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You and Umami: What the Heck Are We Eating?

June 7, 2010


We recently commented here on an article titled “Bacon as a Weapon of Mass Destruction,” by Arun Gupta, one of The Indypendent’s founding editors. Democracy Now host Amy Goodman was impressed by that essay too, and consequently invited Gupta to be on her show, along with Dr. David Kessler.

Arun Gupta talks about the highly addictive combinations of fat, sugar, and salt that are available, as he poetically puts it, in infinite variation, especially to kids. He describes umami, a category of additives that includes monosodium glutamate, or MSG — a category for which we have specialized taste receptors. Gupta says,

Umami is Japanese for — it’s the fifth flavor, after sweet, salty, sour and bitter. And it’s loosely translated as ‘deliciousness.’ It’s meaty, savory flavor. And it’s highly addictive, and it has a response on our neurochemicals also… A lot of our foods are pumped with all sorts of umami, everything from savory foods to ice cream, because it elicits an actual neurochemical, physiological response.

Goodman draws more detailed information about Gupta’s concern with the ubiquity of pork in American cuisine. Sometimes in life there is an epiphany, when a subject really impinges itself on the consciousness. One of mine arrived when an oddly-angled mirror gave an unaccustomed glimpse of what was going on beneath my chin. That was a Middle-Aged Moment. Gupta, who graduated from the French Culinary Institute as a chef, also makes the rounds to lots of parties, and at some point in the social whirl he must have had a Bacon Moment.

Gupta got interested in factory farms, and there’s a substantial amount of information about that problem in this interview. Goodman and her guests also discuss high-fructose corn syrup, the “cheeseburger bill,” and other aspects of the obesity epidemic. When these folks explain how the lousy American diet is largely the result of government intervention at very basic levels, we begin to see that, for instance, removing vending machines from schools is a very feeble, lame-duck kind of legislation to try for. It’s too little, too late, by far. If what they are saying has validity, the laws and policies that need to be changed are much more far-reaching. We would need to rethink our positions on some really big issues, like farm subsidies. These are not trivial matters.

Dr. Kessler, a pediatrician who had served as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under two presidents, also must have had some kind of Aha! Moment. He says,

I used to think that I was eating for nutrition, I was eating to be sustained, to be nourished. I didn’t realize that I was eating for stimulation.

Kessler says modern food is “adult baby food,” so thoroughly processed it’s virtually pre-digested, and it just goes down in a whoosh. People joke about somebody vacuuming up the contents of a plate, but it’s not that funny.

Goodman, as always, wants a call to action. So what do these two experts recommend in order to make healthy food more affordable and available? Gupta feels that the government should take a strong stance and completely ban the marketing of processed and fast foods to children. Dr. Kessler would like to see a cultural shift away from constant grazing.

In America, food is part of almost every occasion, or no occasion at all. If our attitude was more like that of the French, we wouldn’t eat on the street or in our cars, and food offerings wouldn’t be a staple ingredient of even the briefest business meetings. There is a structure, Dr. Kessler explains, where the culture sets limits, and it’s accepted that food has its proper time and place. Can we set this example for our kids?

Introduction to Weigh2Rock

In a sprightly and information-packed presentation, Dr. Pretlow tells us about all the different parts of the Weigh2Rock website and what purpose they serve. Really, it’s a whole world unto itself, and at the same time connected to every part of the real world, as overweight kids from all over the globe write in to share their sorrows and joys. Among many other things, Dr. Pretlow talks about the 93 polls he has taken, and some of the unexpected information that has been gleaned.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Bacon as a Weapon of Mass Destruction,” Democracy Now, 08/03/09
Screen capture of is used under Fair Use: Reporting.


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