Friday, May 15, 2009

Evaluating food risk: "spices" vs. "fava bean flour"

My husband Randy and I recently moved to Pittsburgh. He likes a local chain here called Panera's that looks like a bakery and projects a more-than-usually convincing image of wholesomeness. From the ordering line you can see a glimpse of a convincingly realistic bakery kitchen. This resembles the sort of place where you'd expect the baked goodies to have been baked on-site.

The first time we went there, I wasn't yet ready to take a risk on eating anything there. After all, baked goods are at risk of containing hidden potato starch. I watched him eat a very yummy looking souffle thingy and, truth be told, really wanted to eat one too.

The second time we went there I had decided to take the risk, ask about ingredients, and not feel left out this time. I was reassured that there was a sign behind the counter saying you could ask to see the list of ingredients. I asked for the ingredients for the most conservative souffle thingy they had: the Four Cheese Souffle.

I scanned the list of ingredients quickly looking for nightshade. I didn't see any, but I did see "spices," which can include hidden nightshade (usually paprika or other peppers). I asked if they knew which "spices" it contained, and if I could see the container. They looked at me funny, then looked at each other. I suddenly realized that they must not actually be made on-site. In retrospect, I should have figured that out from the length of the ingredients list, but I wasn't thinking that fast.

I went back to the ingredients binder and looked at the next most conservative item, the Egg & Cheese Breakfast Sandwich. If you go to Panera's Breakfast Sandwiches Menu, you will see that at first glance this contains 3 ingredients, and 12 descriptive words to positively influence you're attitude towards them. However, if you click on "Egg & Cheese" you get the real list, containing 36 ingredients, 29 of which are in the "two slices of freshly baked Ciabatta." The most memorable of these are "fava bean flour" and "distilled monoglycerides."

Admittedly this isn't as bad as an Egg McMuffin which at first glance contains 5 ingredients, but 64 when you dereference the ingredients (35 in "English Muffin", 2 in "Egg", 14 in "Canadian Style Bacon", 13 in "Liquid Margerine"). Now, a lot of those are duplicates, but it would still be a lot if the duplicates were removed. Also, that list includes scarier things, including "high fructose corn syrup", "partially hydrogenated soybean oil" and "artificial flavors" which Panera's happily doesn't.

Despite the carefully crafted image Panera projects, it would be unjust to consider just one of these breakfast sandwiches as "processed" -- they both are. Both are engineered to stimulate your senses in ways that mere unaided nature cannot compete with.

That's what I thought of when reflecting back on the experience. What I thought of while standing around hungrily perusing the ingredient binder is this: which is riskier, "spices" or "fava bean flour"? I vaguely remembered that fava beans have some pretty potent physiological effects, though I couldn't remember what they were. Most importantly, I haven't eaten any since I overcame the cholinesterase inhibitor stuff and started carefully adding foods back in. I didn't even dare to think about the distilled monoglycerides...

In the end, I decided to go for the Egg & Cheese Breakfast Sandwich as the least of three evils (the third being to sit there hungry watching Randy eat his souffle). It was reasonably tasty, and happily I did not notice any nasty side effects of having eaten it.

The next day I made an egg & cheese sandwich at home. The eggs, cheese, and butter were local. (I later got to meet the farmer in Ligonier who raised the eggs.) The bread was organic and baked at Whole Foods. It was yummier, and led to less angst.

1 comment:

  1. I have recently discovered I need to avoid nightshades as well- specifically tomatoes and potatoes, but I'm starting to suspect paprika as well. I have had very unpleasant allergic reactions prompting my allergy doctor to get me an epipen "just in case." So next week I go for testing (which I don't want to do) and I can narrow down some things. I've been miserable for quite some time- about a year- and the symptoms just kept getting worse. I had no idea it could be an allergy. "Who's allergic to tomatoes?" I thought. Well I ate at Panera today- the tuna salad sandwich without tomato, and on the way home I began not to feel so great- going for a nap to see if that helps, but I am struggling withthe eating out thing- I have no where I can go- today's valentines day- I was going to lunch with my husband. Is dining out a thing of the past? I have to wonder. I bake at home, so we don't eat out often- but still....