As consumers, we tend to be very complacent about what we buy from grocery store shelves. One reason is that we trust food manufacturers to use ingredients that are safe and wholesome—ones that we would choose ourselves. Another is that food manufacturers cleverly reword their ingredient labels to keep that illusion alive. Since the FDA allows manufacturers to get away with deception concerning what they actually put into our food, we blithely toss their products into our grocery cart with nary a thought as to what we will really be eating.
The food industry, however, is far from trustworthy. It uses ingredients that are known to be toxic, inflammatory, and disease-causing. Moreover, as consumer advocate and investigator Beatrice Trum Hunter pointed out decades ago in her book Consumer Beware, food companies hide ingredients that the consumer would never otherwise agree to eat. She revealed that chickens riddled with tumors are ground up and used in other products, because the sight of tumors would be “repugnant” to consumers.
The suggestion is that consumers either don’t want to know or don’t care what is really in their food as long as it looks good, and frankly, that is an apt description of many consumers today. Just try to tell someone about an unsafe ingredient in a food they like. They will stop you after the first few words, put their hand up, and say, “I don’t want to know.”
This article from Dr. Joseph Mercola on vanilla flavoring—shown on labels as “natural flavors”—renews the issue of undesirable ingredients used in foods. Where do these benign-sounding “natural flavors” come from? Dr. Mercola identifies the source as castoreum, found in the anal glands of a beaver. If you can weather some inappropriate language, you might find his article’s video funny, although disturbing as well. The message, though, is not funny: manufacturers put all kinds of offensive ingredients in your food, and then they call them something that gives you no clue as to their origin. There are multiple origins of “natural flavors.” It’s a generic term that manufacturers use when they don’t want you to know the source of the flavor. In fact, any time you see the word “natural” on any food product, just remember that there is no legal definition for what that means. It can be applied to virtually anything.
Are you okay with crushed beetles in your food? Foods with pink coloring are often colored with cochineal, which in fact is a beetle. It may be listed on the label as cochineal, carmine, carminic acid, or crimson lake. You may find cochineal in flavors of yogurt and ice cream that are pink, red or pink juices and beverages, candies such as Skittles, cakes, and lipsticks and other cosmetics. It used to be found in Starbucks’ strawberry frappuccinos, but Starbucks finally took it out. Even if you aren’t grossed out by the thought of eating or drinking beetles, be aware that some people are allergic to cochineal, and it can cause a serious reaction in them. All of this because cochineal costs less money to use than real fruit. Would you rather have your pink foods colored with red dye #40 instead? It’s made from coal.
Gelatin is made by boiling animal skins—often pig skins and/or tendons, ligaments, and bones—in water. Jelly beans, candy corn, and other candy with a hard covering are coated with shellac, which comes from the secretions of a type of insect. Of course, the package will not tell you this. The shellac will usually be labeled a “confectioner’s glaze.”
These are, of course, just a few of many ingredients that you would probably refuse to eat if you knew they were in your food. You can’t learn all of them, and many of them are probably still a closely guarded secret anyway. The thing to remember from all of this is that if you buy food made with real strawberries, you don’t have to worry about beetles showing up in it. Buying “pure vanilla extract” instead of imitation vanilla or processed foods that contain “natural flavors” will ensure that no vestiges of any product originating from a beaver’s anal glands will touch your lips.
My advice is: when you’re buying food, get the real thing. The closer you stick to food that is raw and organic, the less you’ll have to deal with disgusting and dangerous ingredients in your food.