Wild High Fructose Corn Syrup Pie.

(cross-posted from U.S. of J)

I can’t find the clip now, but there was an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher a few years ago where Maher was trying to draw  attention to the fact that our agricultural system is, to a large extent, organized around the production of corn.  Being that this was Real Time, Maher was promptly mocked by his guests, who seemed genuinely perplexed by Maher’s anti-corn tirade.  The response Maher received wasn’t too different from what was faced by the first groups of people who began pushing against the pervasive use of corn in our food supply.  Many people were either A) confused or B) indifferent and didn’t see how corn affected their lives in any negative way.

Increasingly loud concerns over obesity though, were enough to get lots of people riled up about the use of corn, and particularly, high fructose corn syrup.  So much so that now, agribusiness is moving away from using the sweetener in some of its products (via the New York Times):

From the tomato sauce on a Pizza Hut pie called “The Natural,” to the just-released soda Pepsi Natural, some of the biggest players in the American food business have started, in the last few months, replacing high-fructose corn syrup with old-fashioned sugar.

ConAgra uses only sugar or honey in its new Healthy Choice All Natural frozen entrees. Kraft Foods recently removed the corn sweetener from its salad dressings, and is working on its Lunchables line of portable meals and snacks.

The turnaround comes after three decades during which high-fructose corn syrup had been gaining on sugar in the American diet. Consumption of the two finally drew even in 2003, according to the Department of Agriculture. Recently, though, the trend has reversed. Per capita, American adults ate about 44 pounds of sugar in 2007, compared with about 40 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup.

“Sugar was the old devil, and high-fructose corn syrup is the new devil,” said Marcia Mogelonsky, a senior analyst at Mintel International, a market-research company.

Replacing high-fructose corn syrup with sugar is all well and good, but the problem isn’t necessarily that we use high-fructose corn syrup – Pizza Hut won’t be any better for you because the “sauce” contains real sugar – it’s that massive corn subsidies make high-fructose corn syrup artificially cheap.  Which in turn makes it possible for large food manufacturers to produce more and more food which contains HFCS as its primary ingredient.  The long, brightly colored aisles of junk food on the far left of any supermarket (you’re more likely to buy it that way, apparently) are only possible because HFCS is so damn cheap.  That is the problem.  Americans are consuming huge amounts of artificially cheap, artificially sweetened junk “food” at the expense of eating actual food.  And as we all know, it’s having a hugely detrimental impact on American health.  While it’s nice that some sodas will use sugar instead of HFCS, there remains the simple fact that its probably not a good idea to drink soda, or at least lots of it.

I don’t expect agribusiness to cut back on the amount of junk food they produce; they’re trying to make money, and if that means feeding us microwavable cream cheese filled pastries, then they will make microwavable cream cheese filled pastries.  Putting pressure on agribusiness isn’t a bad thing, but if we want to restructure our food system then our best bet is to put pressure on our government to restructure our subsidies and regulations.  Of course, if the post below this is any indication, that might prove to be very – very – difficult.

(photo used under a creative commons license from flickr user awrose)

5 thoughts on “Wild High Fructose Corn Syrup Pie.

  1. quadmoniker March 23, 2009 at 11:26 am Reply

    Mark Bittman had a similar rant in the New York Times this weekend about how, every time he goes to speak somewhere, people conflate “healty” with “organic.” He pointed out that there’s so much wrong with the way Americans eat, worrying about whether a food producer uses pesticides should be the least of our problems.

  2. Adrienne March 23, 2009 at 2:05 pm Reply

    Thanks for sharing this. There is an excellent documentary that details corn production (and consumption) in this country called King Corn. I couldn’t find a link to the actual film, but the link below is for the trailer. There are several places where it can be downloaded for free. Also, with regard to “natural” foods, I think it’s very important for Americans to bear in mind that many products are found in nature and are therefore natural. Arsenic, for example, comes to mind. Just because the package says “natural” doesn’t mean you don’t have to read the label or research the company (the FDA does not require that genetically engineered foods be labeled as such).

    Quadmoniker also makes a great point about American eating habits. Marketing companies should not your diet but for many Americans this is very much the case. Consumers have to exercise better judgment, especially when it comes to what they feed their children.

  3. bjcooks March 23, 2009 at 6:28 pm Reply

    Just another caution to consumers to use better judgment. HFCS is just one of the additives that FDA closes its eyes to. I watched the trailer on you tube. It does make you leery about everything on your plate.

    Also, check out the use of Partially Hydrogenated Oil. Although it must be listed as an ingredient, the FDA guidelines allow as much as 2.2 grams of trans fat to go unreported on the nutrition label. If the ingredient listing includes partially hydrogenated oil of any kind, the product has trans fat.

    Partially hydrogenated oil is created when hydrogen gas is forced through liquid vegetable oil. Once thought to decrease saturated fat, researchers now consider the trans fats in partially hydrogenated oils as harmful as saturated fats; some think they are more dangerous. Trans fats can lower good cholesterol (HDL) and increase the rates of coronary heart disease.

    Quadmonikere makes another point about organic. Look into this. You do not need to buy everything organic to stay healthy. Some products, based on the way they’re grown, will contain more pesticides then others. The more informed you are as a consumer, the better consumer you’ll be. Do the research cheap and fast is not always the answer.

  4. Winslowalrob March 23, 2009 at 9:36 pm Reply

    Both corn and sugar are subsidized. King Corn sucks, but sugar is not that great. I have no particular sympathy for unhealthy people in America (I have a high metabolism so I will be thin and beautiful forever bwahahahaha) but the thing that galls me, and what I wish would come up more in the discussion, is the issue of American subsidized agriculture. If you want lift millions of people out of poverty by raising commodity prices to market levels, pay less for higher quality goods, and have your tax dollars pay for more worthy causes (such as education) then the United States government has to stop helping out massive agribusinesses. While these subsidies were useful in the past, they have outlived their value.

    • shani-o March 24, 2009 at 10:11 am Reply

      Very, very good points.

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