A SWEET CONSPIRACY
"Don’t fight culture (If people cook by stirring their stews, they’re not going to use a solar oven, no matter what you do to market it. Make them a better stove instead.)"
I read those words of wisdom, and I think of my journey with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).
I consider myself an active participant in finding healthy foods to consume. I know sugar is bad to consume on its own, but when I heard about the 2004 study that HFCS was worse than pure cane sugar, I tried hard to make my regular diet as HFCS-free as possible. I also tried to convince my friends and family to change their food habits as well, yet the result was often: "Everything seems to have HFCS, and I'm not going to stop eating my favorite foods because of it."
Of course, since then, science has shown that HFCS is not really any different than cane sugar. (I agree in the "sugary" sense, but not in the crop sense: if I am going to eat a sugary product, I want it to be made with Sugar in the Raw (don't be fooled by imitation raw brown sugar), not a genetically-modified, Monsanto pesticided corn product.)
So was my campaign pointless? No, my crusade against HFCS ultimately led me to realize how much sugar and sugar substitutes impact our daily diet—all of those do contribute to overall obesity and other health-related issues.
Yet, the argument will be the same, whether it's HFCS or sugar: Everything seems to have it, and I'm not going to stop eating my favorite foods because of it. (Ironically, in March 2010, some companies like Heinz with its "Simply Heinz" ketchup and Nabisco wheat thins replaced HSFC with cane sugar.)
In the context of "Don't Fight Culture," the answer doesn't lie in taking all of the foods we like away; rather it lies in educating companies that they do not need to add sugar to make their products tasty and desirable to us, and educating the general population why that is the case.
First, let's examine why humans do not need to consume products with added sugar. Our body can make sugar by converting carbohydrates present in many foods we should already be eating. Set aside the corn syrup (glucose) and sugar cane/sugar beets (sucrose), and grab some fruit (fructose), milk (lactose) and vegetables (diastose).
So we highlight the foods that make up a healthy diet by showcasing the sweet sugar we all crave so much. Looking for a sugar high? Drink some low-fat milk, eat an apple and chew on some broccoli. Other good carb foods you can seek out are wh***-grain cereals, brown rice and wh***-grain breads.
Okay, yeah, that sounds good, but I still want my sugary cereal and my cookies.
Here's where you highlight that you can add a sweet taste, naturally, to your foods:
1. You don't need Frosted Flakes! Add bananas, strawberries or other fruit to your wh***-grain cereal.
2. Instead of adding sugar to your cookies or other recipes in general, use extracts such as almond, vanilla, orange or lemon, or even put in unsweetened applesauce.
3. Also good for baked goods is enhancing them with spices, not sugar: try ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg.
If we can convince Americans that they have natural options for getting that sweet sugary taste, then perhaps we will be on the road of convincing food companies that they no longer need to add sugar to their foods. We can do it on our own, if we choose to.
Okay, that sounds like it could work. But isn't all of the above just another idealistic, "world peace" kind of solution that helps no one and puts us off-purpose to our aim: "Don't Fight Culture?"
No, and yes. I say no because we need to have long-term solutions in mind, such as proper education about nutrition and taste, while we put in place the solutions that should get people to act TODAY.
So we have our long-term solution, which we should find a way to enact. Now let's apply "Don't Fight Culture" to our sweet obsession. The reality is, most Americans are going to say: "I want my Heinz ketchup. I want my wheat thins. I'm not going to stop eating these products simply because you tell me sugar and its substitutes are bad for me. I probably will only do so when I am already faced with some health complication that 'forces' me to choose between living and eating sugary products. And even then, I'll probably cheat."
So the culture is: I am going to keep eating those foods.
The solution: Convince companies not to add sugar to foods—especially since our foods are usually already imbued with sugar, like say, Heinz Ketchup. Why don't you put a little bit more tomatoes in your ketchup there, Heinz, and let the diastose be its sweet agent?
Here's a history lesson for you: Our tomato ketchup was created by Sandy Addison in 1801 and printed in the ironically-titled Sugar House Book. Yet, actually, the title is not ironic. It is a sugary recipe...but you don't need to add sugar or high fructose corn syrup to it.
Here's the original recipe:
• Get [the tomatoes] quite ripe on a dry day, squeeze them with your hands till reduced to a pulp, then put half a pound of fine salt to one hundred tomatoes, and boil them for two hours.
• Stir them to prevent burning.
• While hot press them through a fine sieve, with a silver spoon till nought but the skin remains, then add a little mace, 3 nutmegs, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and pepper to taste.
• Boil over a slow fire till quite thick, stir all the time.
• Bottle when cold.
• One hundred tomatoes will make four or five bottles and keep good for two or three years."'
How do you convince companies to do that? Well...every company cares about its bottom line. You take away an ingredient, such as "added" sugar, by educating them that the product already has sugar in it, then that's a financial savings to the company; it no longer has to purchase sugar as one of its ingredients.
What about those companies that insist on adding sugar to their products, like say Frosted Flakes? ("Not everyone is going to take the initiative to add sugary fruit to their cereal," Kellogg might claim.) Let's at least get the sugar product that has the most antioxidants!
In 2009, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association categorized those sweeteners as:
BEST: Dark and blackstrap mola****
MIDDLE: Maple syrup, raw sugar and honey
WORST: Refined sugar, HFCS and agave nectar
Yes, folks, all of you getting in on the organic orgy who have opted for the all-natural agave nectar have actually chosen the worst natural choice of "added sugars" that you have: mola**** are the best alternative. And you want blackstrap mola**** because that dark color reveals that it has retained most of its nutrients and has less sugar in it (that's right, mola**** is from sugarcane...if you insist on an added sugar, at least pick mola**** grown in high-quality soil so that it retains its minerals such as iron, calcium and magnesium). Technically though, mola**** should be treated like honey—consumed only on an empty stomach, say with tea.
But, mola****, the best of the best, comes from sugar cane. Remember earlier, when I recommended looking at spices when you wanted that sugary kick? Spices and herbs are parts of plants used to enhance flavor in food. The Chinese and South Americans rely on one such herb, calorie-free Stevia, as a sweetener.
How do you convince the companies that insist on adding sugar to pick the best option? That's where the Farm Bill 2012 comes in. If we can level the playing field so that all crops—not just cash crops like the leading subsidized crop in the U.S., corn—get whatever subsidies might be needed, in today's day and age, to support our agricultural economy, then we could give food producers the option to pick the BEST product, not based on price point, but based on what the product has to offer.
That's where the impassioned foodies come into the picture. Many of the rights we are endowed with today, such as civil and disability rights, were a gift given to everyone because of impassioned people who took charge. We need to convince the USDA to level the playing field (and there is a way to do this...I'll go into that in my postscript) so that the option is easy.
Don't Fight Culture! We're not going to be cookie monsters telling you that you shouldn't eat that cookie and that you should be veggie and fruity monster instead. It's just not going to work. Some of us make that choice on our own, but if we really care about our fellow Americans (and the entire human race), we will have to find a different approach to get them to eat healthier.
For the laziest of the lazy, we need to get the companies to see the cost-saving benefit of cutting out sugar additives, particularly when the product already contains its own natural sweetener.
That's how you find a workable solution: Don't Fight Culture! Let's not live in "ideal la-la land" where you wish everybody would just be smart enough to make the right, healthy choice for themselves. Let's not blame it on corporate culture and believe that no matter what we do, we're going to be stuck with pesticide-infused, unhealthy foods. Let's not all become farmers and grow our own food in our backyard; we all have a purpose to serve in this world, and for many of us, our talents and contributions do not lie in farming.
Don't Fight Culture! America, you want your sweets, you can have them.
How do we convince USDA to level the playing field for all crops, not just the cash crops of corn, wheat and cotton? Although one of the aims of the USDA is to meet the needs of the farmer and rancher, it also has another aim of: ending hunger in the US and abroad.
We need to remind the USDA of this other important mission of eradicating hunger.
Here's how the current subsidized crops contribute to hunger:
1. Since certain crops are subsidized, the cost of purchasing one of them is far less than the cost of other, non-subsidized crops. So when Americans look at the price point to pick between cane sugar and mola****, cane sugar is going to be cheaper. Thus, we are derived of, or forced to pay a higher price for, nutritionally-beneficial food because it cannot compete against these cash crops otherwise.
2. Farm subsidies arose out of the Great Depression, to help ensure that our agricultural economy be maintained. Farmers are an important part of our society, and we actually need more of them, not less. Yet the subsidies that we do give out largely go to "corporate farmers." USDA reports Just 10 percent of all farmers, almost entirely in the Midwest, collect 62 percent of the taxpayer dollars. These "corporate farmers" are in it for the money. They're growing the corn because it's a cash crop. The healthier fruits and vegetables either don't get grown, the farms that once grew them were bought out using those tax dollars by the corporate farms or they are so expensive that most Americans won't bother buying the "elitist" food.
3. You may not realize this, but the nation's food stamp program is tied to the farm bill. While the corporate farmer makes, on average, roughly $350,000 a year, an average yearly intake for someone collecting food stamps is roughly $7,500 a year. This is what you call: Putting a bandage on the wound, instead of properly treating it. Why don't you take some of that money away from the more than 50 times wealthier corporate farmer and infuse that into your food stamp program? (Although, honestly, I'm not a big fan of food stamps either. I agree with the "teach a man to fish" philosophy; food stamps can help out in the beginning, but it shouldn't be a permanent solution.)
We have to pave our path through all the cash crop lobbyists, and the way to do that is to speak to the mission of the USDA. You want to eradicate hunger? Genetically-modified foods are not the answer. Level the playing field; either give a wider variety of crops access to subsidies or don't give any subsidies to any farmer (the latter will not only level the playing field in the U.S. but also abroad, as other countries without subsidies cannot compete against those that have them...you know what they say, Competition breeds innovation, and America could use a good dose of competition when it comes to agriculture).
Don't Fight Culture. You want to serve your mission of eradicating hunger, USDA? Look to your fat pot of farm subsidies.