The other day I wrote a blog that included a homemade recipe. One of the ingredients in my recipe was 1/2 cup corn syrup. Based on the reaction I got, you would think that I had suggested something unspeakable had to be done to baby Harp Seals in order to procure the corn syrup. Many people responded negatively to the blog because of this ingredient. Honestly, I was a little shocked.
I also occasionally use butter in my recipes and on my bread (gasp! I eat wheat bread! Granted, homemade, whole-wheat bread from homegrown wheat, but … WHEAT!) I used it when everyone said it was bad for you, and I’m still alive. And now it is “common knowledge” all over the Internet that butter is … yes … good for you in moderation. It said so on the Internet, so it must be true.
Photo: courtesy SpeakingOf.info
With the advent of the world wide web, people seem to have become more polarized in their viewpoints. You can find support for any argument on the Internet that is "researched" and “written by experts.” It’s hard to sort out what is true and what isn’t. Try it. Take a current hot-button issue. Look up arguments supporting it. Look up arguments against it. There is compelling evidence on either side. What it boils down to is that we all tend to choose what we want to believe, and then proceed to find information that supports our viewpoint. I’m certainly guilty of this, too. But I try to dig below the surface a little more. And, upon finding hard facts, my mind has been changed on more than one occasion.
I’m a freelance writer, so I do a fair amount of research on the Internet. Here are a few methods I use when trying to find facts on a given subject.
– I look at the source. First of all, what does the author have to gain? Are they selling a book or something, or is the article published on a website driven by commercial traffic? If I want to find cold hard facts, I look for articles or studies published in professional journals or by universities (while keeping in mind where their funding is coming from). I try to find at the very least two or three articles, and if they don’t support the same viewpoint, that’s even better because I’m getting the whole picture. Often people will cite research to support their arguments, but ironically, you can find arguments for both sides using the same studies, with hand-picked and skewed information that supports either view point.
– I pay attention to the tone. When absolute, alarming words or statements are used, my little red flag pops up. I recently read an article online that was supposedly written by a doctor, titled “5 Reasons High Fructose Corn Syrup Will Kill You.” He exclaimed, “It is extracted from corn stalks through a process so secret that Archer Daniels Midland and Carghill would not allow the investigative journalist Michael Pollan to observe it for his book.” Upon further googling, I found the process on several websites, including Wikipedia. Quite a secret apparently.
– Just because people quote from well-known sources or public figures, it doesn’t mean that what they say is irrefutable. Here’s a great example. These are two different articles, each published in well-respected publications. “Michael Pollan: High Fructose Corn Syrup Is Not Necessarily Worse Than Sugar” in the Huffington Post, and in the Washington Post, "High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Not So Sweet for the Planet” (an article that cites Pollan in arguments that HFCS is very bad indeed). Both of these articles are well written and have valid points. They also send two very different messages using the same well-known public figure to prop up their arguments. My point being, we all need to think critically about what we read and take it all with a grain of salt, so to speak.
Photo: courtesy www.BarstoolSports.com
People can “prove” anything they want to. And, like in politics, they appeal to an emotional response to find agreement. Some of the articles out there right now about common food fads or movements are purposefully frightening in their vehemence and emotional appeal. I don't know about you, but I don't like to feel manipulated to agree with someone's opinion.
Maybe you remember McCarthyism from history class, or lived through it. The modern ‘bad guys’ – wheat, corn syrup, corn, processed foods, GMO foods, “big agriculture” and many more – have been effectively blacklisted. Are they good or bad? It’s not so black and white, each has negative and positive aspects. I personally choose to produce and consume as much as my own food as possible for a variety of reasons. A lot of people do. But when people have a knee-jerk reaction to the words “corn syrup” that echo the sounds of a mob on a witch hunt, I think this has all gone a little far.
Many of us do our best to make good decisions about what we and our families consume. My family grows, hunts and preserves much of our food. I recycle and use organic gardening practices. And, I add something notoriously bad to a recipe every once in a while, which, if I were dragged before a modern-day Food Squad, I would no doubt be condemned for. I exercise regularly, and every so often I stop for ice cream or some other forbidden, corn syrup-laden confection after a nice long walk. I know my overall health is great as a result of taking care of myself. I also know that the occasional dollop of mayonnaise in a salad or bag of tortilla chips (corn again!) will not lead me to suffer or die in some horrible way, unless things get so out of hand that I might be stoned to death (I imagine myself laying there with an empty chip bag in hand). This world could use a little more moderation, in our diets and in our thinking.