Inconvenience Foods

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Several people I follow on Facebook have taken to posting recipes culled from various cooking sites on their walls. They are quite popular, and are often met with “likes” and comments about how delicious they are.

As someone who writes about food, I look at these recipes with great interest. And each time, I am appalled.

Most of these delicacies are made with mixes, and contain tons of fat, sugar and “white stuff.”  A cake recipe features yellow cake mix, eggs, lemon Jell-O, vegetable oil and 7-UP (yes, the soft drink!). It is iced with sugar and orange juice.

While I am no stranger to treats, and bake often, it is my philosophy that the best possible ingredients should be used, and the end result should be well worth the dietary splurge.

Calorie for calorie, I am sure that my baked goods would weigh in at a similar or even greater amount. This isn’t about fat content or grams of sugar. My issue is with the chemicals and unnecessary additives in the Jell-O, soda and cake mix.

“Holy Cow Cake” contains a jar of caramel topping, cream cheese, a can of sweetened condensed milk and Cool Whip blended with a chocolate cake mix. Holy Cow, indeed!

The fresh strawberry cake does in fact feature the real deal, and the website talks about the joys of going strawberry picking (fresh and local= good). Yet those freshly picked berries are beaten into submission by a meat tenderizer, and overcome by Jell-O and cake mix again.

Honestly, I didn’t think people used this stuff anymore. I really, truly believed that people fell into two distinct camps: those who baked, and those who frequented bakeries. I am shocked that someone would take the time to prepare things like this, under the guise of homemade.

There are savory dishes here as well, such as a recently posted soup recipe that features bacon, whipping cream, potatoes, cheese and bouillon cubes. Bouillon cubes! Those tiny blocks of flavor are made of salt, sugar, MSG, hydrogenated palm Olien, and Disodium Inosinate among the long list of ingredients. I don’t use any of those things in my homemade stock, which is much richer and more flavorful than rehydrated chemicals will ever be. But I also don’t add bacon, whipped cream and cheese to my soups either.

While we blame much of the obesity epidemic and its related diseases on fast food, this “semi-homemade” movement is often worse. Basing our meals around premade, processed and preservative ridden mixes is creating dishes that are worse for us than a fast food burger. I can’t help but think that many people have no idea how much less healthy these foods are even as compared to the “real” versions of the same thing.

Why does dry cake mix need to have well over a dozen unpronounceable ingredients in it? Most of the dry components of a cake are flour, sugar, a small amount of salt and some type of leavening, such as baking soda or baking powder. All of these are shelf stable, without the need for additional preservatives. For most basic mixes, you need to add water, oil and eggs. For most basic recipes from “scratch” you need to add butter, and eggs. I can’t even begin to imagine how a mix is easier, or why anyone would want to eat all those chemical additives.

I don’t mean to offend anyone’s palette, or to get all judge-y about anyone’s dietary preferences. If you want to indulge, go for it. But in using manufactured ingredients instead of fresh ones, we are harming our bodies and subjecting ourselves to exposure to unsafe food additives, without any good reason to do so.

Next time you long to make a special cake, or a hearty casserole,consider not only the nutritional value of the dish itself, but also the unnecessary additions and additives you are using as well.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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