Thought for Food

13 September 2015

As a society becomes more affluent, the marginal cost of reducing toxins from its environment decreases, and still other things may propel a culture to reduce their presence.

Of course, a substance is toxic to the extent that its ingestion, inhalation, or topical application is harmful. Part of the implication, then, of substituting less toxic products for those previously used or offered is for the new products to become more ingestible, more food-like. That's not to say that we're trying to create a world in which we do eat everything, but we're none-the-less moving towards a world in which we could eat everything.

Well, as things not intended to be eaten become more like food, of logical necessity food becomes more like things not intended to be eaten, even if the food hasn't changed at all. Indeed, even if the food is itself becoming safer, if other products are still more rapidly reducing their toxicity, then food becomes more like things not intended to be eaten.

Considered thoughtlessly the idea that food is becoming more like things not intended to be eaten seems dire. But, really, it is a natural consequence of other things becoming in some way better, without food getting any worse.

Repeatedly, someone takes note of how there's stuff in our food that is also in, say, our anti-freeze. Not the stuff that used to be in our anti-freeze, mind you, but the stuff that's now in our (far less toxic) anti-freeze. Or maybe it's not anti-freeze. Maybe it's flame-retardant, or an anti-foaming agent, or some-such. There's stuff in our food that has other uses, which makes it sound scary, because we remember that the sorts of things that once were put to those uses would do terrible things to living tissue.

And someone who hasn't made — or chooses to ignore — the connection between attempts to employ less toxic substances in those other uses gets on the radio or on Facebook or some-such, and tells us that this-or-that thing being sold as food contains this-or-that chemical which is elsewhere used to do something formidable. And a bunch of people rail as if modern life is being made ever more poisonous, when — at least in the case in question — rather the opposite is true.

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