What’s Hiding Inside

29 03 2012

They say that what you don’t know, can’t hurt you.

Balderdash. A pure lie. Because in this era of expected transparency, any food producer who does not willingly come clean with what they put in their food, will be found out. Exposed. Naked. And hung out to dry.

Like Starbucks and the info leak that the pink coloring in frappuccinos is made from beetles.

Eeewwww! gross!

This time the outrage is coming from vegans who feel deceived. Vegans by definition do not eat any product that is animal-based, including insects. No meat. No dairy. No eggs. And, apparently, no beetles.

As a vegetarian, I feel some of their pain. I routinely read every label of every item I purchase, but I also know that I cannot go into a restaurant’s kitchen to read their ingredients. There is some risk in coming out of the cave of dietary control, because you never really know what goes into the food you are eating.

But it is still in the best interests of food producers and providers to be forthcoming about these things. There are many people who refrain from things as a matter of conscience. And don’t forget those who have food allergies (wheat, corn, nuts, etc.), for whom eating the wrong thing can lead to catastrophic results.

Starbucks should have known that sooner or later, word would get out that it had started using beetles. Heck, they only started using them recently, in an effort to eliminate artificial ingredients. But while beetles may technically be all-natural, they do violate the dietary preferences of some. This information should be made available so that those affected can then choose more wisely.

McDonald’s was stung a few years ago when it was discovered (and they later admitted) that they actually coat their french fries in beef tallow before frying. That’s what gives their fries that distinctive taste. A hindu family took great umbrage over the deception and filed suit.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is nothing unethical about using beef tallow or beetles, but you do owe your customers the courtesy of being transparent. because if you don’t, you wind up being a headline in nearly every major media outlet.

And that, my friends, is not exactly an ingredient for positive PR.

Just yesterday I served on a panel reviewing a number of small Amarillo companies seeking development grants. One company is a consumer food producer. the representative glowed about how his product was “beef-based,” which threw me for a loop, because I had never before seen a product in this category that had beef as an invisible base ingredient. I asked to see the product label, and there it was (albeit in very small print): beef bouillion.

Again, I would catch this in a supermarket, because I do read all that fine print. But I did advise them that they should probably a little more forthcoming on the label. In fact, the fact it is beef-based could be a real advantage among the majority for whom consuming meat is not a problem. But imagine if I had given up meat for Lent, only to find out later I had eaten this product? I would be upset.

We live in very different times, one in which people avoid foods because of allergies, and others avoid them for personal, ethical, religious and/or health reasons. Given these differences among the eating public, it behooves every manufacturer and preparer to tell us everything.

Even if it has crushed beetles in it.

You know, I think I’ll just stick with my coffee. God knows I already accidentally ingest enough bugs as it is is while riding bikes out here. I just don’t want them in my beverage.

Dr “Feeling Buggy” Gerlich

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