On November 20, 2013, two weeks after the FDA's proposal to ban trans fats, CHF aired #HistChem Episode 4: “Why the Chicken Became a Nugget and Other Tales of Processed Food.” Our guests were David Schleifer and Bryant Simon.
Schleifer is a senior research associate at Public Agenda in New York. He researches health care, food, science, and technology. He is writing a book proposal based on his dissertation, “What Happened to Trans Fats?”
Simon is the author of "Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks" and "Boardwalk of Dreams: Atlantic City and the Fate of Urban America." He is now working on a broad ranging study of the high costs of cheap food.
Learn more at chemheritage.org/media
CLICK THE TIME STAMPS BELOW TO GO DIRECTLY TO THE HOSTS' QUESTIONS AND TO HEAR THE GUESTS' ANSWERS.
00:35 MICHAL MEYER: Welcome to #HistChem, a history show that helps us understand the science and technology world we live in. I’m Michal Meyer, a historian of science and editor of Chemical Heritage Magazine here at CHF.
00:49 BOB KENWORTHY: And I’m Bob Kenworthy. I’m a chemist, and I also work here at CHF. Our show today is called, "Why the Chicken Became a Nugget and Other Tales of Processed Food" and our guests are Bryant Simon and David Schleifer.
01:46 MICHAL MEYER: But before we get into the discussion let's start with a taste of processed food.
01:52 VIDEO: "Afternoon Snack" a video about Tastykakes, starring Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy.
05:16 MICHAL MEYER: So trans fats have hit the news again recently, with the FDA's proposal to ban it--
05:24 VIDEO: NEWS MONTAGE -- FDA proposes to ban trans fats
05:39 MICHAL MEYER: I want to start off with the big picture, what is processed food and when did we start eating it?
06:07 BRYANT SIMON: I think that would be the common answer to look at processed food as a post-World War Two development, but that would erase a lot of history. There's almost no time when people didn't try to preserve food.
07:37 DAVID SCHLEIFER: If you look back at ancient Roman history you'd find the amphora that were used to store olive oil and olives.
09:02 BOB KENWORTHY: I want to have you talk about the chemistry in processed food.
12:11 MICHAL MEYER: We seem to be eating more and more processed food. Is that what people really want?
14:02 BRYANT SIMON: We have more food with less nutrition in it.
15:42 BRYANT SIMON: Kids are asked where do chicken nuggets come from and the answer is the supermarket.
16:16 MICHAL MEYER: So who's to blame if anyone is to blame?
21:10 BRYANT SIMON: It's easy to pile on Congress right now, but Congress is to blame by perpetuating subsidies for corn.
24:36 BOB KENWORTHY: Bryant you mentioned the surplus of corn and that leads us right to corn syrup.
25:07 BRYANT SIMON: It's an artificially cheap sweetener because it's subsidized. It makes other foods look artificially expensive.
25:47 MICHAL MEYER: I want to move us back to the chicken nuggets again, how does a chicken nugget get made?
26:27 BRYANT SIMON: They developed a system to blow the chicken off the bone.
28:16 MICHAL MEYER: We'll take a short break to watch a video on a much-loved food called Jell-O.
28:28 VIDEO: Kitchen Chemistry: Jell-O
32:02 MICHAL MEYER: I process food at home. I make my own olives. What is the difference between the food I make at home and processed food on an industrial level?
32:28 BRYANT SIMON: Scale is a big thing.
33:24 DAVID SCHLEIFER: I would also add safety, so if you screw something up and there's a little big of mold you're fine, but if you're a big company you're opened up to a big lawsuit.
35:20 MICHAL MEYER: I notice we have another Twitter question, "Are extreme foods an example of consumer demand or marketing?"
35:34 BRYANT SIMON: I think some people use extreme foods for further processed foods like the Dorito.
36:37 DAVID SCHLEIFER: There are actually artificial mouths for doing food research to see how food hits your tongue. They record the crunch and the swirls of saliva in your mouth.
38:50 BOB KENWORTHY: When did we start worrying about health?
38:54 DAVID SCHLEIFER: There's really no time that people didn't worry about healthy food.
40:20 BOB KENWORTHY: Is there a 20th century accelerator?
41:00 BRYANT SIMON: Industrial food has gone so far and created what some people call an obesity epidemic. We've begun to see a class divide where the poorer you are the less healthy food you eat.
43:14 MICHAL MEYER: I'd like to get back into trans fats, now that the FDA is talking about banning it. How did trans fats become a health issue? They started as healthy and became unhealthy.
51:15 BOB KENWORTHY: How did the chicken nugget become a health issue?
53:06 MICHAL MEYER: In some way they both sound like success stories. What's the big picture?
56:01 BRYANT SIMON: I think we need more transparent labeling.