The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Hamburger Helper’


I don’t remember whether this was a short story or something that aired on television and I certainly don’t remember the name or author.  But it was an intriguing tale that I thought would be worth sharing.

Set in Victorian England, a beautiful young woman marries an elderly member of the peerage who is in rather poor health.  She is delighted with her ascent into the nobility but less enthralled with the old duffer who served as her entrée.  But she doesn’t expect him to last long so she perseveres as his wife.

Sadly, the variety of maladies from which her husband suffered appear to be remediating and she decides to take matters about sending her husband into the next world into her own hands.

She begins to add the most minute quantities of poison to his meals – insufficient to kill him instantaneously which might draw suspicion on herself, but enough to make him start to experience physical malaise.  She continues this poisoning for months and finally the cumulative effect of the toxins begin to take their toll on the old man.  His vital organs start to fail and he succumbs to death.

Of course, today we would be able to prove the cause of this man’s death was due to poisoning but the physicians of that time would have concluded that his demise was due to natural causes.

By the way, the widow came under no suspicion and polite society grieved with her at the loss she had experienced.  It turns out this was the perfect crime.

Poisoning has been the preferred method of murder for women for centuries.  Lucrezia Borgia was quite proficient in the practice as were many other of our female ancestors.  Of course, men have also used this method to dispatch adversaries as was the fate handed down to Socrates.

Most of us would agree that murder in any form is heinous and those of us who are responsible members of society, other than perhaps saying in anger, “I’m so mad I could kill him,” have never seriously contemplated that as a way to resolve our differences with our fellow men.

But what if there were someone loose in our midst whose time framework for murder were not months, as in our story, but rather decades?  How would we ever see his handiwork after so great a time period – even with today’s modern methods of detection?  I suggest that we should consider just such a perpetrator – the government agency which oversees those foods it deems safe for us to eat – the FDA.

Perhaps the term murder is inappropriate.  Any crime has to contain several elements which include motive, means and opportunity.  I can think of no rational reason that the FDA would be motivated to cause the death of millions of Americans – other than the far-fetched one that by ensuring we consume a poor diet, we are more likely to then rely on pharmaceutical prescription drugs which it also oversees – thus adding to the term of the job expectancy of its employees.  But I am loath to make that suggestion.

But the FDA in its role as overseer of the foods we allow on the shelves of our supermarkets, does have both means and opportunity to carry out this plot – intentionally or unwittingly.  I would like to take one product with which many of us are familiar to illustrate my point.  That product is manufactured by General Mills and is called Hamburger Helper.

According to the General Mills’ website, Hamburger Helper is available in 40 delicious flavors.  Further, the company offers the following information about itself:

“Our Mission is Nourishing Lives.  Making lives healthier, easier and richer every day.”

“Our Values.  Everything we do reflects our strong core values and we live these values every day.”

Let’s look at what goes into this product and see how that is reflective of General Mills’ Mission Statement and their Value Statement:

Enriched macaroni made from bleached Durum wheat is the first ingredient.  What is that?  I mean enriched certainly makes it sound nutritious.  Well this is what it means.  Perfectly wholesome wheat is first stripped of its nutritive value (bleached) in order to extend its shelf life and then other nutrients (chemicals) are returned to it (enriched) in the manufacturing process.

A little further down the list of ingredients (after a variety of chemical additives which I would probably misspell and have thus omitted) we come to Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil.  This means that Soybean Oil has had hydrogen added to it (again for the purpose of extending shelf life).  Unfortunately this particular form of oil is one of those nasty things that tends to clog our arteries, thus causing all sorts of cardiovascular problems as we consume them over time.

And, of course, no good processed food would be worthy of the name if it didn’t contain sugar in some form.  In this case, the form which sugar takes is corn syrup.

Unlike our first two ingredients which are designed to allow the product to stay “fresh” on the shelf through the next Ice Age, sugar is added to a great number of our processed foods for one simple reason.  We are addicted to it and our food manufacturers realize giving the customer what she wants is a good way to keep her coming back for more.  With nearly $14 Billion in annual sales, apparently General Mills has found a winning formula.

It would be unfair to single out General Mills and say they are manufacturing junk food under the guise of its being “nutritious” and foisting this off on an uneducated public.  They are not alone.  They and their competitors who manufacture similar products all fall under the supervision of the FDA.

We have seen how government has difficulty dealing even with short term issues – let alone ones whose ramifications are long term.  In this regard, the FDA is probably no more or less guilty than others in the bureaucracy or than those whom we elect to public office.  When something will not manifest its bad effects for years or decades it is not only easy but convenient to sweep it under the rug and leave it to someone else to deal with at a later time.

We are all dealing with the effects of that sort of thinking in the massive overload we have placed on our healthcare system, much of which could have been avoided had we spent our lives consuming nutritious foods instead of junk and rearing another generation who is learning to consume the same unhealthful items.

Once upon a time, people who believed that “You are what you eat,” were considered off-base and a little kooky, not only by the general populace but by the medical establishment as well.  Today that thinking has changed and we understand more fully the relationship between good food and good health.  But we still fill our grocery carts with products that do anything but meet the definition of “good” other than, perhaps, as far as taste is concerned.

The Federal government still allows these items into the food chain – even at a time when it is grappling to find ways to cut “fraud” from Medicaid and Medicare.  What greater fraud is there than that a tremendous number of products available for consumption are at the heart of our medical conditions and are approved by the FDA for sale?

If you go to the FDA’s web page the by-line reads, “Protecting and Promoting Your Health.”  That is a noble cause and one we should all applaud.  But it plays better as theater than fact.  How they can make that statement in light of the ever increasing evidence that we are eating our way into illness is a mystery to me.

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