Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hamburger Helper?

Among the awesome abilities humans do not possess (along with night vision, flight, camouflage skin, and underwater breathing) is the inability to produce uricase, an enzyme which breaks down uric acid. This might not bother you much until you wake in the middle of the night in agony because your big toe is on fire. It’s not actually on fire, per se; it’s the buildup of uric acid crystals in your joint — otherwise known as gout, “king of diseases and the disease of kings.” Tyrannosaurus Rex , the king of dinosaurs, couldn’t fight off gout either, but they had terrifying fearsomeness and 12-inch long replaceable teeth to make up for it.

Actually, it’s the teeth that get T. Rex and the great apes into trouble with gout in the first place; a diet rich in meat, seafood and wine is usually responsible for causing it — traditionally foods only kings (and other people at the top of the social food chain) could eat with any regularity. In antiquity, it was noted with interest that young boys, older women and eunuchs avoided it, leading to the idea that gout was also aggravated by venery.

To recap: in order to avoid excruciating pain, don’t eat meat, drink wine, or have sex.

Naturally, you would assume that infants and young children were also immune because they tend not to eat steaks, get drunk and have sex, but today that is not so. There are two additives commonly found in popular foods which are deemed not safe for consumption by youngsters (or asthmatics) because they cause gout: disodium guanylate (E627) and disodium inosinate (E631). Together with monosodium glutamate, they provide the “fifth flavor,” umami, in things like chips and instant noodles.

One of the products they are found in is generally marketed to women cooking for families which include young children: Hamburger Helper.

Hamburger Helper was introduced in 1971 as a way to produce an instant meal — all you need to do is add browned ground beef, milk and water to the contents of a flavoring packet. Making ground beef flavorsome can be pretty easy; just cook with herbs, spices, and perhaps some tomatoes — but this is not very profitable. There are 44 ingredients in a typical Hamburger Helper flavor packet, most of which are highly processed chemicals whose relationship to whole foods is as humans are, say, from the dinosaurs.

The lady demonstrating various ways to shape plain ground beef in 1969’s Ground Meat Cook Book is clearly the target customer General Mills had in mind: someone for whom meat was easier to handle if it resembled Play-Doh. Ground meat is cheaper than whole cuts, and therefore encourages larger portions. What Hamburger Helper really helps you do is consume more meat. To her, it must have seemed a godsend. Little did she know it wasn’t a gift from above, but one from below, where your extremities are tormented with acids and fire for a long time before you perish from a massive coronary — the Everyman of  diseases, and the disease of Everyman.

Ground Meat Cookbook, Better Homes and Gardens, 1969

Also from this book: Top-Notch Turkey LoafCooties EspecialHam StrataMeaty Surprise!Peppy-Sauced MeatloafTangiers HashKing-Sized Balls

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