Food Additives: Pros, Cons, and Some Ideas for the Future

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Food Additives: Pros, Cons, and Some Ideas For The Future

America and indeed much of the world lives off of foodstuffs to which substances have been added to achieve some desired effect. In many ways it is the by-product of industrialization, rapidly expanding populations, technological advances, and changing consumer demand and expectations. It is now an undisputed fact that the foods which we eat on a daily basis are largely processed. By processed, in our contemporary day and age we refer not only to simple changes applied to the food with commonly found natural substances as in the pre-industrial era, but to more complexly engineered changes developed from the designs of food scientists in far-off labs. On the whole, there is a very significant amount of processing done to our food between the points at which it is taken from nature as an ingredient, to the point that it reaches our mouths at the table. There are literally thousands of various additives which have been discovered and developed to alter our food. (Wikipedia, “Food additives). How then is it that we take this processing for granted? Why do we ignore such great alterations to the very stuff which we rely on for nourishment and survival? It is largely because of the fact that much of the alterations made to our food are invisible to us as well as the fact that most Americans have been born into a world in which food processing and production on a mass level has been commonplace in our social environment. The relationship between human beings and food is a primordial one. The question now is whether we have gone too far with chemical additives and whether we should begin to scale back or even cease to pursue the use of such additives any more in our processed foods. This paper will examine the pros and cons of food additives, in order to come to a conclusion about whether the costs of additives outweigh the benefits, and how society should approach their use in the future. Briefly looking at history of chemical additives in processed food, it is clear that the original purpose for adding agents to the food was for preservation purposes. In the introduction to the book, Antimicrobial Food Additives: Characteristics, Uses, and Effects, author/editor Erich Luck traces the history of additive agents in food in order to contextualize the discussions and descriptions of additives which follow in the text. Accompanying a table which lists the dates at which certain preservatives were discovered or invented, the author provides a brief but helpful summary of how preservatives came to become part of human food culture over the course of history: “Initially the preservation technique[s] involve [sic] drying and salting . . .in time the list of preservatives used grew to include alcohol, smoke, sulfur dioxide and a number of organic acids, such as acetic and lactic acid . . .food preservation changed with the commencement of industrialization (6). Understandably, as the author of a text which catalogues and explains the identities and uses of preservatives, Luck takes care to emphasize the fact that the use and proliferation of these additives was driven by necessity. He writes, “The need for food preservation increased rapidly, and people became more fastidious. No longer were they satisfied with the preservatives mentioned above, since these produced a radical alteration in the structure and properties of the foods they preserved” (6). In the same passage he takes care to also mention the fact that the formulation and addition of preservatives is no haphazard matter to food chemists, saying that “advances made in chemistry were [eventually] utilized in preservation techniques [and] thought began to be given to the principles underlying the preservatives. . .” (6). People have always had the need to keep their food over longer and longer periods of time, and through discovery and ingenuity were able to do so through the use of outside...
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