A good laugh at crazy food ideas

by Morton Sosland
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For anyone allied with grain-based foods hardly anything creates more discomfort and outright pain than hearing or reading the attacks leveled against wheat flour as a “processed food” made from “refined grains.” Even with the well-done efforts undertaken by entities like the Grain Foods Foundation to introduce positive scientific evidence to counter these painful pronouncements, the pace of dishonest assaults seems to be gaining momentum. Saying the industry should be grateful that this particular subject has not become embroiled in the raucous national political debating that has its own causes of despair provides slight comfort as the industry considers the slander to which it and its products are subjected.

It is the rare player among popular media that has perceived this subject as the basis for a counter-attack on its proponents rather than all too often embracing this cause as a way to criticize one or all sectors of a business like grain-based foods. That explains the absolute delight experienced in reading in a recent issue of The New Yorker magazine a column by Alex Ross headed “I’m Finally Taking Responsibility and Blaming All My Problems on Processed Foods.” Mr. Ross, whose articles have appeared in that magazine for several years, typically devotes his pieces to popular culture issues and classical music reviews. His latest column could not have done any better in pointing to the foolishness of blaming every kind of national ills on excessive eating of “processed foods.”

The humor of the piece, but also its amazing accuracy, begins with his declaration, “I’m happy to announce that I’m now in a place where I can admit that my life’s ills are Big Food’s fault.” He precedes this by saying that “I probably should’ve put down the sack of refined grain.” His list of faults that he ascribes to eating processed foods are: Being born without the ability to walk; throwing up on the school bus; being late to his uncle’s funeral; being unlovable and getting banned from a local restaurant.

In a specific example highlighting the foolishness of many recommendations heard these days about what foods to eat and not eat, he points to his inability to walk at birth as inferior to baby giraffes, citing the difference in what his mother and the giraffe’s mother ate. He observes that children of 500 years ago did not vomit in school buses. He was late to the uncle’s funeral because he stopped at a 7-Eleven for a Slurpee after eating a Hot Pockets sandwich. High-fructose corn syrup stuck shut the door to his heart, interfering with his love life. A lack of farm-to-table items is blamed for his problem at the restaurant.

Mr. Ross ends his column by noting how he has shown that “my problems and processed foods” are closely linked.

Considering the way that authorities at the helm of the Departments of Agriculture and of Health and Human Services have recommended reduced consumption of refined grains and processed foods in the latest dietary guidelines, the laughs this column prompts falls short of being the corrective required. At the same time, this piece underscores how most lousy advice about food reflects the failure to appreciate how diets have changed with the passage of time. Instead of decrying the fast-changing and expanding food supply, authorities need to recognize that the present food supply is superior in quality and safety.

Many of the laments about wheat flour and bread reflect a yearning for what was believed available in the distant past. It was a century and a half ago that modern roller milling, the source of “refined” flour, came into being. Reading, though, about the flour and bread that were available prior to steel roller milling leaves no doubt that it was a totally inferior product containing particles from stone grinding that shortened lives considerably from what now is the case. And newborn babies did not walk then either.
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