hunting for additives

It may be a little lame to always claim that Sweden is twenty years behind with everything except internet access and safe cars, but what are you gonna do. Since the seventies, nature-minded wacky Western Germans have had access to long lists of food additives and their shorthand E-numbers. The consumer could go into the shops, look at the labels, compare with their lists and, for instance, say: this sausage contains food coloring, taste enhancers, saccharine, artificial aromas, potato flakes and milk powder. I’ll buy something else.

Now the trend has finally reached Sweden.  The past half-year’s really big new thing in our food (not even foodie) scene has been the discovery of non-food chemical additives in our daily grub. All this was triggered by the book Den Hemlige Kocken (The Secretive Chef) by Mats-Eric Nilsson, which made a true impact even on common households and people on the street. Why do we need all this stuff, everyone suddenly asks, why can’t a can of soup just contain soup, why are slices of bacon and salami stuffed with additives, why must any sort of candy be crammed with chemicals? As positive as this development may be, it is a little astonishing how late it comes: the small print of most Swedish foodstuffs actually does name the ingredients (not only their numbers), so everyone able to read microscopic print has been fully informed for years about what’s going on in our bellies.

I have seen some feeble counter-moves. For example, Metro, our free-of-charge morning-pest paper of trams and trains, featured an article by someone who wittily pointed out that the sorrows about global food distribution are more pressing than our new avoidance of additives. This person has not understood a thing. World food issues are certainly not influenced by any consumer’s idea that products that are being sold as food and paid for as food should contain ingredients that can reasonably and rationally be identified as food. Ideally, the two areas should not even truly be connected. World food issues are about the production and distribution of actual food. This is something else than the industry’s sneaky attempt to sell more stuff to perfectly not-hungry Westerners by adding chemicals that make their junk seem desirable.

Luckily a Metro journalist’s dim views on the mechanics of the world have little influence on the effect of the new interest. Food producers are changing their recipes. Stena Line is providing lists of ingredients at their buffet. There is even a new kind of sausage in the stores this summer, which contains mostly meat.

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