The Chemicals in Our Food

by on January 19, 2014 at 10:55 am in Food and Drink | Permalink

More here.

Tony January 19, 2014 at 11:13 am

A banana does not contain chemicals. If you actually go to a dictionary, you find that a “chemical” is a synthetically refined substance, and the word is not generally used to refer to a molecular species occurring in a natural product.

I don’t see the point of these posters. An actual label for a banana would say “Ingredient: banana”. If it’s all you’ve got to go on, long and mysterious ingredient list actually IS an indication that a product might not be the best nutritional choice. The whole point of avoiding “chemicals” is to steer consumers towards natural products that have less added salt, sugar, and fats, and I don’t think anyone disagrees with that, do they?

bluto January 19, 2014 at 11:24 am

That distinction may have made sense before the understanding that cells contain tiny chemical refinement factories. It’s silly to make a distinction between a macro and micro process that produces ethyl hexanoate when they’re the same product (frequently produced via similar reactions).

Tony January 19, 2014 at 11:45 am

The reason we want to differentiate between naturally occurring compounds and those that have been added artificially is that the latter are circumstantially associated with poor nutrition. Preservatives and flavorings are probably not inherently harmful, but they have the effect of covering for poor quality ingredients and long storage times.

A banana, while not an ideal food, at least is something of a known quantity. It has not been manipulated so as to encourage overeating, it has not been stripped of nutrients through preservation and storage, and it doesn’t need it’s flavor jacked up with sugar to taste good. To diminish the distinction between a fresh fruit and a synthetic fruit dessert that is almost certainly less healthy helps nobody.

Why would ANYBODY who is interested in improving the American diet do ANYTHING to encourage the consumption of processed food? Just to make some tangential point about “safety”? How does this help people make better nutritional choices? Frankly I think the creator of these posters is being a bit of a jerk.

Z January 19, 2014 at 12:05 pm

You’re almost there Tony. The reason for the false distinctions is to maintain the mythologies that have grown up around food.

libert January 19, 2014 at 1:10 pm

I think Tony’s negative reaction is based on the author’s implication that, since all food is made up of chemicals, there is no significant nutritional difference between processed and unprocessed foods. After all, a McDonald’s cheeseburger and spinach are both made of chemicals, so they must be equally good for me!

The author says that his goal is “to erode the fear that many people have of chemicals”. On its own, that seems fairly reasonable. But the implication seems to be that one should not fear ingesting unknown chemicals, which is clearly absurd. If I gave you a cup of liquid smelling of diesel fumes, would you drink it simply because it tastes delicious? Humans naturally fear ingesting unknown substances, and for good reason: it is simply good survival instincts.

John Thacker January 19, 2014 at 2:06 pm

But the implication seems to be that one should not fear ingesting unknown chemicals, which is clearly absurd. If I gave you a cup of liquid smelling of diesel fumes, would you drink it simply because it tastes delicious? Humans naturally fear ingesting unknown substances, and for good reason: it is simply good survival instincts.

On the contrary, the implication of libert and Tony seems to be that if an identical molecular structure appears naturally, we should not worry about it. If the water table in an area has a high amount of arsenic because it naturally occurs in the surrounding rocks, does that make it less dangerous than the same arsenic level from pollutants?

libert January 19, 2014 at 10:44 pm

Not at all. Not sure where you got that idea from.

libert January 19, 2014 at 11:02 pm

Actually, I am arguing precisely the opposite of that (although I can’t speak for Tony).

In fact, the argument you outline is closer to the original designer of the poster, who argues that we should not fear chemicals because chemicals are “natural”.

On the contrary, I argue that we should worry about ingesting unknown molecules, natural or not. We shouldn’t try to “erode” our “fear of chemicals” because not ingesting unknown compounds is healthy survival instinct.

John Thacker January 20, 2014 at 12:42 pm

On the contrary, I argue that we should worry about ingesting unknown molecules, natural or not. We shouldn’t try to “erode” our “fear of chemicals” because not ingesting unknown compounds is healthy survival instinct.

Then you should applaud the poster, even if you suspect the motives of the one who created it. After all, it merely lists the chemicals and compounds that appear in these natural foods.

John Thacker January 20, 2014 at 12:45 pm

On the contrary, I argue that we should worry about ingesting unknown molecules, natural or not.

What I took from the author’s statement is that molecular compounds should be treated the same whether natural or not. You did not.

What I suspect the real difference is that the author believes that people are too afraid of both, whereas perhaps you think that people are too unafraid of both.

Boonton January 20, 2014 at 3:07 pm

I’m a bit stunned by the phrase ‘our fear of chemicals’. If a UFO was visiting the US in 2014 and started scanning most of the food being served or started scanning the processes used to raise livestock or crops on an industrial scale would they think they had found evidence of a culture with an ‘inordinate fear of chemicals’?

The argument against chemicals is essentially a conservative one. Selective breeding, planting, etc. has changed food’s structure for hundreds of thousands of years. But our bodies have likewise had thousands of years to adjust to changes created by selective breeding. As you start going down the more artificial route unintended consequences multiply and appear faster than our bodies can adapt to them. Hence the need for caution.

Ryan January 21, 2014 at 8:13 am

+1 for Bontoon

Bontoon hit the nail on the head. Read their comment.

bluto January 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Not been manipulated? Are you suggesting that growing every commercial banana from a clone just happened?

Brandon Berg January 19, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Bananas have been bred to produce strains which sell the best. Why do they sell the best? Because people eat the most. They have indeed been manipulated to encourage overeating.

dan1111 January 20, 2014 at 4:43 am

@Tony, the point is that the simplistic narrative “processed = bad; natural = good” is hogwash. Even you admit that artificial ingredients are only “circumstantially associated with poor nutrition”. And yet artificial vs. natural becomes the focal point of the debate. Having the debate centered on the wrong thing does not help health; it can actually be harmful.

For example, most people believe that soda is bad for you, while fruit juice is an unequivocal good. But the sugar in fruit juice is just as harmful as the sugar in soda–and there is just as much of it. A McDonald’s hamburger is bad for you, but so is an organic grass-fed ribeye steak or a breakfast of all-natural bacon and eggs.

Furthermore, processing has many non-trivial benefits: it reduces food waste, greatly reduces the resources needed for shipping, increases food safety, and is low cost.

It is true that many processed foods are bad for you. But mostly that is because of their nutritional content, not the mere fact of processing. Nutrition is where the debate should be focused.

Curt F. January 20, 2014 at 2:19 pm

A banana, while not an ideal food, at least is something of a known quantity. It has not been manipulated so as to encourage overeating, it has not been stripped of nutrients through preservation and storage, and it doesn’t need it’s flavor jacked up with sugar to taste good.

If you had even a passing familiarity with the evolutionary history of fruiting plants, you would likely find this passage comical. Evolution, of course, has manipulated the sugar content of fruits to encourage overeating, and has in fact jacked up the sugar to make fruits taste good.

derek January 19, 2014 at 11:30 am

So if the growers of this banana select a strain that has a higher sugar content than others, or has a natural fungicide that keeps it fresh long enough to get to market, is that natural as well?

Tony January 19, 2014 at 11:57 am

The word “natural” is not a good choice, I should have said “minimally processed”. The engineering of foods for higher palatability is a mixed blessing, it could either improve or worsen diets depending on the product. But a guideline like “choose minimally processed foods” is never going to be perfect, and the food industry is always going to work in ways that undermine it. That doesn’t mean that the guideline should be abandoned.

What seems absent from this sort of discussion is any sincerity in the task of improving health by way of policy. Lots of stone-throwing and not much in the way of constructive ideas. Even as a libertarian sympathizer I think it’s clear that the free market does a terrible job at this, it’s one area where regulation can be extremely beneficial.

dan1111 January 20, 2014 at 4:19 am

How is this a market failure? Every imaginable kind of food is available. The impressive infrastructure that makes a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables available all year long is a triumph of the free market. The “food industry” is not monolithic but caters to a variety of preferences. There are major industries producing all-natural, organic, free range, GM-free, vegan, and more–despite the fact that none of this has been mandated by the government.

The only thing that has “failed” here is that, given the choice, many people prefer to eat a lot of unhealthy food. I agree that this isn’t a good thing, but if you are advocating government action to prevent people from eating the food they want, then you really don’t have a libertarian bone in your body.

Axa January 19, 2014 at 11:58 am
anon January 19, 2014 at 8:21 pm

A supporter of big business, and probably the more crony the better.

JW January 21, 2014 at 10:33 pm

Tony is a proglodyte troll, quite possibly a sockpuppet, which cruises libertarian sites and argues very dishonestly. Its goal posts are mounted on a super-charged mobile platform. You would be wasting your time talking to it.

Tom Anichini January 19, 2014 at 12:08 pm

I take it you believe that “added” [salt, sugar, fat] is bad, but you seem to imply that “natural” ones are benign if they don’t also require labeling. I don’t care to put words in your mouth – is that what you believe?

While I have not considered whether we should label raw foods, I disagree with the implication that consumers shouldn’t care about ingredients that are not “added.” If I care about sugar and carbohydrate, I don’t distinguish between “added” sugar and carbohydrate and the endogenous kinds.

Tony January 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm

I think it would be helpful if bananas had a label indicating total estimated carbohydrate, salt, and fat content. Then, yes, consumers could compare bananas with processed foods and make a better decision about what to eat.

It’s not the case that, say, added sugar is necessarily worse than naturally occurring sugar. It just HAPPENS that avoiding added sugar is a way of improving your diet, often by quite a bit, but again for largely circumstantial reasons. Also, one can get an estimate of how much sugar a banana has by looking it up in a book – with a processed food, there’s no way to know other than the label. So yes, it does make sense to impose requirements on processed foods that are not imposed on unprocessed foods.

Yang January 19, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Tony, I think it would be helpful if you took a basic science class.

Tony January 20, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Actually I have a degree in engineering physics, I am a part time professional chef, and my husband is an adjunct professor of nutrition at a nearby university thanks to his work using isotope tracing in that field. So… STFU, thanks very much.

anon January 19, 2014 at 8:16 pm
JWatts January 19, 2014 at 9:33 pm

“If you actually go to a dictionary, you find that a “chemical” is a synthetically refined substance”

LOL, no you won’t. Chemical is not defined solely as being synthetically refined. Water is a chemical and it’s not a synthetically refined substance.

“Wiki definition – In chemistry, a chemical substance is a form of matter that has constant chemical composition and characteristic properties.[1] It cannot be separated into components by physical separation methods, i.e. without breaking chemical bonds. It can be solid, liquid, gas, or plasma.”

“I don’t see the point of these posters.”

The point is that scientifically there is often no difference and that people here large, polysyllabic words and assume that it translates to artificial and thus bad. But there’s no basis in science for such thoughts.

Yang January 19, 2014 at 9:44 pm

You are a scientifically ignorant moron.
Everything is made of chemicals.
Anyone who says a banana does not contain chemicals is an idiot unfit for modern society.

Willitts January 20, 2014 at 1:01 am

So Organic Chemistry is an oxymoron?

Lab produced sodium chloride is chemically identical to natural sodium chloride. The former is made by the natural function of these natural creatures called Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Everything is natural.

Marian Kechlibar January 20, 2014 at 6:19 am

The point of such posters?

1. Whenever you need to control composition of your food intake, you must take into account even the minimally processed food. (Allergy? Slimming? Plenty of good reasons.)

2. The long-and-scary chemical names aren’t always poisons and you shouldn’t nurture such stereotypes. (The green movement, with its chiliastic and religious offshots, is particularly guilty of this.)

Benny Lava January 20, 2014 at 8:21 am

This is bullshit. From the dictionary:
: of or relating to chemistry
: working by means of chemicals

All food contains chemicals.

TJ Radcliffe January 21, 2014 at 12:46 am

Tony’s claim is either incorrect or vacuous. “Chemical” is typically defined as “a compound or substance that has been purified or prepared, esp. artificially.”

Ergo, no processed food contains any chemicals either, since they are no longer in a pure state. To claim otherwise would mean that purifying ocean water to extract NaCl (table salt) and then pouring the refined salt back into the sea would create a new state of the ocean in which it “contained chemicals” when in fact it was chemically identical to its previous state. This would be a distinction without a difference, too pedantic for any but the most ideologically addled anti-industrial fanatic.

Ergo, both bananas and processed foods “contain chemicals” in exactly the same sense.

And anyone with a passing familiarity with the history of the Cavendish banana will laugh themselves silly over the claim that it hasn’t been manipulated for flavour etc. But food is religion, and like religion, food fanatics will stop at nothing until they have imposed their bizarre personal notion of “purity” on the rest of us. A hundred years ago processed foods were “pure” and natural foods were “dirty”. Today, equally rabid emotionalists insist precisely the opposite, and on the basis of precisely as compelling evidence.

Dallas Weaver, Ph.D. January 21, 2014 at 11:05 am

My dictionary uses a more conventional definition as a combination of elements into a compound.

You are confusing recently changed political/social/propaganda meanings with scientific meaning. This is not the first time a bunch of scientifically illiterate activists have changed the meaning of scientific words. The word “Organic” is another stolen word from organic chemistry.

Real nutrition science is based upon chemistry. Popular “nutrition” is just flim-flam from scientifically illiterate activists. Real science allows creating vegan diets for pure carnivorous animals like cats and salmon, but you need to actually know and understand chemistry and chemicals along with linear programing, solving equations using all the chemicals that make up “food” to get the correct amounts of all the chemicals.

Your body doesn’t really know or care about the difference between “synthetic” or natural chemical when they are the same specific chemical as fully defined — glucose is glucose, vit C is vit C, ethanol is ethanol, etc.

Joe January 19, 2014 at 11:26 am

That is exactly the point. You put labels like these on some foods, but not on other “natural” things, so you don’t have an ability to reasonably compare “apples to apples” (pun intended). Just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it is the best nutritional choice, and these silly government regulations for labeling create more confusion than they solve – the precisely opposite result from the intended effect.

Adrian Ratnapala January 19, 2014 at 12:33 pm

It’s not just natural foods that get the benefit.

Australia seems to require pretty strict ingredient listing, but of course there is some list of things which can be considered a basic ingredient. Thus on a can of Four-X I once saw “Ingredients: Beer”.

And they were almost right.

Shane Street January 19, 2014 at 11:29 am

To a chemist, the sentence “A banana does not contain chemicals.” is pure nonsense.

Eric January 19, 2014 at 11:38 am

I am such a chemist, and I absolutely agree.

Willitts January 20, 2014 at 1:02 am

Charge of the pedant brigade.

john personna January 19, 2014 at 12:46 pm

If I remember my BS curriculum correctly, “natural products chemistry” was rather a minority, and pretty much a source for feedstock for separation, leading to recombination or synthesis.

I mean can a chemist just let a banana be a banana?

There is no work in that.

(Safety is somewhat orthogonal to all that, but I would say that any food eaten for millennia may be considered safe in first approximation.)

derek January 19, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Peanuts? What if chemists along with medical folks figured out what element in peanuts is responsible for the allergic reaction, and with plant breeders grew a strain that didn’t have that component. Would you be interested in knowing that?

The ability to drink milk without getting sick is the result of natural selection, where those who can digest it had the advantage. I suppose we should just think ‘milk’ and go on our merry lives in ignorance.

I seriously doubt that my ancestors ate bananas.

john personna January 19, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Given the wide history of peanut consumption, we did start with the idea of low toxicity. We now know there are risks … but I would take peanuts over any newly announced artificial sweetener, or …. artificial fat with “leakage” issues.

Eric January 19, 2014 at 5:05 pm

By the way, peanuts also have all natural aflatoxins that are known (and EPA regulated) carcinogens. One tablespoon of peanut butter is approximately equivalent to 1.4 cigarettes in cancer risk. Those aflatoxins come from a mold that grows on peanuts, so it’s all natural.

I still love peanut butter sandwiches, though.

Eric January 19, 2014 at 1:22 pm


“Natural products chemistry” is MAKING complex naturally occurring molecules from scratch (e.g., as drugs like taxol). Agree that that is a minor offshoot of organic chemistry, but that is not relevant to the point of this post. It doesn’t matter where they came from–chemicals are still chemicals. They react, they degrade, they are metabolized, they do CHEMISTRY.

john personna January 19, 2014 at 2:14 pm

It has been 30 years for me. But really did you just say “it is all chemicals so it is OK”?

Toxicity is a thing, and toxicity of new and novel chemicals is always least understood.

(I mean, I hope the ghost argument here is not that bananas have chemicals, and West Virginia rivers have chemicals. Bananas are safe … therefore rivers are safe?)

Careless January 19, 2014 at 5:40 pm

But really did you just say “it is all chemicals so it is OK”? – See more at:

No, he didn’t. Is something wrong with your monitor?

Dan Weber January 20, 2014 at 7:11 am

Micheal Pollan would point out that the crops we grow today are nothing like the crops we grew millennia ago.

Floccina January 19, 2014 at 9:26 pm

“A banana does not contain chemicals.”

Must be a vacuum.

Shane Street January 20, 2014 at 6:57 am

In a vacuum, no one can hear you scream.

Geoffrey January 19, 2014 at 11:37 am

Tony…Thanks for helping prove the point that Alex and the original posters were trying to make…

Ray Lopez January 19, 2014 at 11:50 am

This banana graphic is misleading. Apricot pits and garlic contain the arsenic, a natural element that causes cancer. A while ago the UK warned residents that ingestion of a certain fern will cause stomach cancer, and I’m sure many such “natural” plants exist.

And strangely missing from the chemists labeling of the banana is FAT. A banana is one of the few fruits (actually it’s not technically a fruit) that contains fat (triglycerides: triesters of glycerol and any of several fatty acids). Further, as a commentator said, trace radioactive compounds (also found in tobacco, which has an affinity to plutonium) were not listed in the banana ingredients list.

If the FDA was in charge the poster would be fined for not being truthful.

Here in the Philippines there is no consistent labeling law. The same canned produce in two different size cans (one small, one large) will, if a non-US firm manufactures it, will sometimes have different ingredients listed (for example one can, the larger one, will say 0% sugar or 0% salt while the smaller can will list some percentage of salt and sugar), proving the labels are bogus.

Brandon Berg January 19, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Purple had to be specifically warned not to eat fern? Is eating fern something that people do?

It does list fatty acids, although I don’t see glycerol, so that’s a fair point.

Mark Clohesy January 19, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Umm yeah people eat ferns, asparagus is a fern

Careless January 19, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Asparagus is a flowering plant, not a fern. And the banana is a fruit.

Ray Lopez January 19, 2014 at 8:56 pm

Internet: “A banana is undoubtedly a fruit … ‘banana tree’ in popular use, but it’s technically regarded as a herbaceous plant (or ‘herb’)”

Careless January 20, 2014 at 12:28 am

Yes, Ray, a fruit is a fruit, and the entire plant is not the fruit.

Alex January 20, 2014 at 2:38 am

Not a single protein is named, either. Those are covered under “amino acids,” and fats are covered under fatty acids (glycerol notwithstanding, but really, this poster wasn’t intended to be a rigorous analysis of banana composition).

col January 19, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Oh yeah, because rational individuals calculate the additional marginal risk of developing diabetes or heart disease later in life and factor it in to the cost of eating at McDonald’s. This kind of self-righteous garbage is why people think economics is evil.

Nick January 19, 2014 at 12:28 pm

I think you completely missed the point of the post.

john personna January 19, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Was there really any insight here? Certainly the implication has to be that if bananas are complicated, with chemicals, other complicated things, with chemicals, should be given similar “starting trust.”

CD January 19, 2014 at 10:31 pm

If you follow the link: “About these posters: As a Chemistry teacher, I want to erode the fear that many people have of “chemicals”, and demonstrate that nature evolves compounds, mechanisms and structures far more complicated and unpredictable than anything we can produce in the lab.”

Trust nothing! But the idea that there’s a simple natural/artificial divide, with necessary health implications, is a religious idea rather than a scientific one.

john personna January 20, 2014 at 7:45 pm

I think the “natural divide” not coincidentally divides that with which we have deep experience (carrot good, hemlock bad) and that with which we have shallow experience (coal solvents in drinking water???)

Axa January 20, 2014 at 6:18 am

Starting trust? That’s so scientific.

Dan Weber January 20, 2014 at 10:45 am

It’s how the United States handled chemical safety in 1976. Everything industry had been using to that point was considered not-proven-dangerous and allowed to stay until other evidence comes up. Because it would have been nuts to completely stop all industry use until everything had been evaluated.

John Thacker January 19, 2014 at 2:09 pm

This kind of self-righteous garbage is why people think economics is evil.

You’re saying that people who believe in self-righteous garbage naturally end up thinking that economics is evil, because they’d rather believe in self-righteous garbage (like that the same molecular compound is more dangerous if added by a human than if occurring in nature) than in economics, right?

leftistconservative January 19, 2014 at 12:01 pm

anyone else notice how the economic aspect of leftism has been replaced by food-leftism?

Willitts January 20, 2014 at 1:05 am

Commanding heights.

Didn’t Mao and Lenin and Allende start with farmers?

Tom Anichini January 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Where are the potassium and manganese?

Z January 19, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Food cults are nothing new. Food has also been a part of many cults going back as long as we know. While some dietary laws are rooted in observations about their risks to humans, most are just customs to distinguish insider from outsiders. Today, our food is safe so the new cults that spring up are all about piety. The busiest time at Whole Foods, for example, is Sunday Morning. That’s not an accident.

Adrian Ratnapala January 19, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Or moral statements. Which only distinguish insiders from outsiders at one remove.

I suspect that worldwide (not in the west), the #1 rationale for vegitarianism is “it’s wrong to kill animals.” Of course not everyone agrees with that premise, and so your agreement speaks to what kind of education you had. But it is still only indirectly a way of distinguishing insiders.

Z January 19, 2014 at 1:56 pm

True, but I would throw that in the bucket labeled “piety.” I wish I had a nickel for every time someone announced to the table they are going vegan or are a vegan. Even my response, Just like Hitler” does not discourage them. Amongst our elites and the upper middle class climbers who ape their manners, being a vegan is useful only because it can be done in public.

You see the same thing with people carrying canvas sacks into the market. They are now brightly colored so you can’t miss them. It is irrational and stupid, but the person doing it feels good about the public display. In the gray, homogenized progressive future, this is what passes for public piety.

Now, I have to go rip the flesh from a cooked beast and watch football.

Jan January 19, 2014 at 2:44 pm

You make aggressive public pronouncements that you are most definitely not vegan (in fact…Hitler!) and support a sport that pays people very well to publicly concuss themselves. I had to chuckle at this, because are you not doing this precisely to broadcast to the world that you are not among the idiots who are foolishly occupied with ostentatious, pretend do-gooding? No, you’re smarter than that. Seems like you’re dead set on making it clear which cult you belong to, which isn’t so different from what the vegans are doing.

Z January 19, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Typo on my part. Hitler was a began. That’s something else you have in common with the man.

Willitts January 20, 2014 at 1:09 am

Worse when their food piety causes suffering to those unfortunate enough to find themselves in the Food Nazis care.

One example is feeding your baby soy milk which is toxic to an infant in regular feeding. Another example is vegan diets for cats. Cats are obligate carnivores, but don’t try telling a Food Nazi that they are torturing little Che slowly to death.

Urso January 20, 2014 at 11:16 am

“One example is feeding your baby soy milk which is toxic to an infant in regular feeding. Another example is vegan diets for cats.”
Have you ever actually personally met anyone who does either of these things? I certainly haven’t. You’re better than this silly reductio ad absurdium- there’s a wide space between “believes that there’s a nutritional difference between a banana and jello-brand banana pudding,” and “tries to force-feed a vegan diet to a cat.”

libert January 19, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Spurious correlation. The busiest time at ANY grocery store is Sunday morning, with people running errands on the way home from church (I know because I was one of them growing up).

prior_approval January 19, 2014 at 12:57 pm

I guess you grew up after the repeal of blue laws. In Northern Virginia, when I was a child, no grocery store was open on a Sunday.

libert January 19, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Really? Color me young. I had no idea that blue laws once applied to grocery stores. That’s crazy.

derek January 19, 2014 at 1:21 pm

It blows me away that anyone who would not know that would feel qualified to express an opinion.

I’m feeling old.

libert January 19, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Seriously? I’m not qualified to tell you about my experiences at grocery stores because I didn’t know that, before I was born, in some states that I didn’t live in, grocery stores weren’t allowed to operate on Sundays?

PS: I don’t feel that 30 is very young, but it’s all relative I guess.

derek January 19, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Heh, yes my comment was over the top.

There are lots of things similar that I could say and think from time to time. How can a generation who hasn’t missed a meal except through inadvertence have anything to say about food production and distribution? How could anyone who didn’t live through the late 70′s and early 80′s have an opinion on the hazards of inflation? I’ve heard people say that inflation is easy to control. Hah.

I think that the greatest challenge of the next decade and a half is the accumulated experience and know how of the baby boom generation will have to be relearned by the next generation taking over. There has been a serious lull in the passing on of skills due to the glut of workers. Ask anyone who has an applied skill that is within a decade of retirement age whether they have someone trained to take over from them. It is shocking how many skills, very narrow in application but quite important in the workings of people’s lives are not going to have someone to fill.

The comment about blue laws colors the subject slightly. A friend worked at a grocery store when the sunday opening was implemented. It meant that he would be unavailable for his children when they were off school.

JWatts January 19, 2014 at 9:47 pm

“Really? Color me young. I had no idea that blue laws once applied to grocery stores. That’s crazy.”

Plenty of states still ban car sales on Sundays. Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, parts of Michigan (including Detroit I think), New Jersey, etc.

Oddly enough, bans on car sales are second only to bans on alcohol sales.

libert January 19, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Why car’s? Cars seem like an odd thing to single out for blue laws…

Dan Weber January 20, 2014 at 10:48 am

So dealerships can take Sunday off.

DK January 19, 2014 at 12:36 pm

The message is quite banal. And misleading. If I were to mix these ingredients from the purest food-grade off the shelf chemicals available, I would end up with a couple orders higher amounts of contaminants than what is typically found in a natural banana. (Granted, I would also end up with fewer of some contaminants contained in banana, such as pesticides).

brickbats and adiabats January 19, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Only goes to show how little you know about food grade chemicals, or perhaps what you consider “contaminants.”

DK January 19, 2014 at 3:04 pm

I know a lot about food grade chemicals. And I regularly read certificates of analysis of various chemicals.

bellisaurius January 20, 2014 at 8:49 am

Depends, of course, on which level of food grade chemical one is talking about. Commercial/industrial isn’t the same as lab grade.

DK January 20, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Does not matter that much. Most ACS grade reagents are only 99% pure. Food grade is typically a lot less pure but with less of “bad” contaminants like heavy metals.

libert January 19, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Food for thought*: would it be possible for scientists make a banana using only the ingredients listed (i.e., without seeds or banana DNA)?

*pun intended

Tony January 19, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Since you asked, no.

Last I heard, it is not possible to keep mice alive on a fully synthetic diet, i.e. one made only from refined chemicals. The mice will do OK for a while, but eventually develop strange symptoms (like itchy feet), grow sick, and die. Presumably this is because there are still essential nutrients we don’t know about.

There is great interest in this because (among other reasons) it is useful to make 14C-deficient mice for isotope tracing experiments. So nutritionists have tried to make mouse chow derived entirely from petroleum, and have failed. What they have to do instead is grow yeast on a petroleum-derived feedstock and use the yeast to make mouse food.

DK January 19, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Reference, please. I doubt very much that a standard mix of chemicals (such as that found in rich cell culture media) would not be able to sustain mice for a couple of years.

boba January 19, 2014 at 7:48 pm

It doesn’t, it won’t, and now I don’t have the pubmed reference handy, I think I could dig it up if I was at work (a dev and cell bio lab). The structure of the foods, as well as the bacteria they contain is as important as the chemicals themselves. Without replenishment of the gut flora from the wonderful flora that happen to be on the foods themselves, eventually multicellular organisms begin a long slow starvation process. We (and other animals) also developed cute little structures within our gut that demand certain micronutrients be delivered in discrete packages. Spinach is a health food(?) – not if it is not cooked – the oxalic acid inhibits calcium uptake.
So no, chemicals without a particular structure and without the helpful flora who synthesize those chemicals into those structures means you will slowly starve. And yes they have run those experiments, it’s why we give astronauts real food albeit processed to enhance stability and portability. Otherwise it would be squeeze tubes of honey laced with amino acids fatty acids and micronutrients.

DK January 20, 2014 at 1:07 am

boba, you are talking some kind of new age rubbish. That is all.

Marie January 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

You could do us the favor of referencing a study where mice were kept alive in the way you propose.

DK January 20, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Marie, I don’t know if it exists (it kinda does not make lot of sense to perform such study) but you surely heard of IV feeding? Some humans survive for years on it. (It’s not totally defined diet but it’s pretty damn close; look up “total parenteral nutrition”)

Axa January 20, 2014 at 6:21 am

Mon dieu, the “A” in banana DNA stands for “acid”.

Costa January 19, 2014 at 12:48 pm

It doeesn’t say anything about structure. If you took all those ingredients, and tossed them in a blender, you still wouldn’t have a banana.

lxm January 19, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Pretty Cool Posters! (PCPs)

I guess the larger point is to teach people not to fear chemicals, or gmo foods, or processed foods just because they have “chemicals!

I agree!

ON the other hand, there can also be unexpected consequences like Monsanto strong-arming farmers, Monsanto stopping the ancient farming practice of saving seeds, the destruction of diversity in our feed crops, the development of super weeds, etc. So these chemically and biologically developed plants should not be given a free pass either no matter how clever the poster.

john personna January 19, 2014 at 1:10 pm

I would worry that we are supposed to give brand new and novel chemicals the same starting trust we give to old and understood ones.

I trust GMOs as they are now used, but I some initial caution was justified. The techniques are powerful, and only discipline prevents them from making food less safe.

GMOs are not inherently safe.

anon January 19, 2014 at 8:20 pm
john personna January 20, 2014 at 6:40 pm

Ah but, lifestyle factors do in fact contribute to our modern American leading causes of death. It would be walking around in a safe-proof-hat that would be silly.

Floccina January 19, 2014 at 10:01 pm

Super weeds are plants resistant to the herbacides that greenies think should never be used.

Eric January 19, 2014 at 1:31 pm

It’s probably also good to mention that that banana is RADIOACTIVE! (see: Of course, this is NATURAL radioactivity from a minor isotope of all that potassium that bananas have, so that’s ok, right?

P.S. Also watch out for peanut butter:

Jan January 19, 2014 at 2:23 pm

FDA, grumble grumble grumble.

Andrew January 19, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Some see a regulation problem. Others see a market.

Tom January 19, 2014 at 9:01 pm

This post is meant to be very misleading – aimed at lay people who don’t know science. If you listed all the amino acids and fatty acids in regular food labels, you would have enough room on the box. Food labels don’t go down to this level. This post strikes of a mad food scientist trying to mask their creations from food that has gone thru many years of evolution in nature.

Willitts January 20, 2014 at 1:26 am

No, it is intended to teach the lay person that they don’t always have to fear unfamiliar and lengthy Greek, Latin and Arabic words.

I still remember learning as a child that words on a food label ending in -ose were sugars. I remember after shampooing my hair, asking my father what methylchloroisothiazolinone was. He had me call the number of the company on the bottle to find out. The woman who answered the phone knew the answer off the top of her head. :)

Floccina January 19, 2014 at 9:31 pm

BTW most raw beans contain cyanide that is why we cook them.

DK January 20, 2014 at 1:13 am

That’s incorrect. Cyanides are in apricots and peaches (some in cherries, plums) – mostly kernels. Raw beans contains all kind of toxic stuff but the primary is a small protein called trypsin inhibitor.

Yang January 19, 2014 at 9:46 pm

Everything is made of chemicals.
Anyone who says otherwise is an scientifically ignorant moron.

prior_approval January 20, 2014 at 5:00 am

Here I was thinking everything was made of (subatomic) particles. Such scientific ignorance on my part, it seems.

And on Encyclopædia Britannica’s part, it seems -

‘subatomic particle, also called elementary particle, any of various self-contained units of matter or energy that are the fundamental constituents of all matter. ‘

(Anyone checked if linking is possible again?)

Crabby January 19, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Tony is a humorless lawyer liberal.

Willitts January 20, 2014 at 1:14 am

It isnt at all absurd to know what chemicals are in natural foods since some minerals and vitamins are toxic in high doses. If you are getting, say, iron from liver, spinach, lentils, soybeans, bacon in a cast iron skillet and supplements, all that has to be added together.

Karl Lembke January 20, 2014 at 12:01 pm

ZOMG! The first ingredient is dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO)! We’re doomed!

B Lewis January 21, 2014 at 10:22 am

Uranium, lead, and asbestos all all 100% natural. You dig them right out the ground, just like a carrot.

Yogurt, tofu, and cheese, by contrast, are entirely artificial food products.

Moral: Natural substances are not necessarily healthful, and artificial substances are not necessarily unhealthful.

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