Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What have they done to the earth?

I should be preparing for the seminar I'm due to deliver an hour from now, but instead feel obliged to report on a packet that I was just handed in the UBC Student Centre as a free give-away. It's a berry-flavoured, sugar-free chewing gum, and its complete list of ingredients is: Sorbitol, Gum base, Erythritol, Glycerin, Natural and artificial flavours, Mannitol, Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate, Citric Acid, Soy Lecithin, Malic Acid, Aspartame-Acesulfame, Fumaric acid, Disodium Inosinate, Acesulfame-Potassium, Disodium Guanylate, Colours (including Cochineal).

I would no more put this rubbish in my mouth than I'd walk into a Chemistry lab and consume a bunch of bubbling beakers labelled "poison". And it saddens me to think that this kind of stuff is legal and increasingly widespread on our planet. I don't suppose it's a Canadian phenomenon, the same rubbish is probably available in India without even a compulsory list of ingredients on the label reminding you that you're about to consume the result of a chemist's hallucination.

I try not to be sentimental but at such moments I'm reminded of Jim Morrison's epic lines:

"What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down."

Not to mention, replaced the bounty of her fruits and vegetables by artificial, sugar-free chewing gum.

6 comments:

Anant said...

Thought I would contribute this well-known but resonant saying from `Native' American saying: ``Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find money cannot be eaten.''
~ Cree Prophecy

Rahul Siddharthan said...

I'm not a fan of additives but a good fraction of the compounds you name are either produced in human metabolism (eg sorbitol, glycerin) or naturally occurring in fruits and other foods (erythritol, citric acid, mannitol, soy lecithin, malic acid, fumaric acid). There could be complications with introducing them artificially, but this would be due to dosage and interactions rather than any intrinsic evil of these compounds. Some of the compounds you mention are indeed non-natural though.

I remember an ad from years ago for Vicco Vajradanti toothpaste, saying "Why start your day with a mouthful of chemicals?" If you pick up a tube today, it lists a bunch of incomprehensible Ayurvedic names for what are probably common garden plants, followed (perhaps because of some recent law or other) by a list of "excipients", which are pretty much the same chemicals you would find in any toothpaste.

Cheeta said...

If you study the stories of chicle and the chicleros (who tapped trees in rain forests of the Quinana Roo) to eke out a living), I think you'd be delighted that modern chewing gum eschews that "natural" ingredient in favour of alternatives, synthetic though they might be!

ИΞΘ said...

Hey, come on. You're being a little unfair here. All the stuff that you have ever put in your mouth, even natural stuff, has been chemicals. And chemicals have names. Ugly names. Just because a chemical has an ugly name doesn't mean it's poison or bad for you. If you instead ate a steak, and you asked me to name all the chemicals you were swallowing, you would end up with a list not very different from the one you referred.
I understand that physicists have something against chemistry, but when you denounce something and call it 'rubbish' on the basis of its name, you aren't doing a very rational thing.

Sunil Mukhi said...

This posting was a silly reaction on my part to a silly and pointless (but indeed not "rubbish") product. I plead guilty as charged.

Cosmic Claire said...

I don't know about the other ingredients, but Aspartame sure is not good for you, it has all kinds of side effects that you don't want to have.