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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

question of the weekend: What fake food scares you the most?

A story on AlterNet this week ran down “The 6 Weirdest, Scariest Processed Foods,” and it is indeed a litany of horrors. It begins:

Once upon a time, some brave scientists had a noble dream of ridding our food of the plague of nutrients.

Today, at the start of the 21st century, the miracle of food processing has brought that dream closer to reality than ever before. From vitamin-free “blueberry bits” to spray-can cheese to avocado-free guacamole, food scientists have worked tirelessly to bring us new and exciting foods that contain as little nutrition as possible. Even apparently “healthy” foods such as soups have been ingeniously overloaded with so much salt you feel as if you’re eating French fries.

In this article, we’ll provide a handy guide to six uniquely unnatural processed foods that will hopefully serve as a blueprint for humanity’s eventual triumph over the tyrannical fist of Mother Nature.

And then it gets worse from there.

I personally think, however, that author Brad Reed could have tried a lot harder to find scary foods. I mean, too much salt makes condensed soups one of the more disgusting foods ever? That seems like a relatively minor culinary crime next to, for instance, what might be my scariest food: Cool Whip. Man, that stuff is disgusting.

Macaroni and cheese that comes in a box is pretty gross, too. Powdered cheese in an envelope? That’s easily as bad as liquid cheese in a can.

What fake food scares you the most? And more importantly, perhaps: Do you eat it anyway?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD/QOTW, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTW sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Accounting Ninja

    That site seems fixed on sodium. In another article there, “8 Foods You Think Are Healthy But Aren’t”, the only unheathly foods are too high in sodium. That’s it.

    There are many people that have to watch their sodium, of course, but a quick look at the back of the box will let you know. (I’m more interested in foods that don’t have nutritional labels and try to pass themselves off as “healthy”, like some restaurant offerings.)I’m lucky, I have abnormally low blood pressure. Seriously, I’m always fainting. Okay, not “seriously”, but I really do have low blood pressure.;P

    Sodium isn’t my chief concern.

    Anyway, my vote? Those processed cakes and cookies. Like Little Debbies, etc. I can taste the plasticine chemicals. I’m not even particularly spoiled by home cookin’.

    And no, I won’t eat them.

    Other things I know are scary when I think about it, like sausage, but it still hasn’t really hit me just how gross they are, so I still eat them.

    But sausage is fast becoming a second, because even my Trader Joe’s organic chicken sausage has unappetizing, chewy or rock-like, mystery bits that I’m pretty sure wouldn’t be in my mouth if I had my choice of which parts of the chicken to put in the sausage.

  • so i take it then, Accounting Ninja, that you are not a disciple of the “tail to snout” principle of using an animal? the gristly bits might just be other parts of the chicken… things that we consider rather disgusting in this country are part other cultures complete use of a valuable animal. have you ever eaten chicken feet? pig trotters? sheeps head or testicles? sounds gross but probably a lot more nutritious than many of us suspect. as for me, i tend to agree on the little debbies and other processed cakes — but i used to *love* them… especially the Hostess orange cupcakes. now i try to stay away from even entemann’s… but i admit that when my aunt or sister buys one and i’m at their house, i’ll eat my share. which is why i never buy them for *my* house. if i’m having company, i’ll bake something instead.

  • mortadella

    Any hard candy that claims to be “grape” flavored makes me cringe. I’ve tasted this candy during my childhood, and I’ve eaten real grapes; the two flavors are nothing alike, obviously. In fact, grape flavored crap simply tastes purple, you know?
    I wonder how the folks who do artificial flavor research decide what will pass as a stand-in flavor for the real thing.
    And there’s cereals so artficially colored that they turn milk bright pink or neon blue…Fruity Pebbles, to me, is especially gross.

  • Hank Graham

    I’ve gotta go with the synthetic, vat-grown meat. One random lightning bolt hitting the network at the vat-growing lab and it’s all over. I mean, c’mon, we all heard Bill Cosby’s chicken heart routine at impressionable ages! We know which way this is going.

  • Kenny

    The chocolate that goes in chocolate fountains. After the day I saw how much vegetable oil they added to the molten chocolate to keep it running…I’ll never dip a marshmallow or a strawberry again.

  • Lisa

    scariest? couple of years ago there was a scare that the dye in some supermarket curries could might possibly cause cancer i’m in trouble

  • amanohyo

    Ground Beef. I don’t know where it comes from or how they make it, but that stuff is disgusting. Just kidding…maybe. When I was a kid, my four favorite foods were chef boyardee canned ravioli, boxed macaroni and cheese, foot-long chili dogs (with canned chili, naturally), and mountain dew. I’m pretty sure my body is fubar (my blood pressure was extremely high in college), but I consider all of those things to be pretty scary as an oldster (beef and pork too, even though they aren’t “fake”).

    The one thing I will never eat is the icing on an American cake (the icing on 99% of American desserts really). Holy buckets that stuff is too sweet, and it tastes like melted plastic. I guess it’s because Americans drink too much soda or something, but in southeast Asia, while they certainly have fake food fetishes as well, at least the desserts don’t taste like biting into a sugar cube that’s been dipped in a vat of play doh. If a grape doesn’t taste almost unbearably sweet, then you’re eating waaaaay too much processed sugar (or you’ve grabbed a sour grape). I really notice the difference around this time of year when I get holiday sweets from both asian and american relatives.

  • Kenny

    Actually amanohyo’s point is true of salt as well. I stopped adding salt to anything about 4 years ago.. as my taste buds recovered I very quickly stopped eating a lot of processed food, simply because I found that they tasted unbearably salty.

  • Paul

    I can’t eat greese anymore. I had a food-nazi for an ex-wife and went from a guy who could eat an entire pizza by himself in college to a guy who gets sick after two slices.

    On the other hand, when my parents or friends in America take me to a restuarant, I’ll ask the waiter what their spiciest food is. “That’s pretty spicy,” they’ll say, and I’ll shake my head. “Not after living abroad.”

  • mel

    I was in America for three weeks last year and i struggled with a lot of food, mainly because everything seemed to have so much sugar in it. Bread, peanut butter and cheese being the three things. And i coudldn’t get decent juice anywhere either.
    Jon Stewart talks about a hotdog wrapped in a pancake a fiar bit, that scares me.
    But i can shake my head and think “only in America”

    Cheese spread scares me, cause cheese really shouldn’t spread.

  • For me it’s packet ham which comes in a handy sqaure shape. I watched a documentary on how they make it and the amount of stuff injected into the meat before being forced into a mould is frightening.

  • markyd

    You don’t like Cool Whip?! Who doesn’t like Cool Whip? I’ve never heard of such a thing. Homemade whipped cream is infinitely better anyway. Full of fat, though.
    My wife made homemade Mac N Cheese on Friday. Tastes amazing, but is still really bad for you.
    I agree on the Little Debbie/Hostess type stuff. You just KNOW that stuff is horrible for you. What exactly is “cream filling” anyway? scary

    How about “fake”(read: diet) pop? That stuff is probably worse for you than the real deal! Nothing but chemicals. I’ve given up on pop altogether. Tea and water for me, thanks.

  • LaSargenta

    Jello.

  • Christina

    Chorizo (Mexican spicy sausage) – read the label, it’s right there, and scary as hell.

    Buttercream icing is wonderful, commercial, so full of weird stuff it will never melt “frosting” is disgusting. Same goes for Cool Whip – nothing from nature in there, it’s all chemicals. You must be kidding.

    Anything “diet” – I don’t care what the sugar substitute is, I’d rather have real sugar and at least know what to tell them in the emergency room.

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