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January 01, 2008

What Does "Plain" Mean?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I think I'll buy me some soy milk. Lookie there: Plain soy milk. My kinda thing.


Now that's some honest and straightforward soy milk. None of that vanilla or chocolate or chai stuff, all of it ridiculously sweetened ... I sure feel sorry for the suckers who fall for that ruse, ho-ho ...


What could be more wholesome?


Health and nutrition-wise, no question about it: Silk Plain Soymilk is one piece of good news after another.


Man oh man, I'm gonna live forever ...

Whoa, check this out:


Drinking Silk Plain Soymilk is even good for Mother Earth.


That's not win-win, that's win-win-win: Taste plus healthiness plus virtue.

But hold on a second ...


Evaporated cane juice. That means sugar, doesn't it? They've snuck sugar into Plain Soymilk. Health food bastards!

So how much are we talking about here?


Ouch. 8 carbs ain't nothing.

(Sound of your humble bloghost rummaging through dozens of containers of soy milk until finally ...) Aha!


Now, let's give the ingredients list a very close perusal.


God only knows what Carrageenan is, but at least there's no cane juice in there. So what kind of diff does it make?


Bingo. If a little hard to find.

America, eh? Land where almost anything's available. But also land where "Plain" means "with sugar," and only "Unsweetened" means "plain."



UPDATE: In the comments on this posting, Prairie Mary points out that the excellent Michael Pollan has a new book out. Here's an NPR interview with Pollan. "Don't eat anything that your great-great grandmother would not recognize as food," Pollan likes to say. I wonder where he stands on soy milk ...

posted by Michael at January 1, 2008


Carageenan is GUM. As in GUMMY as in GUMMED up.

Michael Pollan has a new book. He says don't eat anything your great-grandma didn't eat. MY great-grandma never ate gum.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on January 1, 2008 11:39 PM

Carageenan is derived from seaweed, or "sea vegetables" to use the current euphemism. As far as I know it's nutritionally quite safe.

By the way, I bought Michaeal Pollan's book yesterday and have just started reading it.

Posted by: Peter on January 2, 2008 9:18 AM

When I lived in San Francisco, I became a fan of Adelle Davis, who wrote cookbooks that emphasized whole foods and grains.

Food fashions follow changing concepts of status. My grandparents had little choice except to eat whole foods and grains, since they ate little that they did not grow or produce on their farms.

For my parents, status meant not being identified with the hard working life of a farmer. My mom and dad were factory workers and town dwellers, and so they identified factory produced foods that you could buy in stores as status items. Hyper-processed foods were sold as "time saving" inventions.

Curiously, for their generation, being fat was considered something of a status symbol. A fat stomach was proof that you made a cash income.

My Filipino father-in-law saw status in the same light. When he took a trip home to the Philippines, he would pull up his shirt to show the yahoos his big gut. Then, he would toss dimes on the ground and watch the peasants scurry to grab the crumbs.

By the mid-1960s, as Adelle Davis pointed out, the most nutritious part of flour, the bran, was being separated out and fed to the cows. Bread manufacturers then pumped artificial vitamins and minerals back into white bread. This was thought to be "scientific," and thus better.

I have no doubt that whole foods and grains are more nutritious, but the status game of food will probably continue to flip from generation to generation. Now, in an area of over abundant food, it's hip to be skinny. You don't want to look like the fat rubes who shop at Wal-Mart.

The status divide could not be more pronounced. Among my hip friends who live in Manhattan, you announce your status by declaring that you just purchased antibiotic free, free-range beef for $25 a pound. Among my suburban Jersey friends, you announce your status by declaring that you jumped on the $4 a pound steak sale at Costco.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on January 2, 2008 11:31 AM

I'm going to see Michael Pollan at the LAPL author series when he comes through town! Giddy as a schoolgirl!

As to the rest of it, going on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (that pain-in-the-ass godsend which keeps the Crohn's flares at bay) was my education in the chicanery of American food labeling. We are not allowed ANY canned or packaged items because of the "illegals" (mostly sugars and gums) that are a part of virtually all processed food.

And that includes things like...canned tomatoes! Yes, folks, those happy tomato harvesters can and do dump up to 2% of total food weight of refined sugar into paste, sauce and even plain, skinned tomatoes becuuuuuuzzzzz...'muricans don't like them some bitter. And the FDA sez "fine" to "trace amounts."

It's enough to send you screaming to the secret, back-alley entrance of the raw food guy's bi-weekly marketplace.

Posted by: communicatrix on January 2, 2008 11:45 AM

P. Mary -- Plus I doubt that our grandmas ever even heard of soy milk, which I've read somewhere is more a creation of the ambitious soy industry than it is of anyone with an actual interest in health or taste. Still I sometimes drink the stuff, or at least put it in coffee and tea ...

Peter -- Let us know how the Pollan is! I wonder if he's saying anything new, or just doing his usual in a shortened version. Not that there's anything wrong with that ...

ST -- Wow, Adelle Davis, now there's a name that takes me back ... That's a great series of observations and memories. I remember that whole thing about big-bellies-equalling-prosperity too. Doesn't seem like so long ago, does it?

Communicatrix -- It's weird the way so many Americans dislike bitter, isn't it? Training? Comfort? Childishness? I've always liked bitter. Sour too, and vinegar as well. And sweet has gotten less and less interesting to me the older I've gotten. I've always assumed that that's normal, losing interest in sweetness with age. Though I do remember some grandparents who spent their last days eating nothing but jellies and jams ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 2, 2008 11:52 AM

But, applying Pollan's rule, we wouldn't ever eat soft-serve ice cream, sushi, teramitsu (sp?), keylime pie yogurt, or already-cooked-ready-for-the-microwave foods of all kinds. Say what you want...I'd miss them.

ST---My mom was a big Adele Davis fan because her diets were specifically supposed to be anti-cancer. Unfortunately, Adele got a bit discredited when she died of cancer. (The "Jim Fixx" syndrome). But my guess is most of what she had to say was smart.

I heard a nutritionist say "you want to be proud of your groceries." It's a good rule. You do feel different with fresh fish, leafy greens, vine tomatoes, brown eggs, and grapefruit sticking out of your grocery bags than with, say, jumbo hotdogs, ding dongs, and cherry soda.

Posted by: annette on January 2, 2008 1:29 PM

I like the approach to carbs taken in Mario DiPasquale's Anabolic/Metabolic Diet. Low-low carbs during the week, come the weekend, relax and have your pie, pasta, bread, beer, etc.

AD/MD was developed for athletes, who'd carbo-bonk badly on sustained low-carb fuel. Allowing a carb-feast on the weekend makes the diet much easier to sustain psychologically. You don't go berserk or anything, but come Saturday, there's a real feeling of, "It's time to start living!"

And annette, re: Davis, it's funny isn't it, how people still seem to think there's some kind of established link between diet and cancer. Outside of smoking and a few other really narrow risk factors, nobody really knows what increases the likelihood of getting cancer (in general), especially in diet. Nutrition 'science' is anything but, and the new critiques of its claims (from Taubes, Pollan himself, etc.) should put paid to the idea that changing what we eat will make sure the big bad C, the bogeyperson of modern life, won't get us in the end.

Posted by: PatrickH on January 2, 2008 2:18 PM

It is an indirect link between diet and cancer and it's more of the healthy body is less prone and can fight back better than a unhealthy body but that is true of most degenerative illness.

Posted by: TW on January 2, 2008 5:29 PM

This soy milk stuff just riles me up from the get go. If it ain't got a teat, it ain't milk. So, how the heck soy folks are allowed to do the "soy milk" thing. Throw in those "coconut milk" sellers with the soy folks,as well.

Why not Soy Squeezings? Give soy a bit of a bite.

Posted by: DarkoV on January 4, 2008 1:01 PM

Well, *my* great grandparents and great-great grandparents (and great-great-great grandparents) certainly knew about and drank soy milk. Having read some Michael Pollan, I think there is a vital misunderstanding or perhaps misapplication of his rule of thumb: the idea is that healthful foods are not "new," process-heavy foods; let's not forget that though soy milk is "new" to the US/the West, it is not a new food at all.

Posted by: M Ng on January 28, 2008 11:13 AM

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