By Josephine Cardin
GRAS, what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration refers to as "generally regarded as safe," in monitoring food additives, dyes, and preservatives. The problem: many additives in our food supply are never tested (or approved for food use). GRAS designation is a voluntary process--meaning, companies get to choose whether or not to notify the FDA about their product.
Additives include antioxidants, preservatives, coloring and flavoring agents, and anti-infective agents. At worst, many of these chemicals are toxic and carcinogenic, and at best, most food additives have little or no nutritional value. Americans alone spend about ninety percent of their food budget on processed foods. We have become a society feasting on FOOD-LIKE products.
This project aims to illustrate how chemically dependent food companies have become (for the sake of profit), and how even the best of the worst ingredients can be damaging to our health. Cancer is certainly scary, but heart disease, asthma, obesity, ADHD. nausea, vomiting, rashes, and kidney problems aren't desirable either. The chemicals in processed foods, especially paired with the myriad of chemicals in our health/beauty and cleaning products, and everyday exposure to outside industrial chemicals in our environment, adds up in decreasing the quality of our health. In a fast-paced society we've forgotten to pay attention to what goes into our bodies.
This project features well known fast foods; however, these chemicals are readily found in most of the processed and packaged foods in your supermarket. Support local farms, start your own garden, read labels, cook more at home, and stick to the perimeter of your supermarkets (it's where your healthier foods are found; such as produce, proteins, and dairy).
What happened to using flour, milk, water, butter, oil, and sugar? If a list of ingredients reads like a science experiment, and you can't pronounce most of the words...think twice before eating it.
L-cysteine (derived from human hair, duck feathers, and hog hair)
L-cysteine is an amino acid used as a dough conditioner. It is directly synthesized in laboratories, most of it is extracted from human hair. The hair is dissolved in acid and L-cysteine is isolated through a chemical process, then packaged and shipped off to commercial bread producers. The two other alternatives, when there is a hair shortage, are duck feathers and hog hair. Effects: nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and other gastrointestinal problems.
Propylene Glycol (used in shampoo)
A clear and odorless inorganic compound used as a solvent in many pharmaceuticals, including oral, injectable and topical formulations, such as shampoo, conditioner, soap, acne treatment, moisturizer, toothpaste, deodorant, nail polish, and mascara. It is also used as a preservative for tobacco products, as well as being the major ingredient in the liquid used in electronic cigarettes. Effects: has been shown to be linked to cancer, developmental/reproductive issues, allergies/immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and endocrine disruption.
Silicone Dioxide (sand)
Used as an anti-caking agent, is a chemical compound that is an oxide of silicon most commonly found in nature as sand or quartz. It is often added to processed beef and chicken to prevent clumping. Effects: Can cause kidney stones
Disodium Phosphate (used in mouthwash)
Used in mouthwash, hair color/bleaching, and liquid hand soap, disodium phosphate is a sodium salt used in food as an anti-caking additive. Also used as buffering agent, corrosion inhibitor, fragrance ingredient, and pH adjuster. Effects: Can cause heart and kidney problems
Dimethylpolysiloxane (main ingredient in Silly Putty)
Main ingredient in Silly Putty, also in shampoos (as dimethicone makes hair shiny and slippery), food (antifoaming agent), caulking, lubricating oils, and heat-resistant tiles. Effects: Non-toxic but will irritate the skin and eyes along with being a danger if inhaled or swallowed in its raw form. It is being phased out as a breast plant filler due to safety concerns, yet is still used by food companies worldwide.
Tertiary butylhydroquinone TBHQ (a form of lighter fluid)
A type of phenol made from compounds derived from petroleum, used as a preservative for unsaturated vegetable oils and many edible animal fats. It is a form of butane (lighter fluid) and is also added to varnishes, lacquers, resins, and oil field additives. Effects: Although considered safe (by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) at lower levels, at higher dosages nausea, delirium, tinnitus, or vomiting (5 grams would lead to death). TBHQ has been shown to cause ADHD or hyperactivity in kids, it impacts estrogen levels in women, and has been shown to lead to pre-cancerous tumors and DNA damage.
Cellulose (wood pulp)
Mainly obtained from wood pulp, food processors use it to thicken and stabilize foods, replace fat and boost fiber content — and more importantly for big food companies, it's cheaper and saves on more costly ingredients like oil or flour. Effects: While wood cellulose is not toxic, it's not food either. Our enzymes cannot digest cellulose. You are better off eating legumes, whole grains, and fresh plant food to obtain fiber. It saves food producers 30% though.
Ammonium Sulfate (used in fertilizer)
A inorganic salt primarily used as a fertilizer, and as an agricultural spray adjuvant for water soluble insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. As a food additive it is used in baking breads, pastries and cakes. It functions as a dough conditioner and as food for the yeast. Effects: Irritates the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts. It can also cause rashes, skin and eye irritation.