At the grocery store today to pick up some fresh artisanal bread from their bakery, I noticed an aisle display of Walden Farms products. Walden Farms specializes in calorie free products, and I’ve often looked at their labels with a wistful “if only”. What grabbed my attention this time though, was their new calorie-free peanut butter! “Aw, c’mon” I said to myself…”this can’t be!”. Well technically they don’t actually call it peanut butter, rather the label refers to it as “peanut spread”, although it looks for all intents and purposes just like peanut butter. Here’s what the Walden web site says about the product:
“Smooth and creamy with natural fresh roasted peanut flavor. Unlike other brands of Peanut Butter that are loaded with sugar and have almost 200 calories in just two level tablespoons, New Walden Farms Whipped Peanut Spread has no calories, fat, carbs, gluten or sugars of any kind. Delicious on crackers or toast and of course in a PB&J sandwich”.
The ingredients listing reads like my junior chemistry set. There are no peanuts in this stuff whatsoever, only “peanut flavor” and a host of unpronounceable thickeners…probably even all natural, I would guess. And of course, while there are certainly calories in the entire jar, a single serving of 2 Tbsp is surely under the maximums required by the USDA for the “calorie-free” designation. But my question is: Does this even qualify as “food”? Probably not if we think of food as providing nutritional sustenance. I have a better name for all this stuff: Edible Entertainment!
I am curious to see just how far food scientists have come in being able to simulate real food…I’m just going to have to get me some…..NOT!
Sadly, the research has shown rather convincingly that the body/mind is very difficult to fool, and that people who substitute synthetic foods for the real McCoy inevitably wind up eating more of other things to compensate. Some authorities have even pointed to low-cal, low-sugar, low-carb, low-fat foods, as contributing to the obesity epidemic by creating a delusion around how much quantity is actually needed in the normal diet, e.g. it’s O.K. to eat a whole bag of fat-free, low-cal potato chips…that then becomes the benchmark for what a “serving” should look like.