Yesterday I started to write about food expiration and how it’s been on my mind. Today I want to continue that thought, looking at the strange way in which we describe foods as being “simple” or “processed.”
My point from yesterday is that it’s a much bigger problem that we are comfortable eating food designed to last forever than it is that we might eat something after its expiration. This is a systemic problem and it probably speaks to our cultural attitudes toward stockpiling and greed. Let’s have a look…
Have you ever wondered what happens to your bananas that makes them dark and soft? The banana, like all other fruits and vegetables, is very complex chemically. After it’s cut from the plant, the banana starts to convert its starches into sugars, it emits Ethylene gas, and it shuts down the process of growing the fruit. By the time it’s ripe, it has transformed into something nutritious and incredibly yummy for us, but that only lasts a few days. Practically all other naturally occurring foods undergo similar processes and have similar complexities.
Refined and processed foods aren’t this way. We have mastered the skill of separating nature into its constituent parts. Table sugar, or refined sugar, is actually the result of a long industrial process which isolates and extracts the sucrose from its raw form inside of cane sugar. At the end of this and other processes, instead of foods composed of thousands of different chemicals, working together in intricate ways, we get a single pure substance. This is ironic, because we label the most complicated food sources as “simple” and the most basic and simple food sources as “processed.”
Time to get back to the point. Natural foods, in actuality, are the foods that actually undergo the most processing. They spend months growing and maturing to get to the point where they are healthy and tasty, and it doesn’t take much to disrupt this frutopia. They are fragile, like the human body, and their freshness or ripeness encourages taking no more than one requires because any excess will just end up as waste – it can’t be stored (sound familiar? read Exodus 16:16-21 if it doesn’t). The truly simple foods, like refined sugar, bleached flour, and sodium bisulfate, are pretty much good forever. They don’t decay quickly because there’s not much more to decay into. They haven’t undergone any preparatory processing for our nutritional systems. Even though their taste might change over time, they remain essentially the same simple substance they were when bought them.
It’s like gasoline. Gas is synthesized from a whole array of chemical interactions that have been studied and refined over the past century, all of which lead toward clean and efficient use of the fuel. However, you’re not supposed to let a full tank of gas sit idle for extended periods of time because those chemicals breakdown and change constantly, eventually into something that wouldn’t be very good at powering your car – it could do damage to the engine. If someone says their gas will last forever, they’re probably dealing with water, not gas. Foods are meant to rot; it’s a sign that they have reached their optimum nutritional value and are now finishing their life cycle. Don’t put water in your gas tank.