It’s been a bad couple of weeks for processed foods. On the heels of the peanut butter recall came the newsmercury-tainted high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). And this, of course, has reopened the debate over HFCS.
Is it the cause of obesity in America? Is it really the same as table sugar? Is it an evil, liquidy villain complete with horns and a tail? Regardless of how you answer those three questions, from a sustainability perspective alone, we should stop consuming so much HFCS. Here’s why, and how you can cut down.
Why Avoid HFCS?
HFCS is simply not sustainable – whether you consider impacts on the environment or economic factors. I’ll leave it to sources like Michael Pollan and “King Corn” to provide the argument and document the numbers. As summarized by Pollan,
Most corn is grown as a monoculture, meaning that the land is used solely for corn, not rotated among crops. This maximizes yields, but at a price: It depletes soil nutrients, requiring more pesticides and fertilizer while weakening topsoil.
In the economic arena, corn is buoyed by government subsidies that artificially lower the price of corn and force farmers to grow excess corn – corn that finds its way into meat and dairy products, processed foods, and HFCS. Clearly not sustainable.
Am I Eating a Lot of HFCS?
If you’re anything like the average American, the answer is a resounding YES. We Americans consume 41.5 lb of the sweetener per person per year. It’s in Coke, Smucker’s jelly, PopTarts, and Stove Top stuffing. Wonderbread, Rice Krispies, Heinz ketchup, and Ritz crackers. See a partial list here. If you eat processed foods and/or frequent fast food chains, you’re likely consuming your fair share of HFCS.
How do I Avoid It?
I’ll return to Michael Pollan to provide some advice: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Choose whole foods over processed products, eat more fruits and vegetables, and you should be well on your way. The recent food movements toward organic, local food chains and community supported agriculture are also movements away from the HFCS-dominated industrial food supply. When at the supermarket, read labels, choose more natural products (note, though, that the FDA allows HFCS to be called “natural”), and simply increase your awareness of what you’re eating. And if you do cut out the HFCS, you just might see some health benefits as well. Sweet!
Some other sources that may be helpful: