Fancy some horse hoof with that marshmallow?

By Kimberley Lee

I have to tell you something, my dear. There's something hidden in your food. It's lurking there, in every mouthful, dangerous, invisible.

No matter how aware you are of what you eat, you will never be able to avoid it. But don't worry. Forget I said anything. Worrying will only hasten your mortality.

I was on a tramp in the Kaimai Ranges when one of the girls offered around a packet of marshmallows. Seven of us were eager to accept but our final companion refused, saying, "No thanks, I'm a vegetarian."

Following a confused silence (What does he mean? He's against the killing and eating of marshmallows?), he explained that marshmallows contain gelatine, and gelatine is derived from the collagen of pig hide and horse hooves and other such delights.

After a second even more pregnant pause, the marshmallows were returned to the packet, along with several vehement vows to never eat them again.

I was intrigued about this new side to what I had previously considered a completely innocuous additive. A quick Google search back at home yielded startling results.

Apparently, gelatine is not limited to marshmallows, or even to jelly-like confectionery.

Not only does it play a part in preserving many processed foods, including yoghurt and guacamole, it is also a key component of the gel casing of soft-shelled pill capsules. Yummy.

It gets worse. Turns out that gelatine is just one of thousands of dubious yet ubiquitous ingredients in our diets.

Consider sliced ham. The World Cancer Research Fund International published a study stating that processed meat is a leading contributor to bowel cancer.

How about food colouring? Provokes hyperactivity in children. Even tea, widely thought a tamer, healthier foil to coffee, often contains tannic acid, a carcinogen.

The modern nutritionist seems to consider it their duty to save us from our sluggish, sedentary, single-minded societal food habits by educating us on how everything causes everything.

The icecream episode of What's Really in our Food, a local television programme that attempts to get to the heart of our most popular edibles, featured an in-depth comparison between regular, low-fat and sugar-free icecream. Talk of saturated fat, fructose content and flavourings was flung back and forth like gravy in a food fight.

In the end, the experts' consensus was that all icecream should be eaten in moderation. How insightful. I feel my time would have been just as well spent eating a packet of marshmallows.

Indeed, I am not so sure that even the direst warnings from our beloved food police will help, if the reaction to KFC's Double Down burger is anything to go by. News reporting about the burger, proclaimed as "so meaty, there's no room for a bun!", included nutritionists' comments such as "dangerous," "contemptuous", "a crime against food". The public responded by eating 34,000 Double Downs the day they went on sale.

My mum has a good system: when she goes grocery shopping, she simply buys whatever she considers appropriate, be it vitamin-filled victuals or just plain junk. I'm not saying she doesn't read the nutrition labels or take into account what constitutes a balanced diet _ she does. But if she's decided to buy a packet of chips, then she, like all shoppers, knows that no matter what the brand or what the ingredients, it's going to be unhealthy, and there is no point fretting. We are intelligent. We are rebellious. And we can make our own choices.

On the tramp's last day, the morning after the marshmallow incident, our instructor brought out a party-mix bag of lollies. "Would you all care for a jelly plane?" he asked us. Yes, please!

Kimberley Lee, Year 13, St Cuthbert's College

- NZ Herald

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