I read a curious label at work a few months ago, and it got me thinking: What would it be like to restrict myself to food without flavour? I’m not talking about eating nothing but watery gruel and rice cakes, but about eliminating from my diet any foods that list natural or artificial flavour as an ingredient.
The label that got me thinking was on a package of Carnation Instant Hot Chocolate, where “cocoa” came later on the list of ingredients list than two kinds of sugar (the first and second ingredients), hydrogenated oil, and modified milk ingredients, preceding only such minor constituents as cellulose gum, salt, and diglycerides. And, of course, artificial flavour. I had two minor epiphanies at that moment: first, that you could probably remove the cocoa entirely from the mix and not really notice any difference in the final product. It’s almost as if the cocoa is there only so that they can call the final product Hot Chocolate and not Hot Brown Powder Vaguely Resembling Something You Enjoyed As A Child.
The second epiphany was that “flavour” of any kind on an ingredient list is the surest sign of food that’s been overly processed. After all, I can’t remember the last time I reached for the flavour shaker on the dining room table to lend a bit of bite to a bland dish. In our kitchen, adding or changing flavour is accomplished by mixing and balancing actual ingredients, not by opening a can of molecular soup that captures the essence of a flavour without any of the bother of actual ingredients or preparation.
The web page for Carnation Instant Hot Chocolate claims that it’s “a good source of calcium when prepared with 6 oz (175 ml) of milk.” Yes, I suppose that’s true in the strictest sense. But by that measure, Iocane powder, dirt, birch bark, and air are also good sources of calcium when prepared with milk. Or, you could just drink the milk (and hold the modified milk ingredients).
So for several months, I’ve been reading ingredient lists of virtually every processed food I eat, with a soft target of January in my mind for the beginning of my culinary adventure.
I think I eat a healthier diet than the average North American. Like anyone, I overindulge in some things and have my vices, but I eat more fresh fruit and vegetables than most. I eat meat, but far less than I used to. Butter is virtually gone from my dinner plate. We prepare dinner fresh at home 5-6 times a week, I make lunch every day rather than popping out to the local Burger King, and I don’t even put sugar in my tea any more.
So as of today, I’m going to eliminate as much flavour as possible from my food intake. The ultimate goal is to get rid of it all over the coming weeks. I already have a good idea of what’s going to have to go (yes, this includes Grapples) and I’ll be posting updates on my progress every once in a while.