Monday, April 9, 2012

Grandma, Can I Have Some BHT?

Today's food disappointment comes in the form of Grandma Utz's Handcooked Potato Chips. I normally make a great deal of effort to stay away from the snack machines at work but sometimes the call of salty fried potatoes is too much to bear and I cave. Armed with a dollar bill and resolve to not get anything with artificial ingredients, I headed to the kitchen. The two items I normally have to choose between are Frito's Corn Chips (corn, oil salt), and Lay's Original Potato Chips (potatoes, oil, salt). I don't like corn chips all that much and the potato chips looked juuuust far enough back in their row to be left dangling instead of falling within reach. So I perused the display again and saw them: Grandma Utz's Handcooked Potato Chips. Perfect! These should be just like the others, except the ingredients should read: "thicker potatoes, oil, and salt". Not so.

"Whole fresh potatoes, sliced and cooked in lard, with salt added. TBHQ and BHT added to help protect flavor. This is a Gluten Free Food."

Now before you go patting yourself on the back, Grandma, be reminded that ALL POTATO CHIPS ARE GLUTEN FREE. Why? Because potatoes do not have gluten. Unless you are still eating those crazy Pringles which have added wheat (and between 8 and 11 other ingredients in the "Original" flavor alone),  you don't need to worry about potato chips and gluten sensitivity. So that last sentence, "This is a Gluten Free Food", does not, somehow, make up for the fact that Grandma has used two preservatives in these chips. Let's discuss.

TBHQ stands for something that I can't pronounce, Tertiary Butylhydroquinone, and is a controversial additive in dog food. That's right, safety groups are concerned about feeding TBHQ to our pets in their daily meals (pets who, mind you, are genetically designed to scavenge for their food and digest all manner of "leftovers" after actual predators have had their way). From the Natural News website: "Consuming high doses (between 1 and 4 grams) of TBHQ can cause nausea, delirium, collapse, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and vomiting. There are also suggestions that it may lead to hyperactivity in children as well as asthma, rhinitis and dermatitis. It may also further aggravate ADHD symptoms and cause restlessness. Long term, high doses of TBHQ in laboratory animals have shown a tendency for them to develop cancerous precursors in their stomachs, as well as cause DNA damage to them. It is also suggested that it may be responsible for affecting estrogen levels in women."

Another tongue twister here, BHT is short for Butylated hydroxytoluene; it is most likely used in these chips to prevent the lard/fat from going rancid too quickly. BHT went out of fashion back in the 1970s due to health concerns - it may be toxic to both the nervous system and the liver.  Like many of our Grandma's, Ms. Utz must just be a little behind the times.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Thanks For Having Me, Oprah

Sometimes my mind wanders. This usually happens when I'm on a long solo run or driving. I'll find myself making a mental list of all the things that need to get done over the weekend or, if I'm really lucky, daydreaming about "making it" (doing what, I don't know) and how my first interview with Oprah will go. Driving to work from Master Gardener class a few weeks ago, I was wondering how I would respond when Oprah asked me why I felt gardening was such an important part of life. My daydream response hit just the right balance of emotion and reason and turned the whole country on to vegetable gardening.

While this is pretty unlikely to reach an Oprah-scale audience, I do want to say a few things about growing your own food. You aren't going to forever replace trips to the grocery store with a few square feet of vegetable plants, so you shouldn't expect to. Sometimes, other critters are going to get to your lovely cucumbers before you do. And it's probably not going to be cheaper. But guess what? It's fun. Watching plants grow and succeed under your care is rewarding. And it's really, really cool to pick something, rinse off the soil, and take a bite. 

Anyone can garden. Maybe your job sucks or you're unhappy with where you live or your health isn't the best. Guess what? Tomatoes don't care. If you set them in a sunny spot and water them, tomatoes will produce some of the most delicious fruit on the planet regardless of who you are or what you do. 

I grew up around a garden. My grandparents had a deep lot with a large, rectangular vegetable garden in the back. I don't have vivid memories of spending time there, but I do remember how exciting it was to walk to "the back" and see what was ripening. I remember green beans crawling up a simple leaning trellis and wondering how my grandmother knew when to pull potatoes out of the ground. A garden is such a special and peaceful place, and it doesn't take much to get started. 

Below are a couple of great resources for those of you in central Maryland if you are interested in learning more:

Home and Garden Information Center - You can call or email this group of horticultural experts with ANY plant question. They also have a lot of great (and free) publications on their website.
Grow It Eat it - All about growing your own vegetables. Great guides for beginners.