Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

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> food : composition

food is assumed to have a certain natural quality to it. cooking, at least until recently, has consisted of bringing together plant and animal based ingredients with heat to create meals.

heater meals!  meals with a stove inside!

today, much food simply requires water and a microwave to be edible.

these foods are engineered, and it is pretty clear: they come wrapped in metal or plastic; prepared days, weeks or even months in advance; offering dishes that would ordinarily require a well stocked kitchen and even perhaps a trained chef to create.

twinkie icon we think of "cup-o-soup," ramen, and "hotpockets" to be "processed foods" - unconfirmed urban legend has it that twinkies, a popular sweet cake, are not actually baked, they are created from a chemical reaction.

but these are just the later incarnations of basic technologies we have used for centuries to stock our larders with the most basic ingredients. flour results from machine processing (harvest, thresh, mill), sugar from abusing cane, olive oil from squeezing fruit.

machine pre-preparation of foods saves us the trouble required to enjoy a full meal. but many food additives have been engineered past the point of simply providing nourishing fare to begin fine-tuning human nutrition and health.

modern technologically prepared foodstuffs often include matter that seems somehow distant from materials grown or killed. "preservatives," for example, the chemical-sounding stuff at the end of the list of ingredients that we can't pronounce. in exchange for the ease of pre-prepared foods, we secede evermore control over food composition to the technologists creating complex foods assembled from far flung ingredients.

those ingredients might include nutrients: food fortification; monosodium glutamate, or the recently available fat free fake fat olestra.

issues at large

food fortification to reduce the risk of beri beri is one concern, the addition of msg for flavour or olestra for weight loss seems to be another. these last two are arguably less necessary than disease prevention, but one can argue that providing a broader range of exciting tasting foodstuffs that do not add so many pounds is a social good.

how do we decide what constitutes appropriate tampering with foods? most of these decisions we have explored here have been made in board rooms and laboratories, not in kitchens. the people who feel the bulk of the effects of food additives make their decisions about them in supermarkets, often with imperfect or lacking information.

the people who create the prepackaged food options act with a range of motives in mind - some are for profit, some for health. intrinsic to this debate is a sense of the nature, or naturalness of food, and the altering power of technology; food scientists and consumers alike weigh the balance between sacrificing some of the former, and reigning in some of the latter.

food scientists acknowledge the issues related to the use of food fortification:

"...should nutrient addition be based on restoring nutrients to "normal" levels for individual foods (whether natural or analog) or exclusively on health needs with no undue consideration to composition of the original product? Criteria for nutrient additions to date ... agree more closely with the former view by limiting nutrient additions (1) to nutrients diminished during processing, (2) to products widely and regularly consumed, and (3) to "normal" levels unless a specific need is documented and the effectiveness of the particular food as a vehicle substantiated."
- Howard E. Bauman, "Cereal Products," Technology of Fortification of Foods, pages 38-9

defining normal and appopriate use of food additives is explored specifically under food fortification. in that case, responsibility rests in the hands of food manufacturers. the alternative is to put the consumer in charge; speaking of "responsible dietary intervention," Howard Bauman posits the following,

"...Food habits or dietary patterns are too variable and volatile to permit rigid control of the population's diet exclusively by intervention. The consumer is sophisticated enough to increase personal responsibility for dietary management, and nutrition labeling provides the necessary tool. Proper education will put the consumer back in the game..."
- Howard E. Bauman, "Cereal Products," Technology of Fortification of Foods, page 39

shifting responsibility to the consumer with information is mandated in the case of olestra and demanded by activists for msg. decentralization is inspiring, and somehow suited to the number and range of choices available in the purchasing world today, but it may all be an illusion in the face of technology determinism, where everything chosen by producer and consumer alike contributes to machine control.

index | biblio

technology affects food relationships and death determining potential directions for our society.
 - composition
- pills
diet pills
- distribution 
electronic babysitting fluoridation
technological determinism

thesis biblio
how to read this thesis
process notes