Chew on this

What has happened to our food?

I don’t consider myself a food authority, although I have certainly eaten more than my fair share of it over the years. But I know what’s going on in my own house, and it seems very typical of what’s happening to the population at large these days.

I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes years ago, which has forced me to alter my diet significantly. At a certain point pretty much everyone has to find a way to eat healthier anyway, just as a concession to advancing age, so I can live with these adjustments.

Exceptions are made, of course, but in general I suffer for them. It took a very long time, but I’m finally at the point where, when I crave something like a donut or fast food, I will stop to consider how miserable I’ll feel afterward. And sometimes I actually say no.


My wife, Shari, has a host of food sensitivities, particularly wheat gluten, nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant), and dairy. She can eat these things but will invariably feel sick as a result.

Just imagine trying to put together a meal without any of these ingredients. Gluten is in everything, for chrissakes. And while I’m happy to share a gluten-free meal with her, the sorts of things that food manufacturers substitute for gluten (rice flour, tapioca, potato starch) are just awful for a diabetic. Deciding what to have for dinner now requires a team of statisticians and risk analysts to crunch the numbers.

We are clearly part of a trend. 1.6 million new cases of diabetes are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. People are getting fatter. Food allergies are increasingly common. Kids with nut allergies are bursting into flames if someone unwraps a PayDay bar a block away. (I don’t have a source for that but I’m sure it’s true.)

It’s easy to blame these statistics on people making poor food choices and sitting on their asses in front of an Xbox all day. But are people really behaving much differently than they did twenty years ago? I doubt it.

What I don’t doubt is that our food has changed.

Genetically-modified crops. Overuse of antibiotics in livestock. Growth hormones in dairy cattle. High-fructose corn syrup instead of sugar. All of these have one thing in common, and it’s not that they make food better. They make it cheaper.

GMOs and antibiotics increase yields. rBGH causes cows to produce more milk. HFCS is less expensive than cane sugar because of corn subsidies and sugar tariffs. And if these substances were actually good for us, why would the food producers be lobbying so hard to avoid listing them on food labels? It’s the biggest food industry lie since “Tear Here to Open.”

Today we watch Soylent Green and wonder what Charlton Heston was getting so agitated about. At least he knew what was in it.

As with everything else these days, it’s all about the bottom line. The goal of most food manufacturers is to produce food as cheaply as technology allows with no regard for long-term health effects – just so long as people don’t actually start bleeding from the eyes before they finish chewing.

I don’t think I’m wrong to say that economic disparity is on the rise in this country, and that the divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is growing wider. It stands to reason that poor people, who consume more cheap food because they have to, would have a higher incidence of obesity and other health issues than those with larger incomes, and indeed, statistics bear this out.

So what about those of us who have a little disposable income, who can actually afford to splurge by shopping at Whole Paycheck Foods once in a while? We should be able to choose from a variety of foodstuffs made with high-quality, pure ingredients, right?

Not exactly. In a perfect example of a First World Problem, even expensive food is being ruined – by “foodies.”

I don’t mean food enthusiasts. I consider myself one of those. I enjoy a lot of the programs on Food Network (except for the ridiculous game shows that are more about sadistic abuse than actual cooking).

I’m referring to food snobs, self-described “gourmands” who are so jaded that well-made, tasty food is now boring to them. Pedestrian. They need to express their creative spirit, think outside the box.

What this means is that they are creating a lot of completely inappropriate food combinations. Stuff that just does not belong together. Simplicity has become unfashionable in the face of ego-driven chefs who are more concerned with uniqueness than flavor.

I started becoming aware of this trend some years ago, when I noticed that the cilantro dumper had become standard equipment in most restaurant kitchens.

Cilantro dumper – U.S. Patent 7,678,543 – “Food Adulteration Device (FAD)”

Cilantro has become a prime example of “let’s take a food some people like and put it in every goddamn thing we make.”

While I have not eaten at Romano’s Macaroni Grill for many years, my recollection of their menu was that each entree description read like an inventory of the chef’s spice cabinet. A simple grilled chicken breast would be buried under a mound of basil, rosemary, white pepper, thyme, mace, and at least two different sauces. To quote Count Orsini-Rosenberg from Amadeus, “Too many notes.”

One of the most grievous offenses here, to my mind, is the obliteration of the long-standing wall between sweet and savory. I’ve been willing to indulge such combinations in snack foods, such as kettle corn. But a line has been crossed.

They are messing with bacon. This is a transgression I cannot tolerate or forgive.

John Pinette speaks for me when he says, “I know bacon. I think you know I know bacon.” Bacon may be the single best food item in existence. That does not mean it should be added to everything.

If you know someone who is confused about the proper uses of bacon, feel free to share with them this handy chart.

on my breakfast plate, piled very high candy
burgers cupcakes
deli sandwiches ice cream
potato soup donuts
wrapped around filet mignons beverages

I was expecting to conclude this piece on a positive note – with hope that we can weather this storm and perhaps come out on the other side with a new appreciation for good food, without all the pretension and slavish trend-chasing. Unfortunately, I found this:

I’m afraid the battle is lost.


Chew on this — 3 Comments

  1. I tried gluten free after reading a very good book called WHEAT BELLY. I came to find that “gluten” is Latin for “so full of glue that all food falls apart without said stuff”.

  2. Enjoyed this post – it was worth the wait. There’s not much left but fruits and vegetables. But then you have to watch out for the dirty dozen. That said, it’s lunch time and we’re having leftover pizza. Oh the shame!!

  3. I just heard the news that John Pinette has passed away. I loved that guy.