As we've talked about before, the food industry is based almost entirely on a series of lies that, quite frankly, most of us just prefer to believe ("'All natural?' Sounds healthy to me!"). But we have to draw the line somewhere, right? Especially when the food you buy has nothing to do with what it says on the label.
#6. Your Honey and Spices Are Fake
If you're like us and you only use spices to impress the opposite sex with the illusion that you know what to do with them, then it's possible that you don't even really know what that stuff is supposed to be made of. And that's exactly where the food industry wants you, if they're going to sell you fake bootleg spices.
Take honey, for example. You'd think it's a pretty straightforward product -- bees make it, bears steal it from the bees, you eat it. Or something. But the truth is that pretty much all the major players in the industry knowingly buy their honey from dodgy sources in China -- a country that, for instance, has no qualms in purveying pepper that is entirely made from mud.
Wait, does that mean that pork comes pre-seasoned?"
Bootleg Chinese honey frequently has all of the pollen filtered out of it to disguise its origin, and it's then cut like back-alley cocaine with cheap corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. The FDA says that a substance can't legally be called "honey" if it contains no pollen, and yet most of the stuff tested from the main retailers contained not a trace of it.
Soy sauce is another thing you'd assume no one would feel the need to fabricate, seeing as soy isn't exactly a rare commodity. Again, you'd be wrong. Proper soy sauce takes a pretty long time to make, so many manufacturers have started producing an imitation product that takes only three days to make and has a longer shelf life. It is made from something called "hydrolyzed vegetable proteins," as well as caramel coloring, salt, and our good old friend corn syrup. Most of the soy sauce that you get in packets with your sushi is actually this fake stuff. But at least it comes with wasabi, too, right? If by "wasabi" you mean "horseradish mixed with mustard." Let's face it, you probably weren't even served by a real Japanese person.
"I'm actually Korean as all get-out."
The worst offender is possibly saffron. The real stuff is up there with the most expensive spices at roughly $10,000 per pound. That's especially impressive, considering that a lot of "top-quality" saffron consists of roughly 10 percent actual saffron. The rest is just random, worthless plant bits, ground up and mixed with the real thing.
And that's what you get when you're lucky. If you're unlucky, you get the complete forgery:
See if you can taste which one has crayon shavings.
On the left, you see real saffron. On the right -- saffron-flavored gelatin. Its appearance is convincing enough, until you put it in water and it completely dissolves, leaving behind little more than a bland aftertaste and a patch of froth shaped like a middle finger.
#5. Your Chicken Is Pumped Full of Weird Liquids
There's nothing as appetizing as a nice, plump, juicy chicken carcass, roasted to a golden sheen. We're getting hungry just thinking about it. But as much as everything with a kind of indescribable taste is said to "taste like chicken," it's kind of ironic that you probably don't actually know what real chicken tastes like, because ...
"Think I'll just have some bugs tonight."
For decades, the vast majority of our "fresh" chicken has been infused with a whole bunch of other substances, up to and including beef and pork waste. That's bad news for Hindus, Muslims and anyone else who is choosing the chicken dish from the menu because contact with beef or pork is expressly forbidden by their religion.
But even when the chicken is untainted by cloven-hoofed contaminants, you're still likely eating a bird that's pumped full of chicken stock, brine and "flavor enhancers." It's called plumping, and it's been standard practice in chicken production since around the '70s. The industry explains that it's to add juiciness to chicken that would otherwise be too lean and chewy. Sure, they neglect to mention the fact that the chicken is stringy and inferior because they've deliberately bred it to be faster and cheaper to manufacture, but at least they're not technically lying, at least not at this point.
"Not bad. Now get it into the mold and compress it into a rough chicken shape."
But food companies often blatantly overdo the required amounts to "plump" a chicken to tenderness by pumping their fowl up until the extra substances make up as much as 30 percent of the total weight, and we're sure it's just coincidence that chicken is priced by the pound.
But the weight issue is just the beginning. The industry describes the plumping process as "completely harmless," in the same way a marathon runner's nuts could be described as "pleasantly savory." Plumping can up to quadruple the meat's sodium levels, leaving it riddled with unnecessary salts. All attempts to "improve" the plumping formula to fix the sodium problem have led to a giant spiral of more and more crap being thrown into the mix, to the point where you probably don't know what percentage of your chicken is even kind of chicken.
Of course, you can try to avoid it by only buying chicken that has "100 PERCENT NATURAL" printed on the label, and they will laugh at your cute attempts to cheat the system. Due to a technicality in regulations, all chicken -- plumped or not -- can be labelled as a completely natural product ... as long as the ingredients in the plumping solution can be described as "natural" without anyone bursting into laughter.
#4. Your Meat Might Be Made from Glued-Together Scraps
Unless you're one of those people who substitute a lump of tofu for a real turkey on Thanksgiving, meat is meat. And don't worry, we're not about to tell you that the juicy slab of rib eye that you brought home from the shady discount butcher isn't a real steak. In fact, it's quite likely half a dozen steaks ... as well as whatever else they swept off the slaughterhouse floor.
"Just take it over to Vat 12. We're making Spam."
There's a substance in the meat industry's bag of tricks called "transglutaminase." That's an awful lot of syllables, so most people just call it by its nickname -- meat glue. It's exactly what it sounds like. Its intended purpose is for fancy chefs who sometimes need to stick different parts of a meal together after preparation (to make crab cakes and such), but it has another, shadier purpose among renegade butchers.
It goes like this: During the heavily industrialized process of turning animals into delicious food, there tends to be a lot of pieces left over that aren't good for much but pet food. Transglutaminase can be used to glue these tiny bits together into a sort of patchwork slab, which looks a lot like one consistent cut of meat.
"The log is actually the most natural form for meat to take in the wild."
Since the process doesn't leave a trace, and transglutaminase isn't among the substances required to be mentioned in the table of ingredients, you have fat chance of knowing it's there unless you're an expert at interpreting the seams in your meat. This process not only sells you scraps for the price of prime meat, but it also leaves you with a "steak" that might well be made from a dozen different cows, making it next to impossible to trace the source for your food poisoning, the chances for which are incidentally now tenfold, thanks to the uneven consistency of what you're trying to fry up.
Meat glue works its magic just as well on chicken and seafood, which is bad news once again for our Muslim, Jewish and Hindu readers -- transglutaminase comes from pig and cow blood. Well, at least that tofu turkey is pretty kosher.
And it can also be used as meat glue itself.