diet dangers and how to avoid them

Dear Uma: I have been seriously trying to lose the Xmess pudge, not because I think my marriage is in trouble, but because my mobility is threatened.

Dear Uma:

I have been seriously trying to lose the Xmess pudge, not because I think my marriage is in trouble, but because my mobility is threatened. At first I tried to fool myself out of this unpleasant task by attempting to rationalize the extra weight:

* Yukon winters demand more fat to keep the body warm, especially if one has become too fat for winter clothes.

* Exercise in the North is dangerous; you can slip on icy roads and break a leg.

* Wolves are known to attack people; better stay indoors eating dinner and avoid the risk of becoming dinner.

* I am cuddlier when I am heavier (Pete brusquely disabused me of this one).

* Women of my age naturally put on weight; it cannot be helped (my doctor told me otherwise, in a manner much kinder than that of my husband).

Just when I was girding up my flabby loins to get started on a diet, along comes the best reason of all to avoid one of my favourite fattening foods – the hamburger.

It seems there is an additive on the market from Beef Products Inc., which by those in the industry has become affectionately known as “pink slime.” It is a cheap solution to the beef industry’s embarrassing food problem of meat recalls and outbreaks of liability-prone illnesses due to E. coli, salmonella and other pathogens found in their products. It is used in 70 per cent of burgers sold. McDonald’s and Burger King are just two of the fast food businesses that use it.

What is pink slime? Beef Products buys the cheapest, least-desirable beef on offer – fatty sweepings from the slaughterhouse floor, which are notoriously rife with pathogens. This revolting stuff is run through a series of machines and ground into a paste. The fat is separated out and the substance is laced with ammonia to kill the pathogens. The purchaser then mixes it with their ground beef to render it safe. Up to 15 per cent of your hamburger may be pink slime.

If this isn’t enough to make one think twice before ordering a Big Mac, new research has shown the ammonia doesn’t always kill the pathogens and may even be adding to the pathogen cocktail.

Beef Products Inc. testing results were worse than 24 other suppliers who use traditional meat-processing methods. From 2005 to 2009, Beef Products had 36 positive results for salmonella per 1,000 tests, compared to a rate of nine positive results per 1,000 for the other suppliers.

Have these statistics led to the industry big names ceasing to use pink slime? Not bloody likely; it is still the cheapest method of stretching ground beef in a “safe” way, thus making more money. Making more money is still the industry’s main goal.

OK no more hamburgers. That was easy. Eating sweets got easier, too, after reading more about soaring diabetes rates due to the rise of using cheap, highly subsidized sweeteners in everything from breads to tinned soup.

Looking for something tasty and non-lethal to eat, I thought of fish. Surely fish is non-fattening, if not battered and deep fried. I make a mean tuna casserole, too. Unfortunately tuna is another seriously messed up food.

First, the harvesting of tuna ends up being the harvesting of dolphins, too. The latter are not eaten, merely killed or cruelly maimed and brought to the point of being endangered as a species.

Frankly, though I like dolphins, I confess I have bought tuna that didn’t bear the “Dolphin Safe” label. I look for the label; it is my first choice, but I have often been guilty of going ahead with a tuna purchase when the label was not available.

Aside from the dolphin deaths associated with tuna, it contains dangerous amounts of mercury. There are some brands of tuna that purport to contain young tuna only, the young tuna bearing less mercury. Those brands are expensive, but probably all I will be buying in the future; no more brain-kill casseroles for me.

Sardines are supposed to be a good processed fish alternative, not only are they low in mercury due to their place on the food chain, but they are high in the highly desirable omega 3 fatty acids. Sardines are also relatively inexpensive. It isn’t just the industry giants who are cost conscious, though of course the consumer’s motivation for thriftiness is the more admirable.

The downside of a tin of sardines is the appearance; there is something inherently sad about the sight of them all neatly arranged, headless top to finned tail, in their little tin bed. And the knowledge that all the bones and entrails are still present can also be a bit off-putting. And then there is the smell….

Really, Uma, booze is about the only truly safe thing to take into the human body and it has the added benefit of making one think happy thoughts and not concern oneself about dead dolphins, pink slime and the evils of corporate practices. I think it may be my new diet; enough tequila and food is the last thing on my mind.

But before I start on my new diet, I must rant a bit more about how truly bad it is that we cannot trust our food to be safe. It seems there are no real restrictions on the captains of industry and their means of manufacture. The limitations only seem to apply to individuals or small businesses, like our friend in southern Oregon who is attempting to take his small business of growing and selling organic farm produce into the next step – processing some of the food into a more marketable form.

He recounted a litany of woes as he battles his way through the endless red tape involved in setting up a commercial kitchen in which to make his organic, additive-free jams and jellies. He will also be making frozen meals, again organic and free of things like pink slime.

It is an honorable, ethical business and he is not interested in making it enormous and himself rich; he simply wants to take it to the next logical step – food that can be stored longer than his fresh fruits and vegetables, and food that can be served more quickly.

He recently described his battles with the bureaucracy thusly:

“It’s like being screwed by a porcupine; hundreds of pricks against one.”