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People Still Eat

By David Moe, Food Processing Constultant – When I start writing about something, I usually begin with an idea (recipe) and ingredients (words) that often lead to an unexpected result. It reminds me of “The Lockhorns” cartoon – “Loretta’s quite an imaginative cook ... For instance, she imagines this stuff is edible.”

When I start writing about something, I usually begin with an idea (recipe) and ingredients (words) that often lead to an unexpected result. It reminds me of “The Lockhorns” cartoon – “Loretta’s quite an imaginative cook ... For instance, she imagines this stuff is edible.”

When I reflect over the ever-changing real, less real and perceived practices related to food and food systems over the years, one thing stands out – people still eat. The systems, beliefs, habits and marketing jargon may change in a somewhat dynamic way, but again, people continue to eat. As noted in a previous blog post from June 2018 titled “Shifting Baselines,” sources and variety of food have increased, the V word (vegetable) is evolving to the P word (plant), and facts continue to be misplaced, misused, misunderstood or missing.

It seems like eaters want a balance of price, value, guilt and health in food consumed. If some food is given up, they jump at the chance to replace it with something that closely resembles the product they are trying to avoid in the first place. Examples include sugar, fats, dairy products and meat. I expect this to resume as fear of “something” continues to be used as a marketing feature.

Sugar

I want the real stuff, and I can’t stand the fake stuff. What do I do? I can’t answer that question for anyone but myself. All I can say is, sugar isn’t bad as it tastes pretty good. If the goal is to eat less than 9 teaspoons (3 tablespoons) or 36 grams of added sugar per day, this looks like an easy thing to do. However, if one consumes an 8 ounce (1 cup) serving of soda, fruit juice, sweet tea, chocolate milk or Red bull, the 6-teaspoon level has already been achieved. There is nothing wrong with sugar, other than “enough is enough” or “moderation” sneaks up fast. Have you tried Luo Han Gue Fruit (Monk Fruit)?

Fat

“Why do we keep doing this to ourselves – replacing naturally delicious foods like butter with synthetic, inferior substitutes in the misguided belief that they are better for us?”– Food Writer Maria Cross

Margarine is an early example of applying technology to produce a reduced cost food product. It was a result of a challenge by Napoleon III to develop a butter substitute for the poor and the troops. The winning product was made from beef tallow and milk. Another Frenchman developed a system to harden vegetable oils through hydrogenation. The objective was to harden vegetable oils to replace animal fats used for candles and soap. Later, the process was used to produce margarine and shortening from vegetable oils.

When margarine came to the U.S. in the 1870s, it was considered a threat to the American dairy farmers’ way of life. As a result of lobbying, the Federal Margarine Act in 1886 placed a tax on margarine as well as licensing fees that were in effect until 1950. Some states banned the product outright, while others banned the sale of colored margarine.

In the book “Life on The Mississippi” (1883), Mark Twain recalls listening to a conversation between a margarine purveyor from Cincinnati and cottonseed oil “drummer” from New Orleans. “Why we are turning out oleomargarine now by the thousands of tons. And we can sell it so dirt-cheap that the whole country has got to take it – can’t get around it you see. Butter don’t stand any show – there ain’t any chance of competition. Butter’s has had its day – and from this out, butter goes to the wall. There’s more money in oleomargarine than – why, you can’t imagine the business we do.” At the same time The New Orleans man boasts of selling deodorized cottonseed oil as olive oil in bottles complete with European labels. “We turn out the whole thing – clean from the word go – in our factory in New Orleans.”

The first application of hydrogenation for edible oils was by a British chemist and the process was patented. In 1909, Procter & Gamble acquired the U.S. rights to the British patent along with several U.S. patents granted later. Liquid cottonseed oil could be transformed into a product resembling lard. Crisco shortening was a result of this process, and it came to market in 1911. Crisco was promoted as a healthier alternative to animal fats, and the world was introduced to artificial trans fats.

“For every complicated solution, there is a solution that is simple, direct, understandable and wrong.” – H. L. Mencken

I can remember when stick and colored margarine were banned in Minnesota to save the dairy industry from low-cost competition. For years margarine was made with what was promoted as healthy vegetable fats (including trans fat) and not unhealthy saturated fats from animals or other sources. Science now appears to be winning as trans fats were banned by the FDA as a food ingredient in 2018. However, zero grams trans fat on the nutrition facts label allows rounding down from 0.5 grams.

Margarine and shortenings have been reformulated periodically, and some products continue to be promoted as a healthy source of fat. However, butter is back in style with a triple win for flavor, less processed and natural.

If butter can make a comeback, I hope the same thing can happen for beef fat (tallow). Great tasting French fries, like the original McDonald fries, can make a comeback. I raise the challenge to develop cell grown beef tallow.

Milk

Milk alternatives were discussed in a previous blog post but naming rights continue as an issue. As noted, I have tried some milk alternatives for a few days and determined that it would not be a hardship for me to go the plant route if I had a reason to do so. My alternative to almond non-milk is a hand full of almonds and a glass of water. My continued consumption of full fat milk is now supported by the answer to the question – is whole milk OK?

According to the May/June 2019 AARP bulletin, “A recent study has shown that consuming full-fat dairy products is associated with longer life. In a 2018 study of more than 130,000 adults in 121 countries, those who ate two or more daily servings of whole-fat dairy has a 33% lower risk of heart disease and 34% lower risk of stroke than those who ate less dairy.”

The art of the flip-flop is an expected feature for things that are eaten.

Meat

Meat alternatives are nothing new. Tofu first appeared about 960 BCE, Seitan in the 6th century and Tempeh in the 12th century. Tofu appeared in America in 1876 during Japan’s International Exhibition in Philadelphia. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church recommended vegetarianism, citing Kosher law and the diet of Leviticus. In 1876, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (early health activist) became the superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitarium. He developed a meatless meat (Protose) made from Seitan, wheat gluten, peanut butter and herbs. Protose is gone, but his corn flakes, originally intended as an aphrodisiac, live on.

“A man that lives on pork, fine flour bread, rich pies and cakes, and condiments, drinks tea and coffee, and uses tobacco, might as well try to fly as to be chaste in thought.” – John Harvey Kellogg

There is a new crop of traditionalists that would be happy to see “animal free,” “fake,” “meat analogs” and “plant-based products resembling meat” go away. In the past, we called them “meatheads” as they were slow to accept new technology, appearance and alteration to meat. If some of the meatheads of yore saw the 20-pound turkey or chicken breasts in the deli case today, I am sure their comment would be, “This does not look like real meat, and it will never sell.”

If we look back at the history of meat substitutes, sometimes called meat analogs, most can stand alone on their merits whether “somewhat like” or “not like” meat. I can recall eating a garden burger at Curley’s in Stillwater, Oklahoma, a few years ago. It was obviously not ground beef, but it was an acceptable sandwich.

Impossible Foods began with an ambitious goal: to drastically reduce humanity’s destructive impact on the global environment by completely replacing the use of animals as a food production technology. “We intend to accomplish this mission within two decades by creating the world’s most delicious, nutritious, affordable and sustainable meat, fish and dairy foods directly from plants,” said Patrick Brown, CEO and founder of Impossible Foods, published in Medium in January 2018.

For some, Brown’s words are fighting words and for others opportunity words. Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat and other new companies have brought new life to the meat replacement market. As a result, other, more traditional food companies have entered or announced plans to compete in the plant-based food arena.  Impossible Foods’ goal is much broader as its plan is to reduce animal agriculture with products that can compete directly, perform like and replace the target product. In other words, they plan to “out-fox” the hen house.

Plant-based foods are featured in the headlines almost daily answering the “why” for meat alternatives. Some say meat is a sacred word to be reserved only for animal flesh, and, like milk, there are naming rights concerns. Fear of the new is tough for some to accept and for others this new is nothing new. A recent Oatly (alternative milk) ad states: “We believe we should eat stuff we can grow instead of growing stuff to feed animals and then eat them.” This statement is nothing new.

Impossible Foods has limited their sales of the “Impossible Burger” to local and national food service establishments. This gives time to build a solid customer base and to pull the customer toward retail later. Impossible Foods has built name recognition and demonstrated there is a market for plant-based burgers. It is not known if plant-based meat alternatives will remain in fashion over time.

Eat healthy foods may sound great but eat foods that promote the health of the eater sounds even greater. The health of the eater is the end-in-mind for plant-based, animal-based as well as flexitarian eaters. Lobbyists may have a different end-in-mind depending upon their clients. Lack of animal and presence of animal are now mainstream product features.

These are interesting times in the food industry, even for an observer and eater like me. My bucket list of foods to try has increased at a greater rate than my ability to eat. So far, my preference remains with the real thing. I will eat a Pringle but prefer to eat a potato chip. What will be the next big thing?