Friday, March 06, 2009

You Eat Petroleum Every Day

If you're a typical American, that is.

I was just recently wondering what's the difference between hydrocarbons and carbohydrates -- two things that seem very different, but that both involve carbon and hydrogen. Apparently the main difference is that carbohydrates typically include oxygen in the mix, but they're obviously close cousins, or else we wouldn't be able to turn corn into ethanol.

So then I started wondering if petroleum and related products might be edible, and if so, how? Completely fortuitously, I then happened to read the book Twinkie, Deconstructed this week -- an excellent read if you've ever wondered where most of the ingredients in processed food come from.

Turns out that many of the ingredients in our food do indeed come directly from (or are manufactured using) petroleum, coal tar, natural gas, etc. These would include: modified corn starch (processed with propylene oxide), soybean oil (processed with hexane), glycerin (made from propylene gas), polysorbate 60 (petroleum is an ingredient), vanilla flavoring (made from benzene and crude oil), sorbic acid (common preservative that is made from natural gas), and food coloring (made from petroleum).

Even enriched flour -- which is in too many foods to count -- includes vitamins such as niacin, thiamine mononitrate, and folic acid, all of which are synthesized from petroleum sources (the author explains that petroleum is easier and more predictable than trying to extract vitamins from food).

The author does point out that dangerous chemicals often combine to form perfectly normal food -- such as the combination of dangerous chlorine and sodium to form table salt. Still, I can't help thinking that maybe it's better to eat the way that Crossfit recommends: "Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar." Simple, straightforward . . . and no petroleum.


Blogger James Goering said...

Ethanol is an alcohol not a hydrocarbon.

4:48 PM  
Blogger James Goering said...

Ethanol is an alcohol not a hydrocarbon.

5:23 PM  

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