It’s Protein!

5 Jan

We’ve all had that moment as a kid: the accidental bug ingestion. The ant in a peanut butter sandwich left momentarily unattended at recess, a fruit fly drowned in a soda or some questionable dirt colored smush on a rescued Popsicle. (Five second rule is really not always a good metric to go by…)

Then there’s another moment we all had as kids: the moment we had to tell Mom something bad–while she was at work. You know…you forgot the project she reminded you not to forget, you missed the bus after she woke you up early, you got sent to the office…and even though you didn’t do anything wrong, you swear, the phone-call-to-mom-at-work was scarier than death.

 Photo: Rein Rache via Flickr

And it still is as an adult.

A little while back I was visiting my parents. It’s a well known fact that I can’t make a decent cup of coffee. But I live in L.A., where every corner boasts at least one coffee/cupcake shop. At home base though, I was marooned on a coffee-less island, with visions of Intelligentsia beans dancing in my head. So I tried to figure out Mom’s coffee machine. I’ve been accused of making something like gasoline and calling it coffee but desperate times, you know. As I dismantled the machine to figure out where the coffee and water should most likely be placed, I found something stuck in the bottom of the inside of the machine. A flashlight and screwdriver inspection over the sink confirmed the worst. And now it was time to call Mom at work.

“Hi Mom, I tried to make coffee.”

Delighted response from Mom.

“I found something stuck in the bottom of your coffee machine.”

Confused response from Mom.

“A cockroach leg.”

Restrained response from Mom: “WHAAAAAAAAAAAT? EWWWWWWWWW!”

Well, yes, actually the parts that the leg was attached to were in there as well. I have no idea how or why a cockroach would dive into the back of a coffeemaker to its imminent demise. But that day, the coffee machine met its own and I got a great quotable from Mom,  “How long have I been brewing roach coffee?!” I resisted the urge to repeat the line she’d always used when we were kids and accidentally ate something crawl-y,

“It’s  just protein!”

And indeed it is. In fact, some people believe the nutrients from bugs can help populations get protein in a much greener way than America’s beef with beef with more beef with bacon with cheese diet.

But here’s some news for those of you who wretched while reading those above few paragraphs, you may be secretly eating bugs as well. No, I’m not telling you to go inspect your coffee machine (well, maybe if you live in FL you ought to), I’m telling you to check out the ingredients on the back of your boxes of processed food.  If you’re chowing down on something red-colored, you could be eating something called Carmine, also known as Crimson Lake, Cochineal and Natural Red 4, among other things. Carmine is made from bugs. To be exact, Carmine is made by boiling dried bugs and then treating the solution with any number of things. Beyond the gross factor and the shock factor of not knowing at all what is in your food, there are other issues associated with Carmine. For instance, eating something colored with Carmine would cause a dilemma for a vegetarian, especially because the Carmine solution is sometimes treated with egg whites, fish glue or gelatin and Carmine can also cause severe allergic reactions in some people. (Yeah, I dunno what fish glue is either.)

Ingredient list please!

What’s the alternative though? Synthetic dyes? All those colors with numbers attached at the end of an ingredient list on a box? Well let’s talk about those: Many common synthetic dyes are made from petrochemicals. But one in particular is actually a known carcinogen, and that would be Red 3. The FDA’s acting commissioner in the early 80’s stated, in fact, that Red 3 was a carcinogen. Many years later, we still find it in our food, even in food targeted towards children. Take a look next time you buy pre-made frosting, or any cake decorations. Betty Crocker uses Red 3 in many of its products (despite the part of their mission stating that the company is a brand “associated with quality and trust.”)

I urge you to read up here. From now on, if you don’t already, double check the ingredients on anything red-colored to check for Red 3. According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Colors also contained Red 3, but I’m happy to say that the company has since switched to all natural dyes, proving it can be done with fruit and veggie extracts (but seriously, don’t you still feel a little betrayed? I mean, it’s Goldfish! They occupy at least one childhood food group!). You can tell Betty Crocker to lose the Red 3 by signing this petition. As I type, there are about 150 signatures and it will take more to really embarrass Betty Crocker into changing.

The bottom line is that food dyes should be both safe and natural.


3 Responses to “It’s Protein!”

  1. Terumi January 13, 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    “Carmine can also cause severe allergic reactions in some people.”

    Yup. That’s me. I can’t wear lipsticks and pink eye shadows and can’t take advil…

  2. Brent January 6, 2011 at 2:16 am #


    I was checking out the Carmine/Cochineal colorants and found that it also conflicts with religious dietary constraints (it’s not Kosher and it’s not a halal food). I think I’m okay with eating processed bugs — no allergies or dietary restrictions to note — but I’m not cool with added carcinogens just to have ruby red sprinkles on my sugar cookie.

    Come on, Betty Crocker. You’re messing up my post-nap snack fix.

    • chewgooder January 6, 2011 at 8:24 am #

      Ah, a 30 Rock fan I see… Yes, Carmine can conflict with religious dietary constraints, you are correct. Hope you signed the petition and passed it on!

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