Things I don’t understand

I don’t understand why we (this country) criminalize marijuana and why we demonize people who are addicted to drugs but we continue to put High Fructose Corn Syrup in everything.

Marijuana is allegedly a gateway drug.  And of course, people who abuse drugs are sometimes desperate souls who will do anything, even commit murder, to get their next high.  So smoking pot, even recreationally** is treated as a serious crime requiring probation, incarceration and intensive treatment.

Actually I do understand why and its pretty messed up.  Thanks to the food industry and pressure on the government from mega corporations like Archer Daniels Midland and Coca-Cola, foreign sugar has high tariffs slapped on it when its imported for straight sale on the grocery shelf or added to all the processed food/junk we eat here.

Americans pay over twice as much for sugar as other countries because of these tariffs.  HFCS has also come to be loved by corporations because its easier to move around.

Here is the part I really don’t get: why is High Fructose Corn Syrup in some products at all. For instance, the chicken from the other night- I used bread crumbs from a cannister.  Didn’t even occur to me to check for HFCS. But there it was, along with corn syrup and sugar.  Come on! Its bread crumbs for pete’s sake!  Today, I dumped them out and bought some Panko crumbs.  They do still have “less than 2% of the the following: sugar, ….” but no HFCS.  Next time I need regular bread crumbs, I’ll just make them- lightly toast (or let it dry out for a few hours) a couple slices of bread, tear in to pieces and whirl around in the blender or food processer to desired consistency.  And yes, I do make sure my bread is free of HFCS.

High Fructose Corn Syrup has been linked, by numerous studies, to the increase in obesity in this country.  And this country is getting fatter and more unhealthy all the time.  Of course we should exercise more and probably eat less in general.  But what to do about this insidious addiction?  Because studies are showing that even the use of artificial sugar substitutes does nothing to stop your body’s craving for sweeter and sweetest.  In fact it can make things worse!  And if you are now putting HFCS in everything, even not sweet foods what does that do to our inherent sweet tooth?  You needed that sweet-loving sensitivity back in caveman days when sweet tasting plants were probably safer to eat than bitter or hot ones. But now?

Vernors was originally sweetened with stevia from 1866 to 1991. Then the FDA banned stevia in 1991 and the company replaced stevia in their drinks with HFCS.  I’m not a huge Vernors fan unless I have a stomach ache but this really saddens me. Vernors is the oldest soft drink in America and it was invented right here in Michigan!  If you aren’t familiar: Vernors is ginger ale.

I didn’t know stevia had been banned, since I recently bought some.  Apparently it must be marketed as a dietary supplement. Odd that I found it in the baking aisle, hmm.  It seems there was an anonymous complaint made to the FDA in 1991 and they tagged the product as an “unsafe food additive.”  Despite numerous requests the FDA has never divulged the source of the complaint.
Especially interesting is the fact that Coca-Cola and Cargill have worked together on a stevia-derived sugar substitute and are in the process of getting FDA approval for that (as of 2007).   This patented chemically-derived substitute could be seen in your supermarket soon, filling your sodas and your twinkies and your breadcrumbs (probably).

But Stevia, the all-natural, naturally occuring (i.e. no patent necessary), grown and used for centuries in South America without ill effect, found to be not harmful by a massive World Health Organization comparative study, might actually improve insulin resistance and reduce the risk of diabetes stevia?   Oh that is still banned in food.

I should probably point out that I’m on page 3 (yes, page three) of Food Politics by Marion Nestle and I’m already pissed off.  Its going to be a fun week reading this one, while also reading about defamation to help my law-school boy.  When I’m done, I should pretty much know exactly what I can and can’t say on this blog!

**um, something I don’t actually do- smoking in general just brings back some bad childhood memories no matter what leafy substance we are talking about.

Michigan’s Bottle Return Law

Back in 1976, Michigan voters voted on a proposal to add a deposit to bottles and cans sold in the state. The bottle return law was passed with 76% of voters checking the “Yes” box on their ballots.   Within 2 years, the state saw a 48% reduction in bottle/can related trash on the roadways.  The law decreed that every soda and beer can or bottle would have a deposit on it. At the time of purchase in a store, the buyer was charged the deposit on top of the regular price. After drinking the contents, you could return it to the store and receive the deposit back. Presently, the deposit is 10 cents per bottle or can. A handful of other states, European countries, Australia and Canada also have “Bottle Bills.”

California, not surprisingly, has a very aggressive bottle bill covering all beverage containers no matter the contents. Bottles under 24oz are redeemed at 5 cents each while those over 24oz are worth 10 cents each. The state’s goal is achieve 80% redemption rates for bottles. In 2007, they made it to 67%, a 7 percent increase over 2006. In addition, the state legislature is currently considering a bill that would expand the bottle law to cover non-beverage plastic bottles, i.e. shampoo, lotion and food filled bottles.

Four State Senators introduced a collection of bills (SB 1391, 1393 and 1394) on June 17, moving to amend the existing bottle law.  The measures are focused on enhancing penalties for fraudulent returns.   However, the Michigan United Conservation Club is pushing for the House and Senate to amend these bills to include an expansion of what is covered by the deposit law.  According to their press release, Michigan residents threw away 1.1 billion water bottles in 2005.

Executive director of MUCC, Dennis Muchmore noted “Although our citizens now return 97 percent of the 5 and a half- billion bottles and cans for which they pay a deposit, they recycle only 20 percent of the bottled water containers because no deposit is required.”

Let me just say that 97%  return rate is amazing. Although its mind-boggling to think that Michiganians buy 5.5 billion bottles of soda, beer and wine coolers a year!

Back in 2000, the Department of Environmental Quality prepared a report on the impact of the Bottle Bill and suggested some alternatives including an expansion of the bill to cover other bottles.  You can read the whole report here (its a PDF).  What I find interesting is that even though the state estimates 10 million bottles are fraudulently returned, there is still an excess in the fund that holds the paid-out deposits.  And that accepted fraudulent returns kept nearly 7000 tons of bottle/can waste from landfills.

The Michigan Legislature goes on recess at the end of the month.  I encourage you to contact your Senator or Representative right away to voice your support to amending these bills to expand the bottle bill to include water bottles.   The three bills are tied together so its an all for nothing deal.