Monday, July 28, 2008

Talking Shop

I loved the way Janice was squinting as she held the Fiber One bar in front of her, squeezing her eyes, doing her best to make out the tiny print.

"Does that say shellac?!"

I laughed out loud, then chimed in.

"I know, can you believe it?"

I was having a bit of fun at work, this having been the 5th person that morning I showed the breakfast/snack bar to. I was looking to show my new-found discovery to anyone wanting to listen; something to break up the day.

Here's the deal. I'm not any kind of food nut, I'm really not. Am I becoming more careful with my eating habits as the years tick by? Of course I am. That just seems to be the smart way to go. So when it comes to reading labels, I'm right there. Scoping out for the big culprits like partially hydrogenated oils, trans and saturated fats, and one of the most silent, yet destructive ones - sodium. It's amazing to me how something can taste so completely un-salty while at the same time containing 1000 mg. of sodium. From what I can tell, so many foods today, especially the processed ones, are "built for the road" as they say. It's all about distribution and getting the goods out to the consumer so ... that means these items must last; they have to survive the long haul and then stay on the shelf until purchased. And to make something last that long, well ... it has to be preserved, kept alive, kept fresh. "Fresh" - isn't that a curious word to use here? Think of all those Hostess cupcakes sitting in their little display cases all over the world. My guess is those cakes can last just about 'til the end of time, if that's what it takes.

But that's a different subject for a different day. For now, let's talk shop. And I mean that literally. I'm talking wood shop. So, you may ask, "Where is Harry's mind headed here? How did he go from a Fiber One bar to wood shop?

At work, feeling hungry but not wanting to eat a whole meal, I went downstairs to the little cafeteria area and, not finding something I wanted, decided to check out the vending machine to find something of the low-salt variety; that's something I need to be more aware of these days. Again, a different subject for a different day. So, in the midst of the Cheese-Its and Pop Tarts, the Fiber One bar seemed to glow. It was the one item having at least the appearance of being, what I'd call, healthy. So - 75 cents went in and, within a few seconds, the bar was mine.

When I returned to my desk, as I often do these days, I immediately studied the label, partly because I really do care about what I'm putting into my body but also, because I genuinely hate it when companies market something as "healthy" when, in fact, the ingredients show the food is anything but healthy. At first glance, when I saw the clump of copy on the side of the Fiber One bar's wrapper, I pretty much knew things were headed in the wrong direction, health-wise. The numbers looked fine, actually. The sodium was low, about 90 mg for the whole bar - one serving size. And since the fat levels looked good too I figured I'd cleared those hurdles. But then came the long laundry list of ingredients. I'm not going to bore you with every item here - you can check this out, (click on the pic to the right - it should come up very large for you so you can read the copy easily) I pulled this from the General Mills website, where you can find the ingredients of any of their products. I love that companies are doing this now.

Take a look. What do you see?

Two words. "Confectioners Shellac."

Hmmm. Interesting.

The fact is, the word "shellac" stuck out when I first saw it. But because it appeared in tandem with the word "confectioners" I figured, "Okay. It's shellac but ... if it's confectioners shellac, that must be okay, right? I mean, it's confectioners, so ... It's not like I'm eating wood stain, or Cuprinol.

Okay, so I have to tell you - this one was weird to me. Come on - Shellac?! In a breakfast bar? In anything I'd ever eat? I read on and, sure enough, there was that word again. And the second time, it was alone. Now, there was absolutely nothing to counteract the effect. They're talking shellac here. Naked, isolated, unadulterated shellac. [FYI - From Wikipedia: "Shellac is the commercial resin marketed in the form of amber flakes, made from "lac," the secretion of the family of lac-producing insects, though most commonly from the cultivated Kerria lacca, found in the forests of Assam and Thailand."] Sounds delicious, doesn't it?

Come to think of it, the bar does that that light brown, glazy, shiny, smooth look to it. I figured it was syrup, honey, molasses or something.

Well, it's the "or something" that I've come to realize is the real culprit in most of the foods we eat. This is why I'm increasingly cooking and preparing my own foods at home. I figure that's the only way I'll ever really know what's heading into my mouth and then blood stream. Sure, even the produce may have God knows what on it but, I figure it's all relative and I'm headed in the right direction. When I go out for a meal? I do my best to get things as simply prepared as possible now - broiled, grilled, etc, ... And the "on the side" approach is fast becoming my default way to order. These days, it's the goopy sauces I look to avoid; all those things I used to love. Again, as I said before, I am most certainly not a food nut. Trust me, given the opening when the spirit moves me, (and it'll probably be with my brother the next time he visits me in KC), you'll be able to spot me sitting down to a nice helping of burnt ends and beans. And it will most likely be at LC's here in town.

Dietary prudence is a good thing and I'm glad I'm taking care. Still, there are times we simply can not prepare our own foods. Sometimes we have to rely on the likes of a General Foods Corporation to do it for us. And I suppose there is some good news here. If I ever choose to eat the Fiber One bar when I'm out in inclement weather, then I suppose I'm all set. At least my food and I are protected in that way and it's good to know the GF's product development folks have figured out a way to water-proof its treats.

"Well, all I know is there's chocolate in here." That was another colleague's reaction as she leaned in to check out the label.

"Oh. So let me get this straight then. As long as there's chocolate in there, that's cool then," I smiled. "It could read, 'cyanide, chocolate, arsenic, rat poison,' and you'd be okay with it, right?"

We laughed hard.

We're In Good Hands - So, that's that. I'm heading up to Mass. today to see family and I can tell you, the Fiber One bar is still in my bag, unopened. In an emergency, what can I tell you? I just might have to eat it. The fact is I'm not really sure why I still have it. I think I was saving it to snap a photo of the wrapper for the blog. But since the General Foods' folks have all that info neatly laid out on their website (see above), there's no more need for the photo. That being said, I figure there's no need to keep the bar any longer. Unless it's raining, of course. Then I'll eat it. At the very least, I can conduct an experiment. What do you think? Will the raindrops bead up on my arms and legs?

When did the American food distribution system get so amazingly advanced? Those folks are so, so smart. Isn't it good to know they're looking out for all of us this way?

No comments:

Search This Blog