Thursday, May 6, 2010


It's been two months since the initial recalls of foods containing hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) were issued in Canada and the United States. During that time I've received several updates (via subscription) from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Their list of contaminated products grows with each bulletin. HVP is used in prepared foods as a flavour enhancer, so most of the affected foods are ready-made products such as soups, dips, sauces, dressings, snacks, and seasoning blends. For many households, the recall resulted in the loss of hundreds of dollars of groceries. Our damages totalled $3.69 – a seldom used taco seasoning which wasn't listed for recall but, because it caused symptoms of salmonella poisoning, was tossed just to be safe.

Simply because we don't buy ready-made foods anymore, our pantry was spared a great purge. Soups, stews, sauces, and gravies are made from scratch using home-made stock. We blend our own spices and rarely eat processed meats. We've sworn off most snack foods and prefer the recipes we've gathered for making dips and dressings. With complete certainty, we feel our home-cooking lifestyle is the reason our larder was scarcely touched by one of the biggest food recalls in history.

It began small but we've expanded our home-cooking repertoire over the last ten years. While I've always baked cakes, cookies and some bread from scratch, we once used "convenience" foods frequently. Having (literally) bought in to advertising hype, we thought they were "time-savers." It was my sensitivity to high sodium content that first spurred a change in our food purchases. Next, hubby's growing intolerance to lecithin (a common stabilizer in most bread and broad range of other prepared foods) became cause for concern and a few more items were dropped from our shopping list. Then "middle-aged spread" demanded we examine the sources and types of fats we were consuming, and that analysis led to another change in buying and cooking habits. Each modification resulted in fewer processed and ready-made food purchases. Surprisingly, the difference in our overall cooking time amounted to just a few minutes more. However, the return on our investment turned out to be a huge boost in flavours.

One completely unexpected result of eliminating our consumption of processed foods has been our increasing repulsion of them. This distaste grew in direct proportion to the number of prepared foods struck from our diet. Products we once enjoyed, that smelled fine and tasted good, now smell and taste awful, their odours and flavours repelling rather than attracting. For that reason, eating out has become a challenge, too. Smells wafting from fast food diners make us grimace and it's getting harder and harder to find family-style restaurants that use real, fresh ingredients. Fine dining establishments are one of the few places using good quality ingredients but, since their pricing keeps them on our "treat" list, we rarely eat out. Instead, we're learning to prepare gourmet dishes ourselves. The plates aren't styled as beautifully, but we eat fabulously and for much less cost.

Without getting into the nasty detail of age, I'll just say I was raised in a time when home-cooking was the usual way meals and snacks were prepared. Sure, my mother kept a boxed cake mix on hand just in case unexpected guests dropped in but, mainly, she made meals from scratch. Most mothers did. What really concerns me is that manufactured food is now becoming the norm. Home-cooking is the exception, not the rule. According to cooking shows I watch, fresh produce is unidentifiable by many children today. This can't be good for society as a whole. It seems corporate interests have overpowered government controls and the result is diminishing regulation of the food industry. And, "industry" is an apt description for the chemical concoctions on offer.

Is this recall merely a harbinger of worse to come? Is home-cooking in danger of extinction? Is the slow-food revolution merely a flash in the pan? Sorry for that pun but I truly fear a time when meals may come in pill form. Yum.