I’ve always been interested in all aspects of the food I eat. Questions such as “what is this food made of?” and “is this food healthy?” often still occupy my mind while I eat. Although I still do eat unhealthy food, finding out about the ingredients of a food sometimes propels me to stop eating a food permanently. For example, after finding out that many zero-calorie drinks contain aspartame, I went on a month-long campaign to not only forbid myself from drinking any beverage or eating any food sweetened with aspartame but also to convince my friends to do the same. My friends, although all of whom listened to my rationale about the uncertain and potentially harmful health effects of aspartame, didn’t all follow me in my ban of the sweetener. Without concrete evidence proving that long-term use of aspartame could be harmful to health, most of my friends decided to continue using this sugar substitute and to risk developing unforeseen illnesses in the future. I, however, remained convinced of aspartame’s harmful effects on the human body, believing in the results of scientific studies of animal models indicating that prolonged aspartame use leads to cancer in rats. Conclusions drawn from experiments in rats, which are very similar to humans in many different ways such as physiology and biochemistry, are definitely very important to my choice of ingesting a certain food or beverage. Even today, months after my initial discover of aspartame’s potentially harmful effects and the prevalence of this sweetener in our foods and beverages, I still completely avoid any product containing this substance.
Although my campaign to end aspartame consumption within the circle of my friends might have failed, I am somewhat surprised to find that my strong opposition to artificial zero-calorie sweeteners can be applied to another artificial product, lab meat. An article titled “South Carolina scientist works to grow meat in lab” published Sunday (Jan 30, 2011) on Yahoo! News by Harriet McLeo details the production and argument for the production and consumption of engineered meat, aka meat grown in a petri dish and not from a cow, pig, or chicken. It is interesting to me that opposition to this artificial meat is so strong that neither the FDA nor the NIH would fund Dr. Mironov to develop the technology to mass produce meat in a lab. The opposition, however, is not derived from scientific evidence of the harmful effects of this meat on the human body, or even on rats, but rather it comes from the fact people still feel uncomfortable about the idea of consuming bioengineered meat. From the attitude of the general public, it can be safely concluded that engineered meat will not likely become part of meat market very soon. My question is, why do people feel more comfortable consuming potentially very harmful substances such as aspartame while not willing to give artificial, but so far relatively healthy and safe, meat a chance in the meat industry?
The content of a food or drink indeed have profound influence over the way we eat and drink every day. Throughout this blog, I will continue to examine the relationship we have with food from various perspectives and aspects. I hope to use this blog to point out some interesting current events, to share some of my thoughts, and to elicit some thoughtful responses from the online community!
Note: The original link to the article “South Carolina scientist works to grow meat in lab” from Yahoo! News has expired. The article now hyperlinks to Reuters.com, which continues to host this article.