The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Just Say No To “Corn Sugar” – The FDA Did

There may yet be hope for a government regulatory agency: the FDA has told the pushers of high fructose corn syrup to take a leap in response to their embarrassingly transparent attempt to gussy up the image of their highly suspect product by giving it an inoffensive new name. Put another way, rather than becoming a silk purse, the sow's ear that is HFCS will remain a sow's ear.

See, people have started putting together the pieces and have begun to realize that our country's obesity problem began at about the same time virtually every food and beverage manufacturer in the United States made the switch from expensive cane or beet sugar to cheap HFCS. Reading the labels of food products from applesauce to Zingers reveals the ubiquitous presence of the artificially produced sweetener.

Yes, I said “artificially produced.” The Corn Refiner's Association has repeatedly chanted the “natural” mantra to convince gullible rubes that their product is no different than sugar. “It comes from wholesome corn. What could be more natural?” Sorry, Charlie. You don't just put ears of corn in a big press and squeeze out the syrup. You've got to process it. The corn actually does go through a machine that crushes it, but then there are numerous additions of enzymes and filtration procedures and separations and mixtures.....there just ain't a lot “natural” about it. At least not when compared to the production of cane sugar, wherein the cane is crushed, the juices are collected, boiled, and dried and the resultant solids are broken down into sugar crystals.

And that's the way the FDA saw it. Aware that their product was coming under increased scrutiny from regulators, researchers, and the general public, the hucksters at the Association did what con artists have done since the beginning of time; they flummoxed and flim-flammed. They obfuscated and obscured. They prevaricated and they paltered. In a blatant attempt to wipe away the treacly tarnish that was rapidly collecting, they decided to label their chemically created garbage as “corn sugar.” Isn't that sweet? And natural, of course. “Sugar is sugar,” says their ad campaign. A campaign that, by the way, was launched against the advice of the FDA in the first place. The Association didn't bother to wait for something as restrictive as approval for their shiny new name. Going with the old adage about obtaining forgiveness being easier than getting permission, they just charged ahead and set up websites and marketing gimmicks using a name that they had been cautioned about using because of that little “approval” technicality.

And now the FDA has pulled the rug out from under them by issuing a resounding “NO!” The agency firmly stated that it defines “sugar” as a solid, dried, and crystallized food product. A syrup does not qualify as a “sugar.” So there you go, Corn Refiners; sugar may indeed be sugar, but your product is not sugar! Naturally – there's that word again – the Association issued a whiny dissent declaring that their petition was rejected on “narrow, technical grounds.” Yeah! Like the TRUTH!

In case you hadn't figured it out, I don't like HFCS, no matter what you call it. I don't like it for two reasons. I don't like it because I don't trust it. There are too many conflicting studies out there about its effects on the human body. Nobody can unequivocally prove that it's bad for you and nobody – other than the people who market it – can unequivocally state that it's good. In such instances I always tend to err on the side of caution.

My primary objection to high fructose corn syrup comes from my palate; I can taste the cheap crap in every blessed thing they dump it in. I can unequivocally tell you that the taste of nearly every American food product has degraded since the late 1960s and early '70s. Soft drinks, juices, canned and bottled sauces, frozen and prepackaged food products, snack foods, candy – you name it. None of it, none of it, tastes as good as it did before before manufacturers started pinching pennies and loading up their products with cheap, artificially produced garbage like high fructose corn syrup. This country's criminally parsimonious producers of food products have so thoroughly and completely dumbed down the palates of an entire generation of consumers that said consumers have no idea what food is supposed to taste like. Additives, preservatives, and cheap dreck like HFCS have destroyed the palates of just about everybody under the age of forty.

I may be a voice crying in the wilderness, but I would gladly pay more for good, natural food that tastes like it did back before the corn cabal got hold of it. I actively search for products that are sugar-sweetened and do not contain HFCS. And, thankfully, there are many more to choose from these days than there were just a few years ago.

Although I personally lean toward the research that condemns HFCS as a health hazard, I'm not saying sugar is any better for you. As a society, we consume incredible amounts of both substances to the overall detriment of our health. But at least foods sweetened with real sugar taste better while they're killing us.

So kudos to the FDA for standing its ground against a well-funded lobby. And bravo to the activist consumers that are driving nails into the coffins of “pink slime,” high fructose corn syrup, and the like. Maybe the combined efforts will lead to future generations that once again enjoy an abundance of good, wholesome food that tastes good.

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