Do you consider yourself a “food guru?”
That’s the question posed to visitors to the website of the Environmental Working Group, an organization that styles itself as the self-appointed arbiter of what we should eat, what foods we should purchase and most importantly, which foods we should loathe.
Because that’s the operative emotion that EWG and so many other activist groups try to foment. Fear and loathing, mainly of “Big Business” — Big Food, Big Ag, Big Pharma, Big Anything — and the horrors they (allegedly) inflict on the unsuspecting public. Why? Because those industries are run by sociopaths who are actively trying to kill, maim and poison their customers.
If you take the blather of groups like EWG to heart.
Their MO, and that of virtually all of their activist brethren, is ripped from the same playbook: Demonize the “bad guys,” then position the alternatives as good and pure.
Here’s a perfect example, a food quiz posted by EWG to see if you rate as a food guru. I’ll excerpt some of the questions, and by the time we’re half way through, if you can’t easily guess the “correct” answer, then I hate to be bearer of bad news, but you’re the opposite of a guru, whatever that might be.
The quiz begins with a frontal attack on added sugar, a pretty easy target; we all consume more than is healthy for us.
And speaking of easy, I can only wish there were quizzes like this when I was in college, because it’s not designed to test anyone’s knowledge, but instead to direct you toward the “proper” answer — with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
Let’s go through a few of the questions, and you can judge for yourself.
Q). A single cup of three popular brands of children’s cereal contains as much sugar as: A strawberry (1 teaspoon)? An orange (2 teaspoons)? A banana (3 teaspoons)? Or a Twinkie (9 teaspoons)? The answer, of course, is the worst possible choice: the dreaded Twinkie.
Or how about this loaded question:
Q). You will find added sugar ingredients, such as high-fructose corn syrup, in which if the following products? Frozen peas and carrots? Packaged chicken breast strips? Sodas? All of the above?
Of course, it’s all of the above. The point being that everything marketed by Big Food companies is tainted.
There are more questions about sugar in foods, other questions about the dangers of preservatives, which — surprise! — are found in lots of foods you might consider to be healthy (frozen pizza, cold cereals, granola and trail mix bars), plus a question asking whether “non-organic food products” can contain toxic pesticides, growth hormones or antibiotics.
Answer: Yes, they can contain . . . wait for it . . . “All of the above.”
But by now, you already knew that.
Then, there’s this “challenging” question, one that separates the grown-ups from the gurus. See if you can answer correctly.
Q). How common is “artificial flavor” in food products? Is it in: Only a few products? A couple hundred products? A couple thousand products? More than 15,500 products?
Uh, I’ll take “Obvious Answers” for $15,500, Alex.
And you are correct!
The real agenda
But in addition to bashing sugar, preservatives and all those deadly contaminants found in the non-organic foods that only suckers ever eat, EWG has a bigger agenda item here: Trashing meat products. Here’s a sample:
Q). More than half of all meat products have which of the following? Organic certification? Humane certification? Less than 5% fat? Ingredients of high concern, like sodium nitrate?
Why, of course, it’s those dastardly ingredients of high concern.
By now, if you haven’t figured out that the last choice, the highest number, and/or the most outrageous statement is always the answer, your pathway to guruhood just took a permanent detour.
Finally, there’s a question that combines the twin terrors of poor nutrition (and poor decision-making, according to the guiltmeisters at EWG) — sugar and meat. It’s a tough one, though:
Q). Added sugar is present in three-fourths of deli meats. True or false?
Answer: Of course it’s true. This isn’t a “quiz” designed to make anyone smarter. Its purpose is to demonize the food products EWG hates.
After some more bashing of the sodium content in pepperoni pizzas, EWG takes a final swipe at the meat industry, noting that the International Agency for Cancer Research [part of the World Health Organization] reported that sodium nitrate is “probably carcinogenic to humans when ingested.”
That would be highly disturbing — if it were true.
However, I went online to the International Agency for Cancer Research website and searched for studies with the keywords “sodium nitrate,” and what popped up was a paper titled, “Studies of Cancer in Experimental Animals.” The research involved feeding sodium nitrate to mice, so I figured that I’ll find out just how bad the data really are.
Guess what? According to the researchers’ conclusions, “The incidence of lung adenomas did not differ statistically between the sodium nitrate-treated mice (7/40), untreated controls (12/37), mice fed piperazine (and antiparasitic compound) alone (7/33) or mice fed piperazine and treated with nitrate (15/37).”
That doesn’t sound like sodium nitrate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Quite the opposite, in fact.
But set aside the science, because there’s a bigger principle in play here: You don’t second-guess a guru.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.