I’m a bit of a fan of food writer, Michael Pollan. While I don’t follow his line of thought religiously, I like that he raises questions about organic vs. local, vegetarianism vs. omnivorism, without passing judgement, or indeed, always providing the answers. For Pollan, food is also a political and an environmental statement.
Pollan’s cardinal rules – “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants’ are the key to my admiration – they’re simple and they make sense, nutirionally and environmentally (cutting down on packaging, industrial production etc). As does the idea of not eating anything that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food.
Thus, I present, that great Australian icon – the Tim Tam.
I arrived at work this morning, flustered and cranky. I was running horribly late and I hadn’t eaten breakfast. Once the computer was humming away, step one was to brew a coffee. Step two? Find something to eat. Tim Tams in the office cupboard? Excellent!
Except it wasn’t. I’d been studiously avoiding the ingredient listing on the Tim Tam packet for a while, knowing that I wouldn’t want to know. This morning, I cracked.
Ingredients: Sugar, Wheat Flour,Vegetable Oil, Milk Solids, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass, Golden Syrup, Colours (E102, E110, E129, E133, E150), Cocoa, Emulsifier (E322, Soy, E476), Salt, Raising Agent (E500), Flavouring.
I applied the GGT (Great-Grandmother Test), underlining everything that could not be identified as “real food.”
Ingredients: Sugar, Wheat Flour, Vegetable Oil, Milk Solids, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass, Golden Syrup, Colours (E102, E110, E129, E133, E150), Cocoa, Emulsifier (E322, Soy, E476), Salt, Raising Agent (E500), Flavouring.
I broke it down further still…just because something has an E in it, doesn’t mean it’s some sort of chemistry experiment. As it turns out, E150 is just a caramel. E102, 110, 133 and 150 are all artificial colourings – thus, not necessarily terrible, but generally petrochemically based. There have been connections made between food colourings and ADHD and thryoid tumours in rats (E127 – not actually in Tam Tams), but the studies are inconclusive.
E322 is a lecithin emulsifier – lecithin usually being derived from egg or soy. E476 is Polyglycerol polyricinoleate. Say what? It’s apparently an extract from castor beans – which allegedly is a component of cheap and poor quality chocolate.
Flavouring. No idea. At all. Most synthetic flavourings are also petrochemically derived (see the last post about the prevalence of oil in the food supply). Again though, noone, as far as I can see, has ever died from vanillin poisoning.
So, my question then was not so much ‘are Tim Tams bad for you?’ Frankly, of course they are, but not necessarily because of all the ‘E’s’. They’re loaded with fat (4.9 grams in an 18 gram biscuit). Their first ingredient is Sugar, for goodness sake My question was ‘are Tim Tams actually ‘food’?’
And the answer is ‘sort of.’ They have components that are recognisably, traditionally food. But they’re so thoroughly mixed with non-“food” ingredients that I’m unconvinced. Real food has some sort of nutritional value – and most pre-packaged, heavily processed foods have absolutely none. In a world of expanding waistlines and poor nutrition, and in a world of increasing monoculture cropping and industry, maybe we need to get back to basics, i.e. ‘Eating food.’
Forwhat it’s worth, I put the Tim Tam back in the cupboard.