For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Home is Where the Central Cardio-pulmonary Organ Is, and see what else has been going on.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Twisted words

Okay, I haven't been posting much lately, as I've got a lot of things on my plate, but I was having a debate with someone over an article that was getting too long for the format.  That and I'm seeing the article being passed around by others as if it were God's Own Truth, so I figured I'd finally hunker down and write about it here.

This is the article.

15 Food Companies that Serve You 'Wood.'

This is typically followed by comments about how Teh Big Bad Food Companeez are Out to Killz Us (yes, I mock). 

The problem?

The article is horribly misleading.  In fact, in light of something my debating partner pointed out about an assumption I had made, it's even more misleading than I originally thought.

The basic premise of the article is this.

Companies are using cellulose as filler in food.
Cellulose is wood pulp.
Companies are feeding us wood pulp (insert nefarious motives here).
These are fifteen companies and their products that use cellulose, therefore they are feeding us wood pulp, therefore you should refuse to buy these products or support these companies, or anything else where you see cellulose in the ingredients list.

Well, let's start from the top.  The article opens with this.

The recent class-action lawsuit brought against Taco Bell raised questions about the quality of food many Americans eat each day.

Chief among those concerns is the use of cellulose (wood pulp), an extender whose use in a roster of food products, from crackers and ice creams to puddings and baked goods, is now being exposed. What you’re actually paying for – and consuming – may be surprising.

Now, I will admit the mistaken assumption I made that was pointed out to me right here.  I hadn't followed the link at the top.  Since the writer went straight from the class action lawsuit against Taco Bell to writing about using wood pulp as an extender, I assumed that the use of wood pulp as an extender was actually part of the lawsuit.  Turns out it isn't.  At least not that you can tell from the brief piece linked to, with no link to a source.  It's talking about the use of filler and the accusation that there's more filler than beef in their seasoned Taco filling.  There is nothing to tell the reader that "Chief among those concerns is the use of cellulose (wood pulp)..."

So right off the hop, by going from the lawsuit to the use of wood pulp, the reader is lead to believe that Taco Bell is being used for using wood pulp as filler in their products.  This is false.  The accusation is that they were using a lot of filler in their seasoned beef.  Filler can be any number of things, and for all we know, that includes the seasonings in their seasoned beef.

Now, just as aside, I do most of my cooking from scratch.  When I cook ground beef, you know what I do?  I use fillers.  And seasoning.  Back in the old days, this was called "stretching" and was a way of stretching a small amount of meat to feed everyone in the family.  In the depression era, it wasn't unusual for the family meatloaf to have more filler than meat.  I have cookbooks from that era that share tips on how to stretch meat as far as possible.  Bread and bread crumbs were most commonly used.  Myself, I tended to use a combination of bread crumbs, milk, egg and whatever herbs and spices I had handy.  Unfortunately, I have family members who are lactose intolerant and one that's gluten intolerant.  So I don't use as much filler.  The result is a less flavourful meatloaf that tends to fall apart.  Those breadcrumbs act as a binding agent that also hold moisture and flavour.

Which brings me to the next point.  Do you know why breadcrumbs hold moisture?  Because they have cellulose in them.

Now, if you read this article, you are lead to believe that cellulose is wood pulp.  In fact, they are very specific about that.

Chief among those concerns is the use of cellulose (wood pulp)

Cellulose is virgin wood pulp  

It even goes so far as to differentiate cellulose from dietary fibre.

Cellulose adds fiber to the food, which is good for people who do not get the recommended daily intake of fiber in their diets, Inman said lied. 
I find the unexplained strikeout particularly revealing.  Right there, you are told that anyone who suggests cellulose adds fiber as a good thing is revealed to be a liar.

The writer goes on to further separate cellulose from fibre or anything other than wood pulp.

...powdered cellulose has a bad reputation but that more of his customers are converting from things like oat or sugar cane fibers to cellulose
So his customers are moving away from good, safe food based fillers, like oat or sugar cane fibers, to cellulose, which has already been defined for us as wood pulp and has a bad reputation.  What is that reputation and why is it bad?  We aren't told.

The article also tells us how the use of cellulose is a bad thing.  Most of this is through the use of leading language.  The use of cellulose in a wide variety of products "is now being exposed." It "is deemed safe for human consumption" by the FDA which "sets no limit on the amount of cellulose that can be used in food products meant for human consumption."  Oh, and I just love this guilt by association paragraph.

... a company that supplies “organic” cellulose fibers for use in a variety of processed foods and meats meant for human and pet consumption, as well as for plastics, cleaning detergents, welding electrodes, pet litter, automotive brake pads, glue and reinforcing compounds, construction materials, roof coating, asphalt and even emulsion paints, among many other products.
 You see?  If you're eating cellulose, even "organic" cellulose (note the scare quotes), you may as well be eating pet food.  Or plastic.  Or asphalt.  Or pet litter.  Isn't that just disgusting?

Booga Booga.

And, of course, we MUST bring up that other evil of food, fat.  Companies are feeding us wood pulp to pander to the weight loss crowd.

...allowing consumers to reduce their fat intake. to remove as much as 50% of the fat...

He said cellulose is common in processed foods, often labeled as reduced-fat or high-fiber...

So companies are basically accused of misleading/cheating/whatever their customers who want to avoid fat by feeding them wood pulp, instead.

And why are companies doing this?

Money, of course.

Perhaps most important to food processors is that cellulose is cheaper...

...the fiber and water combination is less expensive than most other ingredients... producers save as much as 30% in ingredient costs by opting for cellulose...

Of all the egregious statements made in this article, I find this note from the editor most fascinating.

[Note: Humans are unable to digest cellulose since we lack the appropriate enzymes to break it down. This is a food adulterant and another example of the wholly corrupt nature of the federal agency responsible for food safety but continues to prove itself more concerned with corporate profit. ~Ed]

Take the time to follow that link.  I'll wait.

Notice something?


Cellulose is a carbohydrate.  All plants have it.  Of course humans can't digest it.  We are not ruminants, with their specialized stomachs, bacteria and enzymes.  That's why cows eat grass and we eat cows. 

Now go to the bottom of that page.  Notice something else?  Where it talks about dietary fibre?  Right.  Dietary fibre - which is part of cellulose - is good for us.  Which also, according to the strikeout in the article, is a lie.

Ah, but wait!  Not only is this a lie, but according to the editor's note, it is a "food adulterant and another example of the wholly corrupt nature" of the FDA.  Why?  Because they are "more concerned with corporate profit" of course.  Implication: the FDA is controlled by the corporations.  Do they have proof?  Who needs proof?  The FDA did something the writer disagrees with, and that's supposed to be proof enough. 

The article then finishes with...

To that end, TheStreet rounded up a list of popular foods that use cellulose. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, and we suggest consumers read food labels carefully.

So what do you come away with from reading this?

Taco Bell is being sued for using filler.
Cellulose is used as a filler.
Cellulose is wood (implication: Taco Bell is feeding you more wood than beef)
The products listed at the end of the article contain cellulose.
Since cellulose = wood pulp, that means these companies are feeding you wood.

Or, to simplify it even further, this is the premise of the article.

1) Cellulose = wood pulp
2) Product X contains cellulose
3) Product X contains wood pulp.

So what's the problem?

The problem is right with item one.  Throughout the article, the writer maintains that cellulose is wood pulp, and even goes so far as to differentiate cellulose/wood pulp from fibre sources such as oats and sugar cane.  Cellulose is then painted as something horrible that shouldn't be in our food, even if we aren't getting enough fibre, because saying cellulose adds fibre is a lie.

Even if you followed the link in the editor's note, you are *still* told that using cellulose is bad and lead to believe the cellulose is wood pulp and wood pulp only.

This is the core of what's false and misleading about this article.

The other problem is the implication that cellulose is bad for us.  Yet we need cellulose, even though we can't digest it.

Although cellulose is indigestible by humans, it does form a part of the human diet in the form of plant foods. Small amounts of cellulose found in vegetables and fruits pass through the human digestive system intact. Cellulose is part of the material called "fiber" that dieticians and nutritionists have identified as useful in moving food through the digestive tract quickly and efficiently. Diets high in fiber are thought to lower the risk of colon cancer because fiber reduces the time that waste products stay in contact with the walls of the colon (the terminal part of the digestive tract). Read more

Because cellulose passes through your digestive tract virtually untouched, it helps maintain the health of your intestines. One way cellulose helps the intestines is that it clears materials from the intestinal walls, keeping them clear, which may help to prevent colon cancer. Cellulose is the fiber (or roughage) of which your cereal box says you need more.  Read more.

Cellulose is the substance that makes up most of a plant's cell walls. Since it is made by all plants, it is probably the most abundant organic compound on Earth. Aside from being the primary building material for plants, cellulose has many others uses. According to how it is treated, cellulose can be used to make paper, film, explosives, and plastics, in addition to having many other industrial uses. The paper in this book contains cellulose, as do some of the clothes you are wearing. For humans, cellulose is also a major source of needed fiber in our diet. Read more.

So if you sit down with a lovely salad, fresh from your own garden, you are eating cellulose.

If you crunch down on some fresh, organically grown vegetables or fruits picked up at the local farmer's market, you are eating cellulose.

If you eat some delightfully flavourful whole grain bread, with crunchy seeds and flax and other tasty bits like that in there, you are eating more cellulose than if you chowed down on a slice of white bread.





Barley?  Lentils?  Chick peas?  Kamut?  Spelt?


Oh, and yes, M, I was clumsy in my phrasing about making cellulose from rice.  That, by the way, is here if you want to see it.  I guess I'll have to remember to stop telling my family that I'm making rice, when in fact I am actually cooking it.  I had caught the clumsy phrasing but never got around to fixing it.

Now, in direct response to my debating partner (other points have been responded to above)....

I don't think this article misleads. I only agreed that it isn't as informative on all the aspects of naturally-occurring cellulose as you'd like it to be.
 Uhm.  No.  The article is pretty clear that cellulose = wood pulp.  That's not less informative.  That's misleading.  Of course wood pulp contains cellulose, and cellulose from wood may indeed be used as filler in food.  My argument was that the article maintains that cellulose *is* wood pulp, and that is what is the core of what is misleading.

I assume the writer has knowledge that the "cellulose" they are talking about is from wood.
 Why?  The writer bends over backwards to associate cellulose with wood pulp and differentiating it from anything else.  At that level of dishonestly, why assume the writer is being honest about anything else?  Or that the writer is doing anything other than assuming the cellulose in question is sourced from wood pulp?  The writer simply states that cellulose is wood pulp, then goes from there.  The writes gives nothing to tell us she knows that the cellulose used in the products list is actually from wood.  We are simply to assume it is.

I am baffled by your statement that you're not claiming there is no wood. 
 I have no idea if there's wood or not.  There is cellulose.  That cellulose could have come from wood.  Or it could have come from something else.  We don't actually know.  The writer simply tells us that cellulose is wood.  My claim is that this is misleading.  It is.  I don't know how much clearer I can get then that.

If your point is not that they're lying about the wood, why make all this fuss? I don't understand your motive.
 My point is that the article is misleading.  That in itself is not a big deal, I suppose.  The problem is that in the process, this article also attempts to speak with the voice of authority, makes a claim that it does not back up, then provides a list of companies and products and tells consumers to avoid those companies based on the writer's misleading claims about cellulose.  Then people who have bought into the highly charged lede and emotional claims start passing it around as if it were some great and wise truth.  It is maligning companies and products without evidence.

My motive?

I am no longer willing to let bullshit pass without comment.  When something as egregiously misleading as this article starts getting passed around, I'm going to say something.  Because not saying something is a sort of tacit approval. 

 Having gone over what the article does do, here's a bit about what the article doesn't do.

The article tells us the cellulose is bad but, other than talking about its use as filler and extenders, it doesn't tell us *why* it's bad.

The article tells us the cellulose is wood pulp.  There's even a picture of someone holding wood pulp.  Another thing about it that's misleading, since it implies that wood pulp is actually being used as filler, bringing to mind the image of that grey stuff in someone's hands is being mixed in with Taco Bell's seasoned beef, or mixed in with your yogurt and ice cream.  The cellulose is extracted and isolated into crystals or powder forms.  Wherever the cellulose came from, it is no longer that thing.  It is simply cellulose.  Does the source matter?  Well, it might from an ethical perspective (for example, the cell line used to make chemicals to enhance flavour and reduce calories used in some soft drinks originated from aborted babies.  It's generations away from the original cells.  Does that make it any less from aborted babies?  I don't know, but I don't think I can ever drink Pepsi again).  In this case, the source is supposedly from trees, and that's a bad thing.

Why?  We're not told.

I was told that it's because trees aren't food.  Except that people do eat trees.  We eat bamboo shoots and heart of palm.  We eat cinnamon and other barks as food or medicine.  First Nations have been eating the fresh shoots and inner bark of tamarack trees for centuries, and the starchy pith of the sago tree has long been an important food source. 

So why is cellulose from trees a bad thing?

It just is, apparently.

Even the use of fillers at all is assumed to be a bad thing, but again, why?  The use of fillers is common and can enhance a food.  Don't just tell me using fillers is bad.  Tell me why.  Make the case.  This article fails to do that.

Now, I can agree with the use of fillers can be a bad thing.  If I buy a pound of ground beef, I want it to be ground beef, not meat plus filler.  If, on the other hand, I buy seasoned beef, I expect there to be fillers of some kind.  Then it becomes an issue of how much is too much?  I don't want companies to be dishonest about what they put in food, but it doesn't help if the people railing against the companies are just as dishonest.

As to the types of fillers that are a problem, I have very little concern with the use of cellulose, even if it *is* from trees.  I am more concerned about fillers that are soy based (two out of four in our household cannot tolerate soy), dairy based (three lactose intollerant members in my household) or grain based (one household member who cannot do gluten). 

It's not cellulose that should be the concern here, and by being so misleading, the writer misses the boat completely and does her own cause a disservice.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Royally pissed

I am NOT a happy camper.

In the last few months, our van has been showing signs of electrical problems affecting our lights.  First, the right headlight stopped working.  We'd just changed the bulbs after the left headlight had burnt out, so this was unexpected.  We tried changing it again, but still nothing.  It did, however, suddenly start working again, then stop.  Clearly, the bulb was not burnt out.

Then the dashboard brake light starting turning on.   This is supposed to be the light that warns you if there's a problem with your brakes, so when it first started, that's what I was thinking was the problem.  However, it would turn on and off intermittently, usually without the dinging noise that 's supposed to accompany it when it turns on. 

Not good.

Eventually, we noticed that the rear driver's lights stopped working.  Then they started again.  Except for the hazard light.  When opening the sliding doors, the van's hazard lights turn on, but the one on the rear driver's side wouldn't turn on or blink.

Oh, and then there was the signal lights.  First, the left signal started blinking at double time.  The light was working at the front (we could see it blinking furiously in the reflections of cars in front of us) but wasn't working in the rear.  I think.  It's not like we could see it while driving, but when we tested it, it wasn't blinking at the time.  With those lights not being reliable anymore anyhow, I had no idea when or if the left signal light was turning on at the rear at any given time.

The right turn signal had been fine until very recently.  What started to happen is that I'd signal right, it would start blinking, then suddenly start signalling left (which we could hear happen because of the different speeds), then back again.  Or they would simply not turn on, left or right.

In the last week or so, as temperatures have been dropping, our front headlight suddenly started working again.  Temporarily.  It was still off more often then on, but it did work on occasion.  The signal lights switching from right to left or stopping completely hasn't happened in a while, but obviously I'm still concerned that it will happen again.  No change in the dashboard brake light.

When we bought the van, we got their highest level of insurance coverage for repairs, but we still didn't know if it would be covered.  There's a list of things that aren't covered by any of their plans - switches, bulbs, certain parts, etc.  It left me unclear as to whether or not we would be covered.  Despite several attempts to find out, we never got any response to our questions about it.  They did try to sell us a newer vehicle, which we would have been willing to look into if we hadn't encountered several other problems.

I ended up calling the insurance company directly.  I was quite happy with the information I got from then.  As to whether or not our problem would be covered, we'd have to know what it was, first.  That required a diagnostic.  Though we could have hunted for another garage that would honor the coverage we bought at the dealership, the guy I spoke to told me they deal with our dealership's garage on a daily basis and he suggested I do go there, as they would be more familiar with the coverage than others.  We talked for quite a while and I am happy with them and how they keep an eye on things, but I have little trust in garages.  We got burned badly in the past and know how prevalent scamming by garages is.

Long story short, I ended up taking the van in this morning.  After considerable time spent describing the problem, which the woman helping me inputted into the computer, printed out, got me to check (I spotted an error) and sign, I got a shuttle ride home.  They were going to do the diagnostic, then call us later.  I was told (and I was expecting this after talking to the insurance company) that if the problem was not covered by our insurance, we would be on the hook for the diagnostic - at $140 an hour, with the possibility of needing up to 2 hours.  It turns out the airbag on our van has been recalled, so that was going to get done either way, and there was the tentative push to get an oil change and have our brake fluids done, which I said no to (neither is covered by our insurance).  There would also be a complimentary inspection, which we apparently had as a purchase perk but had never used. 

Of course they called while I was away, but Dh was there to answer.  He was told it would cost us $50 on our deductible (which is $100) to fix the problem, which was covered by our insurance, another $60 for bulbs, and they made recommendations to get our break pads changed up, among a few other things that turned up in the inspection.  He said no to anything that wasn't what we'd brought it in for, but gave the okay for that part.

Eventually, we got the phone call that the van was ready.  A relief, since Eldest has a 5am shift to get to, and there are no buses running that time of day.  I called for the shuttle to pick me up and headed over.  It turned out that I got there basically as they were closing for 6pm.  The woman that had helped me with the paperwork before was staying late to process my file.  This was not really a good thing, as she was new to the job and there was no one there to help her out when she needed it.  Anyhow, on top of the deductible, the bulbs and parts added another $156 to the bill.  She wasn't able to close the file because there was no one to help her out, but she processed what she could, I paid the bill, and she promised to call me tomorrow to take care of the details she couldn't finish up.  I got my key then went hunting for the van.

It took me a while, but I did find it. 

First problem?

Right away I noticed they hadn't taken off the plastic on the seat from it being worked on.  Okay, fine.  Then I tried to get to the driver's side door, but there was a truck parked next to it and I really didn't want to squeeze though (I'd already had to do that getting out of the shuttle van), so I went in through the passenger side.  That's one of the things I like about the van - it's easy to do that. 

After clearing the plastic off the seat and the cardboard off the floor, I took the time to text Dh that I'd be heading out and stopping at a grocery store on the way home.  Then I started backing out.

First, I immediately noticed an odd noise.  A sort of grinding noise as I turned the steering wheel, as if something were loose somewhere.  Once I started driving straight, then turned left to leave the lot, it wasn't there anymore.  Hmmm.  And that new headlight must be really misaligned or something, because I can't see it.  I start driving down the road and...


The brake light on the dash turns on, then immediately turns off.


I keep on driving and as I make my way, I notice that the grinding noise happens when I turn right, then straighten the wheel, but doesn't seem to happen with I turn left then straighten the wheel.


I stop at a grocery store along the way, pull into a parking spot behind another car and immediately notice a reflection.

Or lack of it.

I still have only one headlight!

By this time, I was royally pissed.  I texted Dh to let him know (you can imagine how thrilled he was with the news), then headed into the grocery store, did some quick shopping, then headed home.  Grinding noise still there.  Brake light turning on and off, but no longer dinging.  The signal light was working fine, at least.

When I park at home I get out and check the lights.  Front, just one headlight (but the amber lights are working).  I check the rear lights and they seem to be on.  I open one of the sliding doors.

No hazard lights.  At all.

I close the door and turn on the hazard lights.  They're working fine.  They're just not turning on when the sliding door is opened.

So not only do I still have one headlight out, still have the dashboard brake light flickering like a Christmas tree, but now the hazard lights when the sliding doors are opened no longer start up at all and I've got a grinding noise that wasn't there before.

Our van is in worse condition coming back then when we took it in.

Being closed, there's nothing I can do about it until tomorrow.

They are going to get a major earful when I talk to them tomorrow.