All natural foods contain lots of ingredients that you may not have bargained for. In fact, it can sometimes looks more like a witch's brew!

Processed Food: Trick or Treat?

Here’s a fun, yet scary post in honor of Halloween. Although it’s meant with a little tongue in cheek, it is alarming what the food industry can get away with putting in their boxes, bags, and bottles without us even knowing it. Enjoy!

All Natural Foods Contain Lots Of Ingredients That You May Not Have Bargained For. In Fact, It Can Sometimes Looks More Like A Witch'S Brew!

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

These verses uttered by the Three Witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth have become legendary, and the weird ingredients they talk about make us shake our heads in disgust. But at least we know what’s in the witches brew. The same can’t be said for most of the foods in our modern-day grocery store. Unfortunately big food companies have cast a spell over most regulators that allows them to manipulate us with advertising, make deceptive claims, and mislead us with ingredient labels.

All natural is one of those claims that makes most people feel better about the food they eat. After all, if it’s natural it’s got to be good, right? Well, as we’ve learned in my series “All Natural … Really?”, natural doesn’t mean anything. In fact, buying all natural foods may involve playing your own home version of the reality game show, FEAR FACTOR. Why? Check out some of these frequently used food additives that qualify as “all natural.” They might be a little more than you bargained for:

    • Beaver Anal Glands: This bitter, very smelly, orange-brown substance is also known as castoreum. In nature it’s combined with the beaver’s urine and used to mark its territory. In the processed food world it’s occasionally used in both food and beverages, typically as vanilla or raspberry flavoring. Watch out though, you won’t find it on the ingredient list since processed food manufacturers can legally call it “natural flavoring.”
    • Cow’s Stomach: Known as rennet and derived from the mucosa of veal calves’ fourth stomach, this ingredient is frequently used in the production of cheese to curdle the milk. Often listed simply as “enzymes” on an ingredient panel, it can be very hard to know exactly what you’re eating when you buy cheese. If you’re looking to avoid rennet, look for vegetarian or kosher certified cheeses.
    • Hair and / or feathers: Called L-cysteine or cystine by the processed food world, this non-essential amino acid is made from human hair or duck feathers and is used as a dough conditioner to improve the texture of breads and baked goods. Again, since cystine comes from natural sources, you can eat “natural” and still have hair in your food.
    • Beetle Juice: No, I’m not talking about the 1988 movie starring Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis. This beetle juice is used in our food and is often called shellac, resinous glaze, or confectioner’s glaze on ingredient labels. Made from the secretions of the female lac bug, this substance is scraped from trees and branches then processed to be used on some of your favorite shiny candies and sprinkles.
    • Crushed bugs: Known as Carmine, Crimson Lake, Cochineal, or Natural Red #4 on ingredient labels, this red food coloring additive is made from insects like the cochineal beetle. Frequently used in yogurts and beverages to give them a ruby-red color, a cochineal beetle can be a tough to spot on ingredient labels since it can be listed as a natural color.

A Special Halloween Look At What's In Your Food!What’s so infuriating about these ingredients is how they can lurk in your food and you may not even know it. Whether they’re disguised as natural flavors, enzymes, glazes, or colors, you deserve to know if they’re in your food, right? Unfortunately big food companies disagree. Even after contacting Nestlé, Kraft, General Mills, Unilever, and Dannon, I couldn’t find out the truth. For example, when I asked if a specific product contained castoreum, I got the following response:

All of our natural flavorings are vendor supplied and are therefore proprietary information.

We do not explicitly use castoreum. We cannot speak for our vendors that provide proprietary ingredients such as natural flavors. I want to assure you that the FDA does consider this ingredient as generally recognized as safe.

Do you believe that? I know I don’t. Food manufacturers know exactly what’s in their food, even if the flavoring comes from another supplier. Furthermore, they can expressly ask flavor suppliers to NOT use specific ingredients. But the bottom line is the food industry doesn’t want you or I to know the whole truth. That would hurt their business.

So in honor of Halloween, I’ve come up with a few new lines for Shakespeare’s Three Witches. And just as these witches’ prophecies foretold Macbeth’s downfall, if we all speak up, the processed food industry will be in for some real change.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Oil from a beaver’s ass,
Beetle juice shines food like glass.
Cochineal bugs make things red,
Hair and feathers condition our bread.
Poor calves slaughtered for our cheese,
Yes I’m scared of these mysteries.
Processed food it’s a shame,
Lying and deceiving is no game.
Since you’re acting with deceit,
We’ll fight to know what we eat.
Big food companies we’ve had enough,
It’s time to regulate all this stuff.

As always, if you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it by pasting a link on your Facebook wall, liking it, or emailing it to a friend. If you have a chance and would like to learn more about my novel, Fat Profits, click here. And for more inside scoop on the world of food, please subscribe to my blog.

In honor of Halloween, I’m sharing this Halloween post from last year (originally published on October 30, 2011.) Believe it or not, it’s been my most popular post to date. Crazy!

All Natural Foods Contain Lots Of Ingredients That You May Not Have Bargained For. In Fact, It Can Sometimes Looks More Like A Witch'S Brew!

91 Responses

  1. Pepsico contracts with Senomyx Co which tests artificial flavors using aborted fetus cells. And these cells are also now almost in all vaccines. The shingles vaccine has an ethical alternative that actually works, unlike the shingles vaccine that does not guarentee and can also cause a flare up. Enjoyed your article will be sharing. The hair and the beaver anal glands were the two that made us cringe.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I’m unfamiliar with the Pepsico / Senomyx connection. I’ll have to read more about it. I do remember Senomyx working with Campbell’s trying to reduce the salt content of soup. I read back in March that their relationship ended—around the same time Campbell’s threw in the towel on lower sodium soups.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. In the course of researching my blog posts I learn stuff as well, and I inevitably end up removing at least one or two items from my shopping list or pantry.

  2. Hi, great article. I just found your blog through Andy Bellatti and I already love it and started following it. I think it is fantastic that you have a food marketing background.

    What is interesting about this post for me is that I was teaching nutrition classes in schools and, wanting to get the students attention, I used some of these “natural” ingredients to wake them up and shock them a bit into hopefully paying attention to the ingredients used in food. Once the slide with a beetle came on, the cringes and exclamations of “gross, ewww” made me realize I did impact them.

    On the other hand, although some of these ingredients are strange and a bit off-putting, I think I might prefer them over GMOs, high fructose corn syrup, soy, etc.

    Thanks again and I can’t wait to start following your blog.

    1. Thanks for your comment Suzy and welcome to my blog. I agree with you…GMOs etc are much scarier than a beetle. Unfortunately so many people trust big food companies implicitly. When they start hearing about ingredients like these, some people awaken to the notion that maybe processed food companies are trying to hide something.

      Once again thanks for taking the time to check out my blog, and feel free to share it with your friends and family!

  3. LOVE your site; also found it through Andy Bellatti and I’m recommending it to all my friends who think that “all natural,” “organic” or “has as much vitamin X as real food Y!” screaming on a label means it’s good for you. Looking forward to reading!

    1. Thanks so much for you comment! I’m glad you enjoyed my site, and thank you for sharing it with your friends. That’s how we spread the word!!

      If you have any topics or foods you’d like me to try and tackle, let me know. Thanks again for being part of my blog community!

  4. Woohoo! Just found you through some food links I have, and I will be reading every word you write.
    Since you’re asking for suggestions, I would love to see some info on the reality of whole wheat flour. My business revolves around all fresh ground grains, and I have a hard time trying to distinguish myself to customers who think that the 5lb bag of whole wheat flour is actually whole wheat. If there’s shelf life, there’s no wheat germ – and if there’s no wheat germ you don’t have whole wheat (and not one smidge of Vit. E). That bag is still a factory-made mix, and they get to call it whole wheat.

    1. Maureen:
      Thanks for your comment and blog post suggestion. I’ve never worked on a flour business, but I will do some digging around. The whole “whole wheat” and “whole grain” topic can be really confusing for consumers for sure!

    2. @Maureen, Check out Dr. William Davis’ new Wheatbelly blog dot com which is the companion website to his new book of the same name. In the book and on the site he talks about discovering that modern dwarf wheat varieties are 42 chromosome structures, whereas the older varieties called Emmer & Einkorn are only 14, and this difference is what he believes is the cause of the increasing incidence of intestinal & digestive problems associated with bread & grain product consumption, including heartburn & acid reflux to Crohn’s and everything in between.

      If you really want to provide a nutritionally superior product and public education at the same time I encourage you to look into Dr. Davis’ work and consider providing a line of products made from the original ancient wheat strains.

      1. thank you, I’ll put that on my to-do list. I have been reading his site, but not the book. Researching new info is my full time job – after full time baking. 😉

  5. I want to add a note on the calf stomach: traditionally (thousands of years) calf rennet, which had the enzyme necessary for the calf to digest its mother’s milk, was the only way to break the milk proteins in order to make cheese. But natural calf rennet is expensive, because the world’s appetite for cheese is greater than the supply of calf stomachs. So these days, the vast majority of rennet is derived from a GMO-strain of fungus, which has been spliced with a calf gene. In other words, almost all cheese is made with a calf enzyme, it’s just that the vast majority of that enzyme is secreted by a culture of GMO fungus growing in a tank. Good cheese, made with real calf-derived rennet, is likely to carry a premium price tag. I personally find traditional cheese, made with real calf rennet, less yucky than the GMO stuff.

    1. Thanks for your comments Nick. It’s always cool to learn new information—even if it isn’t “good news” per se. I’m not sure which disturbs me more, the real calf-derived or the GMO derived enzyme. I know when I’ve made cheese at home, curdling could be done simply with an acid like lemon juice. I know there must be some less disturbing options, but I’m sure corporate profits are a huge driver of the decisions.

      Thanks again for being part of my blog community.

      1. Yes, milk can be curdled with just an acid like lemon juice, but this will severely limit the kind of cheese that you can make. Many cheeses require a coagulation by rennet. The rennet coagulation produces a stronger, more resilient curd than acid does. Also, the rennet does not impact the pH like an acid, which allows the bacteria to survive the coagulation. This is a good thing for cheesemaking.

        Rennet has been used in cheesemaking since ancient times. It is an essential, and It is hardly a sign of an industrial food process. Take away the rennet, and you take away the whole history and culture of cheesemaking.

        1. Thanks for your comment, Josh, and for helping me learn a little bit more about the curdling process. I have no qualms with the use of rennet per se (although I am concerned that the calf is raised humanely!). What disturbs me most food companies don’t want us to know the dirty details of what’s in our food. I’m hoping that at least when people pick up cheese the next time, they will have more of the tools to ask the right questions. And for those meat eaters or vegetarians who decide they don’t want to consume rennet, they now know what it is, and that it can also be disguised as enzymes on the label.

          Thanks for helping learn more. I do appreciate your comment!

          1. Yeah, I wasn’t too sure about why calf’s stomach would make the same list as beaver anal glands. After all, I’ve eaten tripe before, so it’s really no big deal to me. I do take issue with lack of clarity from the food industry. If something’s in there, tell me! I’m not particularly squeamish, and I appreciate knowing where my food comes from.

            Keep up the good work.

          2. Thanks for the great post and comments, Bruce and Josh. The only thing I have to add is that if traditional rennet makes cheese more expensive, then maybe we should all eat less cheese. When laboratories create GMO’s, they’re trying to tweak some characteristic of something perfectly natural (availability which influences price, growth requirements which influence availability, etc.). This can result in over-use of some foods that we should be treating as more of luxury ites, from both a financial and nutritional viewpoint.
            Sourcing your food locally, choosing seasonally available produce, and buying naturally made ‘processed’ foods like cheese may not provide the artificial abundance that we see in most grocery stores, but it will help to ensure we’re eating food that’s good for our bodies and good for our world. Thanks again, and happy holidays!

      1. As a person who has done some serious research into the “Organic Food World” (I am a chicken farmer and would not touch the organic label with a 10 foot pole) — I can tell you that buying organic does NOT mean that you are getting GMO free food. GMO is perfectly legal under the organic guidelines as is a certain amount of chemical application and/or steroids, hormones and antibiotics provided it is stopped within a few days of harvest. In fact, farmers are actively encouraged to use all manner of chemical applications on their so-called organic foods.

        If a food is truly organic, it will not be perfect and will actually be smaller and have blemishes. Please do not be fooled by the organic labeling trap. Genetically modified double breasted chickens that mature in 6 weeks are perfectly legal to be labeled organic. Keep in mind this is 6 weeks from egg to your dinner table. As a person who raises all natural animals I can tell you that it should take at least 4 months for a chicken to reach slaughter size and that the whole bird will only weigh in at about 4 pounds, not the 6 – 8 that you see in the local market and the breast will fit nicely in the palm of your hand… not weigh in at 1 pound or more.

        Again, it is a matter of buyer beware. Unless I know the producer, I do not bother with so called organic foods as it is mostly a lie perpetrated by big business to keep you buying their products. In the beginning, the organic market was wonderful, but now most so called organic producers are owned by the big food companies. If you really want to know what is in your food go to a local grower and ask to tour their farm. Any that is worth their salt will willingly show you their operations.

        Just my 2 cents worth.

        1. RowdyRed, I find your comments interesting, if not hard to believe. I have been an organic consumer and researched food issues for several years now, and while I am no expert, I just cannot believe your insistence that GMO’s, steroids, hormones and antibiotics are allowed. Where is your proof??

    1. Hi Jeff. Thanks for your comment. I’m certainly no expert here, but during my research I remember reading that there is still trapping of beavers going on for their furs. Perhaps they harvest castoreum as a by-product of that industry.

      1. thanks for this post. It is hard to imagine how harvesting anal glands from beavers is cheaper than just using actual vanilla. also, how did anyone ever figure out that beavers’ anal glands taste like vanilla? i don’t think i want to know.

  6. I must say that I’m on board with Nick. Honestly, I am not grossed out by the ingredients that you list per se – being European and a big cheese fan, I knew all along about the rennet in cheese making; plus, I have occasionally eaten tripe, so what’s the big deal.
    To me, the criteria that really matter are two: 1) Does the additive pose a direct health hazard (according to really independent, serious scientific studies)? 2) Is the additive produced in an unacceptable way (unacceptable = non humane, non-natural, unfair, polluting, biologically hazardous, etc.)? If the answers are two solid, reliable no’s, then I am not grossed out. Which is not like saying that I’m condoning big food corp practices, only that I’m concerned with targeting the right ones.

    1. Thanks for your comment Stefano. I understand that many people might not be “grossed out” by these ingredients. That said, what I find most alarming is how we really don’t know what is in our food. That is one of the main points I was trying to make with this post. BIG FOOD companies like to pretend they bend over backwards to complete burdensome ingredient and nutrition labels. The truth is these labels are woefully inadequate, and the average person is left guessing at what’s really in their food. Furthermore, even if you read labels, you have to work EXTREMELY hard to dig beyond the label. After contacting several large food companies several times, I’ve still been unable to get a list of what products include the ingredients that I mentioned in this article. That’s what I find is appalling. We live in a world where communicating this information is very easy. BIG FOOD companies are trying their best to obscure it every step of the way.

      Let me know what you think. Thanks for you post and for being part of my blog community!

      1. OK, now I see where you’re getting and yes, I concur: seeing through the smokescreen is really, really hard for consumers since loopholes are always available – and lobbyists are hard at work to keep them open

    2. I’m 100% with Stefano–his two criteria for evaluating ingredients are my top priorities as well. Forthright labeling of ingredients (i.e., understandable terminology) would be nice, but I’m far more concerned with the practices used to raise and manufacture the ingredients in my food.

  7. I was aware of what rennet was used for and where it came from, and also make some cheeses myself using lemon juice or vinegar. I’m not disturbed about naturally occuring rennet, but highly disturbed about artificially manufactured rennet being passed off as the same thing. It is the lack of disclosure that bothers me. Even the beaver anal gland thing, if that is actually natural anymore, should be something I can choose whether or not to consume based on how I feel about it. It is deliberately underhanded to say something is natural in a way that implies that it is also an authentic food ingredient. Poison Ivy is natural, but not good for us and does not belong in food, no matter how it might potentially be altered.

    I’ve been eliminating products with labels for several years now, starting with the ones with the longest and most unspecific (like “flavors”) ingredient lists. I don’t love to cook. But I don’t like being insulted by the food industry who tells me I’m not competent or movtivated or intelligent or talented enough to stay alive without being rescued by them. I think more people should feel insulted. When a marketing campaign suggests that peeling potatoes is just too tedious, they aren’t saying that I am a high powered executive with much more important things to do, because I would not need them to tell me that, nor would I be there to hear it. I would know it and probably employ personal staff to peel potatoes to my specifications. What they are really telling me is that I am lazy, stupid and incompetent, can’t be bothered to look after my own basic needs. They count on my ego to make all the justifications and hope they can count on it all the way to the bank.

    Please tell me somebody else read and understood Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, because it looks to me like most of the world is admiring the fine weave of industrial food…

  8. So glad to have found your blog, Bruce. I’m a nutritionist (my clients call me Food Coach) working to optimize health, reduce symptoms, and balance out both weight and blood sugar. One of the first things I teach is to avoid processed foods. I grew up in the 50’s on a farm – when they were all pretty much organic. Today’s food choices – wellllll, no wonder people are sick and fat!

    It will be so interesting to get the nitty-gritty details from you on this blog about just why I’m such a purist about food choices! Thank you so much for putting this information out there!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Susan. I’m glad you found my blog as well! Although I can’t claim to be a purist about food, I know I’m on a journey in the right direction. It’s very hard to break years and years of processed food habits, but I’m doing it and making great progress!

      Please feel free to spread the word about my blog. Thanks again for being part of my online community!

  9. No offense, but reading through this blog I’ve come to the conclusion you aren’t an “Industry Insider” and you don’t really know that much about food. Rennet is one of those natural products used for eons as other posters have pointed out. If you are concerned about eating bugs, you should definitely give up on eating natural and organic foods because you’ll be eating more bug and bug fragments than you ever would from the small amounts of carmine used. Which is a pinky or magenta red, not “ruby.” L cysteine is a molecule derived from hair, feathers or synthesized. It’s a naturally occuring amino acid so it’s in meat and grains and stuff, too.. The funny thing about molecules is that they are the same no matter where they came from. And no, manufacturing companies DON’T know exactly what is in their flavors, unless its an allergen or something they have to be aware of for some reason like vegetarian or not. And as a real food industry insider, marketing people are responsible for half the strange, unatural ingredients in processed foods (You can’t use “real foods” I won’t get my margins!) Stefano has it right, if it does no harm, what’s the big deal?

    1. Thanks for your comment Ella. Well, we are all entitled to our own opinions. I am a I5+ year veteran of BIG processed food companies and worked as a marketer. Also, I think you missed one of the main points of this blog. I have no problem if rennet, cysteine, carmine, or any of the above ingredients are used in food. I just want to know it and I don’t want it buried under an innocuous title “natural flavors.” Plain and simple, it shouldn’t be so hard to find out what is really in your food.

      Thanks again for your comment. All points of view are always welcome.

  10. I found your blog via Slow Food. I have served on the PCC Board of directors( a northwest foor cooperative commited to thier members and supplying organic, safe food to their customers) and they are my primary grocery store. Kudo to you for walking away from a 15 year carear to create consonance in your professionsal and personal life. Your courage is appreciated. The hope is that with your model, more people will realize that their employer is instrumental in our nations health problems . . . . Namaste.

  11. So, other than the first one, and the fact that we don’t know where the ingrediants come from, are they harmful? I use Rennet to make my own cheese.

      1. Ok … gosh what is the point of the blog then? Give us some sound research identifying the “bad” ingredients and methods used in Big food production. Or are you under some sort of gag-order from your former employers?

        1. I think he already stated that he didn’t want these things blindly labeled under “natural flavors”. Also it would be helpful if they used terms that you could understand, or even terms you could find in a dictionary (I’ve bought a book that is a special dictionary for food ingredient or additives).

  12. I have to admit after reading this post I felt a little misled, like maybe a scare tactic title was used just to grab my attention. In truth, all of these items truly are natural. Yes, the food industry does disguise how they list them because we Americans are childishly squeamish about animal body parts and insects. If you do much traveling, however, you’ll find these on menus in many countries (okay, maybe not the hair and feathers, which is gross).

    This reminds me of my handcrafted soap making years ago. Laws (at that time, anyway) didn’t require soap and cosmetics to list itemized ingredients. Most soapmakers knew people would have an uneducated fit if they saw lye listed as an ingredient. Yet lye is a natural product and necessary to create the action of saponifying the fats and oils – this is how soap has been made since the beginning of ages. No lye, no soap. To accommodate people’s paranoias, soap makers often listed their ingredients as “saponified coconut oil, olive oil and palm oil” and did not list lye.

    We have to be careful not to immediately jump into hysterias before considering all the facts. We must form our opinions only after thoroughly researching all sides of the issue, which means more than just reading the internet.

    As for me, I will always choose the rennet made from cow’s stomach before the lab-produced, unnatural form. That goes for all my food, soap and other products, all of which I’m very, very picky about.

  13. Just discovered your blog through the “I’m Not Laughing Either” post. I really appreciated your comments about respecting the living, feeling beings who are sacrificed to feed humans, although I’m a vegetarian and cannot justify the killing of any animal for human food when so many excellent alternatives are available. I truly cannot “stomach” the thought of eating the flesh of a fellow animal.

    Through this post I discovered your “Trick or Treat” post. I read all labels, and as much additional information as I can, but your blog was a real eye-opener for me to new dangers. It will accompany me on all future food shopping trips. Thank you, and keep up the good work!

  14. It is amazing that bugs and animals have made products that we can use in our food. In fact it is great because then it is natural. What is more natural than a bug. I would rather have my colour from a but than a bunch of chemicals that someone put together. And really you can’t make cheese without rennet.

  15. Rennet from a calf’s stomach has traditionally been used to make cheese, especially before vegetable rennet was available. It is nothing new. While I don’t eat veal, I do use animal rennet in some of my cheeses when I make them, and I imagine the stomachs of the calves that are slaughtered for veal (which many people obviously eat or it wouldn’t be available) come from the same calves. Using animal rennet for cheese-making is not new; it is millenia old.

    1. why does everybody repeat this cow rennet thing? HE JUST WANTS IT LISTED CLEARLY. He’s using the shock factor to show that a company will not tell you, and that may open your eyes to the OTHER THINGS THEY ARE NOT TELLING YOU.
      Frustrating repetition.

      1. I believe people keep bringing up the rennet thing because so many of us use and prefer traditional rennet, so when someone uses it to gain shock value, it seems alittle off putting. I would like it listed clearly as well, because I don’t want to consume labratory produced GMO rennet. I love and respect all animals and recognize the sacrifice that goes into getting true rennet, which can also come from goat or sheep stomach. I see the author’s point here, but what we really need to be looking at is GMOs and CAFOs. That is where the true deception and deplorable behavior is taking place. I do see though that for some poeple you have to start with bugs and guts to lead into pesticides and and toxins that only increase people’s reliance on still more chemicals.

        1. True. True. I would have rather heard about the GMOs and CAFOs. THey aren’t as entertaining because we can’t identify or put a picture to what happens in a lab but they are definitely more disgusting. At least with the natural products making false claims you can avoid them, eat an apple instead. With the GMOs and irradiated foods you don’t always have the choice to not buy them if your grocery store doesn’t sell everything organic. I had never heard of CAFOs so i googled them(and GMOs) and found lots of interesting info as well as a a little 10min clip about stuff they’ve been putting in the food. From 1997 to 2002 there had been a doubling of the peanut allergy and a 265% increase in the rate of hospitalizations related to food allergic reactions. It seems a little distracting to be commenting on the skim the surface facts about false advertizing about the nutritional content and the natural ingredients when there is a HUGE emergency here in the areas you mentioned. Bruce has moved the discussion about food to an area that doesn’t matter and i think an area where you feel you don’t need to get involved….which is bad. These companies are hurting people and he should have led into that discussion with this article after proving they were deceitful.

          1. Thanks for your comment Alana. I would like to point out, however, that you are making a big assumption. You assume all people are motivated by just the topic of GMOs and CAFOs. While GMOs and CAFOs are critically important topics, they are not motivating to everybody. What appalls some people, may not appall others. Believe it or not, some people are appalled by the fact that bugs are in their food, and they don’t know it. The same is true of rennet. Despite its use for millennia, the majority of Americans don’t know what it is, how it’s used, and can’t find it on an ingredients label. A good friend of mine is a 20 year vegetarian and resident of WI (cheese capital of the USA). She recently learned about rennet and was furious. There are many people out there that react similarly, and all I’m fighting for is transparency so that we can all know what is truly in our food. This is an enormous fight of HUGE importance to a GREAT number of people.

            Please know I will also continue to fight for transparency on CAFOs and GMOs. Other posts in my blog address these very important topics. I just don’t believe it is effective to make every post about them.

            I am VERY open to suggested topics for future blog posts. PLEASE feel free to email me ideas or submit them here in my comments. If I fail to cover the idea, it most likely is because I don’t believe I have the expertise in that particular area.

            Thanks again for your comment. I sincerely appreciate your passion and the debate!

  16. OK, so far, I can still have my watermelon and pumpkin pie! : )
    Hi, the only blog I run is for my rescued felines and my standard poodle ICE gets in there too. I have been carefully reading their labels for food and making sure all their toys are home made or from the USA. In our blog world there has been many going on diets so now wait till they read your blog….the pawrents will also join in with their kitties………
    My oldest son started the search because he noticed his beloved green tea mix tasted weird. Now we have 4 cans on green tea mix with natural lemon flavor no one wants to drink. Their improvement was adding the lemon….IMPROVEMENT, it taste awful!!!! Guess I will be making sun tea again as I did when my kids were growing up.
    Also, how can you be a vegetarian without this knowledge!!! Thanks, Holly

  17. I have to read food labels since my son is diagnosed with celiac disease and both my children are allergic to cassein. Plus I follow an organic-kosher diet for religious reasons…finding your blog was a mizvot and will enable me to add another set of lenses to my label reading glasses.

    Scary stuff out there. Blech!

  18. I also believe in total transparency in food labeling. Many foods are now grown in areas were pesticide laws don’t exist. We end up with foods that have pesticides which are illegal in this country. I have a strong reaction to “Excitotoxins” and I want them banned from foods. Or at least a warning on the label. Most people don’t know that it is excitotoxins in the food that is causing the addictive property’s. Or that excitotoxins are causing so many health problems, Migraines, night terrors, panic attacks, depression, ADD, hyper-activity disorder, asthma, irritable bowel disorder. etc. Look up excitotoxins online educate yourself. Scott

  19. BRUCE! I am more than glad i found your blog! I am doing a research project on the health effects, regulation, and ‘hush’ attitude of our government concerning endocrine disrupting chemical (See; GMO / pesticides etc).. Besides this amazing blog of yours, could i ask of any information or your honest opinion regarding endocrine disruptors?

  20. I just wanted to add my comments to people who’ve already mentioned that rennet IS the traditional way to make cheese. It’s been used for thousands of years. It may sound icky, but it’s a traditional food. Cochineal also has a very long history – in fact, for a while it was replaced with artificial colours, but concerns about them saw a switch back to the beetle.

  21. Bruce, I found your blog via Derek on Cast Iron’s site, while searching for the perfect Crockpot Bison Pot Roast recipe. I found the recipe and so much more once I reached your blog. Thank you for the education. I too would like to see some clarity from the food industry in regards to their labeling of food products. That being said, I personally have no problem with the use of most of the ingredients listed above, as people the world over eat such things.

    However, as an animal lover and one that is cognizant of the sacrifice of these animals for our benefit, I believe they should be treated as humanely as possible. For those that are also concerned about this issue, aside from links you provide in your blogs, such as the ones in “Do You Trust Where Your Meat Comes From” people can also look for the “American Humane Certified” label on products they purchase.

    For more information about this certification program and what the label looks like, here is a link:

    Thanks and great addition to the Macbeth poem!

  22. I wonder how the lack of comprehensible labelling is even possible. We Europeans are sort of hinted that everything is better in teh America, land of limitless possibilities… The European (I’m not absolutely sure it’s used all over Europe but I’ve met it in many countries) system of E numbers is a bit misleading on the first look but at least anyone can look up that E XXX is cochineal while E YYY is wheat flour used as thickener.
    I’m having regular arguments with my mom. She’s obsessed with my weight and she has rather bad sight so she often happens to buy some fake thing because it said low fat on the front/top. I whine that I’m totally not eating some low-fat low-everything substitute for sour cream made of vegetable fat. Mom whines back that someone should do something about this because the labels are on the back of the package, oh the horror, so that one can’t see them from two steps afar. And that the letters are too small and that people are too busy to read them. I’ll pass the article to her – she at least has the possibility to stop, take out her reading glasses and a list of E numbers to find that this or that actually does contain cochineal or the eternal favourite for making cold cuts, hooves and snouts, not just natural flavourings and cow-derived materials.

    I know a few people intolerant to one thing or another. They simply remember that E idontknowhowmany stands for wheat flour and whatever contains it is better to avoid. ‘Natural thickener’ wouldn’t cut it. Europe can be overregulated both nationally and in the whole EU but there are good points about it sometimes. It doesn’t answer the question why, say, yoghurt needs to be thickened, it’s a derivate of sour milk, after all, but at least one can find out.

    1. Hi, Tess. Thanks for your comment. So what do I eat? That’s a pretty broad question, but I’ll do my best to answer it.

      I try my best to minimize / eliminate processed foods from my diet. What that turns out looking like for me is eating lots of vegetables, making many different types of legumes (black beans, kidney beans, lentils, etc.), and occasionally eating some meat. On the beverage front I drink lots of water, some organic iced or hot tea, and a rare glass of juice.

      If you’re looking to make changes to your diet, I’d suggest not trying to do it all at once. Pick an area of your diet to change, get used to it, and then tackle a new area. So perhaps at first you try to drink better by eliminating sodas from your diet for a couple months. After you’ve succeeded at that, you move on to changing how you snack, and then adding more vegetables and whole grains into your diet, etc. Small changes over time make a huge difference, and they aren’t nearly as overwhelming and trying to “fix” it all at once.

      Hope that helps, and thanks again for your comment and reading my blog!

      1. THat’s what i did. It’s the journey not a destination was a neat title i saw on a health food site. First thing me and my partner did was cut out fast food. We only ate out places where the food could not be passed through a drive through window.

        If you get to the point where you want to attempt a cleanse this will teach you loads about practicing self restraint. I’ve learned that when i’m hungry i want a burger. I haven’t eaten a burger in at least 5 years. Then i think about all the other things that are yummy and good for me. In truth when i imagine actually eating it, i want the healthier food just as much, but instinct leads you to crave the worst. I don’t actually buy that hamburger because i know that it would hurt my guts…because after you haven’t eaten shit it actually makes you feel horrible. The only way you are able to eat the way you do is because your stomach has created a barrier (made of mucus) between you and the crap food you eat. This is to protect you but it also limits the nutrients you can absorb. I learned this through various books i read about health and detoxifying diets. So this is only one thing you learn by eating differently for a weekend or a month or many months. Just keep telling yourself that the cleanse is only temporary and it will accomplish so much. It shows you how good the simple things are. Too much choice is what we have, and it’s killing us.

  23. After reading your comments on rennet I have a question. As a kid I remember eating JUNKET RENNET CUSTARD (and there are still rennet puddings available). Are you saying that these pudding mixes contained cow stomachs as well? Not grossed out, particularly, but curious. Thank you.

    1. Yes, junket desserts are made with rennet. Although I’m not sure of the exact type of rennet used in these desserts, it’s most likely derived from cow’s stomach or a GMO version of cow’s rennet.

      Thx for reading my blog. Hope to see you back on here posting comments and questions.

  24. After stumbling on your most helpful blog, i got curious as to what is in my favorite Sara lee bread. It listed that they use dough conditioners. Proudly they give you their phone number to contact them (yay!) long story short, they took my info and I am waiting to hear back from them. Guess i know what that means. Thank you for putting this information out there.

    1. Thanks, Mari. Glad you are enjoying my blog. By no means do all dough conditioners use cysteine derived from hair or feathers. I’m not sure in the case of Sara Lee, so feel free to post what you hear back from them to help others.

      Thanks again for visiting my blog. I hope to see you on here commenting and asking questions again.


      1. So, Sara Lee called me about the dough conditioners. The first lady i talked to said the ingredients listed after the words dough conditioners would be it. But I think she may have been annoyed with me and passed me on to her supervisor. Then even after that she had to do more research on the matter. She called back, pretty much I had to ask her if they used hair or duck feathers…she really had no sense of humor. So, she made it clear that it is FDA approved, but yes they do, but never the human hair, strictly duck. Well I sure hope this helps! thanks

  25. Do all “natural” raspberry and vanilla flavors use beaver anal gland secretions? So gross. Is there a way to tell which products use it and which don’t? Thanks for providing this valuable public service!

    1. Thanks, Dmom, for visiting my blog. Yes, natural flavorings can have castoreum in them. Since castoreum comes from natural sources (beaver anal glands), it qualifies as a natural flavoring. There is no easy easy to tell if products use castoreum as a flavoring. Even if you call a manufacturer, they most likely will refuse to share this information with you, claiming that flavoring formulas are trade secrets of the flavor houses they buy the flavorings from. This is just an excuse, but it still prevents us from knowing what’s really in our food. One way to rule out if castoreum is in a product is if the product is labeled vegetarian or vegan. Unfortunately this won’t work with product lines that include other animal products, such as ice cream or yogurt.

      Thanks again for checking out my blog and for your question. Hope to see you back!

      Bruce Bradley

  26. I have read about everything here but the rennet before. I am a vegetarian and it irritates me that food companies can get away with putting “natural flavors” on their label! Some companies will say if it’s from animal or plan sources, but not all do. I believe as consumers we have a right to know what we are eating. Is there a way to contact the FDA and voice a complaint? Talking to each other and spreading the word is fine, but how can we tell the people in charge that we find this unacceptable?

  27. As horrible as those ingredients may sound, they are probably not the worst of it! How about trans fats, preservatives and GMOs?

    1. Yes, this post was designed to bring awareness to some of the more gross things in your food, not necessarily dangerous. Regardless of the ingredient (gross, GMO, trans fats, preservatives, et al), they all point to the same conclusion: big food companies don’t want us to know what’s truly in our food.

      thanks for your comment.


  28. I don’t like that you use the work “Gross” to describe certain foods. In other countries bugs are a delicacy or sold from street vendors. Just because Americans are squeamish about certain types of food doesn’t make them “Gross”. That is rude and insulting to other cultures and food traditions. Also if you are a vegetarian and eat cheese then you should already know about rennet. It’s not some big secret. Vegetarians who eat cheese and eggs and fish are not truly vegetarian are they?

  29. It’s getting harder every day to find normal, real food at the food store. I call it the Grossery store now, because it’s nausiating to walk in the store and know it is full of chemicals and disgusting things that aren’t food. But I have to say, beavers anal glands? How did anyone ever come up with the idea of tasting what comes out of a beaver’s butt? There’s a story there that I don’t want to know. Suffice it to say that major food companies seem to be the least qualified places on earth to get your food from. It’s insane.

  30. Love this post! Thanks for pointing out that there are plenty of ingredients that are not required to be listed on ingredient labels, such as ingredients obtained from a different company. I’d like to add that preservatives and anti-oxidants are sprayed into packaging without being listed in the ingredients…but they still affect people, especially kids. We avoid dyes, flavorings, and preservatives due to the behavioral reactions that these petroleum based things cause for our child. I write about it, and collect guest blogger stories and kid interviews about going from a processed diet to a smarter way of eating, at my blog “Die, Food Dye!”. I will share this article on my Facebook fan page and on Twitter @DieFoodDye. THANKS again. Happy Halloween.

  31. Found you through Die, Food Dye! What interesting information, thank you! And I agree with some other commenters that I probably don’t mind the ingredients themselves. I’m much rather my daughter have beaver anus than vanillin, which causes behavioral reactions, much like the fake petrol-based colorants do. Ditto to the beetle juice versus Red 40.
    But I also agree with you that the labeling is unclear. I only recently discovered that “autolyzed yeast extract” contains MSG. Not that I necessarily have a problem with MSG, in moderation, but it’s harder to limit when you don’t know where it’s hiding!

  32. Hey Bruce….about that beaver anal cavity gland Human flavor maker..I just bought raspberry icecream ….in the garbage it goes

  33. I just read through all of the comments above and have to admit that I am a bit surprised at some among them. First, to those who objected to this blogger’s sensational way of presenting information I must say; are you joking? Here is the point in a nut shell: it should be reasonable to assume that when you give your child a nice cool treat of Vanilla Ice cream on that hot summer day that it ought to be just that; Vanilla flavored frozen cream perhaps with some sugar thrown in. Conversely it would be unreasonable to presume that instead of using Extract of Vanilla bean as a flavoring, that a manufacturer might instead substitute extract of BEAVER ASS! Come on, that has got to be the most “unnatural” natural flavoring out there, and certainly one of the more egregious abuses of the blind trust wrongly and inexplicably given the food industry; which is the LARGER point that this blogger is trying to get across. Don’t worry if you don’t get it the first time I will repeat it.

    How could you sit there and quibble over the way this information is presented when you ought to be fuming over the way you (we) have been duped into believing that these two things are even remotely the same? Upton Sinclair is rolling in his grave as the food industry continues to do do exactly what it damn well pleases regardless of what we may want or need. The irony here is indeed rich; we are no more than just livestock to them, only we are paying them for our slop where the actual livestock has no choice. Now shut up and eat your Soylent Green or rather is it Pink Slime!

    As to the objections to the mention of Rennet as an ingredient in cheese, I have seen all manner of reaction above from people who object to it’s inclusion on the list at all to those who had no idea whatsoever of it’s crucial role in the traditional and modern cheese making process and are subsequently appalled. Granted while I am a proponent of a healthy amount of “Caveat emptor” when it comes to consumerism, especially as it it pertains to food; however as with most things there is an interconnectedness when it comes to the ignorance of consumers, the relationship they have with their purchases and thereby with the manufacturers of these goods. It is all well and good to lament the childhood obesity epidemic etc. but what it all comes down to here is education. We are all here on this site because we are rightly concerned with what we are feeding ourselves and our children but if we were to really make educating ourselves and our children about the foods we consumed a priority in our school systems rather than just paying lip service to this idea we would make great strides in getting the obesity, diabetes, heart disease etc. issues under control. In addition we would be a lot less likely to be duped by the subterfuged (if it’s not a word it ought to be) efforts of the food industry combined with the status quo complacency of the political machine. In short I am not surprised in the least to find that most people do not realize what it takes to make cheese (even vegetarians…snicker) but am more alarmed by exactly the higher level point of this article which is that way too many of us are ignorant in these matters of our own food sources and that the food industry realizes and prefers it that way. So it’s the old chicken and the egg dilemma; is the problem of our ignorance by practice or design? Trick question really…it’s both.

    Lastly to the person “offended” by the characterization of eating bugs as gross: Grow Up! Anytime anyone calls anything gross it is a subjective opinion with which you of course have every right to disagree. But please, please, please save us the feigned injury to you and your culture–this was merely an opinion and trust me your culture is resilient enough to withstand such a remark without you coming to it’s aid. It seems offense to one’s culture has become the last bastion catch-all of the “poor me” PC society and it’s repetition is as tedious and unnecessary as starting every damn sentence with “I think…”. (Though in many cases I find myself wondering if they really do.)

    His whole point which you apparently missed was that nothing should be more transparent than the ingredients contained in the food that you put in your mouth, but instead ingredients such as bugs and much worse are regularly concealed and misrepresented and that should concern everyone equally.

    Keep up the good work B.B.

  34. Man its crazy how they could but stuff like that in our food and if you don’t mind I would like a complete list of what they put in our food if there is more by email please

  35. I found it absolutely horrific to know that this is all that goes into that processed food. So, really all these companies make false claims and without us knowing put all this rubbish in our food. Just makes me think of what extent people are going to just to make mammoth profits. Disgusting! These candid revelations that you wrote helped me to realize what REALLY goes into our food. We need more people like you. Thank you.

  36. A friend just sent this to me. Amazing, I just turned vegan in January, this helps me to never go back to anything mass apple anyone?

  37. Some of the ingredients in your list (rennet, for example) have been ingredients in food for thousands of years. (How else do you intend on eating cheese, anyway?)

    Furthermore, I trust big food much more than I trust small food. Big food exists under strict regulation and safety guidelines. You are complaining about how a food company need not report exactly what pre-approved and safety tested ingredients they use, when restaurants will hardly even tell you what is in their meals.
    And farmer’s markets and such? Forget about it. I’d rather not eat veggies that were fertilized with manure, never sprayed to prevent pests and insects, and not genetically modified to prevent plant diseases and fungus infusions. Oh, and by the way. I have never seen any information on what those guys are selling. They’ll just put veggies in their bins and everybody comes along and buys, nodding their heads like sheep, then go on to complain about how big food never discloses enough information. Yes, yes. Nod, nod. I would much rather trust some random person conducting cash only sales out of a booth than a multinational corporation that cooperates fully with the government Food and Drug Admistration.

    Having experience in a background of chemical engineering, I find your fear-mongering arguments to be based in willful ignorance, and furthermore I cannot think anything but poorly of those who wish to decry science and progress because they do not understand it.

    And no, Upton Sinclair is not “rolling in his grave”. In America, our food sources are stringently regulated, kept clean and sanitary, and regularly checked and inspected. For the number of people served on a daily basis, the numbers of people getting sick from food poisoning, cholera, food-borne diseases, and so on is at an ALL TIME LOW. Our food is safer and better than ever before.

    Finally, i ask “So what if the anal gland of a beaver can be and is used to extract a vanilla flavor?” Myself, I think that’s pretty cool. I don’t really care for the sensationalist emotional outcry that this appeals to. Tastes like vanilla, smells like vanilla, is as safe to eat as vanilla. What more do you want?

    Gold star, kiddos.

  38. So the vendor is trusted by the FDA, hence the food manufacturer has no responsibility for safety of the overall product. How did our food become so controlled by the GMA manufacturers?
    Economically, our world has succumbed to cheap and inferior food with the help of processed food manufacturers. Unfortunately we fell for the chance to save time in our busy lives. Our priorities supported a growing trend to eat more processed foods, hence supporting big business in main ingredients like sugar, salt, artificial flavours, and likely plenty of pp million glyphosate and whatever other chemicals to add to the cocktail.
    I made a decision 4 years ago to buy a food processor to make my own food and drinks. I have a rule for buying processed foods: no added fats nor sugars and that is completely doable. It is a challenge and a rewarding one for health and taste. I basically leaned to cook adding nuts, seeds, herbs, berries, dried foods like barberries, dates, figs and goji berries and more with no added oils/sugars to fresh produce. Believe it or not it gets eaten completely without waste by 3 people. That was my challenge.
    I made another decision 4 years ago, to pay the price for more nutrient rich foods: non gmo, grass fed beef and milk and if corn is used, then organic like fowl and likely fish in the near future and all by products. I cannot imagine eating store made baked desserts ever again. That is why I know it is all for addiction and low cost. It is the reason GMA lost 4 billion in 2014 as more and more seek organic foods. People may no longer count in USA and Canada but ticker tapes of foods at the checkout exist to show ‘people’ are rethinking food sources.

  39. I’m sure that if producers wanted to put cow manure in our food they could call it natural — doesn’t mean I want to eat it, or that it should be there. All ingredients should be listed for what they are and not just some umbrella term like “natural”.

  40. Hello! I could hzve sworn I’ve been to your blog before but afteer browsing throug some
    of the articles I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely happy
    I stumbled upon iit and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking back

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Dorris. I’m in the middle of totally redesigning the blog — new design, same great content. Once that’s done this month, I’ll be back to posting new recipes and blog posts on a regular basis.


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