Monday, May 18, 2009

The flu and the orange

Newsweek has a good article called The Path of a Pandemic which deals nicely (and without hysteria) with the swine flu story.

At the end - after saying that eating meat won't give you the swine flu, and that the cull of 300 000 pigs in Egypt was pointless, the article describes how the problem comes from the farming system:

"A wiser set of pig-related actions would turn to the strange ecology we have created to feed meat to our massive human population. It is a strange world wherein billions of animals are concentrated into tiny spaces, breeding stock is flown to production sites all over the world and poorly paid migrant workers are exposed to infected animals. And it's going to get much worse, as the world's once poor populations of India and China enter the middle class. Back in 1980 the per capita meat consumption in China was about 44 pounds a year: it now tops 110 pounds. In 1983 the world consumed 152 million tons of meat a year. By 1997 consumption was up to 233 million tons. And the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that by 2020 world consumption could top 386 million tons of pork, chicken, beef and farmed fish.

This is the ecology that, in the cases of pigs and chickens, is breeding influenza. It is an ecology that promotes viral evolution. And if we don't do something about it, this ecology will one day spawn a severe pandemic that will dwarf that of 1918."

This isn't a veggie story, but since veggies are generally concerned with what we're putting in our bodies, I thought I'd mention this new book called Squeezed: What you don't know about orange juice.

It's not really an "expose" of the orange juice industry, because the author wasn't really trying to turn people away from orange juice. However, the author definitely wanted you to know that the commercials describing this or that orange juice as "fresh" and "pure" are pretty much lying - oranges do not get squeezed, the juice put in cartons and directly taken to your local supermarket. Instead, the oranges are squeezed, the juice stored in vats for six months to a year, during which time all its flavour is lost, and when it is time to be put in cartons, they add chemical packs (the "Tropicana" flavour pack, or the "Minute Maid" flavour pack) to the juice to give it its taste.

From a Boston Globe interview:

IDEAS: What isn't straightforward about orange juice?

HAMILTON: It's a heavily processed product. It's heavily engineered as well. In the process of pasteurizing, juice is heated and stripped of oxygen, a process called deaeration, so it doesn't oxidize. Then it's put in huge storage tanks where it can be kept for upwards of a year. It gets stripped of flavor-providing chemicals, which are volatile. When it's ready for packaging, companies such as Tropicana hire flavor companies such as Firmenich to engineer flavor packs to make it taste fresh. People think not-from-concentrate is a fresher product, but it also sits in storage for quite a long time.

IDEAS: What goes into these flavor packs?

HAMILTON: They're technically made from orange-derived substances, essence and oils. Flavor companies break down the essence and oils into individual chemicals and recombine them. I spoke to many people in the industry at Firmenich, different flavorists, and at Tropicana, and what you're getting looks nothing like the original substance. To call it natural at this point is a real stretch.