Nothing is safe to eat anymore

L

ast week my wife accused me of trying to kill her.

Wait, it’s not what you think. You see, we were in the movie theater, and I bought her an extra large bag of popcorn, bigger than a heavy-duty Hefty garbage bag and drenched in more butter than a BP oil spill.

When I got back to the seat and handed it to her, she grumbled, “Are you trying to kill me? Don’t you know buttered popcorn is dangerous?”

Popcorn is a lethal weapon now? I didn’t see any warning from the Surgeon General.

At first, I thought she was talking about saturated fat, which clogs arteries and causes obesity, diabetes and cancer — but that hasn’t stopped me from eating chili dogs and Haagen-Dazs.

Instead, she was referring to a chemical developed by the military industrial complex — or maybe North Korea — called “diacetyl,” which is the ingredient that gives popcorn its buttery taste and smell and has been linked to lung disease and other ailments. A study by the University of Minnesota recently concluded the flavoring agent also contributes to Alzheimer’s by causing brain proteins to clump together.

Unfortunately, this news created a serious moral dilemma for me. Should I grab the popcorn from my wife, race outside and toss it in the trash? Or as a charitable act, should I grab the popcorn from my wife and give it to the fellow in the next row, who had already scarfed down a jumbo box of Skittles, an extra long hot dog dripping mustard, and a platter of fries slathered in either Cheez Whiz or Elmer’s Glue. With all that junk in his stomach, a little diacetyl wouldn’t hurt.

Unfortunately, she started devouring the popcorn before I could take it. To think that she’s the one who’s always lecturing me about pesticides, but the diacetyl scare didn’t stop her from finishing the whole bag before the first sex scene in the movie. I should add the first sex scene was also the only sex scene — at the end.

It was that film with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones about a married couple who have a problem with sex, which I suspect was caused by eating too much buttered popcorn while they were dating.

I, myself, avoided the popcorn because my family has a history of cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s, and I don’t want to end up like Tommy Lee Jones. Instead, I chewed on Milk Duds and pulled out a few fillings in the process, which will make my dentist happy because I’ve been neglecting those regular checkups.

Diacetyl, I later learned, is also used in margarine, pet foods, snacks, baked products, some chardonnays and candy, which tells me I should have checked the ingredients in those Milk Duds.

In Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, author Michael Pollen offers this advice: “Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.” And “Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry: Ethoxylated diglycerides? Cellulose? Xanthan gum? Calcium propionate? Ammonium sulfate?”

There are so many artificial substances in our food I’m convinced nothing in the supermarket is safe to eat. I curse all those years I lived on Ring Dings, Hot Pockets and Swanson TV Dinners. Now, just give me bread and water. But hold the butter.

 

Joe Pisani can be reached at [email protected]

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