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Adventures in Urban Homesteading

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

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The other day I was listening to my local public radio station and heard a story about processed food. My ears perked up. I love listening to pretty much anything related to food, cooking, and the American diet. I was interested in the story, even though I considered myself already at least reasonably well-informed about processed food.

Well, I stand corrected. The interview was with Boulder author Melanie Warner, and her new book is called “Pandora’s Lunchbox.” She casually discussed things about the absolute glut of additives in processed food that made my head spin. Subway sandwiches, for example. I knew that lunchmeat and processed cheeses were not a good nutritional deal, and white sandwich bread is also not the best. But if questioned specifically about the bread, I probably would have identified the processed white flour as the “worst” thing.

pandora's lunchbox

pandora’s lunchbox

Not so. Turns out that (in addition to processed white flour) Subway bread contains ammonium sulfate, potassium iodate, sodium stearoyl lactylate, and azodicarbonamide. Azodicarbonamide is most frequently used to make rubber and plastic. When a truck carrying a shipment of azodicarbonamide overturned on a Chicago expressway, the city officials issued the highest hazardous-materials alert and evacuated everyone within a half mile downwind. Yum.

Eat Fresh?

As I listened to the interview (and subsequently began reading the book) I was re-energized in my commitment to cook as much of my family’s food from scratch as I could and avoid processed foods whenever possible. It’s a worthy goal, and I maintain that it’s worth the effort.

But, oh… the effort. The shopping (and growing). The chopping. The cooking. The CLEAN-UP. And, to be honest, the worry. The awareness of all the scary stuff lurking in seemingly benign mainstream food is a bit overwhelming, especially for a new mom.

Whenever I find myself sliding too far into the pit of processed food despair, I remember The Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater. Anyone with any experience following “specialized” diets can certainly relate to this wonderful satirical essay, and hopefully join in the chuckle at the sometimes-ridiculousness of it all.

So, then — what do we do? We would prefer not to ingest hazardous rubber-making materials, but we also don’t want to turn into the oxalic acid-ridden protagonist of The Terrible Tragedy. Where’s the line? Who determines what amount of processed food is ok, when to go the extra mile and insist on homemade food, and just how many dishes it is possible to wash in an evening?

Of course, no one has a perfect answer (and if they tell you they do, I’d bet the farm they’re selling you something). So, in our house we make incremental changes — a green smoothie here, a homemade sauce there — and hope that they’ll grow into habits. And we hope we never have to eat at Subway.

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  1. I listened to that same interview and we started making our own bread….Its been wonderful to make the switch -challenges r- time consuming and it gets stale very quickly (bc it doesn’t have all the crap in it..)

  2. Subway sucks anyway. They are chronic violators of child labor laws, and felt that a 15 year old boy they had closing alone one night was only worth a few thousand dollars (when he was murdered there). Health aside, nobody should eat there, ever. Great article though!


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