Why America Has the Cheapest, Most Addictive and Most Nutritionally Inferior Food in the World
AMY GOODMAN: As we continue deep inside the $1-trillion-a-year "processed-food-industrial complex," we turn to look at how decades of food science have resulted in the cheapest, most abundant, most addictive and most nutritionally inferior food in the world. And the vitamins and protein added back to this processed food? Well, you might be surprised to know where they come from. That’s the focus of a new book by longtime food reporter Melanie Warner, author of Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal.
Melanie, welcome to Democracy Now! She’s joining us from Denver, Colorado. Vitamins, vitamin-added food. You think you go to the grocery store, and you want to get a little added punch, and you want to ensure that your kids, that your family, has added vitamins. What’s the problem with that?
MELANIE WARNER: You know, one of the things with processed food that I found while doing this book, is not only that it has an abundance of the things that Michael was talking about—salt, sugar, fat—it’s also what it’s lacking, which, it turns out, is naturally occurring nutrition, in many cases. So that’s vitamins and minerals and fiber and things like antioxidants.
So, you take something like cereal—you know, you walk down the cereal aisle, and you’re bombarded with health messages: It’s high in vitamin D, a good source of calcium, fiber, antioxidants. You see these things all over the package. And one of the things—one of the questions I asked myself when I was starting to work on this book was: Why is it nearly impossible to find a box of cereal in the cereal aisle without vitamins, added vitamins and minerals, in the ingredient list?
And it turns out, because most cereal has very little inherent nutrition. And this is in part because of processing. The processing of food is very intensive. It’s very—it’s very technical, and with cereal, can be very damaging to naturally occurring nutrients, especially vitamins and oftentimes fiber. So, what manufacturers do is they add back in vitamins. So, essentially, you see all these wonderful claims on the package, but essentially—and you look at the panel, and you’re getting 35 percent and 40 percent of your recommended daily allowance of these vitamins, but they’re essentially added in like a vitamin pill, which many people maybe are already taking in the morning.
And I was really surprised to learn where some of these vitamins come from. I never really thought about it in much detail, as probably most people don’t. But it turns out that they’re—these vitamins are not coming from the foods that contain them. Like vitamin C does not come from an orange, and vitamin A does not come from a carrot. It’s very far from that. They come from things that really aren’t actually foods. Vitamin D, for instance, was probably the most shocking. It comes from sheep grease, so actually the grease that comes from sheep wool. You have giant barges and container ships that go from Australia and New Zealand over to China, where most of—a lot of our vitamins are produced. About 50 percent of global vitamin production comes from China inside these huge factories, very industrial processes. A lot of vitamins are actually chemical processes.
AMY GOODMAN: Wait.
MELANIE WARNER: And they’re very technical and complex.
AMY GOODMAN: A lot of people, if they’re with someone, they’re looking at them right now. Wait a second. So, China gets all these shipments of sheep wool from Australia, and they’re pulling the sheep grease off of them to make vitamin D?