Thursday, December 16, 2010

Be Afraid... Of Chicken!

Ok... This blog post is about to get incredibly meta. You've been warned.

My Facebook friend, Isaac Freeman, posted a link to an article by the undoubtedly fine hippies at "Organic Authority" prattling some tired old complaints against purportedly dangerous chemicals appearing in foods - especially in "Fast Food Chicken". Terrifying Upton Sinclair-style expos√©, this is not...

Why? Because the authors don't have the slightest understanding of science.

It is a general rule of medicine - unless you're the Surgeon General - that "dose makes the poison". We alllllll know this, don't we? If you take a couple Tylenol PMtm to help you sleep when you're sick or in pain, you are likely to sleep better than you otherwise would have, and then you go ahead and wake up like normal the next morning. If you take a couple dozen Tylenol PMtm then... You don't.

I'm going to let Isaac take it from here because his comments on his own post were just spectacular all by themselves. I've tried to format it as clearly as possible to differentiate between which quotes come from the article, and which are Isaac's comments:‎
"Don’t forget to add a dash of dimethylpolysiloxane, an anti-foaming agent made of silicone that is also used in Silly Putty and cosmetics."
(Isaac): Just because something is also in something else which sounds gross doesn't mean it's bad for you. I mean, water is used in nuclear reactors, and potatoes contain toxic compounds found in the nightshade family.

From Wikipedia:

"Potatoes contain toxic compounds known as glycoalkaloids, of which the most prevalent are solanine and chaconine. Solanine is also found in other plants in the family Solanaceae, which includes such plants as the deadly nightshade"

The potatoes contain something that's also in the deadly nightshade? Oh noes!
"Now add a heaping spoonful of tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), which is a chemical preservative and a form of butane (AKA lighter fluid)."
The FDA sets an upper limit of 0.02% of the oil or fat content in foods. Not exactly a "heaping spoonful".

Also, did you know that tertiary butylhydroquinone is organic and an effective antioxidant?

Also from Wikipedia:

"Other studies, however, have shown opposite effects including inhibition against HCA-induced carcinogenesis (by depression of metabolic activation) for TBHQ and other phenolic antioxidants (TBHQ was one of several, and not the most potent).[8] The EFSA considers TBHQ to be non-carcinogenic.[3] A review of scientific literature concerning the toxicity of TBHQ determined that there is a wide margin of safety between the levels of intake by humans and the doses that produce adverse effects in animal studies."

I mean, seriously:
"Sprinkle on thirteen other corn-derived ingredients"
So? What's wrong with corn-derived ingredients? Is this supposed to elicit some connection to the evil high-fructose corn syrup scare?
"They come from a petroleum plant."
What does? Corn derivatives, sugars and leavening agents? Which of these come from petroleum plants? Did you know that beer, buttermilk, baking powder and baking soda are leavening agents? So is blowing air bubbles in to the dough. But they don't say which leavening agents are used. I don't see anything here that is a petroleum product.

I'm sorry, but I tend not to buy in to food paranoia, especially when it's so overly dramatized, unsourced and rife with unsubstantiated scare tactics like this.

Also, two other things I meant to add:

Regarding the title "What's in Fast Food Chicken? (Hint: It’s NOT Chicken)". Ummm, yes it is. It just has other stuff too. From the ingredients list: "White boneless chicken".

Secondly, dimethylpolysiloxane is a completely inert compound and non-toxic.
What a fine take-down, no?

Look... Here's my point in all this. Government subsidies really produce a highly distorted food market. We all know this. Corn derivatives are used in everything because we subsidize the hell out of corn farming. Go figure... I have argued a thousand times that these subsidies need to end. They're bad for the economy, they take money & resources away from things consumers would demand and shift them into artificially raising the value of corn and other products at the expense of any number of "unseen" goods. And for good measure, it hurts some of the poorest people in the world who would export things like sugar even more cheaply than corn-syrup if only we'd let them.

But does that make corn bad?? No. Of course not.

The whole organic, vegan, hippie crowd really needs to start learning a little bit about chemistry and about the science behind food before they all have panic attacks and hissy fits about words and chemical applications that they don't understand.

Like virtually all science, chemistry has it's own nomenclature. This means that stuff we all consume all the time, when spoken with a chemist's language frequently sounds like a dangerous, toxic chemical. Here, try it:
I bet most people struggle through even trying to pronounce that last one...

The real problem here is, most people forgot their High School chemistry lab, and far fewer - including myself, I might add -  ever took real classes in the subject in college. I was at least personally fortunate enough to have one of my best friends as well as a band-mate who were both chemists. Hanging out with physicists, chemists & engineers is a good thing by the way - I encourage everyone to do it more often... Especially because without having some basic understanding of science, people are bound to be terrified of the words of science.

Without a better understanding, people prone to food-hysteria tend to find stuff like "dimethylpolysiloxane" extremely scary when they find it on the label of some food they find in the super-market. But in truth it's a pretty normal polymer found in all kinds of things. But see, now I used the word "polymer" and even that sounds futuristic and potentially like a hazardous chemical - after all, a lot of times that word comes before "plastic", and we don't want plastic in our food! Except... Well... Polymer just means:
Any of numerous natural and synthetic compounds of usually high molecular weight consisting of up to millions of repeated linked units, each a relatively light and simple molecule.
It's not that scary when you put it that way, is it?

A little knowledge of science can go along way if you use it properly. But ignorance is almost always a big problem. And whether they know it or not, the folks at Organic AuthoritarianAuthority are counting on your ignorance being as great as theirs in order for articles like this one to be effective and influential.

A truly staggering amount of hysterical fear-mongering like this and woo-woo nonsense is based entirely on ignorance and misunderstandings of the more complicated sciences like physics (*cough*... yes Deepak Chopra, I'm talking to you!), chemistry & biology.

Sadly, a hell of a lot of it is effective and accepted by a gullible public, because most of us really aren't any better acquainted with the hard sciences ourselves...

I'm here to tell you though; you don't need to be an astrophysicist to understand any of this.

You don't have to have Ph.D's in chemistry either... All you need to do is stay skeptical, recognize that the language of science is unique - but not intrinsically scary - and that, as I said at the beginning, the dose makes the poison.

It helps to keep some really smart chemist friends around too.

So... Please. If you're one of the organic, vegan hippies I'm kind of bashing here... Just relax. The scary chemicals I listed up above are just salt, sugar and chili-peppers - and like my friend, Isaac, said: "dimethylpolysiloxane is a completely inert compound and non-toxic".

Now if you'll all excuse me... I think I need to go get some Chicken McNuggets.

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