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"Mutant Foods": A Plea for Sanity in a World Full of Devious Cheetos

I’m sure many of you already know this, but in case you you don’t: you’re being deceived and lied to. Every day.

As a society, we know now that cigarettes are bad. We get angry at the very notion that tobacco companies once marketed to children. Such behavior is deplorable, and we’re smart folks; we get that.

Except, well. We’re hypocrites.

Go to your supermarket. I’ll wait…

In the processed meats area, you see those Lunchables?

Yup, they’re at just the right height for your charming and greedy young ones to reach out and grab.

Because they’re colorful little boxes of nourishment that kids can understand. Child “appropriate” Bento boxes of corn laden crap.

When Lunchables were first produced, manufacturer Phillip Morris (yes, the same one that tried to sell cigarettes to your child), TRIED to put a more “healthful” option in them; they tried baby carrots. But there simply wasn’t a way to put fresh ingredients into the boxes that would survive the processed food system that Lunchables exist within. That “cheese” product and “ham” that are in there? Yeah, they’ve been in a factory or a box for months before they’re in that tray and on that shelf.

Me sitting here and harping on processed junk foods isn’t going to make you stop eating them. In fact, I probably just made you crave a Lunchable. But I’ve read enough science fiction; I know where this is headed. I fear we are teetering towards a Margaret Atwood style future reality where everything we consume has been processed in a laboratory and is covered in “cheese stuff” and regret.

When I first embraced the flexible dieting lifestyle (meaning that you can get your 3 macronutrients - carbohydrates, protein and fat- from whatever sources you’d like, as long as you met your prescribed grams of each macros per day), I was all for throwing a few Oreos into my day and flaunting the fact that I could do that.

I’m now trying to concentrate my efforts on shying away from that kind of view on flexible dieting. For a variety of reasons that I can bore you with in another blog post, but it all boils down to this: what are you eating and is it food? Five years ago, my theatre company (Available Light Theatre) produced a show called The Food Play, about the sad state of our food industry. We jokingly had a scene called “Food or Not Food?” in which we acted out a game show in which clueless Americans had to determine whether familiar grocery store products were food or not food. It was hilarious, but also sad. 90% of our grocery stores are filled with prepackaged products that have 30 ingredients, half of which you can’t pronounce. This is a statistic I totally made up, but it can’t be far off…

Full disclosure, my family serves Cheetos as part of Christmas Eve dinner (I share this mostly to show that I’m really not trying to sound “holier than thou”). Speaking of Cheetos, have you ever heard the term “vanishing caloric density?” I hadn’t until recently. And now I’m pretty disgusted.

Humans are capable of a lot of super awesome magic tricks that come from thousands and thousands of years of evolution. One really cool thing that we’re capable of? Mouthfeel. I’ll give you a second to giggle at the name.

But seriously, your brain relies on mouthfeel to estimate the calories in a particular piece of food. In the days before tracking your macros and calories, this is one way that your body regulated its food intake. If you’ve ever shoved a Cheeto in your mouth, you’re aware that the damn thing pretty much just melts in your mouth. And that’s not me praising its taste. This is vanishing caloric density: Cheetos are tricking your brain into eating a whole bag because they disappear so quickly when it’s in your mouth that your brain doesn’t think you’ve eaten enough.

Such deviousness I do not need from my food, thank you very much. A blueberry never tried to trick me. I don’t think…

I’ll leave you with this: when you’re shopping or reaching for a snack, please ask yourself “is this food?” Chances are, if it’s devious and tricksy and has 5 or more ingredients. It isn’t. And humans shouldn’t eat not food.

And if you don’t know, now you know.


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