About 2 years ago on vacation, I remember sitting by the pool in the mountains after a swim. Fresh air whipped through this little basin, and I am contentedly freezing and sunburned. Feeling refreshed and strong, wrapped in a big towel and doodling in a book, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be. And in this book, I remember specifically writing the words “No Additives”. In every sense of the phrase. It’s something like getting lost then getting found. It’s why we get rid of excess junk from our living space every year. And why we prefer simple explanations in most cases. And crave fresh air, food, and sunlight when we haven’t been getting enough. There is something quite attractive to me about the concept of an additive-free environment. (I think it’s more popularly known as minimalism.)
But when it comes to our food system, additives ambiguously raid the majority of the products offered to us. And ambiguity always raises a stir, so let’s get some things straight. The FDA defines a food additive as any substance which directly or indirectly affects the characteristics of any food. If the additive is not generally recognized as safe, experts must evaluate its safety under the conditions it will be used in the food supply, and then it can be used for human consumption.
Because the typical American’s food has not been rushed from the field to the table, additives are often needed to deliver a quality product once it has gone through a complex supply route. And the #1 place additives are found? Convenience foods. These foods are as far from their natural state as possible, so a boat-full of compounds are needed to enhance nutritional value, improve flavor, color, texture, and to extend shelf life.
(Legit baby moose in Snowbird.)
Additives are needed to prevent the majority of Americans from eating rotten food if they do not have the ability to choose something more fresh. So it’s a risk versus benefit situation: expose folks to carcinogenic nitrosamines that can form when frying nitrite or nitrate-infused bacon to a crisp OR expose folks to botulism if the meats were not treated with these preservatives. “If an effective replacement can be found, nitrites and nitrates will likely be banned from the food supply (McWilliams, 2008).” Hasn’t happened yet.
So you are given the power to choose wisely. Choose food that is as fresh as you have access to. Think about where it came from. And enjoy the fact that you are absolutely taking care of yourself. We all too often overlook the importance of it.
McWilliams, M. (2008) Foods: Experimental Perspectives, 6th Edition. p. 512