Because of spam, I personally moderate all comments left on my blog. However, because of health issues, I will not be able to do so in the future.

If you have a personal question about LI or any related topic you can send me an email at I will try to respond.

Otherwise, this blog is now a legacy site, meaning that I am not updating it any longer. The basic information about LI is still sound. However, product information and weblinks may be out of date.

In addition, my old website, Planet Lactose, has been taken down because of the age of the information. Unfortunately, that means links to the site on this blog will no longer work.

For quick offline reference, you can purchase Planet Lactose: The Best of the Blog as an ebook on or Almost 100,000 words on LI, allergies, milk products, milk-free products, and the genetics of intolerance, along with large helpings of the weirdness that is the Net.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Simple Food Movement

Michael Pollen, the author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, has a number of rules, or rules of thumb, that he suggests people who want good, healthy food should follow.

One of them suggests suggests "avoiding products with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce."

Those extra ingredients are the ones normally found in processed food, which is pretty much every food that is found in a can, box, or container. The ones that fill up all the aisles in all the supermarkets of the world. Ingredients you can't pronounce may be emulsifiers, or stabilizers, or preservatives. Although sometimes they are vitamins or probiotics or good old fashioned sodium bicarbonate.

Pollen is not one of the crazies who runs around screaming that "chemicals" are in our foods. As sodium bicarbonate proves, everything, even familiar ingredients found in every kitchen, is a chemical and a chemical name doesn't mean something dangerous or scary. Pollen is an enemy of large agribusiness practices and of the fast food lifestyle Americans practice.

He has followers. As Janet Helm reported in the Chicago Tribune, corporations, ever sensitive to trends and fads, are jumping on the "Simple" bandwagon, featuring foods like:

Five, the new line of Haagen-Dazs ice cream that's made with only five ingredients -- including well-known kitchen staples (milk, cream, sugar and eggs). Then, Pillsbury introduced Simply cookies that are based on a similar premise: "Made just like you would make at home, same ingredients, same process."

Many food companies are scrambling to simplify ingredient lists and find naturally sourced alternatives to create what has been dubbed a "clean label." And when they do, they proudly declare "no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives" on the front of the package. That has become one of the most popular claims made by new foods and beverages, according to the market research firm Mintel.

I'm torn on the issue. I don't care about the trendy foods. They won't last. Literally so. Foods without preservatives spoil faster, have to be made in smaller batches, cost more, and can't sit for months on kitchen shelves. That's why companies started putting preservatives into foods in the first place. I absolutely guarantee that they'll be doing so next year after this trend has passed.

The larger trend that includes the "locavore" movement - eating foods grown locally - as well as fresh foods, more fruits and vegetables, and whole grain foods will likely take hold of a segment of the market. There's not much to complain about here. I've been eating locally raised organic meats, for example, and they are far tastier than the normal supermarket varieties, even though they are available at supermarkets as well from farm markets.

How do local farms, small bakeries, and specialty marketeers manage to feed the 300,000,000 people in this country? They don't. They can't. Programs have been started in Detroit and New York to get fresh produce into inner cities, areas in which supermarkets and groceries have smaller and more expensive selections than anything suburbanites will see at their worst stores. These worthy efforts aren't more than a dent in the larger problem. The people most in need have the least opportunity. The Simple movement will be adopted most enthusiastically by the well-to-do. Just what we need. Another large wedge between classes.

Of far more importance to our small community is the simple fact that creating dairy-free and other specialty items for people who avoid some of the commonest "simple" ingredients in our cooking lexicon is almost impossible to do with just a few ingredients. Getting similar taste, texture, and "mouthfeel" requires a set of ingredients to imitate the originals. Those ingredients probably include emulsifiers and thickeners. And because they are made in small batches with the full expectation that they won't fly off the shelves like Oreos or Spam, they need the preservatives to keep them from rotting in the package.

The Simple movement doesn't address our special needs. Adding more free fruit and vegetables to our diets may be sound advice but "well-known kitchen staples" like milk, cream, and eggs aren't found in all our kitchens. Unless we plan to cook and bake every item we eat, we will rely on packaged foods and those packaged foods will not be Simple.

Don't eat just Simple. Eat Smart. Smart is what is right and best for you. Smart always wins.

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