About once a week, we have a mexican-style dinner night. We lay out all the taco-style fixings (meat and beans, seasonings and sauces, tomatos, black olives, lettuce, sour cream and cheese) and each family member prepares their own plate, to their liking. For months, we've prepared a mash-up for our 1-year old son, where we mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and help him scoop and eat it with a spoon... he gobbles it down with gusto.
One night just a few weeks ago, I noticed a new shredded cheese blend that my mom had set out among the other ingredients. Due to my own food allergies, I immediately flipped the bag over to glance at the list of ingredients. That's when the confusion set in...
I thought, what in the world is "powdered cellulose", or, "natamycin"? The spelling of natamycin immediately made me think of prescription drugs. I hoped I was wrong, afterall, we have been eating shredded cheeses our whole lives, every person in our household loves cheese. And, worse yet, our almost entirely organic little one-year old son has been eating this stuff on occasion, too.
I fixed up my plate (without cheese), and sat down to query google about these mysteriously-named ingredients. What I found was less than appetizing. During my mom's next shopping trip, she reported that EVERY shredded, bagged cheese had these ingredients. Needless to say, she purchased the block cheeses instead and began shredding cheese on her own from this point forward.
So, what is "Cellulose", anyway?
Cellulose is the fancy word for "powdered wood pulp". It is used to keep food production costs low, to thicken or stabilize, keep products from clumping, add creamy smooth texture to low-fat alternatives where the real cream has been removed, or to add undigestible fiber content ("filler" or "bloat").
Although natural cellulose exists in every plant food out there and is harmless when consumed, the type of cellulose used in the production of food products, is far from natural and created in a laboratory. Cellulose is used to make cellophane, smokeless gun powder, adhesive bandages, wallpaper paste, and other consumer products. It is largely undigestible when consumed by a human, which might be one reason toilet plungers are even necessary.
"Powdered cellulose is made by cooking raw plant fiber — usually wood — in various chemicals to separate the cellulose, and then purified. Modified versions go through extra processing, such as exposing them to acid to further break down the fiber." ~The Wallstreet Journal
Unfortunately, the United States Government tells us that processed, powdered cellulose is a "natural" food and even allows it to be added into organic products. I'd like to know: what part of "cooking in chemicals" or "exposing to acid", is natural?
Next up... What is Natamycin, and why might you want to avoid eating it?
Just as I suspected, Natamycin is a prescription drug. It is classified as an antifungal, and used for treating fungal keratitis, aspergilus and fusarium corneal (eye) infections. The popular medical websites such as MayoClinic.com report that Natamycin is not available without a doctor's written prescription.
Bull-sh#$! If this drug is serious enough that you can't get it without a prescription, then, why is it being added freely into food products for general consumption without doctor's orders!?
My first thoughts: either A) The drug has zero negative side effects and therefore shouldn't require a doctor's prescription for use (which, a majority of our population blindly believes), or B) It has serious implications, but, the pharmaceutical and medical industries are capitalizing on a substance that is otherwise cheap enough to spray all over the majority of shredded cheese we eat in this nation, while organizations that claim to protect us from harm (ie. FDA, USDA, etc.) are neglecting our nation's people.
Curious, I did some further research. Some of the side effects noted during animal studies of natamycin ingestion are not so pretty:
Wait... let me say that again: dead fetuses and decreased survival rates of offspring. Really. How in the world does that make it "safe" to coat our food products with?
In a very limited number of human studies that have been done, results have shown induced nausea, vomiting, diarhhea, anorexia, and flatulence derived from the high-level consumption of cheese treated with natamycin. Although the animal studies with respect to reproductive problems are alarming, I was unable to find any similar studies performed on humans prior to giving approval for using natamycin as a human food additive.
Funny, huh? If the FDA really cared about people, don't you think they would require proof that human reproductive functions and offspring are not negatively affected by a drug before allowing our food products to be doused in it? Nope!
The Solution: Purchase organic block cheese & benefit from shredding it yourself.
You might be lucky enough to find organic, or even raw block cheeses at your local farmer's market that you can shred yourself. Try searching LocalHarvest.org or FarmersMarket.com to find farmer's markets in your local area.
Since farmer's markets in most areas are only available seasonally, you might consider purchasing Organic, Non-GMO, grass-fed cheeses online from a reputable company such as Rumiano Cheese. Our local organic market carries Rumiano Cheese at about $4/brick. We've found that the cost of purchasing online is only slightly more expensive than the non-organic, antibiotic-fed, corn-fed cheeses that come from confined, unhappy, unhealthy cows. The latter, you'll find at your local supermarket in abundance.
The benefits you'll get from purchasing organic block cheese and shredding it yourself include:
A few shredding tips: It's recommended that you store your freshly shredded cheese in the freezer. It thaws out very quickly on it's own, and is ready just minutes after taking it out of the freezer. You may also want to freeze your softer block cheeses, such as mozzarella, for 10-30 minutes before hand to make it easier to shred.
The next step up from shredding your own cheese:
Alternatively, if you're interested in making your own raw cheeses from home, you might check out the instructional articles and culture starter packs at CulturesForHealth.com. This definitely sounds like a fun, healthy home experiment that I'd like to try in the near future. When I do, I'll certainly share my experience with another post!
Do you shred your own cheese, or, make home-made raw cheese? What benefits have you found by doing so? I'd love to hear your experiences in the comments below...