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Rant: Processed, My Ass; I Wanna Kill Something

Yes. I wanna kill something. And what I wanna kill is the term “processed food.” I wanna drive stakes through its eyes, pound it flat with a sledgehammer, then flip it over and pound it even flatter. I’d stake it to an anthill except that I like ants a little too much. The term must die. It’s a lie, fake science, fake health, fake everything. It’s also racist, classist, and elitist. I’ve heard it enough. I do not want to hear it again.

Some background: Five or six years ago, when I was on the verge of turning 60 and my blood pressure was inching up, I saw my GP. The first thing he said was, “We have to get you off of processed foods.” He hadn’t asked me anything about my diet. He didn’t define what a “processed food” is. He didn’t know that I was eating processed foods, whatever they might be. He didn’t know what I ate at all, but he was so sure that hypertension is caused by processed foods that he didn’t consider his advice absurd. I was so taken aback by the lack of logic that I didn’t even call him on it. I will not make that mistake again.

I just wrote him off, and soon had a better GP. This one simply handed me a prescription for lisinopril, which has been doing the job just fine ever since.

Still, everywhere I go, I see cautions against eating “processed food.” Nobody ever defines the term. Everybody who uses it assumes that its definition is obvious and universally understood. I dunno… Is cooked food processed? Is pasteurized milk processed? No? Then what does “processed” actually mean?

Crickets. (Which some consider health food. Unless the crickets are killed first, in which case no, because that would be processing them.)

If it’s about salt, say that it’s about salt. And provide numbers. I did the science on myself and found that salt does not affect my blood pressure at all. (Obviously, YMMV.) There’s actually significant evidence that it goes the other way. In fact, there’s evidence that eating more salt causes you to lose weight.

If not salt, then fat? Research finding that most fats are not only harmless but necessary and beneficial is piling up. Eating fat gooses your metabolism, especially if it’s been awhile since you’ve eaten carbs. Eating a high-fat, zero-carb breakfast is one of my major strategies for keeping my weight under control.

Sugar? I’ll definitely buy that. But it’s funny how nobody mentions sugar as a key element of processed foods. Chemicals? Which chemicals? Give me a list. Be specific. You and I are made of chemicals. I eat nothing but chemicals. And so do you. We need a precise technical definition here.

All that said, little by little, I’m beginning to get a clue. I may even have a definition for you: Processed food is any food that my tribe disapproves of. Yes, here and there I’ve heard snarky pseudo-definitions on the order of “any food containing more than five ingredients.” Good luck if you want six different vegetables in your vegetable soup. I counted the ingredients in Bugles earlier today: Corn meal, coconut oil, sugar, salt, baking soda. That’s it. Bugles are health food! (What’s scarier, to me at least, is that they’re over fifty years old, and I remember their introduction.) “Processed food” is in fact one of the most important entries in the Encyclopedia of Virtue Signaling.

“Processed food” is also, in some circles, code for something eaten by working-class people, who admirably don’t care what our fackwot Harvard-educated elites think of them. Harvard, by the way, was bought off by the sugar companies decades ago to make the case that sugar was safe and fat was evil. Ever since I learned that, I’ve considered Harvard a fake university, and The Atlantic agrees with me. The gist here is that you really really don’t want to be lumped in with people who work with their hands, so never admit that you even know what fish sticks or TV dinners are.

Ok, I know, shut up, Jeff and cut to the chase. Here’s the deal: The term “processed food” is an undefinable nonsense term used by snobs who try to make it look like they know something about health but are actually obsessed with distancing themselves from those yukky working classes. It’s just that simple.

Want to prove me wrong? Go find me a precise, technical, unambiguous, and widely accepted technical definition of “processed food.” You must meet all four points, without exception. (If you don’t, I will shoot it down in nuclear flames.) Otherwise, I think my conclusion stands.


  1. Orvan Taurus says:

    Aww, an opportunity missed:
    “OK, Doc, I’ll throw out my food processor.”

    1. I might have thought of it…except that Carol and I have never owned a food processor. Nor a salad spinner. Nor a great many other food-toys. In fact, we have and still use the same Rival Crock*Pot ™ that we received as a wedding present in 1976.

      1. TRX says:

        Probably just a timer and a resistance wire in there. If it ever quit working, you could fix it.

        Not like some of the new ones, with membrane panels and microprocessors. Somewhere, “product managers” need regular floggings…

  2. Tom Roderick says:

    I spent a year in the early 1970’s near a small village in the far North Eastern part of Thailand right on the border with Laos. I was in my early 20’s and had a very very limited range to my diet. During that year I became aware that what is called FOOD is, to some extent, determined by culture. I ate things, that to this day, I have no idea what they were. I ate “processed” stuff from rations that may have been left over from Korea if not WWII. However, I mostly ate off the base and had everything from Water Buffalo to I have no idea what. The only time I had any ill effects was when I drank a bottled soft drink that was served over ice and I did not bring my amoebae killer to add to the drink (Bacardi made a popular one). I’ll agree with Jeff that the one thing I try to avoid most is sugar. My idea is that I can eat anything else I want, but in moderation. Of course down here in the South we consider the Peanut to be the perfect food. What other food do you know of that goes so well with BOTH beer and chocolate!

    1. jon spencer says:

      “What other food do you know of that goes so well with BOTH beer and chocolate!”


      1. jon spencer says:

        I ment to add that a peanut butter and bacon sandwich is right up there.

        1. I may be able to top that, at least a little. When I was a bachelor copier repairman 43 years ago, I would pack a sandwich for lunch, and one of my favorite recipes was peanut butter and Bacos, which were little chunks of spun soy protein called Bontrae, flavored to taste like bacon. Which they did. I remember a couple of bachelor suppers that consisted of a few ounces of Bacos eaten right out of the jar with a teaspooon. (I weighed about 120 pounds when I was 23.)

          That stopped when I married Carol, because she couldn’t stand the smell of Bacos on my breath. Good thing, too, as soy is estrogenic and acts against testosterone. Once I learned that (in the early 80s) soy was off the menu forever.

          1. Jonathan O'Neal says:

            > Good thing, too, as soy is estrogenic and acts against testosterone.

            I’m not sure about that. While I found a couple of individual studies that could support that notion, they were flawed (small sample sizes and/or poorly controlled). What I did find was a 2010 meta-analysis of 32 studies, which found that there were no significant effects of soy protein or isoflavone intake on levels of total testosterone, sex hormone binding globulin, free testosterone, or the free androgen index. (Hamilton-Reeves, J.M., et al., Clinical studies show no effects of soy protein or isoflavones on reproductive hormones in men: results of a meta-analysis. Fertil Steril, 2010. 94(3): p. 997-1007.)

            (n.b. I’m not a soy fanatic; my only consumption is soy milk, which I tolerate far better than the bovine variety.)

          2. (This is actually for Jonathan O’Neal, but we can’t recurse any further here in the comments.)

            The FDA is reconsidering whether soy is healthy or not. This may or may not settle the issue, but at least the agency is looking at health claims in a systematic way:


            (Nina Teicholz called this to my attention.)

            You have some reason to consume soy, and I admit, the science is not as strong as the science against sugar. However, since I’ve done fine without soy since the late 80s, I’m going to keep it off the menu and continue to follow what science we may get on the question.

  3. great unknown says:

    I did notice that “minimally processed foods” are the ones constantly being recalled for transmitting various diseases.

    Which leads me to define processed foods to be those that applied human ingenuity has cleansed of disease.

    1. great unknown says:

      BTW, welcome to the lisinopril club, of which I have been a member since it was founded.

      The alternative, for me, would be to stop following current events; however, that is an addiction I cannot currently shake.

      1. I follow current events spottily, and by eating very small quantities of current events on a regular basis, I’ve built up an immunity to them. Mostly my blood pressure rises when I’m attacked by people I thought were my friends, which was a significant issue back when the Sad Puppies thing exploded in 2015.

        1. TRX says:

          Even a vague and unidirectional tribal alliance seems to trump friendship most of the time…

          I guess I didn’t get much of the “run with the pack” thing; it’s so alien to my way of thinking that I keep being blindsided by how vehemently people will support a cause they don’t even fully understand.

          1. I didn’t either. I generally don’t join things; I start them. And when I do join something, as often as not I end up running them. Political parties, in particular, can go you-know-what themselves. Alas, they don’t. Instead, they you-know-what the losers who swear fealty to them. It’s a bizarre psychology that I keep threatening to write about. Maybe this time I’ll gin up the courage to do it.

        2. great unknown says:

          Incidentally, a frustrated desire to kill something really drives up blood pressure. For the sake of mental stability and physiological health, if you “wanna”, do it. Just don’t get caught.

  4. jimf says:

    Excellent post Jeff!

  5. Carrington Dixon says:

    The common guideline “never eat anything with ingredients you can’t pronounce” is not very useful if you ever took organic chemistry and can thus pronounce some real tongue twisters. As I keep reminding my wife, to a chemist almost everything we eat is organic–except table salt.

    Also Organic(TM) is not a panacea, remember that Socrates died from eating organically grown hemlock.

    1. Orvan Taurus says:

      I’ve commented places that the “never eat anything with ingredients you can’t pronounce” ‘rule’ means chemists and linguists can eat *anything*. Probably ‘Not Recommended’.

      1. Well, I learned to read via phonics, which means (with a few exceptions) that I can pronounce anything in the English language, even if I’ve never seen the word before.

        I vaguely recall a funny essay by Asimov about pronouncing organic compounds, with the rhythm provided by the old folk song “The Irish Washerwoman.” If I can find it this would make an interesting Contra post.

        1. The essay in question is “You, Too, Can Speak Gaelic,” in his collection *Adding a Dimension*. Doubleday/Lancer 1969. (Thanks to Bruce Baker for finding it for me!) I just read it for the first time in decades and it’s still hilarious.

          1. Whoops. Left out “The Chemist’s Drinking Song,” by John A. Carroll, inspired by the essay above:


            I remember hearing this at a filk in the 1970s, so it’s been kicking around for a long, long time!

          2. Orvan Taurus says:

            I recall reading that short piece sometime in the 1980’s (I went through about everything that wasn’t trilogy of Asimov’s that the libraries – school & public – had.) I’ve encountered the tune a couple times. First from someone’s comment on ATH a year or three back.

          3. TRX says:

            Tom Lehrer did the “Chemical Element Song”, but alas, it wasn’t as catchy as “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.”

  6. PaulJ says:

    There’s a truism in political science that if a country’s name includes an adjective, the adjective is a lie – The People’s Republic of China is not run by or for the People; The People’s Democratic Republic of Korea is neither “of the People” or Democratic, etc.

    My corollary is that if the name of a food includes “food”, it is not one. Kraft Singles – a processed cheese food? If it has to claim to be a food, there must be some doubt. The legal definition – “Pasteurized process cheese food is a variation of process cheese that may have dry milk, whey solids, or anhydrous milkfat added, which reduces the amount of cheese in the finished product. It must contain at least 51% of the cheese ingredient by weight, have a moisture content less than 44%, and have at least 23% milkfat.” from

  7. Tom Hanlin says:

    You can shoot me down in nuclear flames, Jeff. Threat noted and accepted. I’ve still followed your work for a good thirty years or more, and hope to continue doing so. Your recent rants are distinctly uncharacteristic. You really might want to consult with a doctor. The signs say “running down”.

    1. Running down? Well crap, I’m 65. We’re all running down. The curve just gets a little steeper once you’re past 55 or so, sometimes sooner. I see various doctors regularly (Carol makes sure of it) to address all those old-guy issues, and most of them are under control. There are some gnarly interactions: I’d love to try a CPAP/APAP, but I’m an insomniac and the mask keeps me awake.

      I might also remind here and sundry that when I do a rant, I’m doing a species of stand-up comedy. I get in silly moods now and then, and because I have a knack for rants, if I get a silly enough rant idea I’ll do it. Hint: Enjoy the ride; the insights are a bonus.

      1. TRX says:

        Go to Amazon, search on “pulse oximeter alarm” and buy one for $20-$25. The oximeter clips to your finger and watches your blood oxygen level; set the alarm to 90 and see if you set it off, then down to 85 if you do. Below 90 can indicate a breathing problem, below 85 can be serious. There are plenty of pages with other figures, but those will ballpark it.

        It’s not an overnight hospital stay with a neurologist in a sleep lab, but it doesn’t cost $5,000, either.

        I used to be insomniac, and would wake up and lay there for hours, or get up and wander about the house, or check my email, or whatever. I thought the stupid machine was going to kill me for the first few weeks, but now I can’t sleep without it. I pull the mask on, punch the button, and I’m out light a light, and sleep all night.

        You can pick up a used machine off eBay for under $100; if you decide to go that route email me and I’ll guide you through the types of machines, setup, masks, etc. if you want to DIY instead of getting on the referral-go-round.

        If your blood oxygen level doesn’t drop significantly when you’re asleep, the machine won’t do anything useful. The CPAPs got a bad rep when doctors were shotgunning them at everything and the insurance companies rightfully got tire of paying for them.

  8. A. Druid says:

    Uncharacteristic? Au contraire!

    I admire passionate writing paired with good logic and links.
    No opinions = fake objectivity.

    Plus, a whole lot of folks that should know better need to be smacked publicly. It used to be called peer review.

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