The Truth About the Truth About Splenda
Mother Davis puts a sickly sweet look on her face as she comments,
If there’s one thing that makes me want to just grab a chocolate bar and chew, it’s America’s obsession with food issues. Here we are, the most well-fed nation on Earth, and we can’t seem to get over our little food hangups. Some people worry about whether food is available. We Americans worry about whether our food meets the criteria established by the South Beach Diet.
This evening, I’m looking at a press release put out by some outfit that calls itself Qorvis Communications (couldn’t a public relations firm find a better name?). The press release, in extremely urgent and earnest terms, announces a new web site called The Truth About Splenda.
The Truth About Splenda, we’re supposed to believe, has been created by concerned citizens who are terribly frightened by the increasingly widespread use of Splenda, a no-calorie sugar substitute. The press release takes care to remind us that Splenda is, after all, not natural, and “no one knows for sure what the long term effects may be”.
This is where I groan. Qorvis Communications ought to be working an awful lot harder to earn its bread if this is the best PR it can come up with.
Think about the message critically, and it’s clear that the superficially dire warnings of The Truth About Splenda are, in fact, mighty slight. Sure, no one knows for sure what the long term effects of consuming Splenda may be, but that doesn’t mean that there are any long term negative side effects. It just means that no one knows. It is known that there are negative effects from consuming other sweeteners, and that includes sugar.
Then there’s the “not natural” jab. It’s true that Splenda is not natural, but so what? Shoes are not natural, but that doesn’t mean that shoes are toxic threats to our health. Poison ivy and anthrax are 100% natural, but that doesn’t mean I’m about to eat a sandwich with 100% natural organic poison ivy and anthrax jelly.
The truth about the Truth About Splenda is that the web site is paid for by an association of sugar cane and sugar beet farmers. The press release announcing the site quotes the President and CEO of the Sugar Association. It’s only natural that sugar farmers and manufacturers would be critical of a product put out from their competitor, but it’s 100% unnatural baloney for these folks to hire a PR firm to create the impression that there’s some kind of high risk to eating Splenda that is being kept secret from the American public.
This silly sweetener crisis reminds me of my days back in Memphis, Tennessee, when the issue of genetically modified foods first came into public consciousness. A liberal activist that I was working with at the time sniffed disdain when I asked her what she thought about the use of genetic engineering in agriculture. “It’s frankenfood!” she declared, and then stared at me, waiting for a response, as if what she had said was really any kind of argument at all.
The fact that food has some artificial components in no way means that it is dangerous to the people who eat it. Genetically engineered ingredients may sometimes be problematic, but often are perfectly benign. Saying that food has ingredients that are not natural in their genetics or in their manufacture means nothing. It’s the specifics of the artificial processes that make particular ingredients that matter, and we ought to evaluate these on a case by case basis.
The truth is that none of our food these days is natural. Agriculture is not a natural process. It’s an artificial, although ancient, practice. The only truly natural way for us to get our food would be for us to abandon our homes and take up a hunting and gathering lifestyle in which we take plant and animal sources of food where we find them in the wild. Heck, even cooking food is unnatural. Campfires are perhaps the earliest technology making processed food.
The point is not that I am defending all genetic engineering. I’m not. Some applications of the technology are out-of-control. Neither is the point for me to promote Splenda over sugar.
The point is that, when it comes to our food issues, we would all do well to abandon the tactics of name calling (Artificial! High carb! Processed! Frankenfood!), and do a little bit of critical thinking instead. As it is, we’re being spun so hard by different food associations that we may ourselves soon qualify as processed foods.
When it comes to food, it’s the particular process, not the fact that there is a process, that really matters.
Spurning her would be sugar daddies,