The setting: A tranquil park somewhere; blanket on ground; tree shading overhead.
The characters: A happy-but-disagreeing couple. She’s open-minded, persuasive, enjoys sweets. And she’s thin. He’s skeptical, easily persuaded. And he really would like a bite of the popsicle she’s offering.
At first, he just can’t bring himself to do it. What’s his problem? The popsicle, you see, has high fructose corn syrup. Oh, evil, vile sweetener.
The girl giggles. It’s made from corn, she tells him. It’s ok in moderation, she tempts.
I’m not buying it, this television commercial from the Corn Refiners Association urging us to get the facts (there’s a website now). The site swears there are no artificial ingredients in HFCS. That it’s safe. That it has the same calories as sugar and does not contribute to obesity.
Well, I’m not biting the popsicle. I’m not biting for the same reason I make whole-wheat pancakes, without a mix — the wheat that I’m using had all the elements of the kernel intact when it was ground, to maintain its nutritional benefit. If I want wheat, I want the whole grain. If I want a sweetener, I’ll take honey or agave syrup or something whose origins are a little more clear. The byproduct HFCS may be all-natural (for whatever that tag’s worth these days), but it’s still highly processed. Hence the word refined.
Refined can be a good thing, when we’re talking debutantes. But it’s a commonly held belief that the closer a food is to its natural state, the better it is for you. And I’m aware that you could argue that whole-wheat pancakes, even the homemade kind, are not “natural state” food — It’s not as though I’m gnawing on a stalk of wheat. But I am taking ingredients whose origins I’m comfortable with and combining them in my own home to produce something edible with an eye toward healthfulness.
And about that obesity assertion: While it may have been determined that HFCS alone does not make a person — or an entire nation — obese, it’s the foods that contain HFCS that will do us in. These foods are more abundant in American households and far more prominently marketed than foods like apples. Cookies, crackers, pasta sauce, soup, pudding, bread, granola bars — you name it, you pick a random aisle in the grocery store, and you’re surrounded. You’ve all seen the labels (and if you haven’t, get reading). If we eat that stuff, we’re getting far more “sugar” in our diets than we’re probably bargaining for. And that’s likely unhealthy regardless of the particular sweetener.
So while food science can be fascinating and beneficial, it’s perhaps not the science that bothers me so much about HFCS; it’s what the stuff stands for: the monopolization of large-scale food companies and supermarkets; that science in our food is better than just plain food; the idea that it’s easier to throw a bag of chips in your kid’s lunch than a bag of baby carrots.
The overwhelming pervasiveness and insidious nature of HFCS has gotten on my bad side for good. Thanks anyway, Corn Refiners Association, but this popsicle’s ending up a puddle.