Opinion: The Great Food Conspiracy That Wasn’t

conspiracy theory comic

This is a guest post from James Pintner, CRC (Certified Research Chef) .

Where do I start?

There is no more conspiracy in the food business than there is in any other business.

Conspiracies come from greed or from wanting to cover something up. That usually starts at the top. Many suspicions about what’s in a food package come from lack of knowledge or misinformation about food ingredients, and much of that is propagated on sound bite news, various health food store products and literature, and the internet through emails and blogs of people who take one sliver of what they DO know and put it in the wrong context or deliberately demonize something to present themselves as authorities or innovators. We’ve all done it…tried to pass along some “wisdom” to help those poor miserable retches who don’t know any better… (Like everybody in our address book)!

The chefs and technicians formulating food products are peons like any average Joe and they do it because they are good at food…not trying to get rich or hurt anyone. Consumers at times feel misled by labels, but that’s not entirely the fault of those writing the recipes.

Some of it is vitamin fortification of ingredients which just looks like a lot of complicated chemical names. Some if it is layers of regulations dictating how things are specified on labels. Some of that regulation stems from the outcry of the public wanting to know details about things they don’t understand. Some of it is length of time in distribution, creating the need for anti microbial agents (preservatives) for food safety and a longer shelf life. Things can only be made so sterile and eventually they need preservatives.

All of these long unfamiliar words on labels cause consumers to feel discomfort. People don’t like pronouncing technical ingredients in their food because they don’t understand them. This lack of understanding opens the door for individuals with their own agendas to fill the void with their own interpretations. This is where the trouble starts and the gullible get taken. Learning about food is a lifelong pursuit.

If all you do is read a few labels and then watch your TV news or read a few blogs and determine that all food is poison, you need more education. Frankly, you need to take responsibility for what you put in your mouth.

Here’s an example: Lecithin.

I’ve read Fooducate blog post about Soy Lecithin, as well as the long comment thread. I’d like to address some of the concerns that lecithin is part of a conspiracy to slowly poison our food with things we can’t pronounce…

First, what is it?

Years ago when shopping as a health conscious vegetarian, I bought some unrefined soybean oil. If you want to see lecithin in its native state, buy some of that. It’s the sludge at the bottom that makes stir frying or sautéing with the unrefined stuff impossible. There’s a lot of nutrient density in it, but it’s too funky to win any Betty Crocker awards.

So for all the right reasons, the producers of soybean oil developed a process to clarify and deodorize it so the average person could cook with it at home. It’s basically the same thing that was done to whole wheat and brown rice i.e. ”refining”, to make them more sophisticated and palatable, as well as less susceptible to rancidity thereby making mass distribution and storage possible.

So, are companies trying to hide lecithin?

Nope, in fact it’s good for you. If you do some studies on the brain, nervous system and liver function, you’ll find that a major component of lecithin, acetylcholine is essential to the function of all three. It’s popular as a nutritional supplement in natural food stores as an aid to those functions. It’s also a great ingredient in smoothies because it’s a wonderful emulsifier.

What’s an emulsifier you ask?

It’s a molecule that has hydrophilic and lipophillic properties – it is attracted to both water and fat. That’s why mayonnaise doesn’t separate into water, vinegar, oil and egg yolks. The egg yolks are loaded with lecithin which holds the emulsion together. That’s the coating on your lips after you eat “over easy” eggs. No conspiracies there.

Lecithin, being a phospholipid, is a major component of your cells’ membranes and facilitates entry of fat soluble nutrients into them. It also helps to keep fatty acids apart from other molecules within the cells, thus protecting them from oxidation; so in that sense it’s an antioxidant. To understand the entire chemistry of it you need to do some studying.

It’s too complicated to go into here, but let’s just say it’s necessary for many bodily functions (even developing fetuses). Oh by the way, in case you have soy sensitivities, lecithin is also in non stick aerosols and that doesn’t even count as food does it?

Some things you should research on your own:

How is your lecithin obtained? Is it steam precipitated? Is it extracted with a solvent? What solvent? Is there any harmful residue in the finished product? Is there any damage to the environment using this process?

James Pintner, CRC works for Sandridge Food Corporation and has been an executive chef for over 30 years, almost all of them in the capacity of new product development.


  • Pat

    Thanks for a reasonable explanation.

  • Jessica

    Did this article just try to tell me soy lecithin is safe and good for you??? :S :S

    • RoadSinger

      Yes, and I don’t agree and I take it you don’t either. Soy is one of the most genetically modified plants that exist. In addition it has an estrogenic effect on the body and not in a good way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002943355694 Jenna Lutz

    If only this mindset would spread. I try to be as aware and well read about nutrition as I can be but lately the hysteria on so many many site/magazine/newspapers/news shows/blogs/etc is just… crazy making. For example? ~I~ have celiac. Which means that, to ~me~, wheat & gluten is a no go. But more and more sites have begun to hysterically label gluten as the result of some shadowy cabal who’s only interest is the total nutritional devastation of the planet. Foods aren’t, in and of themselves, evil. Or, for that matter, good. Food doesn’t have a consciousness, it doesn’t have the ability to have ~intent~. Water is required for life – but too much can kill you. Foods are non-sentient. And they definitely aren’t capable of personal malice. Gluten isn’t here to make my life miserable. And trying to ban it in everything because it makes ~me~ ill is just… a nonsense. The fear mongering sells books and gets page hits – but it moves nothing further, it just stalls out the conversation. Being balanced isn’t sexy. Being rational and learning the good AND the bad isn’t going to make you a leader in the field and get your book on the best seller list. If people don’t want an ingredient – buy things without it, tell the company why you won’t be buying their product unless they one day change the formulation, spend your money, vote with your dollars, and understand that food manufacturers will do what they need to sell their product. Enough people refuse to buy it because of an ingredient and its possible to find other options without it? They WILL change or they lose money. And the only conspiracy is this… (looks around nervously before whispering) “They want to make a profit…. shhhhhhh”. Stop stamping your foot and saying it’s not FAIR that the highly processed convenience item that you want to buy has things in it you don’t want or can’t eat and either make it yourself or buy another version that doesn’t contain it. But DON’T whine, wail, and demand you get what you want, when you want it, AS you want it, and if they dare make a profit from it then they are just evil and need to be stopped.

    This is a really well balanced and scientifically backed up article. So now I’ll just sit back and wait to see how many people stamps their feet and fall back on the “but it’s not FAIR” argument and yell about it. Can you tell I’m a bit cranky? I just deal with a family member who screeched for an hour that the fast food she lives on is evil and somewhere between Hitler and Machiavelli because of the horrible things they insist on putting INTO their food…. but heaven help you if you suggest she stop eating it – because it’s the cheapest, quickest & easiest option for ~HER~ so why should ~SHE~ be punished and made to spend more money and make it herself when they shouldn’t be allowed to put the ‘bad’ things into the food’ to start. It’s making it tough to shrug off the weird food morality arguments I keep seeing. Who knows, maybe I’m misjudging folks and instead this is the beginning of a new trend of rational reasonable discussions about food and nutrition….

    Nah. Somehow? I doubt it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Rene.Northrup Rene Northrup

    I am allergic to soy so I don’t believe soy lecithin is good for me at all. In fact ANY soy that is grown here in America is genetically modified unless it says it is organic. Sorry Mr. Pinter, sorry is NOT good for us in those forms.

    • RP1973

      Non-GMO soy lecithin is available. I used to buy non-GMO soy lecithin granules.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002943355694 Jenna Lutz

        I was just going to say this myself – I use soy lecithin in some of my baking (it helps me make GF bread without having to default to using a half a dozen eggs per loaf… which to me, make it less a bread stuff and more a dried out omelet, really) and the last bag I bought on Amazon had Non-GMO plastered on every side of the bag. Is so something you should eat 3x a day unrelenting? No. Do some folks have adverse reactions to it? Yup. And some don’t. And some people are deadly allergic to penicillin but more would be dead ~without~ it (which is an extreme analogy, but it’s late and I’m not at my best). It’s a foodstuff that can be useful and has safe forms. And while I am no fan of the FrankinFoods… we’ve also, since our species began, altered foods to the needs and place as we can. Some GMO are bad news – and some make it possible to grow wheat in Africa that would feed millions that are starving. Some GMO plants are doing what Gregory Mendel did in the monastery gardens – just a heck of a lot faster. It isn’t always a good idea (when HE did it, in addition to getting healthier peas – he also created a strain of bees so violent they had to be destroyed en masse so it IS risky to fool with mother nature) but it also isn’t the super evil.

  • RP1973

    When I cooked food for my dog (who passed away at the age of 15), one of the ingredients I used was soy lecithin, and this was recommended by Dr. Pitcairn. I occasionally purloined her lecithin for an occasional smoothie. I was shocked to discover that some people think it’s unhealthy. I mean, it might not be nature’s perfect food, but it’s not pure evil, and I don’t believe it will hurt you. As with all the ingredients I used for my dog, mine was the Now! brand which is labeled non-GMO. I’m sure that GMO soy is pure evil, especially if it has ever been blessed by Mon$@nto.

  • A.C.

    Why this condescending tone? Why assuming that things are too complicated to explain? I think fooducate reader are pretty food literate… I personally refuse products with soy lecithin because unless it’s mentioned that the soy is GMO free there is no way a food company would have payed the extra buck for organic soy lecithin. That’s all. And I’d rather eat whole eggs than refined soy lecithin.

  • EVIL food scientist

    (it’s all a smokescreen. misdirection to hide the REAL conspiracy! we food scientists really want to give you cancer, addict you, ruin the environment, destroy the country, and CREATE A NEW RACE OF SUBSERVIENT GENETICALLY MODIFIED CONSUMER-ZOMBIES TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!!! BWAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!)

    Ah crap, that last part kinda just slipped out.