Flying cars, personal jetpacks, and rover rangers; that was the image of the future. The future of big dreams and even bigger conquests; it was the idea that our minds could pull us through everything. It was a dream that our collective ideas of the world as a whole could change humanity as a whole. Today the future is not as bright as it once seemed, and although few still hold hopes of this revolution coming, many see only blight to come. What shook the resolve of our future? Was it the continuation of war and disparity that continues in lands not far from our own, or how despite the revolutions in community and networking, the most arbitrary of misunderstandings and obscurities still occur? Could it be that people by the dozens still starve no matter how much food we produce? Perhaps these are all reasons why we lose faith in our own strength to change this world; all of these things are easy enough to see, but most will turn their eyes and ears away from this and shut out these thoughts and throw them to the very depths of their memory for their subconscious to erode the details until nobody remembers the dream of flying cars, personal jetpacks, and rover rangers. People have lost faith in technology because it either does not behave as expected or change a problem as intended. Although this all seems overwhelming and impossible to innumerate all of the instances that show this, gearing down into a case study can address at least one; the food industry and the uses of chemicals in foods to make more food from less. When someone mentions partially hydrogenated Ham or peanuts made with ‘Natural Flavors’, the first thing to come to mind is not, ‘Thank goodness of the technological advancements that make this possible’, but rather the inverse. Why is it today, as far into the future as we’ve ever been, we still partake in these terrible foods and their terrible consequences? Isn’t it obvious that organic produce and fresh ingredients are the answers, and that a simple shift in the hearts of the men in charge from greed to charity could make this all happen?… Right?
Digressing back to the original case, that chemicals in our foods are used to make our lives better, and how this isn’t always achieved, we’ll look at dried fruit as our case study. Dried fruit, although not often scoffed for being unhealthy, unnatural, or highly processed, is actually a shockingly terrible example of the technology we use today. One of the wonderful chemicals used to preserve most dried fruits is a compound called sulfur dioxide which is nonhazardous material that is at most sited for being irritating to the eyes and skin at most; although the chemical is unassuming and seemingly safe enough, the compound is highly reactive to water at room temperature and when reacting with water results in a product of sulphurous acid which is corrosive. In a half pound bag of dried apricots, 2000ppm of sulfur dioxide is present; with some subsequent math you can do yourself you’ll find that roughly 5ml of sulphurous acid is ingested eating the whole bag. To try and bridge empirical arguments to common sense, try drinking a small vial of acid regularly. This is only with regulated cases and commonly accepted rules in preserving fruits, supposedly some people have gone as high as 12,000ppm of sulfur dioxide, which does not even need an explanation. Another fun example of what can be considered healthy gone terribly wrong would be popcorn, or rather, Orville’s buttered popcorn. Everyone loves a good bag of popcorn; some like light butter, other extra butter, but arguably almost everyone has eaten popcorn and some experts consider lightly buttered popcorn to be a healthy snack, but let’s look at the artificial butter. The artificial butter from Orville’s signature popcorn taste has a very special ingredient in it, diacetyl; history junkies already know what this chemical is. Diacetyl was used during World War I as one of the gasses used in the trenches; the effect of the gas causes the interior of your lungs to warp and form scar tissue until theyre completely crippled. At the time, the way of detecting this gas was if you could smell something like ‘Musty hay’; next time you pop a bag of popcorn, see if you can smell it. The workers who make this popcorn and deal with the butter must wear gas masks during the production; if people have to wear gas masks to add an ingredient to a food, something has gone very wrong. If dried fruit and popcorn, both of which considered a healthy snack, has proven to be at least shocking in terms of health concerns, what is there to expect from things accepted as unhealthy like Oreos or Twinkies? Unfortunately I’m not an undercover journalist, and I’m certainly not heading to the Oreo factor with a secret camera, and so the secrets of whatever terrible truth Oreo holds behind their trans-fat enriched treat will remain so until someone pays for my plane ticket. Instead I can offer the argument of comparable risk; if fruits that were supposedly healthy for you to eat contained chemicals that are really good at corroding organs or even rocks, what kind of chemicals are in the multi-million dollar secret of the Oreo ingredient list? It’s obvious Oreo isn’t looking to appeal to healthy eating seeing as you can only eat 2 cookies per serving depend on what country you’re in, and I’m sure 3 square meals of 6 Oreo cookies per day will surely kill you in a week or two, let alone as a lifestyle of eating these on a regular basis.
So why do we do it? Why these terrible chemicals in what could be good food? Reasons range from one to another; labor, property, capital, training… but all of these things lead back to the root of why this happens; money, and with it the intrinsic issue of greed. On one side of the coin, businesses, no matter what field they work in, will always work for a profit and so one can assume no company in the food industry is looking for your best interest; but looking to the other side of the same coin, businesses want you to buy their product, and are willing to work hard and try to appeal to you with good products rather than terrible ones. Greed may be a component of the problem, but there are certainly other arguments that can be made with much more meaning than with some of the most arbitrary issues of the human mind. Today an issue may be that food industries are constrained by the vast number and density of the population; there are simply too many people in one space to feed using only organic and natural methods. It could be the simple explanation of greed or cost efficacy, but there’s also a chance that at this point there’s simply no turning back from where we’ve come from. Some chemicals in foods are arguably reasonable, like the acid in the dried fruit, because of its intended effect, which was to preserve the food longer so it could reach more people and waste very little produce. Some actions are unjustifiable, like Orville’s artificial butter causing irreversible damage to lungs.
In the end, it may be very noble to believe in organic farming, real ingredients, and truly wholesome food, but there is a down to every up; but some of us eat well, not all of us can eat. There will always be room for the people who are looking to make foods better through reasonable means, like trying to change the ingredients in Orville’s butter to something less toxic, but the reality is that there is no feasible method for mass producing food for us all without putting a few health concerns in jeopardy. Some people try to argue that if everyone had a personal garden, bought from local markets, and boycotted foods that were too far from the roots of their products, everything would become better, but this view like so many others is unrealistic. Local foods cannot be bought everywhere, neither can gardens be grown everywhere; the core of this problem is a result of our population density. Because of how advanced our society has grown, and how long we can all live topped with how almost anyone can survive in today’s world, the population has expanded exponentially, calling for more cloths, houses, energy; more everything. The answers to our problems on food will come in the future, but for now Im happy to eat junk so that we can all eat, and I’m perfectly happy to wait for the day when flying cars, personal jetpacks, and rover rangers are a normality.