April 5, 2014

Eating GMOs Isn’t Kosher For Anyone

Kim Egan

Kim Egan, Founder, Saltbox Consulting

What do China, the State of Maine, the State of Connecticut, Chipotle, and Whole Foods have in common?   They all think you have a right to know whether the food you are eating contains any genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs.

I like that.  Why do I care? Because the genes in GMO plants have been altered in a laboratory to do something that the plant would not normally do.  This means that Mother Nature did not deem it good.  Mother Nature did not deem it good that a tomato should live forever in its fully ripened state, even after traveling around the world in a crate on a truck or boat or a plane and sitting in a grocery store for days if not weeks.  Mother Nature did not deem it good that corn should be able to kill insects while it grows.  Mother Nature created insects.  They are useful, whereas acres and acres of corn are not.  Mother Nature created corn to feed birds and deer and the occasional human.  Not to feed every livestock animal in the country or to sweeten the chemical concoctions that the soft drink makers dream up.

I find it ironic that the vote in Maine on labeling GMOs took place the same month that Edward Snowden demonstrated that he, too, thinks Americans have a right to know.  And that Congress – the greatest legislative body in the world – appears to agree that all Americans have a right to know all the super-top secret stuff the government is up to, but doesn’t think Americans have a right to know if they are eating GMOs.  I know I’m going out on a limb but I don’t think we should expect this Congress to pass a bipartisan bill to require all food manufacturers and restaurants to label GMOs anytime soon.

Okay, next one.  What do Amy’s Kitchen (frozen pizza), Blue Diamond (peanuts and almonds), Arrowhead Mills (stone-ground everything), and Silk (the company that brought tofu to America), have in common?  They all refuse to use GMO ingredients in their products.   Let’s all raise a cheer for these companies!  This is what makes America great!  Government won’t do something the people want?  Do it yourself!  Decide your elected representative is a lazy-good-for-nothing fat cat eating pork out of a barrel?  Take matters into your own hands!

corn_on_the_cobOkay, next one.  What do Judaism, the Church of England and Saudi Arabia have in common?  This one seems a little harder.  But it turns out that all three of the world’s major religions prohibit GMOs.  Saudi Arabia bans them outright, as does Algeria, Brazil, Egypt, the European Union, Peru, and Thailand. The Church of England won’t let any GMO crop trials on any church property, which amounts to 60,000 hectares in England.  A hectare is approximately 2.5 acres, which is 150,000 acres, or the equivalent of about 234 square miles.  That’s what the Church of England owns. The whole of England is only about 50,000 square miles big, from which, if you are a GMO scientist, you must subtract cities, towns, factories, airports, train stations, banks, houses, roads, outbuildings, seaside resorts, castles, Stonehenge, palaces, manor houses, Kew Gardens, etc.  I bet there’s not much left after that.  And lastly, GMOs aren’t kosher.  There’s so much more to it on that one.

There’s more to say about GMOs, such as the fact that the U.S. government regulates GMO corn as a pesticide, not a food (that’s why we want to know what we’re eating, right?!), or that Tasmania has declared GMO rapeseed to be a weed (weeds are bad, not good).

But the worst thing I learned researching this post is that M&Ms, Stoned Wheat Thins, Pringles, and all Pepperidge Farm cookies have GMOs in them.

The horror, the horror.

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Airline Food and Whine

Kim Egan

Kim Egan, Founder, Saltbox Consulting

My boyfriend and I were recently discussing why it is that wine on an airplane tastes so terrible.  The only perk these days in many first class cabins is a free glass of gawdawful wine.  Just gawdawful.

Why?

wineIt turns out that the airplane food and wine taste so terrible because they are being served to you on an airplane. Apparently one’s ability to taste food and wine decreases by 30 percent at altitude.  Cabin pressure suppresses the effect of odor, so you cannot smell what you eat, either.  Moreover, the dry air dries your noise out, so even if odor molecules were as abundant at 10,000 feet as on the ground, your noise would be oblivious.  And most interesting, the din of the airplane engines makes one think the food is bland.   The only explanation I found for that is that brain is distracted by the noise and can’t focus on the food (I think there must be more to it than that).

The effect of sound on food was new to me.  But there is data to back it up.  An airplane’s engines emit 95 decibels, almost as much as a motorcycle (100 decibels).  According to Food Quality and Preference journal, that much noise makes salt taste less salty, but also makes everything seem crunchier.   Hence stewards and stewardesses plying pretzels and sun chips.

The effect of airline travel on food is not uniform.  Tomato juice and tomato sauces tastes better at altitude.  So does ice cream.  Coffee and, as noted earlier, most wines taste worse.  Cream sauces and lemon slices taste abominable.  The data I read offer conflicting reasons for all this.

I think the airline and its route also has an affect.  I had a wonderful vegetarian meal flying business class on United from Dulles to Heathrow.  Sprouts and grains and carrots and other (I now see) especially crunchy things.  And I had possibly the best hot sesame noodles I have ever consumed in my life on a United flight from Chicago to Hong Kong.  Descending through the clouds over the South China Sea with steaming noodles in my business class alcove, warm and cozy under my blanket, was divine.

I’d like to think it was my exquisite sense of taste, and not the altitude.

Kim Egan is the Founder of Saltbox Consulting, a firm that provides legal and compliance advice to entities regulated by FDA and USDA.  She can be reached at kim.egan@saltboxlaw.com and on Twitter at @saltboxlaw.

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Simple Nutrition Facts for Complicated People

Kim Egan

Kim Egan, Founder, Saltbox Consulting

Nutrition labels have been much in the news lately, presumably because we have once again won the Fattest Nation contestFDA and various nutrition researchers have all put out some thought-provoking information for us to ponder.

The Problem:

1.     People don’t understand nutrition labels.  FDA learned this by conducting extensive and expensive Internet-based research that showed that if you ask people to compare products made by different manufacturers to determine which is “healthier,” (whatever that means) they will not get it right.  In other words, they will get it wrong. I learned the same thing, much less expensively, by talking to the more strident members of my family at the dinner table.

2.     Pretty much nobody reads nutrition labeling on menus.  Among the reasons cited are “confusion” and the “priority of . . . hunger.”   Good luck fighting that one.  Hunger has been a priority since we descended from the trees or crawled out of the primordial soup or whatever your view of creation might be.

My Insightful Observations:

  • People who read food labels are slimmer than those who don’t.    So if we could fix problems one and two above we might not be the Fattest Nation anymore.
  • Women read nutrition labels and men don’t.   These results are possibly confounded by the fact that as far as I know, men don’t do much grocery shopping and if they do, they are simply executing the very specific instructions of the woman of the house, who may or may not be talking to the man at the store on a cellphone (“no, honey, the blue one with the red lettering, not the yellow lettering”).
  • If you allow food companies to decide what constitutes a serving size, you will end up with a label that says that one pickle can feed a family of four for three months.
  • Mexican-American and other Hispanic men read food labels more than other groups of men, e.g. WASPs. I assume this is because WASP men leave food procurement to the housekeeper or, if times are tough, to the wife.  Recall George H.W.  Bush’s astonishment at how much milk cost.

My Humble Solutions:

  • Get real about serving sizes.  I know Kraft says one box of macaroni and cheese serves four but everyone knows it serves ONE person.   Ask any college student.  A box of macaroni and cheese can serve four only if the four are super tall supermodels trying to go from 120 lbs to 112 lbs the night before New York Fashion Week.
  • Provide dietary information that is useful for consumers, not information that is helpful to manufacturers.Food Labeling
    • For example, FDA is considering adding an “added sugar” component to the label. The idea, I guess, is to help people get a grip on how processed a product may be.  Which is curious because most products that require a nutrition label are processed to begin with.  Hostess Twinkies (may they rest in peace) do not grow on Hostess Twinkie trees, so one can safely assume that everything in a Twinkie is “added.”
    • It would be more helpful to specify the kind of sugar in a product (glucose, fructose, sucrose, etc.), because some people actually need glucose while pretty much no one actually needs fructose unless it comes in the form of a piece of real fruit, and real fruit does not carry nutrition labels.  The Corn Refiner’s Association will no doubt disagree with me.
  • Revive Home Economics in public schools so that children learn what the information on nutrition labels means in the first place.
  • Call Mayor Bloomberg.  He seems to be getting this all pretty much right, in part because he is making food companies remove ingredients that are “harmful when used as directed.”  Trans fats are gone and salt content is down 25 percent.  All without the consumer noticing.

Kim Egan is the Founder of Saltbox Consulting, a firm that provides legal and compliance advice to entities regulated by FDA and USDA.  She can be reached at kim.egan@saltboxlaw.com and on Twitter at @saltboxlaw.

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Employees Must Wash Hands

Kim Egan

Kim Egan, Founder, Saltbox Consulting

On January 4 2013, FDA took the first step in its history to regulate produce farmers. The agency issued a 547-page proposed rule that spends a lot of time reducing everything humanity has learned about plants since agriculture emerged in the Fertile Crescent 10,000 years ago in to U.S. Government jargon.

It is interesting reading if you like that sort of thing. There is an entire section devoted to the hazards of sprouts and another to the taxonomic and agricultural definition of mushrooms. FDA takes no position on glass or metal fragments in soil, but the “hazards unique to cilantro” warrant mention. We are introduced to an excellent new phrase: “pre-consumer vegetative waste.”

There are some stupid new acronyms, like Raw Agricultural Commodity (RAC) and some blindingly obvious regulatory findings, such as: “The statutes we describe above, and previous interpretations of the concepts of RACs and processed food as set forth in the 1998 Joint EPA/FDA Policy Interpretation and the Antimicrobial Guidance, lead FDA to tentatively conclude that the basic purpose of farms is to produce RACs and that RACs are the essential products of farms.” (Translation: Farms grow produce and produce is what farms grow.)

farmThere are also a lot of exemptions, such as food grown for your own use and food that is not normally consumed raw. This means that FDA’s first ever effort to regulate farmers does not apply to asparagus, corn, eggplants, figs, lentils, peanuts, or potatoes, among many others. Figs? Why not figs? Fresh black mission figs on a cracker with brie are yum…

To spare you the agony of reading the whole thing, I have boiled the whole 547-page proposal down a few key points. If you are a farmer:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Clean your equipment.
  • Send sick employees home (this means infectious diseases as well as suppurating wounds).
  • Change your clothes if you just spent a bunch of time shoveling manure.
  • Don’t put portable toilets smack in the middle of your irrigation source.
  • Don’t dump raw sewage on your fields.
  • Don’t let dead wildlife decompose in your fields.
  • Don’t harvest rotten apples.
  • Don’t bother with Purell; it doesn’t work on actual clods of dirt or manure.

Were I Queen, I would add:

  • Wash your produce before you eat it.
  • Know where your produce comes from, and don’t eat it if it came from a sewer or a nuclear power plant.
  • Follow the “Diplomats Rule” when traveling, i.e.,:
    • things with rinds or husks (oranges, nuts) are usually safe
    • things filled with water (lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers) less so,
    • eventually you will acclimate, and
    • alcohol cures all.

But this is in fact a serious topic and I think the Food Safety Modernization Act misses the point. FDA really can’t do this by itself and the produce farmer is not the problem. If we want to improve the safety of our food supply, we need to:

  • Figure out a way to keep pharmaceuticals out of the water supply. If they aren’t in the water supply to begin with, they won’t end up in our lettuce and cucumbers.
  • Figure out a way to reduce our over-reliance on antibiotics. We would be less susceptible to food-borne illnesses in the first place if we didn’t routinely carpet bomb the flora in our bodies that keeps us healthy.
  • Figure out a way to prevent surface water run-off. I propose building codes that require green roofs for all new commercial structures over a certain size, and that require green verges on all new roads, etc.
  • Apply existing tort law to food producers who negligently or intentionally put a dangerous food product (raw or otherwise) into inter-state commerce. For biotech crops and hybrid seeds, this could include design defect and manufacturing defect claims, which can carry substantial financial penalties.
  • Take serious steps to increase agricultural biodiversity, which would include ending or seriously reducing subsidies for corn, wheat and sugar, and encouraging effective crop rotation.
  • Solve the problem of migrant farm labor. We depend on undocumented workers to harvest our crops because it turns out that picking tomatoes it not really “unskilled labor,” as the recent example of Alabama shows.

In the meantime, let’s keep things in perspective. A little dirt never hurt anyone.

Kim Egan is the Founder of Saltbox Consulting, a firm that provides legal and compliance advice to entities regulated by FDA and USDA.  She can be reached at kim.egan@saltboxlaw.com and on Twitter at @saltboxlaw.

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This Headline Does Not Use the Phrase “Meat Glue”

Kim Egan

Kim Egan, Partner, DLA Piper LLP

Today we’re going to talk about transglutaminase. Transglutaminase is an enzymatic glue with which you can stick two proteins together. Doctors and biologists call it Factor VIII and it is one of the many amino acids involved in one of my favorite biological events, the Clotting Cascade. When you cut yourself shaving, all sorts of cellular firemen leap into action to staunch the bloodletting and Factor VIII is one of them.

Fortunately or unfortunately, enterprising food entrepreneurs figured out that you can also use transglutaminase to glue various part of food products together. The two examples that come up most frequently on Google are imitation crabmeat and fish balls. Neither of which is high on my list of weeknight supper dishes. In any event, when used by these enterprising entrepreneurs, the enzyme is called Meat Glue.

Meat Glue has been around since prehistoric times of course but only in the late 20th century did humans start using it to glue their meat-based food-like products together. The chef that figured it out owned a restaurant named The Fat Duck. He is also credited with inventing snail porridge and bacon and egg ice cream. He’s British.

Imitation crabBut you can’t just glue together bits of meat willy nilly. There are rules, guidelines, best practices, helpful hints, etc. I am told that gluing like pieces of meat (duck to duck, for example) is preferable to gluing different types of meat together, such as duck and cod. The cod will be burnt to a crisp before your duck is cooked enough to eat safely. Having said that, apparently gluing duck skin to the outside of a cod fillet is a swell idea and gives your flaky steamy cod a nice crispy crunch. If you glue meat bits to the inside of a steak to plump it up a little, make sure the meat you are gluing into the middle is not contaminated with e. coli or botulism. If you glue scallops into your chicken for an extra moist Thanksgiving chicken pot pie, make sure you tell that relative who is allergic to shellfish.

You are probably thinking, this can’t possibly be for real, can it? But it is for real and it’s not even a furtive practice. FDA approved Meat Glue as Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) for processed meat and seafood in 1998. In 1999, FDA approved Meat Glue as GRAS for diary products and meat substitutes. (“Hey ma! There’s Meat Glue in my fake meat hot dogs!”) Since then, FDA has approved Meat Glue for use in pasta, bread, pastries, pizza dough, ready to eat cereals, burritos, tacos, and any number of non-meat consumer foods.

If all this makes you kind of queasy, you are not alone. California State Senator Lieu wants manufacturers to label meats that have been glued together and to indicate what various types of animals have been glued into one product. Unfortunately, FDA and USDA already do require manufacturers to tell consumers that Meat Glue is in their food. But don’t look for the words Meat Glue on the package. That would be too easy. No, what you’ll see instead on the ingredients list is “TG enzyme,” “TGP enzyme,” or simply “enzyme.” For raw meat, you will see the words “formed” or “reformed.” As in “reformed chicken breast.” Not misshapen chicken breasts or fallen chicken breasts. The mind reels.

Yet another reason to cook at home.

Kim Egan is Partner in the firm DLA Piper LLP

You can also follow her here on Twitter: http://twitter.com/kkegan

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How Much Time Do Americans Spend on Food?

Kim Egan

Kim Egan, Partner, DLA Piper LLP

Earlier this month and just in time for Thanksgiving, the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service issued a report called How Much Time Do Americans Spend on Food?

The findings include some things we already knew, such as women spend more time grocery shopping than men do, and obese people watch more television than “normal” people do. Men raid the refrigerator at night more frequently than women do. People who live alone are more likely to eat alone. Etc.

The findings include other things we may not have known already but that seem fairly obvious, such as poor people spend less time eating and drinking than people with higher incomes, and people who eat in front of the television are fatter than people who eat while doing pretty much anything else.

The rest is pretty interesting:

  • On average, adult Americans spend 67 minutes a day doing nothing but eating and drinking, and 23.5 minutes a day eating and drinking while doing something else (working, driving, watching TV). That’s about half an hour per meal, assuming three meals a day. I don’t think that’s enough.
  • Eleven percent of the population spends at least 4.5 hours a day eating and drinking. That’s more like an hour and a half per meal. Much better. If I had my way, I’d spend an hour with breakfast, an hour with lunch, and at least 1.5 to 2.0 hours with dinner and dessert, interspersed with nice snacks. My family spent 3.2 hours on Thanksgiving dinner (excluding snacks and appetizers).
  • Another 11 percent of us are what USDA calls “constant grazers.” These are people who spend 75 minutes a day doing nothing but eating and drinking, 2.2 hours eating while doing something else, and 8 hours a day (i.e., ALL DAY), doing nothing but drinking, which is defined to exclude water. That comes to more than 11 hours of eating and drinking every day — most of a normal person’s time awake. If these people didn’t need to sleep, they’d probably eat more.
  • Four percent of us appear never to sit down to a proper meal at an old-fashioned dinner table. Instead, we spend all our eating and drinking time doing something else as well (mostly watching TV). I would have expected that figure to be higher.
  • People in the Northeast and the West spent more time eating than anyone else. The study didn’t look at this but I suspect average BMIs are lower in those regions as well.
  • Almost 70 percent of Americans do their primary eating and drinking at home. Only 0.2 percent of us do our “primary eating” on a “mode of transportation.”

What the study did not research is what percentage of meals eaten every day are home-made. That would be interesting to study. Just because one eats at home does not mean one eats well. Especially if one is a “constant grazer” and one spends 8 hours a day drinking something other than water.

Kim Egan is Partner in the firm DLA Piper LLP

You can also follow her here on Twitter: http://twitter.com/kkegan

 

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On Pork, Pigs and Hogwash

Kim Egan

Kim Egan, Partner, DLA Piper LLP

Remember when the pork industry started running those commercials — “Pork: The Other White Meat?” , or “Life is just a bowl of pork chops” was another good one. And then remember when we learned that we had been paying for the pork industry’s advertising campaign all along? The National Pork Board uses tax money to pay for them. The National Pork Board is part of the Department of Agriculture.

Now the National Pork Board has a website — www.porkbeinspired.com — that has pork recipes, pork nutrition information, and a pork blog called “I ♥ Pork: The Latest from Pork, Knife and Spoon.” The website comes up first in a Google search. Did our tax dollars pay for that, too?

Pork, of course, is food. Pigs, on the other hands, are animals. We have different terminology for animals when we eat them – sheep/mutton, veal/calf, pork/ pig, beef/cow, sweet meats/animal brains. And we have a different word when we have raised the animal specifically for food – cattle/cows, hogs/pigs, etc. Beef comes from cattle; pork comes from hogs.

This is only an issue for a minority of the world’s humans. Pigs are not kosher (cloven hooves, no cud) nor do they pass Islamic muster (the Koran says God “has forbidden you only… the flesh of swine”). Rastafarians, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, and Seventh Day Adventists aren’t supposed to eat pigs either. That wipes out a lot of people without even counting vegetarians (including Buddhists) or vegans.

pigletSo the National Pork Board has not only a small constituency but a small audience, too. We would reach more citizens if we used our swine-specific tax dollars for a blog called “I ♥ Heart Pigs.” There are about 2 billion pigs on the planet on any given day and there are more pigs than people in North Carolina. We have the Palwan Bearded Pig, the Warty Pig, the Wild Boar, and the Domestic Pig (sus domestica). There are also those that descend from the men that Circe turned into pigs in the Odyssey. Happy pigs root around for bugs, truffles, seeds, flowers and nuts. Happy pigs sigh in the mud. Pigs are smart, so they say. We keep pot-bellied pigs as pets.

We have imaginary pigs: Porky Pig and his girlfriend Petunia, Little Pig Robinson, Wilbur, the Three Little Pigs. And of course, Babe. George Orwell had a bunch of pigs in Animal Farm — Snowball, Squealer, Old Major, and the big bad Napoleon. Both the Beatles and Pink Floyd sang about pigs.

We anthropomorphize pigs. Winston Churchill said that “Dogs look up to man. Cats look down to man. Pigs look us straight in the eye and see an equal.” The pigs in Animal Farm changed the law to read “Some animals are more equal than others.” Happy people are said to be as happy as a pig in mud. People who are getting swindled (no pun intended) are said to be buying “a pig in a poke,” in other words, no pig at all. The “poke” is the pocket, or bag. “I will never buy the pig in the poke — there’s many a foul pig in a fair cloak.”

But the thing that bothers me the most about the “the white meat” campaign is not that my tax dollars paid for it or that it reflects the insidious relationship between industry and government, or that eating meat is bad for the environment. It’s that pork is not, actually, a white meat. All you have to do is go to the USDA’s Pork Fact Sheet to learn that “pork is classified a red meat…”

Snort.

Kim Egan is Partner in the firm DLA Piper LLP

You can also follow her here on Twitter: http://twitter.com/kkegan

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Watermelons are Sensitive

Kim Egan

Kim Egan, Partner, DLA Piper LLP

Last May, the director of the vegetable research institute at the Qingdao Academy of Agricultural Science told the media that the Chinese government does not encourage farmers to use plant hormones on watermelons because watermelons “are very sensitive.”

The Chinese had learned about watermelons in a hurry lately because watermelons all over the Chinese countryside had been exploding “like land mines.” The British media reported that Chinese watermelon fields were “erupting by the acre,” with melons blasting apart one by one. These reports, of course, intrigued the West. The U.S. National Watermelon Association reacted quickly and soberly. “I have never seen this phenomenon,” said its executive director.

But getting accurate information about fruit in China is not easy. The Fruit Industry Association of Guangdong tried but failed, informing the media that “most ‘imported’ fruits are grown in China.” And the Chinese hastily pointed out that 10 percent of all American watermelons also explode (they did not say why).

Eventually the fruit-consuming public learned that the sensitive Chinese watermelons were exploding because they had been over-exposed to forchlorfenuron. Forchlorfeuron is a plant hormone that does wonders for the size of the average Chinese watermelon when applied at the right time under the right conditions. When mishandled, the hormone gets carried away and decimates its host melon in a pulpy, seedy, gooey melon spectacle. The Chinese exploding watermelon farmers were apparently all first-time watermelon entrepreneurs and perhaps they did not follow the proper watermelon hormone directions.

WatermelonBut we can’t criticize the Chinese for using it. The U.S. government allows farmers to use it on grapes. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that consuming a florchlorfeuron-treated grape will blow up a human being. But consider wearing a face guard next time you visit your local winery.

The Chinese aren’t the only ones with exploding food experience. The Nazis experimented with it to try to break the Britons. The best idea by far was the experimental exploding Smedley’s English Grown Plums can. The Nazis also came up with combustive chocolate bars and incendiary frozen eggs. History does not record whether the Nazis deployed these weapons.

I am sure I am not the only who finds the idea of exploding fruits and vegetables delightful. I regret that I was not standing in a Chinese watermelon field during the May bombardments and I would have liked to be on the anti-exploding-Smedley’s-plums detail in British intelligence.

So I did some research and learned how to make my own exploding fruit extravaganza at home. You can make a lemon explode by stuffing it full of mints and dropping it into a cup of club soda. You can obliterate an orange by putting it in a microwave without piercing its rind. You can annihilate any fruit cake by saturating it in a healthy volume of rum and baking it in the oven. Apply more rum as needed. Etc.

As for the Chinese watermelons, the farmers fed them to their pigs. Pork lo mein, anyone?

Kim Egan is Partner in the firm DLA Piper LLP

You can also follow her here on Twitter: http://twitter.com/kkegan

 

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An Ode to Mayonnaise

Kim Egan

Kim Egan, Partner, DLA Piper LLP

Mayonnaise looks icky. It comes in pale plastic jars that bounce. Rachael Ray says it’s gross. It must have the worst reputation of any condiment. I used to refuse it on grounds of general creepiness.

But I have been reading up on the history of sauces and mayonnaise is turning into my Top Sauce. For starters, it is so ludicrously simple to make at home that no-one should ever be bamboozled into buying it in a store. You can make a batch from scratch in five minutes and you can prepare just enough for the sandwich you are making or the fish you are grilling.

Here’s how:

Take one egg yolk, preferably an organic one from a chicken raised outside, within 50 miles of you in a nice green sunny pasture. Add a little lemon juice and a little vinegar. Exact quantities irrelevant. Stir. Start whisking with a fork or an actual whisk and drop some olive oil (preferably organic extra virgin) in, drop by drop. Do not just dump your olive oil in — you will drown your egg yolk and it will sulk and refuse to perform. Whisk and add olive oil until you have the consistency and volume you want (exact quantities irrelevant) or until your arm hurts. Stop whisking. Consume.

If you do not plan to consume your mayo instantly, use a vegetable oil other than olive oil because olive oil will divorce itself from your egg yolk in a few hours. And by vegetable oil I mean an oil made from an actual identifiable vegetable, not Acme Vegetable Oil. No matter what, eat your mayo within 3 days and refrigerate it in the meantime.

Ta da!

If you want to get gourmet, you can add mustard seed. If you add garlic mush, you have aioli. If you add pickled cucumbers and onions, you have tartar sauce. If you add ketchup, pickle relish, herbs and spices, you have Thousand Island dressing. If you add buttermilk and minced onions, you have Ranch dressing. If you add tomato sauce, cream, and brandy, you have the delightful Marie Rose sauce.

Commercial mayonnaise, on the other hand, is made in blenders. If you put an egg yolk in a blender, however, you will blow your egg yolk to smithereens (recall that it sulks when mistreated). So food companies use whole eggs and the albumen in the egg white buffers the delicate yolk from the blender. Food companies also add things not on the list of approved ingredients for home-made mayo: sucrose, corn sugar, citric acid, thickeners, emulsifiers, “sequestrants” and “crystallization inhibitors.” This means industrial mayo does not spoil if you do not refrigerate it, and even in the refrigerator it can last for centuries. Like I said, creepy.

Other fun facts:

The sauce is from the Mediterranean where butter and cream are uncommon but chickens and olives are.

It was named after Port Mahon on the island of Minorca. There is tons of bologne on the Internet about how it got its name, but that’s the real answer.

The Catalonian name for it is “mahonesa.”

The British ran into it for the first time (apparently) in 1756, when they were defeated on Minorca by the Duke of Richelieu.

Chile is the world’s third largest consumer.

Japanese mayonnaise is made with apple cider or rice vinegar and a Japanese mustard called karashi.

The mayonnaise lobby is the Association for Dressings and Sauces (on Facebook at Condiment Circus).

FDA gets upset about “undeclared eggs” in mayonnaise. That’s like the “contains peanuts” warning on your bag of peanuts.

FDA says “all the ingredients from which [commercial mayonnaise] is fabricated shall be safe and suitable.” Comforting.

FDA allows commercial manufacturers to prepare mayonnaise “in an atmosphere in which air is replaced in whole or in part by carbon dioxide or nitrogen.” Not comforting.

FDA allows you to make your mayo with “[a]ny spice (except saffron or turmeric) or natural flavoring provided it does not impart to the mayonnaise a color simulating the color imparted by egg yolk.”

So if it turns your mayo yellow, it’s not allowed. I’m sure there’s a reason for that. Aren’t you?

Kim Egan is Partner in the firm DLA Piper LLP

You can also follower here on Twitter: http://twitter.com/kkegan

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Organic Bean Sprouts Can Kill You

Kim Egan

Kim Egan, Partner, DLA Piper LLP

I don’t know how I missed this gem but on March 24, 2011, FDA sent a Warning Letter to Jonathan’s Sprouts, Inc., informing the company that it was (among other things) marketing its organic mung bean, alfalfa, and broccoli sprouts as drugs. FDA said it has not approved sprouts as drugs and therefore, the mung bean, alfalfa, clover, and broccoli sprouts are “unapproved new drugs” subject to enforcement action by the agency.

This seems silly at first and reminds us of FDA going after General Mills for unapproved drugs claims on Cheerios. And as a humagetarian myself (will eat meat if produced humanely), I would have expected FDA to go after something other than organic bean sprouts. Like genetically-modified baby sea turtles.

But FDA’s job is to make sure that anything marketed as a drug, including organic bean sprouts, is supported by data demonstrating the safety and efficacy so that FDA can be sure that the benefits of consuming the sprouts (for example) exceed the risks. This also seems silly at first and must just be a technicality so surely Jonathan’s Sprouts can pony up the info and all will be well.

A closer look shows trouble ahead.

Let’s start with mung beans. Mung beans are used to make cellophane noodles and various kinds of jellies and in Hong Kong, a mung-bean flavored ice cream. Jonathan’s Sprouts said that “Mung Bean Sprouts [Have Been] Identified as Potent Anti-tumor Agent” because they contain phytochemicals. FDA knows phytochemicals. Hippocrates extracted a phytochemical, salicin, from willow bark and thus discovered aspirin (salicylic acid). Taxol is an FDA-approved cancer therapy and contains a phytochemical from the Pacific yew tree. FDA knows phytochemicals and all it is willing to concede about phytochemicals in food is about tomatoes, to wit: “Very limited and preliminary scientific research suggests that eating one-half to one cup of tomatoes and/or tomato sauce a week may reduce the risk of prostate cancer.” Mung beans aren’t tomatoes.

Next up are alfalfa sprouts. The most revolting thing I learned about alfalfa preparing this post is that it is a “galactalogue,” which is a substance that induces lactation. The second most revolting thing I learned is that galactalogues not only induce lactation but also attracts insects. Just what a lactating mammal wants. The third most revolting thing I learned is that I have been consuming galactalogues with abandon for some time now. They are found in asparagus.

This company avoided galactalogues and said instead that alfalfa sprouts are “High in [a] Cholesterol Lowering Agent,” namely, saponins. The Internet says (so it must be true) that saponins have antimicrobial and antifungal properties, along with anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating properties (sounds good!). The problem is they might also be toxic. But Jonathan’s Sprouts also relied on canavines as well as saponins to support its health claims for alfalfa: “Studies on canavanine . . . in alfalfa, have demonstrated benefit for pancreatic, colon and leukemia cancers.” I couldn’t find very much understandable information about cavanine except this rather alarming statement from a New Zealand website: “Any animal that ingests canavanine makes incorrect proteins that malfunction as enzymes. The damage is non-specific and widespread, affecting RNA and DNA metabolism, as well as a key enzyme for destroying alcohol. Because it messes up so many aspects of metabolism, canavanine is a highly toxic chemical to animals. Pigs refuse to eat feed containing too much canavanine . . . [H]umans are not immune to canavanine [and] we don’t seem to taste it.“. If not even a pig will eat it, FDA might have a point.

Next are phytoestrogens which Jonathan’s Sprouts said “prevent . . . osteoporosis,” reduce the risk of breast cancer, control fibrocystic breast tumors and may also have cardiovascular benefits and benefits for diabetics. Phytoestrogens are just want you think they are — female sex hormones. We call them “dietary estrogens” because they come from plants instead of ovaries. That may be the fourth most revolting thing I learned preparing this blog. Regardless, the history of pharmaceutical-grade estrogens has been tumultuous and millions of dollars worth of litigation has ensued and in any event, FDA has not approved a health claim for food that says that estrogens prevent breast cancer or osteoporosis (or anything else).

Finally, broccoli. Jonathan’s Sprouts said there is “strong evidence that just two or three tablespoons of broccoli sprouts a day can help prevent cancer, gastric cancer, and other diseases.” This may be true, and indeed, the Wikipedia entry for broccoli extols its anti-cancer properties. But that same site also bears a big notice saying that as of April 2011, “The neutrality of this article is disputed.” In any event, the most FDA will allow anyone to say about broccoli is that “Broccoli is high in vitamin A and C, and it is a good source of dietary fiber.”

We knew that already.

Kim Egan is Partner in the firm DLA Piper LLP

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