Ever Eat a Pine Tree?

As it goes, “many parts are edible.” Those were words designed to sell Post Grape Nuts cereal years ago. They also catapulted natural diet enthusiast Euell Gibbons to stardom.

Eating a Pine Tree

The deal was however, that Gibbons actually ate parts of the tree or the wild plants and mushrooms where he was foraging and he did it knowingly. He was close to the source. Today, in our processed food environment, many of us have taken to eating trees or tree by-products without knowing it or considering the implications.

In a controversial post this month over at Food Freedom, Miriam has taken the time to educate us and give us a list of popular processed food items that contain…trees. It appears that cellulose, a tree byproduct, is being added to many food items from tacos to maple flavored syrup in order to make the items have more volume and more “fiber” – non digestible fiber.

According to Miriam, “cellulose is virgin wood pulp that has been processed and manufactured to different lengths for functionality, though use of it and its variant forms (cellulose gum, powdered cellulose, microcrystalline cellulose, etc.) is deemed safe for human consumption, according to the FDA, which regulates most food industry products.  The government agency sets no limit on the amount of cellulose that can be used in food products meant for human consumption.”  The USDA regulates meat however, and has set a threshold of 3 to 5% cellulose, because it isn’t recognized nutritionally.

What to do with this information? Don’t eat the stuff. Get close to your food source and by that, I mean choose to eat fresh vegetables, fruits and whatever grains your diet tolerates. The engineering of consumable products by food companies is far greater than we can imagine. If you are going to buy a convenience food, learn to read labels. Kimberly Lord Stewart, a food writer and friend, has an excellent book Eating Between the Lines where she offers detailed information about the actual meaning of different food labels and terms.

I read Michael Pollan’s article Unhappy Meals in the New York Times. It suggests that once we began deconstructing our food and engineering it back together with substances such as wood pulp corresponds to when we saw an increase in obesity and other health issues. It merits research as intuitively, it doesn’t take much for me to connect those dots. If I don’t know what I’m eating, I can easily be eating the wrong stuff.

So, this morning instead of brewing up a pine cone stew, I headed down to our local farmer’s market for this lovely local find:

Local Market Fare

Blogging about food frustration makes me feel better but my spending will send a message. So will yours.

What convenience food can you stop buying that will send a message?

Saturday Night Pasta
Feeds my 5 with no leftovers
Ingredients:

12 oz. pasta
2 Tbs olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 bunch kale, chopped, stems removed
1 tsp crushed red chiles
4 very thin slices of cured, smoked pork loin, chopped (optional)
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
Salt to taste

Bring salted water to boil. Add pasta. For our dinner, I used a local red pepper pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the skillet and add the olive oil. Saute the garlic for about two minutes and then add the kale. Keep tossing over heat until the kale is wilted. If using meat, add it now. (the cured pork loin that I am using for half our servings is already fully cooked.) Add crushed red chiles and 2 Tbs of pasta water to the pan. Drain pasta and toss with the kale mixture. Add crumbled feta and serve hot.

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58 Comments

  1. It’s amazing what manufacturers use as “food additives” ~ including sawdust.

    Your pasta sounds great.

    We eat “basic” food most of the time ~ with a focus on fresh veggies, fruits, beans, and grains. Tonight, we had baked potatoes, steamed carrots, fresh sliced peaches, and bread. Peaches are in season and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. 😀

    Thanks, Tammy.

    Reply
    • Yes, I agree. It’s shocking. I hadn’t thought of cellulose as sawdust but you’re exactly right. Mmmm. Your dinner sounds wonderful.

      Reply
  2. Thank you, Tammy, for getting the word out. Each of your posts helps me to make better choices and eat what I was meant to eat. . .not sawdust. ! Love the recipe too! 🙂

    Reply
    • it’s important for us to get the word out about this stuff. No one thinks to ask questions like, “is there sawdust in this here maple flavored syrup?”

      Reply
  3. I am gobsmacked!

    Reply
  4. as a materials scientist, i really should have made the connection between the “cellulose” on a food label and “trees”. thank you for making that connection… i’ll ‘bark’ about it to friends and family…

    Reply
  5. Brooke Thorpe

     /  July 17, 2011

    The first thing that came to my mind when thinking about the misuse of sawdust is the book ‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl. Matilda’s father, Mr. Wormwood, owns a dodgy car dealership where he mixes sawdust with oil to prevent the gearbox from ratting. Perhaps what’s most distubring is that the use of cellulose in food products isn’t just another off-color idea of Roald Dahl’s, and that some of this junk is probably sitting in our pantry right now.

    Reply
    • I know! Some of the things that I take for “healthy” like Morningstar products are on the list. Done with those now. And my kids LOVE Roald Dahl but I don’t think we’ve read Matilda.

      Reply
      • Brooke Thorpe

         /  July 17, 2011

        Put it on your list! Matilda is a whiz kid with parents who don’t recognize her genius–they are more interested in watching soap operas and eating TV dinners than anything else. It’s a great story.

        Reply
  6. Great point. The only way to assure the purity of the food we eat today is to cook from individual ingredients where we can identify the source. Thanks for the recipe, too. It looks delicious!

    By the way, my parents knew Euell Gibbons when they lived in PA before I was born. My father picked up a lot of gardening tips from him, and my mother passed along some knowledge on wild edibles that he had taught her.

    Reply
    • How cool is that! What a legacy. Perhaps it had an influence on the way you eat and think today.

      Reply
  7. Lisa H

     /  July 17, 2011

    OK, I am one to read labels for the food-stuff I put in my mouth; however, I had no idea about the sawdust! Basically, if I can’t decipher the ingredients, I don’t buy it. I try to stay away from “filler” because it could mean anything…and now you’ve proven it does mean ANYTHING!!! Thanks for the great post and I will certainly pass on this information.

    Reply
  8. Thanks Lisa. Over at Food Freedom it’s causing a huge stir as many readers are thankful for the extra fiber. If that is their choice, then that is fine but I prefer to choose my fiber.

    Reply
  9. Sally Mom

     /  July 17, 2011

    Great post, Tammy.
    Years ago when buying a “good” brand of dog food, I noticed cellulose in the content of ingredients.
    After investigating, I found it was like sawdust. I have watched dogs chew on sticks before, but tree products in dog food and human food? I think I will stick to pine nuts!
    Thanks Tammy. Always good thoughts to ponder!

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading Sally. We might as well give them sticks if that’s what we want but your point about pet food is a good one. I haven’t checked that out yet.

      Reply
  10. WOW…another ‘ingredient’ to look for in packaging and make sure I avoid! I find as I get older, I am buying less and less prepackaged items and making things myself out of fresh ingredients. However, it simply stuns me that the FDA is allowing things like this in food products. Where will it end??

    Reply
    • It isn’t known to cause problems. I simply see it as eating something that I don’t want to eat and a certain amount of greed since they’re trying to make their products go further.

      Reply
  11. Laura Silverman

     /  July 17, 2011

    Are you looking for a Mark Bittman (rather than Bittner) article? I love Mark Bittman and have made his watermelon and tomato salad twice so far this week.

    Reply
    • Yes, I think you’re right although I’m still searching and haven’t found it.

      Reply
  12. Loved this, Tammy 🙂
    I remember my grandmother making pine needle syrup when I was a child. Thanks for the reminder, I’ll have to make some myself.

    Reply
  13. Great post Tammy. Farmers markets are great. I did not make it to mine this week; but will next. I was out of town while they were open. They are truly nice. Not sure about eating Pine Trees though..

    Reply
    • Yes, ours was abundant and such a fun time out for the whole family. I believe your neck of the woods has some of the pre-eminent markets.

      Reply
  14. Tammy, thank goodness you are writing about this. I have become more and more saddened over the years as I’ve discovered the invisible ways that food processing has been harming us.

    I eat almost all fresh food and am largely a vegetarian. I keep processed food at a minimum – maple syrup, yogurt and mango tofu. 😀

    Reply
  15. Totally agree – vitally important to read labels. The best is to buy food that doesn’t have a label. I’ve been noticing some backsliding on my part lately. And noticing an uptick in not feeling great. Coincidence? Oh, I so don’t think so! Thanks for your constant encouragement and the great recipes!

    Reply
    • You’re welcome Diane. Thanks for reading. It is true, if we keep a food journal, we can tell what makes us feel good.

      Reply
  16. After reading this, I’m gonna go on reading all those package in my pantry 🙂

    Reply
  17. Whoa, that is one heckuva list over at Food Freedom (and a great post/site)
    I didn’t really know what cellulose is…until today. creepy and disgusting. even added to “cheeses” small wonder the country is obese.
    I’m happy to say that I didn’t find anything that we typically eat on the list–but I had better look over my cereal boxes carefully.

    thanks for getting this good information out there, Tammy!

    Reply
  18. Kathy Nolte

     /  July 18, 2011

    Wow – thanks for the info Tammy – who knew!!??

    Reply
  19. The more I learn about processed food the less tolerant I become about what I am putting in my body and my family members’ bodies. Thank you Tammy for helping to open my eyes and to be more careful about what I open my mouth for.

    Reply
  20. Jane Ward

     /  July 18, 2011

    Great post. Learning about bread additives years ago was one factor that led me to baking my own.

    Reply
  21. I wonder if we eat trees here in Denmark too?!!! Anyway – there is only one way from here – buy fresh food and prepare this in our own kitchen.

    Reply
  22. Tammy – wonderfully informative, as usual. I always enjoy reading your posts and the casual and friendly tempo you set with your words. It’s almost like I was invited to that table with your family (don’t pretend you didn’t notice me eying that bottle of wine!).

    I have read somewhere about that celluulose additive as a food-filler, and it’s lack of fiber, but didn’t realize the pervasity of it. Always best to eat fresh.

    That pasta recipe looks deilghtful.

    Reply
    • You’d always be welcome at my table Bradley! And you’d get something fresh and local!

      Reply
  23. Your lable reading advice is really key if you are not using something made from scratch. There is so much “greenwashing” going on now! I am baking a lot of my own bread now–surprisingly fast and delicious.

    Reply
    • That’s what Jane said too and I must admit, I’m intrigued. I’ll have to give it a try.

      Reply
  24. Thanks for educating us on some of the stuff they put in food these days. Gosh! The world is darn crazy. However, I have tried pine needle tea. It did taste very pine-y. I only tried it once. 🙂

    Reply
    • Estrella said that her grandmother used to make it and that she has a recipe. It sounds a lot like Rosemary tea so I’d love to try it.

      Reply
  25. Since Terry has been diagnosed with celia’s I have become very food aware. You have taught me even more.

    Thanks,
    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

    Reply
    • You’re welcome. Thanks for reading Linda. I’m guessing that you are following a gluten free diet. I’ve found that it’s easier these days to at least identify gluten-free items.

      Reply
  26. I remember that 1974 Euell Gibbons Grape Nuts ad! It didn’t make me want to eat Grape Nuts, but it did inspire me to try eating many different parts of plants. My boyhood curiosity was really piqued, and I still experiment with roots, stems, leaves, flowers and more today. Proud to play with my food!

    Cellulose isn’t all bad; it is one component of dietary fiber. The problem with the use of cellulose in these processed foods isn’t that it is cellulose, it’s that it is simply being used as a cheap filler to replace something that the manufacturer finds more expensive and that we consumers might find more nutritious. Value for money and nutritional value are rarely reasons to buy processed foods though. Yet another reason to avoid processed foods altogether! Eat fresh, organic, locally-grown, in-season, plant-based foods and people are likely to find great flavors, a better-supported local economy, and value and nutrition reflected in lower healthcare costs over time.

    Reply
    • I agree with your assessment of cellulose. This issue is that it is being used as a filler for real food and I have an issue with the fact that many people don’t know that but I do know that some people don’t want to know it. If the cost of a taco at Taco Bell (where I believe the focus on cellulose really started) was the real cost of a real taco with real ingredients, then they’d be no where as popular. But then people wouldn’t eat as much so we’d be spending more on a smaller quantity of real food. Your mantra of what to eat is exactly in line with my thinking.

      Reply
  27. I wouldn’t be surprised if trees were sold as the new super food soon because they’re so high in fiber. 😀 Crazy crazy crazy food industry! 😯 I’m all for “back to the roots” and making everything myself. I usually buy fresh vegetables and fruit, plain pieces of meat and fish, free-range eggs, organic butter, cream, almonds, brown rice, legumes, herbs and spices. With these things, I make everything myself. I don’t eat bread or processed meats or dairy products apart from the ones mentioned above, and the only processed things you’ll find in my kitchen are a few condiments like tamari (wheat-free soy sauce), miso, mustard, and balsamic vinegar. Occasionally, I eat sweets, and I like a glass of wine. I feel so much better now, and I never want to go back. The little more effort is very much worth it, and I enjoy simple eating a lot.

    Reply
    • That’s great Kath. I’m curious about whether or not you keep a food journal and how you know you were feeling better. Was it just an overall sense or incremental improvement over time?

      Reply
  28. Kaela

     /  July 21, 2011

    Its Kaela! I don’t want to eat trees. There are few as it is, without us eating them. I read a book about a girl that had to survive in an arena with lots of pine trees, but not a lot of food. She chewed pine wood to get extra fiber and energy. (The book is “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins)

    Reply
  29. Thank you for the excellent info and stunning photo’s, Tammy! I LOVE that first one 😀

    Reply

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