Saturday, March 16, 2013

Superfood or Super-Faux?

Hello Friends,
The experience present in everyone’s lives is the choice between Big Food and Smart Food products. Big Food is deemed the conglomerates that produce cheap processed non-nutritious items for bulk consumption with profit in mind. On the other hand, Smart Food is considered to be the class of superfoods that boost immunity and protect the body’s condition. Most people either avoid food regimens and eat carelessly or choose the wrong type of diet. With a bit of scrutiny and research, I have managed to find out which foods are healthiest for my body. Now, I am aware. It is another big step to actually eat Smart Food. It is important to me that I put in the effort to receive my body’s maximum potential; it is all give and take in the mind and body relationship. After reading material from Dr. Gillian McKeith, as I discussed in the previous blog post, I understand that not everything I read is credible. With a surplus of information that may or may not be accurate, it is challenging to make the correct choice. In fact, I have a confession.
It’s true, I was doing well on my path to healthiness, and then I went to the Cellar market; I should really stay out of there because it’s encouraging bad habits. Browsing through the frozen section, I recognized my favorite brand of “healthy” frozen chicken, Quorn. At home, I might have ventured to declare my favorite meal was Quorn cranberry goat-cheese chicken nuggets. Even reminiscing of the hot chicken slab oozing with melted goat cheese and dipped in sauce makes my mouth water. After my childhood, anything served with ketchup is tasty to me. Honestly, before this week I had no idea this wasn’t real meat. In the Cellar, I was pulled by the nuggets’ mysterious magical food powers toward it in the back of the store. As soon as I laid eyes on the packaging, it seemed to be emanating a halo (or perhaps that was just the glow from the freezer lights). The inspection of the box revealed that the Quorn brand creates “meatless and soy free” products. Hmm, I was not aware that Quorn was a vegetarian brand for meat substitutes. No wonder they label it “Chik’n”. I guess common sense is not so evident to me when my mother was the one buying my groceries. She bought and I ate: oops. Anyway, the brand website draws viewers by marketing to the food-lover, weight watcher, healthy eater, vegetarian, and environmentalist. On the page that describes why Quorn is a suitable brand, the company starts the explanation with “Super food…or Superfood?” and ends the speech with, “No wonder some people are calling Quorn ‘a wonder food’!” (Quorn). The brand tells the audience that in addition to being yummy food, it is also in the nutritious “superfood” class as well. So Quorn creates nutritious food products for vegetarians, right? But I thought I was supposed to avoid all frozen meals because they are exactly that, “products” manufactured unnaturally. What is in the Quorn Chik’n nuggets that I bought? According to the package, the meat alternative is made mostly of mycoprotein, a “naturally occurring” form of protein that is “produced using a fermentation process”. Isn’t chemical conversion unnatural? The process is changing the chemical structure of food molecules, similar to food products with GMOs. In 2009, Kristen Seymour, a passionate fitness blogger for “ThatsFit” health section from HuffPost Healthy Living, wrote about how Quorn was facing a class action lawsuit (Seymour). Studies showed that subjects who ate Quorn products faced adverse reactions 10% of the time, compared to 5% for everyday reactions to fish and common food allergies. The significant issue was mislabeling because the package does not indicate any warning for allergic reactions. Since mycoprotein is similar to a fungus, the food was making people violently sick. If the meat substitute is a superfood, then in theory it should be making people feel better, not worse.  To address the issue, Quorn admits, “Unfortunately, all protein foods can cause illness in some people”. Seymour also reports that the Center for Science in the Public Interest has launched, and there are thousands of responses. If a company is involved with any sort of lawsuit or recall, I start to question the credibility of their product. Idealistically, I would not want to support this food that could do harm to my own health. Realistically, the power of hunger is stronger than my convictions about the food system. That is the real problem, applicable to almost everyone, in today’s society. There is no other recent information available online about the result of the lawsuit, and it is unlikely Quorn altered its product for the better. Perhaps Quorn misleadingly used an appearance makeover to quiet its critics by changing the packaging and marketing. Indeed, the Quorn controversy is a recipe for consumer frustration.
To return to the meal, I proceeded to make a snack. This was my first time trying the chicken nuggets. I heated 5 pieces in the microwave on paper towels, per the directions (see picture of box), for a couple minutes. After letting them cool, I noticed heavy grease stains soaking through the thick layers of paper towels. That was a bit disconcerting, but I was hungry and they looked so delicious (I’m working on my willpower). I didn’t have a clean plate handy, so I just squeezed a drop of ketchup on each nugget and ate it. They were decent, but they didn’t taste fresh. The nuggets did not taste how I expected them to. They were chewier and oily. I was not biased because it was before I had researched mycoprotein. I was expecting them to taste like McDonald’s Chicken Nuggets. I distinctly remember the taste of those because the fast food version felt soaked in sodium and injected with the x factor of processed food chemicals, the one that makes you crave more of it yet it never satisfies the taste. This is why I was longing for salty nuggets laden with that inexplicable flavor, reminding me of childhood car rides filled with fast food. A few months ago, my weekly social dorm activity was a Thanksgiving meal. The staff provided the food, including mashed potatoes, corn, and what I was delighted to see most of all, chicken nuggets. I blame the staff for reminding me of what I was missing out on. If I hadn’t eaten it then, I would not have remembered the processed yet addicting taste.  All right, it’s my own fault for lack of self-discipline. Perhaps, this act of eating Quorn chicken nuggets (identified as a superfood) is truly a success worthy of sharing; I certainly avoided eating meat and did increase my intake of cultivated protein. But I’m thinking it is more of a confession to ignorance.
As the season of Lent proceeds, it is fitting that I gave up meat for this meal, albeit unknowingly. However, I prefer to return to my omnivorous diet. I’ve been eating blueberries every day. They are my favorite superfood since I love fruit. “Berries are among the fruits highest in antioxidant content,” reports the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). The AICR established a Foods That Fight Cancer bulletin, claiming that as well as having vitamins C and K and manganese, blueberries possess phytochemicals that block cancer development. Antioxidants “attract and neutralize highly reactive molecules called free radicals that could otherwise damage body cells in ways that initiate cancer development,” writes Karen Collins, nutrition advisor to AICR, in her article for NBC News (Collins). Mixing berries with dark colored vegetables creates a nourishing smoothie, but I’ve yet to try any green smoothie. I was sick for exactly 6 days, and my cold ceased right before Parents Weekend. My mom and dad visited and took me out to dinner to enjoy a nice meal at a Vietnamese and Thai food restaurants. Although I am not feeling ill now and my health level is at a 9 (the best it has been in a while), I still continue to be mildly congested. I’m not sure if this will ever go away because there is always someone sick on campus, so I’m likely to always be in contact with other people’s germs.
In the end, the Quorn brand is an international corporation feeding the masses, a contributor to Big Food. Is a product made by a Big Food company still a credible superfood if it has beneficial properties? That is up to you to decide. In my opinion, Big Food can never manufacture Smart Food because artificial food products cannot be considered the highest tier of nutritious superfoods, which must be 100% natural. Oh, and as I write this, #health is a trending topic on twitter. If you don’t know what that means, it means a lot of people online across the world are talking about the nation’s health. Maybe the world is realizing the severity of the issue. Get online, comment on twitter or my blog, and tell me what your opinions are about #health.

Works Cited
"American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR): AICR's Foods That Fight Cancer." AICR's Foods That Fight Cancer. American Institute for Cancer Research, 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 03 Mar. 2013.
Collins, Karen. "Berries: Cancer-fighting Super Foods?" NBC News Diet and Nutrition. NBC News, 8 Sept. 2006. Web. 03 Mar. 2013.
Seymour, Kristen. "Quorn Meat Substitute Faces Lawsuit." That's Fit. HuffPost Healthy Living, 18 Sept. 2009. Web. 03 Mar. 2013.
"Quorn Products." Quorn Website. Marlow Foods Ltd, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2013.

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