Wednesday, September 10, 2008

HFCS Bites Back

Well, apparently the Corn Refiners Association is feeling the heat about how some of us really don't care for their ultra-refined corn product ... high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). They went and created a web page,, to defend their main product.

The page is oh-so-informative. FAQs, white papers, event a virtual press room with all kinds of wonderful information about how HFCS is "natural" because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it is.

Keep in mind that these are the same people (with the help of the US Supreme Court) who call a tomato a vegetable and wanted to classify ketchup as a vegetable as well for the sake of school lunch programs for kids. Moral here? Not everything the FDA says is packed with high-quality wisdom or common sense.

Now, before anyone goes off and thinks I hate the FDA, I don't. I appreciate all the effort they do to keep the food supply safe. I just think in some cases, they need to be more careful with how they use certain words.

"Natural" ... this implies a lot. When I hear this word, I picture something out of a Disney movie. A young, hard-working farm hand picking a ripe potato out of the ground ... gently and respectfully putting it into his basket. The potato ends up being carefully placed into a large hopper, cleaned with care, and taken to the store where I purchase it ... and proceed to mash it until it cries out for help!

OK, the realities of feeding hundreds of millions of people mean that food is harvested a bit more mechanized help. That's cool. Expecting some pastoral fantasy land is a bit extreme. However, not wanting to have food that has gone through more processing than the gas in our cars ... that is reasonable.

Wikipedia has a quick three paragraphs on the process. Read it carefully. If you understand all the words and all the processes, well, welcome to my site Mr. Industrial Food Chemist. Because, that's some strange sounding stuff that they're doing just to produce this "natural food". Ion exchange and liquid chromatography? These are not processes that I would apply the word "natural" to.

The Corn Refiners' Association site,, has a lot of information about how HFCS has the same amount of calories as sugar, how it is used in wonderful happy ways to make your foods better, and other topics obviously pumped out by a bunch of PR guys. Nothing bad about PR guys, in fact, the corn folks have hired good ones. They must be expensive, too, they're address is 1701 Pennsylvania Avenue ... yeah, just one block from the White House.

What the site doesn't talk about is the basic truth that HFCS is highly processed. This is what I, and many, many others, object to the most. It's industrial food. Plain and simple. Food taken and processed until it is unrecognizable.

Another minor point: remember how margarines and other such butter-like spreads were supposed to be heart-friendly? How did they do it? Through the magic of hydroginated fats. Yes, so healthy for you! Fewer calories, less fat!

Ooops ... maybe not. Turns out they were worse for you. Far worse. Yes, the trans fats made life convenient for the industrial producers through longer shelf lives. But, the trans fats themselves increase the risk of heart attack and other bad things ... this we know. And, the medical types have said that they are still studying how trans fats hurt us.

So, do we believe now that HFCS is perfectly safe? Possibly. It may very well be. The corn folks do a fine job of explaining their position, how HFCS allegedly benefits us (for some reason, I picture the movie showing kids being sprayed with DDT ... proving how safe it is), how our lives and taste buds are enriched by having HFCS slathered all over everything.

The simple fact that cannot be denied is that HFCS is very highly processed, it is industrial food. That is what is wrong with it. That is what so many people are trying to escape.

That is what no PR agency will be able to spin into nothing.

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