Here is a round up of some of the food stories that were causing a bit of a controversy this week.
- A Guardian article by Joanna Blythman titled “Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?” set off a firestorm in the foodie community by drawing attention to some ethical concerns about eating the pseudocereal. In the article she states that “the appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken.”
- The article was picked up by many outlets, wonderfully synthesized here, with such headlines as “The more you love quinoa, the more you hurt Peruvians and Bolivians.” Which was bad news for quinoa, which has never been more popular, so much so that the Food and Culture Organizations of the United Nations has named 2013 The International Year of Quinoa.
- The story behind quinoa and its ability to bring riches or ruins to the people of Andes, North America, or the UK, has been described as complicated, really complicated, and still really complicated.
- Fortunately, more people began to look into the story, debunking the myths, sorting through the nonsense and the fads and fallacies, and ultimately reporting that is was in fact OK to eat quinoa. (Which was a relief as quinoa is on the menu for dinner tonight, see below)
- In December 2012 the FDA concluded that the AquAdvantage salmon, would have no significant impact on the environment. This was one of the last hurdles in getting this fish (which is already approved for human consumption), onto dinner plates, a process that has been ongoing for 17 years. For an excellent backgrounder on the issue, check out this post on BioFortified, and this piece by Slate.
- The AquAdvantage salmon (AAS) is in most respects identical to an Atlantic salmon, except it has been genetically modified to include a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon and a gene from an Ocean pout to keep that hormone turned on. This allows the AAS to produce their growth hormone (the Chinook and Atlantic growth hormones are the same, but the Chinook hormone is expressed differently), all year long, and in turn grow twice as fast as conventional salmon.
- Many people are concerned that the AAS would escape into the natural habitat and breed with wild salmon, introducing the fast-growing gene into the population and perturbing the natural ecosystem, and debate the issue fiercely. However, the AAS would only be sold as females, have three sets of chromosomes (making them sterile and thus preventing new families of mutant fish or interbreeding with native populations), and would only be reared at inland facilities, either in outdoor ponds or in large tanks, making the likelihood of them mixing with wild populations very rare.
- Proponents of the technology note that having salmon that grow faster, that are easier to raise and distribute, would minimize many of the environmental and sustainability concerns associated with traditional aquaculture.
- Aside from the perceived health and environmental concerns, of which few, if any, have been none found, people are also concerned about the lack of a labeling requirement, an issue also raised with other GM foods. The American Association for the Advancement of Science weighed in on the issue and concluded that given the overwhelming evidence that there is no harm associated with GM foods, that legally mandating a label would only serve to mislead and falsely alarm consumers.
- While the FDA does require all food labels to accurately indicate what is contained in the food, it often falls short on the enforcement measures, with fish being particularly prone to mislabeling. Current labeling practices tend to be confusing, and many are calling for a complete overhaul and re-thinking of the system.
Dessert: Girl Scout Cookies
- As discussed above, food labels can be confusing, and sometimes even shocking. Such was the case when consumers took a look at the ingredients on the new batch of Girl Scout cookies called Mango Crèmes with NutriFusion™. The surprise comes from the mix of ingredients in NutriFusion™, which are listed as nutrients from natural whole food concentrate of (cranberry, pomegranate, orange, grape, strawberry, shitake mushrooms), and also from the lack of any mango in these Mango Crèmes.
- The Lunch Tray has a nice article on some of the recent criticisms launched towards Girl Scout cookies, and the trend of healthwashing and nutritionism, in foods.
- Buzzfeed was lucky enough to score an interview with Mango Crèmes, it didn’t end well.
Beverage: Orange Gatorade
- This week PepsiCo announced that it would voluntarily be phasing out brominated vegetable oil from its Orange Gatorade.
- It has been suggested the move was brought about by a petition started by a 15-year old girl, by the company has denied that.
- Brominated vegetable oil is used as an emulsifier and stabilizer for flavoring oils used in fruit-flavored (mainly citrus) beverages, such as Mountain Dew, Squirt, Fanta Orange, Sunkist Pineapple, Powerade Strawberry Lemonade and Fresca Original Citrus. Much of the concern comes from the fact that it was originally patented as a flame retardant, and a harsh article in Scientific American.
- However, Just Like Cooking offers an excellent critical review of the misinformation and misuse of terms used in the coverage of this story, and touches on the chemophobia that is becoming increasingly pervasive (future post about this coming soon).
Trying to sort out and make sense of all the food related controversies can be a daunting task and is enough to build up quite an appetite. And if you are tempted to cook something up, a frozen dinner might not be such a bad choice, especially when compared to many TV Chefs dinner options, just don’t waste your food, because almost half of all the world’s food is thrown away, and that is a crying shame.