Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Food Disconnect

I've been a fan of food for many years. I know that sounds dumb, because, well, I've been eating food for over thirty years now but what I mean to say is that I am a foodie. I'm not keen on the word foodie, but I like food a lot. I like cooking it, thinking about it, eating it, growing it and so on. I actually really enjoy the so-called 'chore' of grocery shopping.

I am not a picky eater and believe if there is a food you do not like that you should force yourself to eat it until you do like it. With some notable exceptions of course. No need to force yourself to like deep fried pork fat. Work on spinach first. I did, and now I love it. It was worth the suffering of the first couple of meals to get to this place. Just think, your 10 year old self didn't like beer either. But you made yourself get over that, didn't you?

It was the first of many food experiments. I'm a solid raw red onion lover now, and I'm totally over my feelings towards dark rye breads. I have never uttered the phrase "I can't eat that because...." and I worry about how I will feel doing it. I don't like being picky or fussy.

I'm thinking about it because I've discovered I am lactose intolerant. Yes, discovered. For the first time. I found out after trying this elimination diet - not one designed to lose weight - but one designed to help me figure out what foods were making me feel ill. For a while I was convinced it was red meat. Then I realized, my worst fears were true. It was dairy.

I love cheese. Cheese is potentially one of the greatest human inventions. It tastes good on everything and really makes the inedible edible. It was with great sadness that I accepted the reality that I might not be able to eat much cheese anymore. I know, I know, there are pills for this. But they are expensive. And since I'm also the sort that is cheap, that's a factor. I also have a thing about taking medications when it is unnecessary. I figure, if I can eat less cheese, and eat it carefully following much research into what the safe kinds are, then I can do without those pills. But after today's grocery trip, I'm not so sure.

Modified Milk Ingredients were everywhere. In things I did not expect to see them in. I knew about the ingredient - I had learned that lactose is lower in 'real' cheese and dairy products, ones that are fermented and actually processed the correct way (processing is not always evil, talk to brie if you want to know why.) I was searching for real ingredients on my favourite dairy products which were deemed low lactose in the case that they were 'traditionally' produced. I was searching for MMIs to know what to avoid. Fake cheese pizza. Fake creem ice cream.

What I was not aware of was how often they were placed into products that simply did not seem like they should contain dairy. Bread, ok, maybe bread is made with milk. An interesting reminder. But what about granola bars? When you make them from scratch, is there milk in them?

I think someday I am going to write my first book and it will be about my theories on the danger of the two-tier grocery system. I've been mentally writing it since I first worked in a grocery store at 15. I saw it happen then. Bad food, unhealthy food, is cheap. Good food is expensive. Good food makes you healthier, smarter and feel better. The rich just keep getting richer. The poor keep eating worse food, with more chemicals and additives to keep the food affordable.

A fantastic example is a simple one. A pizza you make at home with quality ingredients such as real dough, real cheese and real veggies (not canned) will run you in the ball park of $15 to make, and that is a conservative estimate. It will be delicious and healthy. A frozen pizza - even the good kind - will run you about $7. So if you are struggling financially, and trying to feed two children, which will you choose? Will you stop to check if the so-called "cheese" really contains milk? What if it actually contains oil, sugar and powdered creem? The average person in this situation - most people really - would never even stop to read the ingredients. Well, now I have to, and I'm quite shocked at the number of products that have the stupid things in them. Shocked and irritated. Here's to hoping they become the new MSG.

Some info on MMIs:


“Modified milk ingredients” is an umbrella term for a variety of milk ingredients such as casein or whey. Milk is the building block for dairy products, such as yogurt, ice cream, butter and cheese. Since milk may undergo changes during the processing of these foods, with some of its components concentrated or removed, it cannot be called milk on the label, therefore the term “modified milk ingredients” is used.

Under current law, only a limited amount of fluid milk and cream can be imported tariff free
into Canada. "Modified milk ingredients" are a different story. That name can mean
just about any product that was initially part of milk, especially including the following:
• skim milk powder
• milk protein concentrates
• milk protein isolates
• casein
• caseinates
• whey protein concentrates

It's possible to make products such as cheese and ice cream using only modified milk ingredients and no fluid milk or cream at all. If you think ice cream is necessarily made from cream, or even milk, you’d be wrong. Indeed some ice cream is made from those ingredients, but most is not. Most commercial ice cream on the market today is composed primarily of “modified milk
ingredients,” which can mean any of a number of different factory goops that are
derived from milk. If you’re lucky, the modified milk ingredient in your ice cream is simply powdered milk.

More likely it’s casein (factory-extracted milk proteins), or whey proteins, or even a butter oil compound. The butter-oil compound, according to a recent CBC Marketplacereport, is 49% butter-oil and 51% sugar.

Modified milk ingredients, which are usually made from by-products of other dairy product manufacturing, are cheaper.

The butter-oil compound (which you will never see listed as such on an ingredients list) is particularly cheaper because it contains 51% sugar; since it is more non-dairy than dairy, it can be imported without having to pay any of the tariffs that are applied to real dairy products. In other words, it is cheaper to use imported butter oil compound than to use fresh milk from the dairy farm just down the road. Most of the butter-oil compound used in Canadian-made ice cream comes from the U.K. or New Zealand.

This is a travesty. In a time where we are making more of an effort to eat and shop locally, this kind of local “Canadian” shopping carries a huge carbon footprint from the international shipping of the ingredients in these dairy products. Secondly, you are definitely not consuming a quality product, or even a real food, because ice creams require the addition of factory goop in order to make it resemble the texture of real ice cream.

Check the labels. Ice cream composed primarily of “modified milk ingredients” is also full of various gums (guar, cellulose, carrageenan, etc.) which are used to stabilize the product and to give it a creamy feel. This applies to other kinds of dairy as well, such as some cheaper brands of cheese. (NOTE: In my shopping experience today, the price has little to do with the ingredients. In fact, the cheapest cheese I could buy contained real ingredients while the national brand contained MMIs. Read carefully.)

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