Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Our blessing and our curse, part 1

OK, so did you all watch that lecture I posted yesterday?  At least parts of it?  Because that is where I'm going with all this.  I find it very interesting.  So..."let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start."  (If any of you can name that song, you will be my new hero!)

I have to admit, I find our food history in the USA to be quite interesting really.  You see, we had this little thing they called The Great Depression, I'm sure an extremely sad and trying time in our history, when a lot of people went hungry and didn't quite have enough food to feed their families.  The US government noticed this and figured they needed to step in and regulate the food industry so that prices were not constantly spiking to the point where people couldn't afford them.  The cost of simple household cooking ingredients, like sugar, were apparently off the charts.

It was around this time when the US government implemented programs such as welfare and WIC, both very noble things.  People were (are) able to get these simple things, like sugar (and all kinds of processed foods today), with the help of the government and new subsidies they provided to suppliers.  They kept people fed and regulated the price on food (mostly).  By doing this, we were able to pull ourselves out of this great depression slump.

And then due to the high domestic price of cane sugar and the international tariffs on sugar, they needed a cheaper alternative.  Enter High Fructose Corn Syrup.  Again, this was a very noble idea.  The price of sugar was through the roof and someone (Dr. Y. Takasaki at the MITI of Japan) discovered that you could make sugar (in the form of fructose) out of regular corn!  What a novel idea!  America was perfect for growing corn (and not so much for sugar cane)!  We have all those "fly over states" in the middle that nobody lives in, right?! :)  Right around 1977 mass production of HFCS began (which is also about the same time the US government started subsidizing the growing of corn).  Manufacturers then began putting it in all kinds of processed foods because it was so much cheaper and easier to use, transport and store (it's in liquid form) then regular old sugar.  Then in the early 1980's Coca Cola and Pepsi incorporated it into their drinks and the rest is history.  

So I find this very interesting.  It's like a paradox, a Catch-22 really.  It's great because it helped drive prices down, and yet, as I'll write about tomorrow, there are quite a number of health concerns directly related to the consumption of all this fructose.  It can apparently be quite toxic.  So stay tuned, I'll go into more detail tomorrow.   

(I hope you enjoyed this brief history on high fructose corn syrup.  If you want to read more, there is a lot out there...including a decent write up at Wikipedia.)