Starbucks late last week announced that its stores would begin phasing out the use of food coloring made from crushed insects. Well, that's nice. The kerfuffle over the revelation of the nonvegan, and somewhat stomach-turning, ingredient's inclusion in some of the chain's beverages is just one of many public food freakouts this nation has experienced in recent months.
Despite being ground to an unrecognizable slush, the "pink slime" story has legs. The reconstituted-beef revelation continues to bang the gross-out drum, causing even those with
steely stomachs to give their favorite burger the ol' hairy eyeball. Pescetarians weren't immune from pink slime panic as news leaked recently of a "pink slime of sushi" involving a not-so-appetizing method of tuna prep that will have you shunning your spicy tuna roll for the foreseeable future.
While most of these stories impact meat- and seafood-eaters -- and "coffee" addicts -- vegetarians aren't safe from the "Why in the hell are they feeding me that?" gag reflex. Since learning that duck feathers and/or human hair are sometimes used in the production of certain baked goods, I haven't been able to walk the Publix bread aisle without feeling a touch queasy.
These stories, and our reactions to them, signify what's wrong (and to a much, much lesser extent, what's right) in our food culture. Most of us want to know what we are eating. Too often, we are horrified when we learn the truth. We vow to start growing our own vegetables, befriend the local butcher, buy a breadmaker, home-brew -- whatever it takes to become entirely self-sufficient. More often than not, the righteous indignation disappears as the story slips from the headlines and Colbert/Stewart have used up all of the good jokes. We return to our regular eating habits until the next self-satisfied list of "The Seven Most Gut-Wrenchingly-Awful Things You're Eating RIGHT AT THIS VERY SECOND" appears on our Facebook feed.
I know this because this is me. Every few weeks or so, I learn of something new and disgusting that I'm unintentionally ingesting on a regular basis. I think about (and neglect to purchase) that breadmaker at least once a month. At least I've got my community garden plot, ensuring that .01 percent of my food is in my hands from start to finish. Of course, during a recent visit, I realized that a demonic-looking spider had taken up residence in my basil plant, encasing mummified insects in the underleaves. Did any of that make it into my latest batch of homemade pesto? Possibly. Is there nothing I can control in the food chain that ends at my dinner plate?
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Truth be told, I have reached "food gross-out fatigue." Short of a revelation of Soylent Green-proportion, it's difficult to fathom what dirty little secrets the food industry has up its sleeve that will come as a true shocker. Is this how they lull us into complacency? Introduce us to ammonia-soaked beef trimmings until the duck-feather-pie crust seems benign in comparison?
Now, where's that Bed, Bath, & Beyond coupon? I've got a breadmaker to think about purchasing.