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Fast Foods - the 'E' Cuisine


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'Parsis-Zoroastrians of India

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the-south-asian.com                               April  2001

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Fast Food Facts – the ‘E-Cuisine’

by Roopa Bakshi

compiled for the readers by the-south-asian


Fast food is beginning to get tastier and crisper. Children are practically weaned on MacDonalds, Wimpys, Wendys, KFCs and many more of the same ilk. Fast food outlets and chains are increasing rapidly and so is the incidence of disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder [ADD] and Hyperactivity among children.

The fast food industry in the U.S. is a 100 billion dollar (or more) industry. In other words, the discerning epicures who cultivate the fast food culture pay out $100 billion for ‘food’ laced and garnished with preservatives, flavourings, sweeteners and colours of all hues. It is a100 billion dollar food additive industry. The food on the plastic plate does not come with labels listing all the ingredients that have been added to it – the tempting French fries carry no tales of the medium they have been fried in or the flavours and enhancers that have been added to them. The banana-flavoured milk shake is a cocktail of milk and amylacelate – a chemical compound with a dominant note of banana flavour.

Thirteenth April was Good Friday and the first of a four-day weekend here in the UK. I had with me two books – ‘Fast Food Nation: What the All-American Meal is Doing to the World’ by Eric Schlosser, and ‘E for Additives’ by Maurice Hanssen. I read them, one after the other, into the early hours of Saturday morning. Some books induce reflection, others introspection – but that Saturday morning I came close to a nervous seizure. I must have still been in aftershock when I cleared the refrigerator of all the food – because I have no memory of doing so.

Mad cow disease and the foot-and-mouth outbreak seemed innocent Enid Blyton mysteries compared to the ‘E Thriller’ I had just read. Even the dreaded E.Coli wanes before the 1500 Es that have made a silent and a deadly entry into our food products and our food chain – the last link of the food chain now being in the hands of lab-coat wearing food technologists with their supply of magic potions of E series. My thoughts and my heart go out, especially to my vegetarian friends, who have never doubted the ‘Natural Flavours’ in a packet of dehydrated tomato soup, and who have been gullible enough to believe that wines and the Sunday brunch Bloody Marys are vegetarian drinks. Just make sure the Worcestershire Sauce you use for your Bloody Mary has no anchovies!

Read on!

  • ‘Natural Flavourings’ – can be anything from a natural source – including beef, bacon, fish or poultry. As long as the manufacturer is using ingredients considered to be safe [GRAS – Generally Regarded As Safe], he is not obliged to disclose the source of the ingredients. So vegetarians have no clue whether a flavour contains fish, poultry, beef or pork. A Tomato Soup with ‘Natural Flavours’ is not necessarily a vegetarian delight.

  • For many years a well-known Fast Food company cooked its world-renowned French Fries in beef tallow. Ten years ago they changed the cooking medium to vegetable oil but the ‘natural flavour’ in the fries is still from ‘animal products’.

  • ‘Natural smoke flavour’ – is a bottled flavour.

  • Some fast food chains serve grilled chicken sandwich with beef extracts.

  • Artificial flavours are what they say they are – credit the food industry with a bit of honesty here. "A typical artificial strawberry flavour contains 49 chemical compounds."

  • No manufacturer of cooked meat products tells us what parts of the animal are used and how much. "There is only a blanket description – ‘offal’. You could be eating unexpected parts of an animal."

  • "Ingredients and processing aids that might be used to clarify wine after fermentation include

edible gelatines (from bones of animals)

isinglass (from swim-bladders of fish)

animal albumin (egg albumin and dried blood powder)"

                   One can now appreciate the ‘Vegetarian Wine’ label.

  • Beware of cryptic chemicals and numbers. E161 is a red pigment added to chicken and fishmeal – to give the yolk of the egg and the flesh of the fish a nice, healthy colour. The poultry farmer decides how red or yellow he desires the yolk, and the quantity of E161 is adjusted accordingly. True designer eggs – but still not Faberge!

  • E120 or Cochineal - aka carmine, carminic acid, Natural Red 4 – is a red colour derived from crushing pregnant scale insects. It takes 70,000 insects to produce a pound of carmine. Similarly, inosine, a flavour enhancer, can be prepared from meat extracts and dried sardines.

  • Check your cheese. Rennet, a common additive in all cheeses, is extracted from calf stomach.

  • A packet of biscuits may contain ‘animal fats’ – which means it could be any one of the following – bacon fat, beef tallow, fish oil or lard.


The story gets more horrific as the curtain on the food labs rises. It reads like a macabre plot with a cast of villains – colours, flavours, preservatives, sweeteners, antioxidants of the wrong kind, and of course the pesticides. Food colours, especially synthetic ‘coal tar’ dyes and azo dyes are known to cause reactions in asthmatics and people suffering from different allergies. Meanwhile, the victims remain the children. No specific causes have been identified as yet for Attention Deficit Disorder [ADD] and Hyperactivity – yet studies and trials conducted on children, show remarkable improvements in their achievement scores, once food additives and refined sugar were eliminated from their diets. Kids are killing each other in schools – children as young as nine or ten have pulled a trigger or two on their peers. Gun laws and food laws, both need to be looked at. The effect of these chemicals on behaviour can be quite dramatic. In 1976 "the schools in New York City made a basic change in the school lunches that excluded foods with a high sugar content, as well as eliminating foods with two synthetic colouring chemicals. Within one year, the scores on standardised California achievement tests went up 8%. The school system then banned all synthetic food colourings and flavourings. The scores went up another 4%. Three years later in 1983, all foods containing BHT and BHA – chemical antioxidants - were removed from school lunches. The scores increased an additional 4%. This means that additives in school lunches are decreasing the mental capacity of children by at least 16%. "

Another study reported that two chemicals, Yellow No.5, chemically known as tartrazine, and the preservative benzoic acid, commonly found in processed foods, produced dramatic reactions in 79% of children studied.

There are over 1000 chemical food additives – many have been banned in several countries.

Hyperactive Children's Support Group (HACSG) has recommended the elimination of many chemical additives from the diets of children. [A list appears on a separate page of the article.]

The bottom line is -There are no 100% safe chemicals or sweeteners.

The moral of the story is – Go Organic.

The E Code

E100-E181 - Colours

E 200 - E 290 - Preservatives

E 296 - E 385 - Acids, Antioxidants
E 400 - E 495 - Vegetable Gums
E 500 - E 579 Mineral salts, Anticaking
E 620 - E 637 - Flavour Enhancers
E 900 - E 1520 - Miscellaneous


Information for this article was derived from the following sources:

‘Fast Food Nation: What the All-American Meal is Doing to the World’ by Eric Schlosser
‘E for Additives’ by Maurice Hanssen




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