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Food or filler? | New World Seeds & Tubers

Last week my college-age son put in a lot of hours at school, and since the buses are few and far between late at night, I drove to his college to pick him up and then bring him home.

One of the local grocery stores is open 24 hours. I stopped by on the way home to pick up a quick meal for him, including a snack as a reward for the hard work at school. We looked at some ice cream.

Now, I am one of those people who does not believe that we are truly in a “deflationary spiral” with prices going DOWN. Except for debt-based assets like housing (which was overbuilt during the housing bubble), most prices are going UP not down.

So-called “deflation” is actually “debt repudiation”. What debt is repudiated, and what debt is monetized for a bailout, depends on who the creditor is. If the debt is owed to you or me, it’s defaulted on. You’ll see most of the pension plans for Joe Average either go insolvent or default through inflation over the coming years. If the debt is owed to someone who is rich and politically-connected, the debt is “monetized”–that is, a central bank, such as the Federal Reserve or the European Central Bank, buys up the debt, either directly or, more often, indirectly using financial intermediaries to create the illusion of market demand for the debt.

Debt repudiation and debt monetization, which is highly inflationary, always happen together. By the way: inflation is effectively just another form of default! There is no point in arguing “inflation” or “deflation” because it’s not one to the exclusion of the other.

They don’t “balance each other out”. The fact that they happen at the same time is one of the causes of “stagflation” (stagnant, or more likely, shrinking economy simultaneous with inflation). Think about it: new fiat money is being created, but it’s being spent to prevent a more efficient allocation of resources, and it’s not being spent on capital investment.

The question on many economists’ minds is “which wins?” That’s easy: inflation always wins. There has never, not once, ever been an economy that crashed with a deflationary spiral. What about the Great Depression? That story is somewhat historical engineering; after 1933 the “deflation” turned into “stagflation”.

There is an absolute lower bound on prices; they never fall below zero. Therefor, true deflations, which are rare and brief, would hit bottom quickly if allowed to; there is no such thing as a “deflationary spiral”. The problem is that they’re not allowed to, because it would bankrupt politically-connecteds.

It’s even stranger when people talk about deflation in the context of escalating resource-wars. The world’s first deflationary war?!

The “Japanese deflation” is also a deception: prices in Japan are VERY high, even measured in yen. Find out for yourself: spend a week in Tokyo!

Asset prices fall, but they fall for very good reason: a house sitting empty on a block of empty foreclosed houses, none of which are being maintained anymore, is, objectively, worth less in terms of utility than it was when it was occupied by a family that was paying the mortgage, mowing the lawn, and taking care of it. Printing more money is not going to fix the problem. Thanks to bailouts, the prices don’t fall as much as they need to to find buyers to get use out of them and take care of them.

Similarly, the prices of financial assets tied to technically insolvent companies–and governments!–are not under-priced; if anything they are wildly overpriced, probably due to the machinations of entities like the fabled “Plunge Protection Team”.

OK, so prices of real goods in the real economy are going UP not down. BUT, because of the “stag” part of “stagflation”, food processors have an incentive not to pass along all (they do pass some…) of the price increases they’re getting hammered with down the line. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

What do they do? They buy cheaper ingredients–and otherwise pass along the price increases as lower quality. If you compare apples to apples, within my lifetime, ice cream, that used to be called just “ice cream”, that used to sell for about 50 cents a half-gallon now costs about $5.00 a pint, now called “premium ice cream”, or in other words, a 4000% price increase.

This phenomenon of substitution masking hidden inflation is becoming extremely noticeable in ice cream. In fact, LOOK CAREFULLY at the label: a lot of the boxes no longer even say “ice cream”.

As of our midnight snack-run, I’m suspicious that even most of the ones that still do say “ice cream” are not what you expect.

My first clue was that the boxes are now weirdly light-weight. They’re full of a filler called “air”. The amount of air pumped into ice-cream is called “over-run”. Over-run is twice the percentage of air. I would guess typical over-runs are starting to run into the range of 100; that is, 50% air.

How can ice cream hold that much air?! It can’t. They’re adding more and more stabilizer such as polysorbate 80. Some ice creams have so much stabilizer in them they hold their shape when fully melted!! It’s like eating “astronaut ice-cream”.

Another clue is that “skim milk” is the first ingredient listed on many of them. “Skim milk” means the cream has been removed so where’s the “cream” part of ice-cream?

In order to mimic the viscosity (but alas not other qualities) of cream, the manufacturers add other ingredients, such as vegetables gums and another one that is finding its way into more and more foods in a variety of guises: cellulose.

TheStreet.com published a feature-length article about how cellulose is being added to a wide variety of foods. Interestingly, many of these products are being marketed as “healthy”.

Cellulose is a non-nutrient. Animals can not digest it–even termites need help from the bacteria in their digestive tracts!

I have a feeling that consumption of non-nutritive foods is crowding out needed nutrients. It’s analogous to the way that credit-booms and subsequent bailouts during the bust starve out more efficient uses of capital in the economy.

Cellulose is being used ubiquitously and in large amounts. Cellulose is an indefinitely long-chain molecule; it can be textured to resemble other foods including fats and proteins. It shows up in textured “creamy” fake-dairy or custardy desserts, meat (typically in fast-foods and processed foods), breads, and grain products.

There are some other non-nutritive ingredients showing up in food nowadays:

“Sucralose” is related to sucrose but has 3 of its hydroxides replaced with chlorine. It is essentially indigestible. It is approximately 600 times as sweet as sucrose, making it go a long way which I suspect is the real issue despite claims of being a “healthy” substitute for sugar. So in other words, they take sugar and stretch it 600 times further by doing some chemistry on it. Bear in mind that in some sense sugar is a necessary nutrient: the only fuel your brain can use is glucose. The trouble-maker that gives sugar a bad reputation seems to be fructose (which is one component of table-sugar i.e. sucrose); processing it in large amounts wears out our livers and pancreases.

Olestra is a sort of “octopus-shaped” molecule consisting of fatty acid chains connected to a glycerol core. It’s too big to pass through the intestinal wall, and so is indigestible. Unfortunately, fat-soluble vitamins are soluble in olestra; therefor it pulls them out of your body. It can also cause acute intestinal distress (in a way that could be rather humiliating). It’s is still on the market, even after the demise of “Wow” Chips. According to Procter and Gamble, it’s an ingredient in Pringles Light(tm) and Frito-Lay Light(tm) products. Proctor and Gamble also suggest baking it into cookies. Beware. The warning regarding potential for intestinal distress, by the way, is gone.

Aside from ice cream, there are a number of other products I’m suspicious of:

Imported “honey” from Asia is a mixture of corn syrup and artificial flavors and colors. It widely and fraudulently sold as domestic honey in Australia, Canada, and the USA, and has shown up in a number of commercial products including those sold by Sara Lee and Smuckers ostensibly containing honey. It tends to contain the antibiotic Chlormphenicol, which will cause deadly aplastic anaemia in 1 person in about 30,000-50,000 who eat enough of it to trigger the disease.

A lot of cheeses now taste like fakes to me. Their texture is unexpectedly waxy and they melt oddly. I’m suspicious that they contain unlisted waxy maize starch and carrageenan.

Fake fruit juice seems to be ubiquitous. Some of it is labeled lawfully but deceptively, and some undoubtedly fraudulently. In 1987 Beech Nut was fined for selling fake apple juice in products intended for infants! My guess is that since then enforcement has gotten lax. One mildly controversial practice that is ubiquitous is to add unlisted flavoring to orange juice to make up for the fact that the processing destroys the natural flavor.

Fake fruit is ubiquitous in processed foods. Some of the fakes are quite good, down to fake seeds in the fake “freeze-dried strawberries”.

“Chocolate” imported from Asia is nearly always fake, including even certain upscale luxury brands. The dead giveaway is the wrong “mouthfeel”: cocoa butter melts at almost precisely human body temperature; that’s what gives it its peculiar mouthfeel. Imported “chocolate” from Asia is almost always artificially colored and flavored hydrogenated fat, regardless of how it’s labeled. It’s been showing up in Easter “chocolates” for a while now, which are not only largely fake but highly overpriced. Hersheys, which has already started marketing suspect Brazilian chocolate in some of its product lines, has been lobbying to substitute fake chocolate for the real thing. I have a feeling it’s just a matter of time.

If you eat these fake foods, I have a feeling that you’re going to end up with multiple nutritional deficiencies. I’m suspicious that obesity, poor overall health, and premature aging are some of the consequences.

I was going to mention a few other controversial ingredients, but they didn’t quite fit the same pattern, so one of these days I’ll do another post about ingredients that are not fillers and substitutes, but which are known or suspected of being harmful.

One of the problems with product-labeling laws is that they result in complacency. People assume that “someone” is going to protect them from harmful ingredients, or at least disclose them. Not all controversial ingredients are required to be listed, and even to the extent that there are legal requirements, they’re not necessarily enforced, which in a globalized economy would be impossible anyway.

One way to avoid non-nutritive fillers and harmful additives is to grow your own food. To the extent that you do buy food, give preference to buying it as close to its natural form as possible, then prepare it yourself. Be skeptical of foods that are packaged in such a way as to mimic the form of healthy foods without the substance, and also beware of foods that are cheaper than the going rate. If it’s not real food, it’s not a bargain.

What about my son? He got his ice-cream, the premium brand with only 5 natural ingredients listed, which, hopefully, were on the up-and-up.

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