Excerpts from HUNGRY

Food Lies We Want to Believe

They say you are what you eat, but we are often fed lies. The food we are served at restaurants and in grocery stores isn’t always what it claims to be. Sometimes it’s just a tiny forgery, like the green-tinted horseradish standing in for wasabi on your sushi platter or the gas-infused oil labeled “truffle” you pour all over your pizza. We go along with it because we can’t afford the hefty price tag of the real thing. No harm done.

The tale’s a little taller for other food. The most obvious fraud is fish. More often than not, the red snapper you just ordered? Not red snapper. That flaky fish is easy to camouflage. Other than its blushing pink skin, there’s no telling it apart from grouper. Even salmon is fishy. The cheaper, farm-raised variety is fed a special diet to give it an orange hue like the wild stuff. But look a little closer and you’ll see that the captives have more fatty, white lines. Wild salmon is all muscle, too busy swimming upstream for its life. The only fish you can trust is whole, bought from a long-time fishmonger somewhere near Hunts Point. But who wants to go to all the trouble of looking those buggers in the glossy eyes and deboning them at home? No one, that’s who. We’d rather eat them filleted, battered and fried, or smothered in butter sauce. Or, better yet, pressed into red and white faux crab legs. Fake fish is a necessary evil because there isn’t enough of the real stuff to go around. Our stomachs may be bottomless pits, but the ocean isn’t.

Some foods actually require deception, like hot dogs. Do we really want to know what body parts were ground up to make those morselized chunks of chew? Or that worms, rodent parts, and maggots sometimes slip into the sticky batter before it’s pumped into casings? What about pink slime, the ammonia-treated finely textured meat froth that’s pumped into ground beef, chicken, and fast food to make it plumper? No, thank you. I prefer to believe my weiners woke up like that and take them grilled and buried between buns.

There are foods that brag about being bogus, indulging in adjectives like Awesome, Impossible, and Beyond, and mimicking what we really want to consume without requiring the courage to do so. Mostly animal flesh analogs, these imposters have manipulated our palates for decades. Tofurky and mock duck are made by pressing together tofu, textured vegetable protein, or wheat gluten, adding some flavoring, and fiber spinning the goo to make it sinewy. In North Korea, the leftover dregs of soybean oil are squeezed and rolled into a pasty meat substitute, called injo gogi. There’s even a form of cellular agriculture on the horizon. Instead of raising and slaughtering animals, scientists have figured out a way to grow animal flesh by seeding a matrix of collagen with muscle cells in a bath of nutrients. Now, we can bypass the whole ‘killing sentient beings’ part and get straight to the burger.

The bigger question is this: Does purity matter if our mouths can’t tell the difference? Maybe the real lie is the one we tell ourselves. We don’t really care about the truth. We just want it to taste like chicken.

Otolaryngologist. Author of Tooth and Nail:The Making of a Female Fight Doctor & Better Breastfeeding, http://dolcenter.net @drlindadahl

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store