Last week The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy organization which focuses on food safety and nutrition, asked the FDA to ban artificial food colorings. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the FDA reaffirmed its long-held position that food dyes are safe enough for most people, and they recommended no change to current policy which only requires listing the colorings in a product’s ingredients.
Nothing to see here, citizen, move along.
The New York Times, a paper which frequently espouses the glories of eating real food over crap, weighed in on the FDA’s ruling with a tone that took me by surprise:
From the full article:
Without the artificial coloring FD&C Yellow No. 6, Cheetos Crunchy Cheese Flavored Snacks would look like the shriveled larvae of a large insect. Not surprisingly, in taste tests, people derived little pleasure from eating them.
In essence, absent a chemical additive which adds the appropriate color to a junk food, the food is revealed to be the junk that it is. In other words, it’s really hard to trick the mind into tasting a certain flavor if the food doesn’t even look like what it’s meant to taste like.
I am not a big fan of artificial food additives, especially fake colors. I don’t know about you folks, but my thinking is that maybe we should just be eating naturally colorful food with real ingredients if we want real flavor, and skip the chemical hocus-pocus. I prefer real food, even if I may play around with the real food ingredients a bit to have it imitate or approximate other real food. There’s a huge gap between using nutritional yeast to get a cheese-like flavor and using food coloring to trick the mind into tasting cheese that isn’t there.
I think the Times was heading in a different direction, though. They added this:
As yet, natural colorings have not proven to be a good alternative. They are generally not as bright, cheap or stable as artificial colorings, which can remain vibrant for years. Natural colorings often fade within days.
Um…years??? Why do we need that?
The Times appears to be saying that artificial colors are necessary because they offer unnatural shelf stability and because without them, the crap we eat would taste like crap instead of cheese (orange), lemon (yellow), or root beer (brown)? There is a false dichotomy presented here, as if we have only two choices: embrace petroleum-derived artificial food colorings or live in a world of flavorless grey crud. Why is it that real food with real color is not a viable option? The article fails to explore the notion that we don’t need food that holds its fake color for years or that tricks us into tasting ingredients that are not there when we have easy access to colorful, fresh, tasty, healthy foods year round.
Happiness does not depend on a steady supply of artificially colored “shriveled larvae,” at least not in my home. Our food is naturally colorful, like the deep purple smoothie I made this morning with fresh bananas, oranges, strawberries and frozen blueberries. My baked goods are not bland and colorless–they entice with rich golden hues and deep chocolate browns. (Mmm, chocolate). We get vibrant greens from our salads or lightly cooked kale and broccoli, bright red from tomatoes and peppers, and stunning oranges from butternut squash and yams. The only food coloring I use is a little turmeric in my tofu scrambles to get them an eggy yellow, and that is 100% natural even if the need to make tofu resemble eggs is slightly pathological.
We don’t need to wait for the FDA to get artificial food colorings out of our foods; we can do that ourselves and doing so does not condemn us to eating flavorless grey sludge. Instead, it opens the door for a rainbow of real colors that are healthy and natural as well as tasting like what they are without the need for artificial cues and visual trickery.