Thursday, October 20, 2011

Big Box of Baking Soda

Since writing about boxed foods earlier this week, I've been racking my brain to think of grain-free foods that typically come packaged in boxes.

I do have a couple of grain-free low carb foods in boxes in my cupboards (well actually, everything is currently on the floor in the living room, because of the renovation).  However, they are all small items like creamed cocout, agar-agar, sea salt and stock cubes.

The largest box that makes the grade is baking soda.

Though these days I use it more for cleaning my pots and pans than for cooking, so maybe it doesn't even count as a food, and more as a household cleaner.

Have you ever wondered why boxed foods typically contain a lot of grains?

The main reason why grains have historically been such a mainstay of human diets is that they can be easily stored for periods of drought, poor weather or famine.  The other major food groups that provide energy (proteins and fats) go bad or rancid quickly without processing.  But grains can be stored well for long periods of time without processing or refrigeration.  Pulses and legumes are combination carb/protein foods and share the same advantage.

The interesting thing about grain foods is that they lend themselves to a variety of cooking processes, after which they typically become much more brittle than when they are in their whole form.  Think of cookies, pies, and breakfast cereals.  When heated, the starch in the grains hardens, which adds to the flavour and texture.  But it also means the foods need rigid packaging to keep them from getting crushed.

Also, people who cook a fair amount themselves know how cheap it is to make a grain-based food.  I'm thinking, for example, of puffed rice (yes, I admit to having tried to make it on an experimental day, long ago).

Don't get me wrong:  I'm not suggesting that it's practical for grain-eating consumers to make their own puffed rice for breakfast, but if you compare it to popcorn (it's a similar process), it's easy to see that a handful of a dirt-cheap commodity easily expands into a much larger amount.  The box packaging allows the producer to illustrate the product being sold in a way that convinces consumers to pay a much greater amount of money for the product than its underlying value.

When you think about it this way, it's easy to see how our societal predeliction for grains and starches has contributed to our consumerism and the wasteful environmental practice of single-use packaging.  By switching to a simpler diet that eliminates grain-based foods, the consequences go beyond simple nutrition, and start impacting other facets of our lives as well.

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