Monday, June 22, 2009


Jeff and I still have (very few) holdovers from our days buying "conventional" food in "conventional" supermarkets. I don't mean conventional as the opposite to organic. I mean conventional as in products such as store brand items that have strange ingredients, and name brand products such as Coke or Oreos. More simply put, we still have some food products that go back to before our avid label reading.

Last night I made rice and beans, and was astonished to find the can of Big Y kidney beans contained sugar. Sugar? Really? People need sugar in their beans in order to find them palatable enough to eat? Glad that it at least wasn't corn syrup (or worse, high fructose corn syrup), I cooked the beans anyway and added enough hot sauce to overcome any sweetness that the beans may have retained after vigorous rinsing. (I usually don't rinse beans but I didn't want to eat sweet rice and beans, but spicy rice and beans.)

But then I took another look at the label and saw a preservative: disodium EDTA. I found it initially baffling that something that's already preserved (it's in a can) has other preservatives added to it. I think that people are so accustomed to eating preservatives that we don't stop and think about it. So I decided to consult with Professor Google and I found some interesting facts about disodium EDTA.

First, from Wikipedia: "EDTA is in such widespread use that it has emerged as a persistent organic pollutant." Which is referenced to Environmental Engineering Science, 2006, volume 23, pp. 533-544.

So clearly enough of it is being produced that it is turning into waste that can't be adequately dealt with. That in itself is a bad enough thing to make me never want to eat anything with disodium EDTA in it ever again. But what about toxicity?

I took a look at the Cosmetics Database because their website tends to be a great resource for crazy chemicals. Disodium EDTA is not only used in foods but also in cosmetics. And yes, it shows that some studies have shown effects of neurotoxicity and organ system toxicity at low doses; cancer risk; and developmental risk at high doses. Why would I want to eat that?

Finally I looked at the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet). These sheets are kept in laboratories for scientists / engineers / technicians to consult when using chemicals. They state what sort of precautions need to be taken, how to dispose of the product, what its effects are, etc. Granted that this MSDS is for a very high dosage of disodium EDTA at a concentration that you would not find in food, but it is still informative.

To compare with a can of 365 brand (Whole Foods) kidney beans, the 365 brand beans contain kidney beans and water. Eden Organics brand kidney beans contain organic kidney beans, water, kombu seaweed. Doing a cost comparison would also be interesting, but I don't know how much the Big Y beans sold for. I imagine the 365 brand was probably on the order of $1, and the Eden Organics beans are likely closer to $2. But I think it's worth any possible price differential to buy beans that don't have potential neurotoxins inside.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Go Max Go Candy Bars

Edit on 6-22-2009: A commenter has pointed out that I misread the response I obtained from Go Max Go. The soybeans may very well be GM, as they do not specifically purchase non GM soybeans. This means that if you eat a Go Max Go candy bar, you are very likely eating GM soybeans.

I read about Go Max Go candy bars on a post at BitterSweet Blog and was instantly intrigued. When was the last time I've eaten a candy bar? And I absolutely loved Three Musketeers bars before going vegan.

I was instantly skeptical, however, and immediately went to the website for more information. Nothing in the bars is organic, and I was curious as to whether or not the company used genetically modified soybeans and if they knew if the soy lecithin was processed with hexane or not. I sent an e-mail to the company and got a reply back:

Thanks for your interest in Go Max Go. Our soybeans are not certified non gm. As for the soy lecithin, we truly do not know if it is processed with
hexane solvent. Ingredients such as soy lecithin are purchased for our use after they have been processed. Just as when you buy a bottle of olive oil, you are not involved with the pressing of the olives.

I'm glad that they don't use genetically modified soybeans, although I'm sure that the soy lecithin is processed with hexane. I'm sure if these candy bars were available in stores around Boston, I'd probably buy a few and try them out. However, I'm not dying for candy bars enough to go through the hassle of online ordering.

Monday, June 8, 2009


When I found out that Skittles were being made without gelatin, I was excited and bought about 4 packages. After going through one, however, I remembered how fake tasting they are, artificial and too sweet. Jeff and I still ate the rest of the packages, but I don't think I'm going to be going out and buying more Skittles.

Butterscotch Chip Cookies I feel the same way with the vegan butterscotch chips I got a Price Chopper last month. I bought two bags, and after eating a few handfuls with ice cream I realized how fake tasting they are. They're not awful, but certainly not as good as chocolate. That said, I had one more bag and wasn't going to let them go to waste. So I decided to try out this recipe for chocolate coconut chip cookies from Everyday TV.

I halved the amount of butter, skipped the coconut, and put in the butterscotch chips instead of the chocolate chips. And they came out pretty darn good! I was worried that I wouldn't have enough cookies left to take photos of them, and about four were eaten during the photo shoot. They came out a little crispier than I like (not crunchy, but not totally chewy) but that's probably because I made them small and kept them in the oven until they looked flat. I don't know much about the physics of baking cookies, but it seems to me that whenever I leave them in too long, they get crispy, and when I take them out just before that point they're still raw in the center.

Butterscotch Chip Cookies Here are the ingredients of those awful butterscotch chips:
  • sugar (at least this first one is good!)
  • partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil
  • natural and artificial flavors
  • sorbitan monostearate (emulsifier)
  • soy lecithin (emulsifier)
  • yellow 5 lake (read that wiki page, that stuff sounds awful! and it's being phased out in the UK)
  • yellow 6 lake (as if the yellow 5 wasn't bad enough, this stuff sounds worse)
  • blue 2 lake (I'm linking to this page so you can check out the complaint about stool staining, ha!)
  • salt
There needs to be a healthier, natural, alternative to this. (I have been exploring some recipes for butterscotch sauce, maybe I can experiment if I get some time with hardening it into chips or chunks.)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Soy Scorecard

The Cornucopia Institute very recently published a Soy Report & Scorecard that goes into great detail about organic soy food brands. I just finished reading most of the entire PDF (I skimmed some sections), but found it to be extremely informative and also very eye-opening.

Some things I was already aware of, such as that many soy products are created using an industrial solvent called hexane. As somebody who sometimes works with dangerous solvents in a clean room, using gloves, face shields, safety goggles and ALWAYS a fume hood, it amazes me to think that solvents can make their way into my food! I would never drink (or touch, or inhale) acetone in a lab, why do I want to eat soy lecithin that was created using acetone or hexane?

Apparently there is an organic alternative to hexane production as far as soy lecithin goes. This is pretty interesting news, as I was previously unaware of such a thing. I tend to skip over products that contain soy lecithin, but if it's labeled as "organic soy lecithin" (which I have not yet seen on any labels) that means that industrial solvents were not used.

Industrial solvents are also used in the production of many food products such as energy bars and veggie burgers. The report has a listing of which brands use hexane and which don't, which is good information to have when you're out grocery shopping. I tend to skip the energy bars, which I used to eat a lot before going on my runs. I need to figure out a recipe to make my own, because they're a great, quick option if I don't have time for breakfast before a run. I used to eat Power Bars, which are not vegan, but they admit to using genetically modified food in their product. And Clif Bars, which are vegan, use hexane processed soybeans to get their isolated soy protein. I also have to wonder about how "green" a product can be when it always comes in individually wrapped plastic-foil packets.

I also found the section on Silk to be very informative. After reading Organic, Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew, I was made aware of a lot of the politics of the company, and what happened after the original company was bought out by Dean Foods. Dean Foods is also the owner of Horizon Organics, so some vegans may be wary of supporting a company that also profits off of the cow milk industry. However, they also have recently stopped purchasing as many organic soybeans, and many of their products have lost their organic label while maintaining their high price tag.

I stopped buying Silk when I started dating Jeff, because he didn't like how the company does business. I agree, I think that large businesses in general care too much about profits to be totally invested in making sustainable, vegan, healthy products. The last time I bought Silk I was aware that all of their products were organic, which at least made me feel a bit better about the company. But now I am even more steadfast in my boycott of their products, and will discourage my mom from buying me any Silk soymilk when I come home. (It's the only brand of soymilk that she knows about.)

I also won't buy 8th Continent soymilk, which was previously owned by DuPont and now by Stremicks Heritage Foods. Stremicks also makes Rice Dream and Soy Dream, which are owned by the Hain Celestial Group. I can't tell if 8th Continent now falls under the Hain Celestial umbrella, but I have no interest in purchasing a product with such a shady history. (It was originally sold with vitamin D3, which is animal derived.)

There wasn't much about Whole Foods private label products, because they refused to participate in the Scorecard product, so I am left in the dark as to where they would fall into the spectrum of companies. When I buy soymilk, I generally buy 365 brand because it's the least expensive and also tastes good. It's also organic.

I have made my own soymilk, and once Jeff and I find a good nut grinder we will start making a lot more of our own soymilk and tofu. We have about 15 pounds of soybeans waiting for us to eat. There is also the option of buying a soymilk maker. However, I find that these are very expensive and I don't like the idea of relying on an electric gadget to make my food. In the future I hope to post about making soymilk without the use of a soymilk maker, once Jeff and I get the procedure down to a science.

I guess the takeaway from this post is to stay vigilant about the food you buy. Look into the company who produces your food, find out who they are owned by (or if they are a private company). Ask questions about the ingredients, and do a Google or Wikipedia search if you don't know what they are. Find out if you can make the food yourself instead of buying from a store. Always have an inquisitive mind, and ask questions. If we have the resources, time and money to buy good food, or to make food ourselves, we should.