The Chemicals in Our Food

Reader Contribution by Sue Van Slooten
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They’re back! Or, they never left. A recent article on examines the fact that phthalates are in our cheese products, specifically cheese strings (kids love those, and a lot of adults too), cheese spreads, cheese slices, and most damaging, mac and cheese dinners. Who has not had one of those? Well, most of us at least. The phthalate content in a mac and cheese dinner is 50% higher than the other cheese products apparently. 

So, where have we heard the name phthalate before? These chemicals, which fall into a class known commonly as plasticizers, hit the news waves big fifteen to twenty years ago, when it became known they were in children’s soft plastic toys. Think little yellow rubber ducky, the quintessential bath toy. They showed up in a lot of other toys too, and products. Outrage ensued, and some limits were placed on them, but only insofar as it involved what a child could fit in their mouth. Well, cheese strings and cheese products can fit into a whole host of mouths, not just children, but of course, children are so much more vulnerable to dangerous chemicals. What it comes down to is that we are feeding, in some small way, plastics to humans. Is this really OK? No. Not. Nada. Nein. Nicht. You get the idea. 

Now for the rant: Why are we still here, in this exact place, after all this time? Why are we still seeing these chemicals, not in toys, but now in our food? The answer gets a bit complicated, but it is because it is feasible. Easy to do. And unchecked. By that I mean, how well is any of our food tested, how well do we really know what is in it? Of course, it is very easy to say that all commercially and industrially produced food is suspect, which it is. But that is just too pat an answer. (These chemicals are known endocrine disrupters and are toxic to internal organs; to get a better understanding of what phthalates are and the damage they do, see Wikipedia page below.) 

The fact that this stuff is in our food at all should really come as no surprise, but the reality is, who was looking for it? That is one problem. The secondary problem is, once found, how did it get there? And what can/will be done?  In this case, it seems the phthalates are coming from the processing itself, in terms of the plastic tubing, seals, gaskets, even the gloves workers wear (which makes you wonder about the gloves). The article states that this stuff is in the cheese powders used in mac and cheese dinners, but those same cheese powders are used in a whole huge range of snack products, like cheesies, tortilla chips, to name a couple. I also question all of the plastic wrappings that our food comes in, from fresh veggies to fish, meat, and yes, the aforementioned cheeses. All nicely packaged in plastic so you can see, but not smell, what is in there. Sometimes you have to go through more than one layer of plastic to get to the food! It is like a set of Russian dolls, it is so over-wrapped. 

As bad as this all is, there is a much bigger problem. We have a society, a political system, a government, that thinks this is OK. Profit at any cost to the consumer. It is still the Wild West of consumerism and capitalism. There is absolutely no will on the part of the powers that be to regulate this, as they caved to Big Agriculture and Big Industry decades ago. As we speak, what few protections we have in a number of areas are being busily dismantled, as fast as the executive orders can be signed. 

On the bright side, I happily mentioned our society in the last paragraph, but that is where the most hope lies. In the last decade or so, people have started seriously asking questions like, what is in our food? How is it produced? Where does it come from? The organic food movement has come into its own, producing quality produce at affordable prices for the most part. The public is much more aware that our food systems are not OK. They are designed in spite of us, instead of for us. 


CNN Breaking News. This is CNN’s main website for up to date information on what is going on. Last accessed July 17, 2017.

CNN Breaking News. Last accessed July 17, 2017.

Wikipedia. This entry discusses a broad range of phthalates and their toxicity. Last accessed July 18, 2017.

You can follow the further adventures of Sue or sign up for a class at her website: www.svanslooten.comor

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