate is a preservative used to inhibit the growth of bacteria in acidic
foods. On ingredient labels, it is occasionally listed as “E211.” The substance also occurs naturally (albeit in very low levels) in many foods, such as cranberries, prunes, and plums. The USDA considers it to be harmless in small doses. [Sorry, I can’t help myself here–the main thing the USDA “considers” is the demands of big agribusiness.]

So much for less opinionated. Going on:

“You will find sodium benzoate on the ingredient list of salad dressings,
sodas, sports drinks, fruit-flavored juices, pickles, condiments and even some
cough syrups.”

OK. So what?

“Sodium benzoate has been connected to two health risks. One study
linked products containing the additive to hyperactivity in children, and others
have pointed out that combining sodium benzoate wtih vitamin C produces benzene, a known carcinogen [emphasis added]. You may want to avoid this pairing, which is common in some sodas and flavored beverages.”

“A known carcinogen.” Seriously, people.

All I’m saying is, just because it’s on the market shelf, please don’t assume the government wouldn’t allow it there if it wasn’t safe.

Just sayin’.

In conclusion, to make up for that moment of food preachiness, I leave you with this hilarious transcript of the 4/11/2009 episode of Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me on NPR, wherein my quasi-hero Michael Pollan loses a food debate with my longtime favorite funnygirl, Paula Poundstone.

Peter Sagal: What should we be eating?

Michael Pollan: Food.

Paula Poundstone: How thick is your book?

Michael Pollan: It’s very hard now for us to know what food is. Because there are all these edible food-like substances now that compete with food in the supermarket. So a lot of the book is helping people distinguish between the edible food-like substances and the real food.

Paula Poundstone: But let me ask you something. One of the things that has made my live worth living is Ring Dings. And I feel that it is food. Are you going to tell me that’s not food?

Michael Pollan: There’s a few simple tests to figure out if a Ring Ding is food or not. How many ingredients does a Ring Ding have?

Paula Poundstone: Devil’s Food Cake — one. A creamy filling — two. And a rich chocolate outer coating. What’s the matter with you?

Michael Pollan: I would look at the package next time, that creamy — CREAMY — is not cream.

Paula Poundstone: C-R-E-A-M-E-Y. Creamy. What the hell’s the matter with you?

Michael Pollan: But…but but but but…There are special occasion foods.

Paula Poundstone: What do you mean special occasion? I said it’s what makes my life worth living. Are you suggesting I save it for one day a year?

Michael Pollan: I wouldn’t want to deprive you of your…

Paula Poundstone: You know, you may know a lot about food, but you don’t know the first thing about living, buddy.

I love you, Paula!

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