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"Processed Food" is not the problem.


This is going to piss off my more progressive natural food movement proponent friends but this video was really disingenuous to the viewer in many ways.

Rather than bring on A scientist who understands the deep history of processing methods for food production and can detail the physical and chemical realities of the different products used, they get a sensationalist author who has an OBVIOUS bias against processing of any sort when it comes to food. It is so absurd that the contradictions over whelmed me as I watched the video but here I will do a short take down of the arguments she put forward and as a Scientist I will back up my statements with data because you know, that's all that ultimately matters.

First, the premise that processing of food is in itself a bad thing stands in stark contrast to the fact that we as human beings have been processing food for the last 12,000 years into forms more amenable for our production, distribution and consumption. From selecting crops for their size and texture and taste characteristics to doing the same for domesticated animals we have been processing what ends up being our food for over a 10 millenia. Some low hanging fruit as examples, the first effective crops of wheat and rice were selected by humans for the large size of the grain...unfortunately this also meant less fiber associated with the production and a winnowing of essential vitamins that were formerly available in the pre selected varieties.

A few thousand years later and in Central America, the predecessor to modern Corn , Teosinte was selected for characteristics such as increased kernel size and sugar content into modern Maize. This also changed the contributions of minerals but it also most importantly increased the density of sugar per volume of the grain (Corn is in fact a grain being from the grass family).

This is interesting because according to proponents of the idea of "natural" products excess sugar from Corn products (GMO issue aside) has been a major health demon in modern diets...and they are right, however they are oblivious as to why Corn became such an effective crop and how in the interim processing it allowed our ancestors in North America to survive and thrive with it as a dominant carbohydrate source for 6,000 years.

Back in Europe, the similar process of selective refinement applied to sister grains, Wheat and Rice led to booms of high carb. kernels which lead to wealth for those that grew them in trade and the emergence of the first civilizations! Yes, a direct consequence of *processed food* as performed by selective processes was the emergence of civilizations and the explosion of human innovation enabled by being able to grow and store large amounts of high calorie grain for use through out the year...reducing or removing the impact of environmental fiat in the form of drought over periods encompassing years.

In the modern age, food processing enabled by the revelations of modern biology and chemistry and later genetics have allowed us to perform many seemingly impossible bits of legerdemain. Ms. Warner mentions a few in her report above, the sheep oil based vitamin D for example.

However, the giant 800 pound Gorilla in the room is that from a Scientific perspective where vitamin D is sourced from is irrelevant and has no baring on how the subsequent molecule is metabolized by the body. Vitamin D derived from sheep oil is the same molecule as the vitamin D produced naturally by humans with high concentrations of melanin in their skin when they are exposed to sunlight. It's the same molecule and thus is indistinguishable to the physiology from a metabolic perspective.

It is hypocritical to at once blame food processing for all types of human malaise but leave the ancient food processing that lead to all those "natural" foods existing in the first place alone.

There is one statement she makes in the video that I completely agree with:

"I'm not a Scientist or anything..."

Indeed, if she were she'd realize the complexities of making a general statement that food processing is wrong without knowing the extensive history of the same that in fact led to us being here a dominant species on the planet.

The problem with the food processing industry is not necessarily that many of the nutrients are generated and then added back into the food, it is that the dietary needs of humans have been shifted away from the formerly high fiber/ high protein low carb. and fat mix that was the staple of our species essentially world wide for several hundred thousand years.

Even in regions where high fat diets exist there are relatively low levels of health issues (say for example in the tribes near the Arctic Circle) several factors go into why this is so such as adaptation to processing certain molecules efficiently unique to those lineages but the most dominant difference is the low carbohydrate intake of such tribes.

Excess protein intake is expunged from the system. Excess fats are similarly expunged. All of fiber (cellulose) is expunged  since it is indigestible (a great thing as it serves to provide volume with speeds appetite satiety and over all reduces the amount in total that ones eats of all the other stuff). However, carbohydrates...being the raw material from which our cells create energy is the only input food source that is STORED when found to be in excess.

In light of recent changes to our diet by our own hands as we processed tiny grasses into giant nutrient poor grains the combination that led to the current disaster of rampant obesity in western diet following cancers is clear. It's not because the general processing of food is "bad" it's because our genetics coupled with just how well we've been processing food has led to a rebalance of scales with us gaining great deals of weight on average (leaving aside the relative increased sedentary nature of modern populations enabled by advanced automation technologies).

This takes me to the idea of preservatives as the ultimate bad "processing" of food example as described in the video with the chemical, azodicarbonimide. Though it may seem that this chemical is pointless, it is in analyzing how it is broken down in the body that we realize fears against its use have little basis.

Azodicarbonimide is broken down into a chemical our bodies called Biurea, which is basically two Urea molecules bonded together (hence "bi"). Urea is a naturally produced molecule that helps shuttle excess Nitrogen out of the body it is one of the main molecules in urine. Biurea and Urea are similar chemically and thus upon ingestion undergo the same expulsion pathway...namely to be shuttled out of the system via urination.

So not only is it's mention in the video bizarre but when we look at the physiological response it is a molecule which in it's construction out of Urea  already produced by the body.

Now we should be able to question the addition of preservatives and other additives to our food when those preservatives have shown known causes for alarm but many "artificial" preservatives are just really good at what they do and have no other ill effects.

Finally, if we are going to damn food processing we are going to have to make up for the huge costs that would arise if we got rid of all types of it. In food preservation, it may seem strange that a jar of guacamole would last for nine months without spoiling but doing so is a testament to the advanced technology that helps our food preserve and by doing so enable the continued efficiency of food production that has led to us being here in the first place. It is high hypocrisy to ignore the contributions of these methods that led to our dominance as a species and to shake ones finger at highly preserved foods...especially when preservation allows foods to be shipped world wide where they can be stored as needed...allowing existing bands of humans the same advantages of thought that ours enjoyed. It's even more ironic when the author actually states clearly, about the 9 month old Guacamole:

"She's an older person she's in her early 80's so I was terrified that she was going to be terribly ill...and so she had eaten it because it had no mold on it. ....In the end thankfully she was totally fine and had no ill effects whatsover."

-- How is this a bad thing at all?? It's not, food can last beyond spoilage by bacteria that would naturally eat it up and if we can protect it using molecules that are expunged from the system then we have a revolution in feeding people in the making not some great evil conspiracy.

Going forward the level of "processing" we'll be doing will go far beyond manual selection, chemical formation or the simple addition of genes from other species to share traits. Processing will be purely genetic, enabling us to grow foods of various sizes, textures and nutritive need. In genetic engineering there have been blunders but those come not from the technology being dangerous, but from the ones that wield it showing bad decisions on how they would go about processing the food.

Monsanto stands as an obvious example of this. We should hold corporations feet to the fire and our governments for engaging lax "suggestions" about what goes in our food products but Ultimately the ball is in the consumers court, if we wish not to ingest such foods we can simply not buy them (yes, I am aware many foods are not labeled as such but the same foods are the ones which are bad for us from the Carb concentration statement made above.) and the idea that any type of "processing" of food is bad is beyond absurd given it is such action that led to our dominance of this planet in the first place.

Future

The future of processed foods include stem cell based generation of tissues from scratch which could eliminate our moral quandry with growing animals as food products. It includes growing specifically sized fruits and vegetables with the nutrients we wish added in as they grow rather than as a post ad in operation (which tends to be more expensive) this means higher quality and more nutrient rich sources of food to feed more people out of a growing planetary population. As always we need to shape our intake of these highly efficient food products to our own requirements but the general call to reject processing is at cross purpose to all our progressive aims of having less of an impact on the planet. This is something for those that embrace elimination of such practices to think about.



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