Monday, June 8, 2009

Fake Food

When I was a kid in the 1960s, my mother was a renegade. While all my friends ate PB&J on white bread and had bottles of Coke in the fridge, my handicapped mother still managed to only get brown (whole wheat) bread. When we had peanut butter, it was from the health food store, with no sugar or additives and full of nice crunchy bits. I don't remember having jam in the house. I do remember natural honey, again from the health food store.

We didn't even have mayonnaise in the house. Chopped egg sandwiches were moistened with a bit of milk! It didn't taste that good.

Once in a while, I did get a junk food treat: a Caramilk bar and an Orange Crush.

In the meantime, I lusted after all the junk my friends were allowed to eat and developed a major sweet tooth, which I have to this day.

I actually think it's almost equally dangerous to demonize junk food when you have kids: the more you try to insulate kids from what's around them, the more you make junk food into "forbidden fruit" and the more you risk them lusting after the worst the modern world has to offer in terms of food and ignoring all the wonderful foods Mother Nature provides us.

A case in point is Guy Fieri, the host of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, a Food Network show where Guy visits the best of the worst the US has to offer in food. Burgers the size of houses, dripping in fat, fried foods that would clog your arteries just looking at them, decadent desserts that make you gain five pounds while you watch the show--it's all totally yummy stuff. Guy Fieri was brought up in a strictly vegetarian, macrobiotic household. And boy, did he rebel!!

But my mother's insistence on healthy food did make an impression on me and I definitely do keep junk food to a minimum in my home and in my diet in general (OK, full disclosure: last night I did have some chips--sour cream and BBQ--at a kids party).

So why this post on "fake food"?

Recently, while surfing the diet blogs, I've come across a number of recipes or references to what I call fake food. For instance, instead of calling for a specific type of flour, the recipe calls for a specific brand of flour. I even found a recipe that calls for "PB2", which is apparently powdered peanut butter. The company that makes this product says that it contains no chemicals, but to my mind, the more you process a food, the less real it is. Another product that I would flee like the plague is liquid egg whites. What do they have to do to the poor eggs to get out that nasty yolk and make them shelf-stable for months (or whatever length of time they're meant to stay "fresh")?

Eating real, unprocessed (or as lightly processed as possible) food in moderation should be preferred to eating calorie-reduced dreck.

Substituting "calorie-reduced" or whatever-reduced products for the real thing is pretty scary to my mind. I'd much rather use a little less of my home-made salad dressing (which contains, amongst other things, olive oil, mayo, Dijon mustard, a touch of honey) than any of those vile, low-cal things that masquerade as dressings and that contain more additives than real ingredients. Read the label on the food you buy. Better yet, buy fewer prepared products and more fresh produce.

Even water has fallen prey to the fake syndrome.

I won't go into the debate on bottled water here, but I do want to talk about flavoured water. I'm not a huge fan of drinking water, however, since the beginning of the year, I have become much, much more diligent about my water consumption. Last year, I would only drink water when I was dying of thirst. Drinking water was something I did under duress. Now, I drink about a litre and a half (6 glasses) a day, and try to drink a bit more. And when I say water, I mean water, none of this coloured, artificially sweetened stuff. There are enough additives in the food we eat already, why add more?

I am concerned about the additives that are put into so-called diet foods and I am equally concerned about how these foods contribute to our fear of food in general. I recognize that certain people have food allergies or intolerances but I'd just like to throw out a question to those of you who say that sugar drives your body around the bend: would the sugar reaction be just as violent after eating a slice of homemade banana bread (total sugar content for the entire loaf: 1/2 cup) as after eating a packaged snack cake (I'll avoid brand names) made with high-fructose corn syrup?

In our quest to reduce calories, we are moving further and further away from nutrient-rich food, food that truly nourishes our bodies (and dare I say, our souls) while creating an unnatural dependency on artificial additives and processed pseudo-foods.

So go out there and have some beautiful olive oil on your salad, throw in some walnuts and avocado pieces (oops, what about the hundred-mile diet?) and have a piece of the best quality chocolate you can find for dessert!


  1. I have to tell you that i can't stand the egg whites in a carton for some reason. I don't know why but it's not he same as the real thing. So that is what we have.
    I stopped putting anything flavored in my water.
    And i've learned to love the taste of a good olive oil.
    Now i'm sure there are people who could pick apart what i eat. But i've definitely come a long way in getting rid of a lot of processed foods.
    Oh did i say i love this post??

  2. Great post! Like you, I try very hard to avoid highly processed and "fake" foods, and I feel much better for it. I totally agree with you about "egg beaters" type stuff, but I actually love the convenience of pure 100% liquid egg whites . . . as I understand it, they just separate the yolks and pasteurize them - nothing added :)

  3. What a great post. I was going to write something similar on my blog.

    Seriously, all those 100 calories snacks drive me insane. People need to enjoyr food and also enjoy a snack that might be more than 100 calories and has REAL nutritional value in it.

    Excellent, excellent post.

  4. Salad dressings are the worst! They take about two minutes to make, I don't see why anybody buys them. My sister once suggested I eat liquid eggs, and I asked her "why would I want to do that?" and she was so stunned by the question, she had no answer. I guess she figured that of course I would want to eat the lower cholesterol version, but the packaging alone is a huge turnoff for me. Her cholesterol (130) is lower than mine (140), but that's because I like bacon and cheese, and so what, it's almost vegan low.

    BTW, my body reacts similarly to snack cakes, homemade pastry, and fruit, which is not at all unless my stomach is otherwise empty. A few pistachios and all is well.