Apologies to Stephen Colbert.
He is of course the originator of the phrase with which we are taking liberties. He struck upon truthiness as a satirical way to explain intentional approximations of truth; a sort of wishful thinking unburdened by facts. And there’s plenty of ersatz truth to our food.
Appearances can be deceiving.
It’s a lesson we’ve learned all too well in 2012. First, we were repulsed by the ‘pink slime’ flap, when we learned that the federal government regularly purchases millions of pounds of a slimy bacteria-prone mash of slaughterhouse trimmings masquerading as hamburger meat to serve to the nation’s schoolchildren through the National School Lunch Program. We recoiled again when Starbucks revealed that the rosy-pink coloring agent added to its Strawberry Frappuccinos is derived from the ground up bodies of beetles.
Fool me once, shame on you.
Let’s not let it happen again. Don’t wait for the next scandalous revelation.
Here are some of the other egregious bait-and-switches of processed food.
The USDA website has an official definition of a chicken wing laid out in Title 9, Section 381.170(b)(7) of the Code of Federal Regulations, but the section goes on to ask this question: “Under what conditions can ‘wyngz’ be used as a fanciful term on poultry product labeling?”
It was news to us that ‘fanciful terms’ fall under the USDA’s purview, but even more curious were the required conditions. The term ‘wyngz’ can only be used to “denote a product that does not contain any wing meat or is not derived only from wing meat.” Wing shape is optional; spelling (or misspelling, to use the official USDA terminology) is not: “no other misspellings are permitted.”
Low fat ice cream used to be thin and grainy, a little icy with none of the voluptuous mouth-feel of its full fat relatives. These days it can be as rich and creamy as butter yet still as virtuous as broccoli. That’s because many of the top-selling brands add a protein cloned from the blood of the ocean pout, an eel-like Arctic Ocean fish. Food scientists discovered that in the lean fish the protein works like anti-freeze to keep it from freezing in even the coldest of waters. Lucky us, it works just as well in our ice cream in the coldest of supermarket freezer cases.
There are no blueberries in many packaged blueberry muffin mixes.
You won’t find any in Blueberry Pop-Tarts or Special K Blueberry Fruit Crisps either, and Total Pomegranate Blueberry Cereal is totally missing the blueberries and the pomegranate. Instead of real blueberries, some manufacturers create little berry-shaped clumps of various sugars, starches, gums, and oils, and coat them with (often petroleum-based) blue food dye. They’re usually labeled as blueberry-flavored bits or particles. For its Blueberry Muffin Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal, Kellogg’s concocted an entirely new food classification, identified in the ingredient list as crunchlets.
Blueberries aren’t the only ones. The only cherries, oranges, or pineapple you’ll find in Gerber Graduates Juice Treats are pictured on the box. Not a trace of strawberry bursts out of Betty Crocker’s Strawberry Splash Fruit Gushers. You will find broccoli in Knorr’s chicken broccoli fettuccine noodles, but the dish actually contains more salt than green vegetable.
Here’s a euphemism for you: Natural Flavor.
We go to the FDA website for this one. Natural flavor or natural flavoring is defined as virtually anything (oil, extract, essence, distillate…) from anything that could have existed in nature at one time. It can come from any part or byproduct of any animal, vegetable, or mineral—wood, fur, rock, soil, feather, even secretions, discharges, and excrement—it’s all fair game. And once it falls under that umbrella, the substance doesn’t have to be identified, but simply listed in the ingredients as natural flavor. One of the most common natural food flavorings is castoreum. It’s a substance that’s only found in the anal glands of beavers; the beavers like to spray some out and mix it with their urine to mark their territory. It’s found in nearly every kind of candy, tea, gum, soda, juice, cereal, ice cream, yogurt, or bakery item with raspberry or berry flavor.
Perhaps these are food facts we could have done without.
It’s said that there are two things you don’t want to see being made—sausage and legislation.
Try to hang on to your appetite; you’re going to need the strength. The presidential election is just around the corner.
Is it food or foodiness?
Learn how to spot the difference and why it matters from Chef Erica Wides, who coined the phrase. She explores issues of food, foodiness, and more as the host and creator of Let’s Get Real on the Heritage Radio Network.