Last week, sh*t really hit the fan when people found out that many brands of shredded parmesan cheese contain large amounts of cellulose, which is essentially a bunch of shredded wood. Castle Cheese hit it out of the ballpark by having parmesan cheese that was 100 percent not parmesan cheese. Rather, it was assorted cheese leavings and stuff.
It has since had to claim bankruptcy, which means somewhere in Pennsylvania, there's a castle made of assorted cheese up for sale at a sweet foreclosure price. The news reports revealed that many parmesan cheese companies use an additive called cellulose, which is basically shredded tree pulp. With all these men running around with lumberjack beards these days, it was only a matter of time before we had an excess of sawdust to deal with. But I kid.
Cellulose has been in our food supply long before America became bearded again. It's actually been in our food since your grandpa's beard was sadly going out of fashion.
Why has it taken so long for us to look at the labels, and why isn't anyone questioning that these “cheese” products seem to have a longer shelf life than the average American marriage? Why can they sit out at room temperature at the grocery store? There's room temperature cheese that doesn't go bad, and no questions are being asked.
Here's some perspective, people: Cellulose is not as bad as it's being made out to be. Yes, it's messed up that a cheese touting to be 100 percent cheese is actually some cheese and some other sh*t. Yes, cellulose needs to be taken out of our food.
But it's one of many things that needs to be taken out of our food. We need to come together as a country and start demanding and eating real food.
When you look at the facts, cellulose -- which can be made from many different plants, and not just trees -- has been in our food supply for a very long time. You've had decades to read the label. You may not be able to repay your student loans, but you ought to have learned to read while you were racking them up. Come on.
The FDA felt the problem was these cheeses were claiming to be 100 percent cheese, when in fact the amount of cellulose, other additives and other cheeses they contain makes them less than 100 percent. Clearly, these cheese companies need to take a page out of Drake's book because when he claims something is 100 percent, it is.
The big fuss here is that many parmesan cheeses, as well as their equally delicious cousin, Romano cheese, were found to contain cellulose levels above and beyond the “acceptable 2 to 4 percent.” Kraft's shredded parmesan cheese (which you bought off a shelf in the grocery aisles, and not from a refrigerator) packs in 3.8 percent, while Walmart's Great Value brand's “100 Percent Parmesan Cheese" contains 7.8 percent.
Cellulose is used in parmesan cheese and other products as an anti-caking agent. The messed up fact is, the food industry put it in our food to meet a consumer demand for non-lumpy cheese and other non-lumpy products.
It's also used as a source of added fiber because eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains is not the American norm. So apparently, we'd rather have itty-bitty tree chunks in our food.
Cellulose passes from one end to the other without yielding calories or being absorbed. It forms a passage through your body that takes up to four days to eliminate. I don't care how well-endowed and Sting-like at tantric sex you and your bae think you are, there is no one-upping prolonged intimacy like taking four days to get something you ingested out of your body.
While the masses are whooping and hollering over added plant fluff, we are still living in a world containing Twinkies. It takes a book to explain their ingredient panel. Before gathering the pitchforks, torches and angry mob, take a moment to look at the situation: We vilify the food industry, but it's not the real problem. It's just a symptom of the disease.
The food industry is made up of individuals who work for companies, and all these individuals strive for the same goal: They want to bring home bigger paychecks to their families. No one in a food company is sitting around and thinking of random stuff to shove into our food for sh*ts and giggles.
These people put this crud in our food to meet specific consumer demands. It's actually the same reason they take crap out of food, and why there is an increasing number of organic, crud-free foods on the market. Consumers are demanding this.
America is all about huffing and puffing about shredded cheese, while we nutritionists and food advocates think the cellulose is the least horrible thing in our food supply. There are way worse ingredients in our food, friends.
There is nasty, toxic filth in our food that ought to make you all sorts of Rambo-level angry all over the place. Caramel coloring, a known carcinogen, is in everything from soda and barbecue sauce to candy.
The food industry refuses to let us simply have our diabetes straight up. It insists we get cancer at the same time.
As adults, we'll gladly slam flavored, bubbly sugar water, no matter what its color may be. Yet, these people continue to put caramel coloring and insect-derived artificial food dyes in it.
Carrageenan, a thickening agent made by doing messed up things to seaweed, is in many milk replacement beverages (such as soy, almond, hemp, coconut, etc) because the fact that your food separates and needs to be shaken is equally as horrific as touching cheese.
Carrageenan may cause cancer, and it for sure causes diarrhea. It's not recommended for those who are dating, dig healthy digestion, work in a place where explosive diarrhea is frowned upon or have ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease or IBS.
Many baked goods and other products contain trans fats hiding behind the name of hydrogenated oils. These fats were originally invented over 100 years ago, in an attempt to make better soap. Later, they were used as a “healthy” alternative to butter, and they called this combination of oils "margarine."
At some point in history, someone thought it was a better idea to take soap ingredients and shove them into pie, as opposed to using butter. We created something that made lard a healthy alternative.
This all may be traumatic and a bit much to take in after last week's cheese-plant-fluff bombshell. But sadly, we're about 50 years too late in freaking out about this.
As always, you've got options. You can read labels.
You can educate yourself about food ingredients. You can politely write to food companies and ask them why they choose to put this toxic crud in our food. (But remember that irate letters come across as crazy, and they won't always yield results.)
Remain calm and advocate on. These days, you can also tag the companies on social media and ask them the same question. Be tactful. Get the facts first, and you will get results.
Remember the job descriptions of all the people in the food industry. If no one buys its products, it can't fulfill its jobs. Every time you purchase food, you are putting your money where your mouth is. Speak up and double down.
Sheila Amir is the owner and author of NutritionSheila.com, where she gives people information in order to help them live happier, healthier and more well-nourished lives. Sign up to get free delicious recipes, health hacks and hilarious food rants.