Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Monday, July 19, 2010

a question of health

a set of Qs for those who cook...
1. will you use any of dipotassium phosphate, sodium polyphosphate, glyceryl monostearate, pantothenic acid or tricalcium phosphate in your recipe?
2. do you even know what these chemicals are? what they do?
3. will you ever be able to understand them without a Masters in Chemistry degree?

these listed items are some of the ingredients in chocolate horlicks. the pdf version of this is here. do check the label the next time you are in the supermarket or look at the bottle in your shelf.
this is horlicks, which for generations, has been consumed as a 'health drink'.

the example of horlicks is just for illustration. such questions can be thrown up for any processed food item that you pick up casually at the supermarket.

come back responses will include:
1. these items are approved by government watchdogs across the world and hence are 'acceptable'.
2. i have been drinking this for ages and nothing has happened to me.
3. this is from a very reputed MNC, which personifies quality and health.
i concede these arguments. but those who go back over 20 years ago will recall that horlicks used to be the sole approved drink for those recovering from a serious illness. it has moved from the patient bed side to the kitchen cabinet.
smart marketing and convenience has helped make this move.
horlicks has replaced the home-made kanji. which has none of the listed chemicals as ingredients!! do they?

this and many more thought provoking insights into the modern food system is michael pollan's "the omnivore's dilemma".
this is a must read.
he tracks back food-on-the-plate to its original source and the journey gives us an inside look at the dirty ugly world of modern day food processing. totally an america-centric book, but it is certainly totally applicable to the modern indian upmarket city-dweller.

i have been a keen follower of pollan for some time, but just finished his opus. he rises a notch higher.


Vanessa said...

1. No

2. They supposedly 'enhance' the product? Added calcium and whatever. Its funny about the processed food. The food is first stripped off its natural nutrients and then the micro nutrients are added back (chemical form of course). And marketed as enriched food!

3. I guess not.
Masters in Chemistry would only help you accept the fact, 'chemical constitution of food is better left to Nature, not manipulated'. Just like you did. :)

Rags said...

I recall reading somewhere about the "BOM" Bill of Material for horlicks. The biggest constituent for the cost is sugar & the so called "enhanced" nutrients add up to 2/3% of the overall cost. The tragedy is that poor people think that since the well off kids take Horlicks, they should invest all their savings & buy horlicks for their kids...


csm said...

v - it is no longer 'funny'. it is bordering on danger. we should heed such glaring warnings at for the sake of the children (the classic appeal of marketers).

rags - sugar is listed as the first ingredient in horlicks. you are spot on trends spreading. the rich are putty in the hands of marketers and the poor simply follow the rich

again, horlicks is just an example. we are beseiged by much more harmful processed foods.

Unknown said...

Horlicks is advertised as a product to promote sleep in the US- look up wikipedia entry on Horlicks.
I really don't know how our govt lets them get away with this - it is NOT a health food, Women's horlicks does NOT promote strong bones. Why are we inflicting this processed food industry on the children??! Look at the crowd at McD. When will the parents realise?!
Whole food anyday!

Yup, Pollan is good! There is a TED talk by Mark Bittman too on more or less the same topic.

I have been following this lady Robyn's website -

sujatha said...

of late,since i started reading abt healthy food etc,i developed the habit of reading the food labels of any product before i had noticed this abt horlicks and all those products like bournvita etc.,made up of a host of,i use just plain cocoa powder(organic if i can).of course,i just hope,there isn't something hidden, there as well.
life is becoming more and more like a tricky board game - u need to be very aware all the time.otherwise u can fall into the many traps surrounding you.

csm said...

anu - thanks for links.

sujata - what about the milk you mix the cocoa with? it is from cows which have been pumped with hormones, antibiotics and what not..
i blame a lot of stuff that is happening to our kids these days to milk (early onset of puberty in girls, etc)
the market is becoming increasingly untrustworthy. at the risk of sounding anti-business, we should be aim for freedom from the super-market. it is the revolution that is needed.

Rags said...

I had gone for a workshop conducted by Vijaya Venkat [The health awareness center]. She was saying pbbly humans are the only species which drinks milk of other species. She goes on to say that human body loses the capacity to digest milk very early on. She was joking that rats milk contains 42% protien, so technically, we should all be milking the rats ;-)

sujatha said...

csm-i have read about the controversies surrounding milk but i have practical difficulties in eliminating milk/milk products from my family's diet,as i have with many other items also.
taking all factors into consideration,i have realised that i have to accept,whether i like it or not, that i face certain limitations. so i try the best that i can do and leave the rest,maybe to destiny.

csm said...

sujata - same story in most families wrt milk. do not need to eliminate, need to be smart.

suggest look for organic options. buy once a week and refrigerate. am told that there are 2-3 suppliers in madras. also have heard of milkman-visiting-direct-milking-cow system in few locations in madras.

destiny will smile if you take this effort.

sujatha said...

csm- i realise i have to be smart wherever i can.unfortunately,in this case,i don't stay in chennai and in the place where i stay, fresh or plain organic milk is not available.sometimes flavoured organic milk(and organic cheese) is available( in the supermarket !) which i do buy .the other thing which i do is try and reduce the amt we are consuming and have a wide variety of other foods (as much as possible ,fresh and homecooked) rest is,as i say,destiny,whether it smiles or not :)