Last year, China’s State Administration for Market Regulation found almost 6,000 food items contaminated with microbes, excessive food additives and agricultural/veterinary drugs –– and memories of melamine in milk and U.S. pet food heighten concerns.
As a food processing consultant, Frank A. worked with over 60 food manufacturing, processing and packaging companies in Australia, China, Surabaya Indonesia, New Zealand and Singapore and talks, in this interview, about some disturbing food practices.
MR: In the late 1970s, Nestle’s promotion of infant formula over breastfeeding in poor countries was seen as unethical and causing infant deaths. But forty years later, you say the marketing continues?
Frank A.: In the Chinese culture, “grandmother” would use fresh vegetables, mash them up and feed them to the baby because she was the one providing childcare when parents were both out working. Today, “grandmother” is literally viewed as the enemy. An American CEO of a French biscuits company I consulted for in ShangHai literally told me, “When the child comes home from school and asks for an apple, we have to have the child ask for a biscuit. We have to ‘capture the moment.’” Before going into her office, I examined the range of biscuits on display. The biscuit she was promoting was the usual refined and baked and colored junk and the cream fillings were worse. It’s a chemical sugar potion.
The marketing objective of this CEO and those with similar companies is to “de-skill” grandmother—change her behavior so she automatically takes a baby food jar from the cupboard instead of serving fresh food.
MR: Doesn’t that deprive children of the nutrition they need?
Frank A.: It is very apparent at these food companies that nutrition is not a primary consideration. Almost all of the older food industry executives were overweight and their preferred lunch was beer and hamburgers—they did not know about human biochemistry or care about nutrition. Product development work, which would include nutritional concerns, is not done in the factories which simply follow formulaic procedures.
Also, heat sensitive nutrients are lost when the contents of a can are heated to high temperature three or four times at the processor—the last being when it goes through the sterilizers.
MR: Can you describe the production of baby food that you saw?
Frank A.: The baby powder formula factory was in Guangzhou province in China. I’d watch the machines in action. The mush or slurry—the terms overlap with geology—would be picked up from a large tray underneath a very large, heated rotating drum, several meters wide. This formed a thin brown film which signified a pronounced Maillard reaction –– the creation of non-enzymatic browning and advanced glycation end products (AGEs) as proteins/lipids were exposed to sugars. A blade then scraped the brown film off the roller to be powdered for packaging. The colorful box packaging had a white Western baby on the chubby side and a big smile.
AGEs have been widely covered by medical researchers—they damage and age the arteries and are markers of many degenerative diseases. Processed foods are slow poisons, a fact not lost on those whose background is in biochemistry.
MR: Processed food with little nutritional value and obesity usually go hand in hand. Did you witness growing obesity in the countries where you consulted?
Frank A.: Large Chinese city supermarkets are full of Western packaged products both imported and locally made. Out in the countryside, people may still be eating in more traditional ways but KFC lookalike chains are booming. They are more expensive, come with lots of packaging (as opposed to no packaging with traditional food outlets) and lack nuritional depth. However, Western style advertising promotes the idea that everything from the West is just better—and it works.
I saw it reported years ago that the number of overweight kids in China equaled the population of France. A clear secret weapon against a country is to inundate it with processed, packaged food. KFC, for example, has weekend kids’ sessions where staff create fun events in the store, relieving busy parents of child responsibilities with no babysitting fees.
MR: Do you see the processed, imported food problem becoming worse?
Frank A.: Yes. The ancient diet of humans had a 1:1 ratio between Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids. That ratio has been perverted to 20:1, favoring Omega 6 according to experts. Chloramphenicol antibiotics are found in Chinese honey. We are now living in an entirely anthropologically re-engineered paradigm and one needs an unnatural degree of self-discipline to maintain a normal weight and stay healthy.
Martha Rosenberg is a freelance journalist and the author of the highly acclaimed “Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health,” published by Prometheus Books. Check her Facebook page.