A Big Mouthful of Poison

Let me preface this post with a warning: there will most likely be ranting involved. Let me also say that it might also sound hypocritical because I lost my weight by eating “diet” food (i.e. processed junk).

Did anyone see the 60 Minutes piece on the “Flavorists” recently? It was about a company called Givaudan, the largest flavoring company in the world. They opened their doors to 60 Minutes and shared their secrets. Secrets that made my stomach turn. Secrets that I had NO idea about. (Read the transcripts here.) You can also watch a small clip of it here.

I hadn’t heard of this company, Givaudan, until I watched the show. Sure in the back of my mind I knew processed food was bad and engineering food was worse. However, it’s easy to ignore these things in your normal day-to-day life.

“Food companies know that flavor is what makes repeat customers. So they commission Givaudan to create what they hope will be a mouthwatering taste. Givaudan may be the biggest multinational you’ve never heard of. The Swiss company employs almost 9,000 people in 45 countries, providing tastiness to just about every cuisine imaginable.”

While I was watching this piece on 60 Minutes, I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a company create a cancer epidemic. Of course this is based on nothing because I’m not a doctor, but I find it hard to dismiss the fact that eating a bunch of chemicals could lead to cancer. Seeing how they manufactured “chicken flavoring” was nauseating and it honestly just looked like poison to me.  It makes me wonder about these “flavors” and whether they are tested on lab rats? Is there information out there about the effects on the lab rats?

“It makes you want to eat this again, and again, again, okay? It’s like sex, okay? You know, you want to do it over and over again until you get a headache.”

“Ground zero for the food and flavor industry is the supermarket. Givaudan won’t reveal which brands contain their flavors, but in this aisle, almost every product on the shelves has been enhanced artificially or with so-called natural flavors. And not only that, virtually everything edible in a package, in a jar, or in a can is intensified with either fat, sugar or salt… or, all three of those little devils.”.


Dr. David Kessler, former head of the FDA, asked: “We’re eating fat on fat on sugar on fat with flavor. And much of what we’re eating with these flavors, you have to ask yourself, ‘is it really food?'” GOOD QUESTION. Is it really food? The flavors are false, manufactured. That “natural chicken soup” flavor in your soup is a creation, not really chicken. Dr. Kessler went on to say “We’re living in a food carnival. These flavors are so stimulating, they hijack our brain.”

Do they hijack our brain? Are we a nation of obese people because the food we’ve been eating has these manufactured elements in them that make us addicted to them? So we eat more? The Vice President of Givaudan went on the defense and said  “Our business is to make taste experiences pleasurable ones. So, I don’t think that the flavors create an overeating problem. I think that’s a different issue.”

Hmmm, easy cop-out if you ask me. Although, I don’t think placing all the blame on the food industry is the way to go. Sure I can blame McDonald’s and Burgerville for my obesity but is it REALLY their fault for providing fattening food? No. I drove myself there. I made the bad decision to overeat all the time and not exercise. Sure they enabled that behavior by making the food taste so good but I wouldn’t blame them. It was all on me.

At the same time I am highly disturbed by Givaudan manipulating all food with chemicals. During the 60 Minutes piece all I felt was disgust. Disgust in myself for eating processed food, disgust in myself for not really caring where my food came from. Sure my transformation from a processed-food junkie to a newbie-foodie has enriched my life but I still eat a LOT of processed food. And these “flavorists” have their hands in everything. The soup I eat. The salad dressing I like. The diet soda I drink. It’s even in WHISKEY.

I turned to Michael when the show was over, feeling very overwhelmed and discouraged and said “God, it’s in everything. There are no safe foods.” 

You think eating fruits and veggies would be the answer–but produce has been assaulted as well! Produce is probably genetically engineered. Just take a look at how huge everything is now. The tomatoes I grew in my garden this summer were small, sweet and perfect. They also didn’t last very long. The produce I buy in the store is big, less flavorful and lasts for much too long before going bad.

Who knew I’d want to become one of those types that wanted to grow all my own food and never eat processed, store bought food…I try to limit my processed food intake. I eat less frozen meals, I avoid soy products the best I can. I try and go by Michael’s rule of looking at ingredients and not buying stuff that I can’t pronounce. Am I becoming one of those people that want to live on a farm where I eat only my own food and meat from my farm? I have to admit, the idea is very appealing after watching this show.

QUESTION: Did you see the piece? What are your thoughts on it?

Author: Lisa Eirene

About Lisa Eirene Lisa lost 110 pounds through calorie counting and exercise. She swims, bikes, runs, hikes and is enjoying life in Portland, Oregon. Her weight loss story has been featured in First Magazine, Yahoo Health, Woman's Day and Glamour.com.

18 thoughts on “A Big Mouthful of Poison”

  1. I agree with you that it was disturbing to hear that the flavors created are used to enhance real foods. I’ve been making more of a conscious effort to eat unprocessed foods. I figure we are here with everything we need to eat and drink (generations before us somehow survived without soft drinks), there is no reason that we have to eat stuff we have created or manipulated.

    I liked when he asked her if there was real roasted chicken in the roasted chicken powder and she said there may be, but she never said what is really in there! Why not roast your own chicken or buy a real roasted chicken? Why eat vegetarian food that has vegetarian flavorings to make the vegetarian food have a hint of real meat flavor??

    The only way to escape Givaudan would be to make everything yourself – make your own salad dressing, make your own bread, make your own alcoholic beverages. I’m not ready to do that yet, but I am ready to choose when I want to make my own and limit the amounts of processed items.

    1. You are so right. If I really want to avoid these chemicals I need to be making my own dressing, my own soups from scratch, all of it…It’s a lot of work, it’s a huge investment in time and effort. I think it’s worth it but it seems overwhelming.

  2. Minute Maid Orange Juice is one of the companies that uses this service. Ever wonder how the OJ can taste the same cartoon after cartoon when orange flavors vary by season? – Givadan.

    I try hard, very hard, to eat whole food items that have not received any tampering. I try to ensure my foods have not received flavorings by Givadan because I GiveADamn about what goes into my mouth – but they do. It is in anything that does not go from the ground to my plate.

    I rant with me. Growl, growl, grrrrr!

    Jane at Keepingthepoundsoff.com recently posted..The Number Twelve

        1. Yep I rarely go to a chain restaurant. There are too many good restaurants in Portland to waste time at a chain.

          We started buying our meat at Trader Joe’s. It’s much more expensive but the meat isn’t treated with hormones.

          1. I first noticed it in chicken about 15 years ago. I could not understand why the chicken at some entirely different restaurants tasted the same. Then I got some chicken from a supplier – just plain chicken and the taste was similar to the restaurants. It wasn’t until later that I learned WHY they all tasted the same.

            jane at Keepingthepoundsoff.com recently posted..The Number Twelve

  3. I did see it and in fact did a blog post about it on Tues. Besides the obvious things you’ve mentioned, two things really struck me:

    1) The folks at Giauvadan certainly did not seem sinister. Really just geeky chemists who certainly seemed to enjoy their job. Not bad people at all. I’m sure they certainly don’t even consider what they are doing as major problem.

    2) The last bit about making processed foods healthier and just as tasty. While I’m skeptical, I think it’s an interesting argument that the ability to manipulate flavors in that way could be used for good.
    Dan @ Essentials of Nutrition recently posted..Your Doc Uses Supplements, You Should Too

  4. Great post. Having lurked for ever you cant shut me up now!!
    I’m from the UK and haven’t seen the program you mentioned. As per my previous reply I feel very strongly that these chemicals and what are basically non foods are dangerous. I also wonder wether some people suffer more from addictions and are more susceptible to these chemicals. Similar to yourself I have started to grow as much of my own as possible and I buy a lot of organic produce, even though I am barely able to afford it. I absolutely will not have anything genetically modified. My philosophy now is I’d rather go without rather than risk my health (hopefully I don’t sound too much of a crank). I think you are right to do as much cooking from scratch as you can manage and to eat at good quality establishments if eating out. There’s nothing more filling and satisfying as real food.

    1. I loved having a garden this summer. It was my first and it was so great eating fresh lettuce from the garden. After being spoiled with AMAZING salads, I hate the lettuce I buy at the store now. It’s limp, flavorless and rots easily. It’s gross.

      You don’t sound like a crank at all. I agree with you!

      Thanks for de-lurking! 🙂 I love reading new points of view from readers.

  5. I didn’t see the piece, so thanks for bringing it up. The food situation in this country is very scary right now. The difference in grocery store food and home-grown food is almost unbelievable. I wish it didn’t take so much time and investment to grow/store all your own food. I am definitely one of those who wishes I could be completely self-sustaining. I read on Yahoo yesterday about how commercial apple juice was tested to have high levels of arsenic. When I read that, I started thinking about how nothing you get from the store is safe.

    Oh, and just a tip about the lettuce…it is SO easy to grow indoors because it grows so fast and doesn’t need a ton of sunlight (but the more sun, the faster it will grow). If you have a south-facing window, just plant some seeds in a small pot and keep moist. You will have lettuce in a couple of weeks! I usually have three or four pots of it going at once and start a new one every month during the winter in case one of my plants decides to bolt. Ditto with herbs. I love rosemary and thyme in everything during the winter and don’t like paying $3 for a tiny bit of it, so I grow it in the windowsill. You could also check out the Aerogarden for growing lettuce/herbs indoors. It’s kind of pricey but makes growing your own salads extremely easy!!
    Lisa recently posted..Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

    1. I read about the arsenic in apple juice too. That is really, really frightening!

      I wish Michael and I could be self-sustaining too. We were making progress with our veggie garden this summer but it was A LOT of work. So much more work and time than I was expecting it to be. I had to be out there almost every day tending to the plants. That’s a lot of time and committment.

      I didn’t know that you could grow lettuce indoors! What a fantastic idea!

  6. Oh my gosh Lisa Eirene I haven’t been over to visit for awhile, you’ve got some great stuff up here, especially this post!
    Boy oh boy does this make me sick too. I feel the exact same way you do about feeling like they are making food that causes Cancer. It freaks me out. I am even know scared to buy produce for goodness sakes. But I don’t have the space, time and means to grown my own food from scratch so what can I do?
    Samantha recently posted..Freeforall- First things first

  7. I only watched the clip… I’ll have to see if I can find the segment online, but Wow! As someone who studies Addictions, the language the use was very disturbing to me. In my house we avoid most things in a box, or pre made. There are a few exceptions.

    Addiction to food is a very real thing. People come into the office where I work with this issue more frequently than anyone would care to admit. I myself love food, but as I’ve started to eat better more natural foods, I don’t have those strong, irresistible, cravings like I used to.

    We grow a lot of our own veggies during the summer, and are regular visitors to the local farmers market. I know some people who wouldn’t even recognize real food.

    1. Hi Aliy, thanks for sharing your experiences. If you can find the piece I recommend it highly. It was so eye-opening. I was disturbed the entire time. I do think that food addictions are real. But I think they can be beaten. I find that if I stop eating certain things cold turkey, I don’t crave them anymore after awhile–like sugar or bread. It’s when I start eating them again that I start craving it again!

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