Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Soy Sauce Fakes: How to Avoid Industrial Corn-Syrup Soy Sauce

Those little packets of soy sauce with take-out Chinese fare? Not really soy sauce at all. Rarely contains even a drop of soy. Think 100% fake soy sauce.

Same for many soy sauces sold in U.S. grocery stores: fake, or with only traces of soy bean extract.

Genuine soy sauce is based on an ancient Japanese process of brewing wheat, soybeans, and a certain mold, then allowing the culture to ferment for months before refining and bottling.  

The Japanese government has long been incensed by proliferation of imitation soy sauces, particularly by U.S. corporations. Japan has unsuccessfully pushed the United Nations food standards program to set an official international standard for soy sauce... a move that would mandate all imitations to be labeled as fakes, or as something else. 

Fake soy sauces take only three days to manufacture, as opposed to three months of brewing and maturing, and, of course, are concocted from far cheaper ingredients which typically include:
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (in lieu of soybeans)
  • Corn syrup or another cheap sugar
  • Salt
  • Chemical "flavor enhancers"
  • Artificial coloring
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein is...
"...  produced by boiling cereals or legumes, such as soycorn, or wheat, in hydrochloric acid and then neutralizing the solution with sodium hydroxide. The acid hydrolyzes, or breaks down, the protein in vegetables into their component amino acids. The resulting dark coloured liquid contains, among other amino acids, glutamic acid, which imparts an umami flavor...
"Because of the high levels of glutamate in hydrolyzed vegetable protein, people sensitive to MSG should avoid hydrolyzed vegetable protein."  (Source - Wikipedia) 
In rare, and horrifying, instances, Chinese workshops use human hair as a source for soy sauce proteins. 
"China Central Television (CCTV), the state television station, first raised public worries over the quality of domestic soy sauce by uncovering a substandard workshop in central China's Hubei Province, where piles of waste human hair were found. The hairs were treated in special containers to distill amino acid, the most common substance contained in soybean sauce.
"Human hair is rich in protein content, just like soybean, wheat and bran, the conventional and legally accepted raw ingredients for the production of soy sauce." (Source - Boing Boing, May 26, 2004)
So what's a Chinese takeout aficionado to do in 2013 ?
So what's a Chinese takeout aficionado to do in 2013 when hankering for soy sauce with his/her pork fried rice, fresh wontons, and scrumptious eggrolls? 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Subway's Chemical-Laced Sandwiches: Fooled by the Look, Taste of Freshness

Even diligent fake-food watchers can be fooled by the appearance and feel of freshness in corporate-prepared food. 

Take my favorite Subway sandwich, for instance: Subway's Sweet Onion Teriyaki sandwich. 

Filled to overflowing with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other veggies, which are dressed with "our own fat-free sweet onion sauce." Topped (not as generously as shown above) with "tender teriyaki glazed chicken strips" that are not breaded. 

Subway's Sweet Onion Teriyaki sandwich boasts only 370 calories, and 6 grams of fat. More important to me, it tastes fresh, and has crunch and a pleasing sweetness.  I genuinely like it, and I like believing that I'm eating healthy, simple, straight-forward food that just happens to be served by the world's largest fast-food purveyor. 

Well, I feel duped. I've been fooled by the appearance of freshness, and lulled into thinking that the presence of veggies and chicken strips meant this was the rare fast-food that's largely free of industrial chemicals. 

Writes author Melanie Warner in her insightful new book "Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal" (click title to link to book):
"You probably don't think of your lunch as being constructed from powders, but consider the ingredients of a Subway Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sandwich. Of the 105 ingredients, 55 are dry, dusty substances that are added to the sandwich for a variety of reasons.
"The chicken contains thirteen: potassium chloride,  maltodextrin, autolyzed yeast extract, gum Arabic, salt, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, fructose, dextrose, thiamine hydrochloride, soy protein concentrate, modified potato starch, sodium phosphates. 
"The teriyaki glaze has twelve:  sodum benzoate, modified food starch, salt, sugar, acetic acid, maltodextrin, corn starch, spice, what, natural flavoring, garlic powder, yeast extract.
"In the fat-free sweet onion sauce,  you get another eight: sugar, corn starch, modified food starch, spices, salt, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, and calcium disodium EDTA.
"And finally, the Italian white bread has twenty-two:  wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, sugar yeast, wheat gluten, clacium carbonate, vitamin D2, salt, ammonium sulfate, calcium sulfate, ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, potassium iodate, amylase, wheat protein isolate, sodium stearoyl lactylate, yeast extract, and natural flavors."
So much for simple and straightforward. So much for a sandwich largely free of industrial fake-food chemicals.  

Seduced by the easiness of ordering and enjoying complex food on a whim, I've opted to buy Subway's Sweet Onion Teriyaki sandwich rather than invest time in shopping and home cooking.   Ms. Warner is absolutely correct when she continues:
"If you were to make this sandwich at home with a basic  chicken breast and fresh bread made with minimal ingredients. it would contain only a handful of these things.
"Mass-scale food processing, however, requires an entirely different system of assembly, one fraught with often conflicting expectations. Manufactured food needs not only to taste good, for instance, but also to withstand the wear and tear of processing.  It has to look and taste exactly the same very time. It also has to have a long shelf life, be produced cheaply and efficiently, and on top of that, it would be nice of it could be marketed as healthy."
Eating heavily chemical-laced industrial foods is deemed to be far less healthy than consuming  homemade versions that greatly minimize chemical additives, fillers, emulsifiers, flavor boosters, and similar. 

Don't be fooled as I was: fast food is nearly always heavily laced with industrial chemicals. Even if it's touted as healthy.  Even if it looks, feels, smells, and tastes incredibly fresh.   

I'll never again look the same way at Subway's Sweet Onion Teriyaki sandwich. From now on to me, it'll be a delicious sandwich of 105 industrial ingredients, 55 of them dry, dusty powders.

No thanks!  I prefer my food sans as many industrial chemicals as possible. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Americans Throw Away 30% of Food Supply: Ideas for Zero Food Waste in Your Home

"Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry," uttered new Roman Catholic Pope Francis in his public address last week. 

"Consumerism and a 'culture of waste' have led some of us to tolerate the waste of precious resources, including food, while others are literally wasting away from hunger," the Pope elaborated. 

The Pope makes an astute point that connects two disturbing, widespread trends: hunger and food waste.  

In the United States today:

  • 30% of all food is thrown away each year 
  • Tens of millions of Americans go hungry on a daily basis. In December 2012, the number of children and adults on food stamps reached an astonishing, all-time high: 47,792,056, more than half children.  Fully 15% of all Americans.  
Stats published in 2012 by the Natural Resources Defense Council make clear the role of U.S. homes in food waste:
  • Americans throw away about 1.5 pounds per person of food daily
  • The average U.S. family of four throws away food costing about $2,275 each year
  • U.S. food waste has jumped 50% since the 1970s.
  • Food waste is now the single largest component of waste in U.S. landfills.

No-Brainer Ideas to Reduce Your Food Waste

No, your half-eaten leftovers obviously can't be shipped off to feed starving children in China, as U.S. mothers famously threatened kids dawdling over their veggies.  

But there are innumerable no-brainer ideas you can implement to responsibly ensure that you don't take more than your fair, necessary share of our food supply, or waste that which your home buys or uses. Here are a few...

1. Cut down first-serving portions at meals.  Today, portion sizes have grown two to eight times larger than recommended standard serving sizes, per the NRDC.

2. Cook only the amount of food needed for that meal. 

3.  Repurpose leftovers rather than dumping them. Clever restaurants constantly find new, tasty second-life for cooked, unserved foods, especially meats. 

4.  Write a grocery shopping list, and stick to it. Don't be dazzled by deals and displays for which you have no specific recipes or plans. Be aware that grocery stores will tempt you mercilessly to make that useless impulsive purchase. 

5.  Educate yourself on how to buy and store produce, and on the shelf life of various fruits and veggies.  And don't buy more than you will realistically use within one week.  

6. Use overripe produce, don't dump it. Overripe fruit is perfect for delicious smoothies and homemade popsicles.  Overripe tomatoes and other veggies are ideal for home-simmered sauces.  

7. Still have food waste? Toss it in a compost pile... yours or a community compost pile... to nurture future gardens. And our future food supply.

Your household goal should be zero food waste! It's good for your budget. Good for our world, Good for your soul.  

Need even more tips and recipes to help you actively move toward zero food waste? Try this site: From Garbage to Gourmet, which features "over 80 recipes and creative ideas for using... things that most people throw away without thinking about it, but can be used to make incredibly food!"

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Smithfield Sale to Chinese Could Herald Downgrade in US Pork Quality: Disgusting Pork in China

The cured Smithfield ham served last Easter at my father-in-law's home was simply divine: lightly salty, subtly sweet, meaty with a crackling, fatty edge.  

A high-quality, superbly prepared ham from a 77-year-old U.S. company with a remarkable food-safety record. We eat ham rarely, so indulged in spending extra money to buy the best for our family feast.  

Imagine my chagrin at the news that Smithfield Foods, a fine American culinary tradition, has agreed to sell itself, 100%, to Chinese food conglomerate Shuanghui International known to contaminate pork with a veterinary med banned for use in animals intended for human consumption.  (This deal is subject to Congressional approval.)

Of course, like Shuanghui, U.S. meat producers are no strangers to adulterating beef, pork, and poultry with all sorts of drugs, from antibiotics to ractopamine, a growth-hormone drug banned in 100 countries, including Russia, China and most of Europe. ( Read details at U.S. Pork, Beef Laced with Drug Banned in Europe, China, Russia.)  Interestingly, Smithfield reportedly ended its use of ractopamine only in anticipation of this sale. 

The Chinese meat industry, though, is reputed for its disgustingly poor record of food safety and counterfeit products, including:

  • "The latest episode involved fox, rat and mink meat that was doctored with gelatin, pigment and nitrates and sold as mutton. ( New York Times, May 29, 2013)
  • "Allegations of maggots, excessive bacteria and illegal additives have plagued China's biggest meat products company, Shuanghui International, since at least 2011..."  (CNN, May 31, 2013)
  • In the first four months of 2013, "... authorities have seized 20,000 tonnes of illegal products and solved 382 cases of meat-related crime – primarily the sale of toxic, diseased and counterfeit meat."  (The Guardian, May 3, 2013)
Chinese pork producers lay claim, though, to the most egregious (and grotesquely repellent) recent food safety record among Chinese meat industries.  Producers are straining to meet  growing Chinese demand for pork, 50 tons yearly, nearly half of world pork consumption.