Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sweetening in foods, unable to escape tyranny

There is an inescapable tyranny present in our society -- the pervasive use of sweeteners.


I recently compared a box of organic whole oat cereal with its non-organic counterpart and the organic cereal's sugar content was four times that of the non-organic. Another comparison, found on a Web site pitting Kashi's Heart to Heart Cereal versus General Mills' Cheerios, showed Kashi's sugar content to be five times as high (www.associatedcontent.com, article No. 237633). The two cereals were nearly alike in all other measurable quantities but despite this vast imbalance between their sugar contents, the person posting the article still preferred Heart to Heart.

Evaporated cane juice shows up a lot in the list of ingredients for organic cereals and pastries. Perhaps the manufacturers add extra organic sweetener so that the consumer won't add refined sugar at the table. Evaporated cane juice is supposed to be much healthier while satisfying the "sweet tooth."

The difficulty I run into, however, is that I didn't want that sweetness in the first place. My perception of sweet is apparently abnormal because nearly everyone around me appears to enjoy the flavor but I find it cloying and repulsive.

People go into paroxysms of delight when confronted with something chocolate or a pastry stuffed with fruit. I see a sticky, gooey mess.

Kettle corn? Don't get me started! Why would you ruin popcorn that way? And I don't even want to think about popcorn covered with chocolate.

My mother told me that when I was a small child she once came home and found that the babysitter had tried to feed me chocolate cake. I refused to open my mouth and it ended up all over me. This early experience set the tone for my childhood relationship with food: society and I would frequently be at odds over its attempting to force me to eat what everyone else preferred.

Cold and clammy textures! "Exploding" foods like cherries or grapes! And -- of course -- the pervasive, inescapable, sweet!

Now that I'm an adult -- hooray! -- I can make decisions for myself about what I will and will not eat; and while I frequently sample new flavors in an effort to expand my palate, there are still some gastronomic experiences that I prefer to avoid.

I've given up ordering French toast -- which is normally one of my favorites -- because restaurant chefs prepare the batter with cinnamon and then cover the finished creation with a thick dusting of powdered sugar. I don't know about you, but sugar ruins the musky taste of rye. Did I mention that I routinely ask for a substitution of whole wheat or rye because white bread is hard to digest?

One time I toyed with the option of ordering eggs "any way" by asking that the cook beat the eggs with milk into an unsweetened batter, dip whole wheat or rye bread into the batter and then grill the bread. The person who was dining with me, however, dissuaded me from acting on my plan.

I envision an uprising of picky eaters -- children and adults -- who will channel our collective numbers as a viable consumer group. Picket organic manufacturers to sell the cane juice separately! Keep cinnamon out of the batter!

Until the revolution, I'll just have to be that cringe-inducing customer who orders bizarre substitutions in the restaurant. While I'm at it, I'll make society just that much more interesting and diverse.

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