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Archive for September, 2010

  • Day 220: Struggle for the Sugary Soul of Heinz Ketchup

    Date: 2010.09.30 | Category: Uncategorized | Response: 0

    Like ketchup?  Me, too.   I threw out my bottle of Heinz when I first began this blog but someone snuck a new one in the house without me realizing it. Here’s the latest on a sweet dispute…

    Heinz caught in debate over high fructose corn syrup vs. sugar

    By Teresa F. Lindeman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
    Stacy Innerst/Post-Gazette
    Management at the H.J. Heinz Co., the nation’s leading ketchup manufacturer, has taken a pro-choice approach to the anything but sweet battle being waged over the use of cane or beet sugar in food products vs. high fructose corn syrup.

    Heinz earlier this year introduced a version of its ketchup made with sugar, a product named Simply Heinz. Yet the Pittsburgh food company kept the controversial sweetener in its flagship ketchup, which has legions of fans and outsells the nation’s other brands.

    The strategy would seem designed to make everyone happy but, rather like being a middle-of-the-road candidate in a polarized election year, it hasn’t appeased the populace.

    “I love the taste of Heinz!” wrote Andrea Rega on Facebook in August. “It is by far the best tasting ketchup, but because you opt to use High Fructose Corn Syrup rather than natural ingredients I will no longer put it on my table.”

    Hey, what about the Simply Heinz option, or even the organic version of Heinz ketchup that’s been available for several years?

    Mike Connelly addressed that point in his contribution to the online conversation: “It makes no sense to use HFCS and then make a ‘special’ version without. Hunts doesn’t use it. Just make the standard version without it already.”

    Yet Steven Stewart wrote that he was alarmed at rumors that the company might phase out the current recipe in favor of the Simply Heinz version, which he disliked. Intensely.

    In the food industry, salty issues sure seem simpler these days than sweet ones.

    Numerous companies, including Heinz, have been steadily reducing sodium content in their products. There seems to be general agreement that too much salt is bad for people’s health. As long as a food maker is careful not to mess up the taste in changing its recipe, what’s to complain about?

    The sweetener issue is less settled.

    There’s still plenty of debate on whether sugar made from cane or beets is better for consumers than high fructose corn syrup. The Center for Science in the Public Interest won’t pick between the two.

    “Sugar and high fructose corn syrup are nutritionally the same,” said the group’s Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson, in a statement earlier this month. “So soft drinks and other products sweetened with sugar are every bit as conducive to weight gain as products sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.

    “The bottom line is that people should consume less of all added sugars.”

    But the cane/beet sugar side seems to be winning the public relations battle.

    Mr. Jacobson’s comment came in response to a petition by The Corn Refiners Association in September to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asking that manufacturers get the option of listing “corn sugar” instead of high fructose corn syrup on their labels. The FDA’s decision could take awhile.

    Awareness of high fructose corn syrup — long a low-key presence in small type on labels — is on the rise. In 2004, 40 percent of Americans were concerned the ingredient might pose a health hazard, according to research firm NPD Group. In 2010, that number had risen to 53 percent.

    “There’s that notion, ‘if I understand the ingredients,’ ” then it must be better, said Marilyn Raymond, who works on new product development as an executive vice president at GfK Strategic Innovation in Ann Arbor, Mich.

    She wondered if the increasing number of manufacturers announcing moves away from HFCS in some products is being driven by concern over consumer perceptions or by actual sales results.

    For now, it appears several food manufacturers are taking a similar approach to the one that Heinz has chosen. Change some products but not others, and then analyze the response.

    Just last week, PepsiCo announced its Sierra Mist lemon-lime soda would become Sierra Mist Natural. The company said the move came in response to consumer demand for products made with natural ingredients.

    “New Sierra Mist has been stripped of everything artificial and is naturally sweetened with real sugar so that the crisp, clean taste of lemon-lime shines through,” said Kristina Mangelsdorf, vice president of natural and flavored sodas, in a release.

    PepsiCo has noted in earnings reports that it has had success with “Throwback” versions of Pepsi and Mountain Dew “made with real sugar.”

    Yet the Purchase, N.Y., company still has plenty of products that use high fructose corn syrup, including the flagship Pepsi.

    In August, Sara Lee Corp. announced changes to its two most popular breads that would take out the high fructose corn syrup and replace it with sugar.

    That company, too, cited consumer demand.

    “Sara Lee Soft & Smooth breads are among the best selling breads in the United States and our core audience, parents with children, has indicated that they want product options without high fructose corn syrup,” said Jeff Dryfhout, director of Sara Lee North American Fresh Bakery, in the official announcement.

    At about the same time that Heinz was introducing its Simply Heinz ketchup earlier this year, Conagra Foods pulled all of the high fructose corn syrup out of its Hunt’s ketchup products “in direct response to consumer demand.”

    It’s hard to tease out yet whether the changes have had an impact on ketchup sales. In the 52 weeks ended Aug. 8, unit sales of Heinz ketchup rose 2.37 percent, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm.

    By comparison, sales in the second-place private label ketchup category were up 1.46 percent and the main Hunt’s ketchup, in third place, rose 3.06 percent.

    Those results include sales from supermarkets, drugstores and mass market retailers. They do not include Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, or club stores and convenience stores.

    Hunt’s still trails Heinz significantly, but some of the third-place contender’s gains might have been driven by the ingredient change, said Ms. Raymond.

    A Heinz spokeswoman said the Pittsburgh company believes offering choices is the right decision. There are consumers looking for ketchup without high fructose corn syrup, said Jessica Jackson, Heinz senior manager, public relations. “We also have consumers that love Heinz Ketchup just the way it is, and would prefer we don’t change America’s favorite ketchup.”

    She said the company’s solution to meeting different consumer demands is “lifestyles lines of ketchup,” which includes Simply Heinz and Organic ketchup, in addition to No Salt Added Ketchup, Hot & Spicy Ketchup and Reduced Sugar Ketchup.

    No doubt, Heinz will continue to watch developments closely. In July, the company posted a query on its Facebook page asking customers how they liked Simply Heinz. The post received hundreds of responses.

    “We take consumer feedback seriously and are always looking for new and innovative ways to meet their changing needs,” said Ms. Jackson.

    It may take consumers awhile to figure out what they want.

    New data from Chicago research firm Mintel this week found 64 percent of consumers think high fructose corn syrup is fine in moderation but 46 percent don’t know enough about the ingredient to tell if it’s something to be concerned about.

    Meanwhile, the survey puts a number on the group that may be driving some of those changes by manufacturers: 35 percent of those who responded to the Mintel survey said they avoid any product that contains the sweetener.

    Read more here…

  • Day 218: No Candy Weekend in the Camargue

    Date: 2010.09.28 | Category: Uncategorized | Response: 0

    The Camargue is only a three-hour drive from Nice but it’s another world – perfect for a 48-hour vacation.  It’s one of the least French places in France, a vast, triangular delta where the Rhone river meets the Mediterranean.

    The Camargue is known for its semi-wild white horses, who’ve been in this region since prehistoric times, pink flamingos – and bulls.

    We saw the white horses right after we drove off the main highway south of Arles and entered this slice of flat, wide-open France-meets-Big Sky Montana world.  The 1971 cult movie, Friends, was shot here.  Pink flamingos appeared on the watery marshes and black bulls lounged in pastures.

    Best were the mini Ponderosa-style ranches that dotted the horizon.  We stayed at one (below) where we woke up to the white horses and French cowboys called gardiens who work with them and herd the bulls.  Calling Hoss and Little Joe!   Except these gardiens were about a foot shorter and very compact.

    I slept like a baby on the little ranch.

    All the ranches are inland.  The seaside village of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is at the end of the highway that cuts down from Arles to the sea.  We walked along the seafront promenade overlooking the same Mediterranean I see every day in Nice – but it seemed wilder, more like the high Atlantic seas off Biarritz.

    Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer also reminded me of Plum Island, Massachusetts and the coastal towns of southern Maine.  So it was jarring to hear the people walking near us speaking, of course, in French. I kept looking around for saltwater taffy and fudge shops but there weren’t any.

    Vincent Van Gogh painted Street in Saintes- Maries here and Tori Amos wrote a song called “Marys of the Sea.”

    The town’s name refers to the three Marys who were said to have been the first witnesses to Jesus’ empty tomb – Magdalene, Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe.  According to French legend, they sailed from Egypt in the 12th century and landed here.  Their relics are in nearby churches.

    Gypsies also come here every May to worship one of the Black Madonnas that are enshrined all over Europe.  The Black Madonna here is part of the cult of St. Sara, the patron saint of the Roma.  Sara is believed to be the dark-skinned servant who accompanied the three Marys to France.

    We went on an amazing three-hour safari on a Jeep into the heart of the Camargue.  I would have preferred to go out on horses but galloping is not recommended a couple weeks after an appendectomy.

    Our fabulously eccentric guide, Alan Jacob, a Frenchman who flew seaplanes in the US, travels to Iran once a month, speaks six languages including Farsi and Arabic, and who, I told him, must have worked for a spy service, made me glad we chose the SUV tour.

    Oh, and Alan said the Mary Magdalene legend was cooked up by locals in the 19th century to encourage tourism.   He doesn’t believe the parallel tale that she was actually Jesus’ wife, either. Qui sait?

    Alan is not a croyante, or believer, as they say in French.  But he did take us to see one of the bigger versions of the  Camargue cross, which consists of three emblems – an anchor, a cross and a heart – representing the fishermen and farmers of the region.

    We had lunch Sunday inside the stone fortress (in the Petite Camargue) that makes up the town of Aigues-Mortes, literally “dead waters,” which dates back to the 10th century. Louis IX of France rebuilt the port in the 12th century as an impregnable fort and it was a launch point for the two of the Crusades.

    And then it was back to what passes for the real world for me: Nice.  The highway is always the most dangerous place for me because every now and then you have to stop at the big, American-style gas stations/fast food restaurants.  It’s the only place in France where you see shelves of candy bars and displays of ice cream bars.  And when I’m on the road, I love eating candy.

    Not this time.  Not this year.

  • Day 214: I Slipped. I Fell.

    Date: 2010.09.24 | Category: Uncategorized | Response: 8

    Did it have to happen?   No, but it did.  After I had an appendectomy on Sept. 7, I went home a few days later feeling great.  Keyhole surgery is a wonderful thing – except it can fool you from realizing you just had major surgery!

    I have a lot of energy which makes it hard to rest, plus I already had one friend in house with another  expected in a couple days and two more within a week.  So I dove right back into life.  Then on Sunday night Sept. 12, I felt a cramp on my right side.  It really hurt – and I started thinking, what if it stays like that?

    I got worried about my health even though I hate being the weakling invalid with friends around who are here for fun and holiday.    So I decided to force myself to rest at home and just eat comfort foods.

    Comfort foods?  What’s the first thing that came to mind?  Rice pudding.  Not even a particular favorite of mine, but it began boring a hole in my brain.  Rice pudding.  That’s the ticket.  It will help this stomach cramp.

    I know!  If you’re going to slip during a year off candy then why not with a big slab of Swiss milk chocolate, or profiteroles, or even bake a gigantic tray of my ultra-favorite, chocolate chip cookies?

    Yes, but you have to go with the cunning and baffling logic of addiction.

    When I went down to the nearest epicerie, I went right over to the familiar tubs and containers of rice pudding.  The most popular type in France is called Riz au lait nature. That word “nature” was key to my decision to buy some rice pudding.  Even though it has sugar added to it, the word nature over here means even more than “natural” in English.  It can imply (to my appendectomy-addled brain that is) that it’s sort of like plain yogurt.

    Except it isn’t.   Yogurt isn’t a dessert to me ( and this is my addiction and my blog after all.)  I’ve written before that I’ve eaten sweetened yogurt during this Year Without Candy but I don’t eat it very much.  I don’t crave it, I don’t think about it and I don’t need to have one every day.

    Enter rice pudding.  I bought my first container about a week ago.  I’ve had it every single day since.  I ate what I intend to be my last rice pudding last night as I confess all here.

    But it was a humbling experience.  I have an old friend with many years in AA who calls falling off the wagon doing “field research.”   You go out and realize that you do have a little problem after all.

    Interesting since my slip (which I wasn’t thinking at first was a real slip,) came just before one of my friends went to the Jeff de Bruges chocolate shop here in Nice and dropped 50 euros on mouthwatering chocolate.  I enjoyed being in the chocolate shop with him.  I didn’t feel tempted to break my chocolate fast.

    But I found myself fantasizing: When I’m done with this year off candy, I’m going to be one of those moderate people who have some incredible, high-end chocolate once a week or so.  I’ll be like my friends who go weeks without ice cream or candies and can keep fantastic chocolates and other wonderful sweet treats in a kitchen cabinet and just bring them out for special events… Yes, I’m really quite sure that my days of gobbling Swedish fish and Snickers bars are far behind me.

    Not so fast.  Once I ate the first rice pudding, I noticed a pattern.  It was as if I opened up a hole in my armor and addictive feelings whizzed through it. As soon as I finished the rice pudding, I thought about buying another so there’d always be one in the refrigerator.

    During my seven months off sweets, I haven’t craved them that much.  I even noticed that at times I didn’t want to have cereal (even muesli) in the morning almost because it seemed too sweet to me and I felt myself moving toward more savory foods.

    Don’t fool yourself!  Once a sweets addict , probably always a sweets addict!

    I didn’t feel physically different after eating the rice pudding but it began to dwell on me that it was a slip when I began to focus on it and go back to the store everyday.

    Then I began to feel bummed that I’d fallen off the wagon, because I knew I had.  Even if it seems like in a small way.

    I know I did because I started bargaining with myself the way I always did when I was on candy and sweets.  I’ll just buy one more rice pudding today and that’ll be it, I said to myself. That’ll be the last one and I’ll start fresh tomorrow.

    I can’t tell you how many Last Suppers of candy I had, usually on a Sunday night. It’s a bittersweet symphony this life…

    And I hate that!  I hate the bargaining in my head. I like it when the Decision is Removed.  When all I have to do is say No.  The minute I say Maybe, all bets are off. If I keep saying maybe to rice pudding, then we move to chocolate and vanilla pudding next week, then bars of chocolate, then Haribo Polka candies and then I’ll be fully back at the Candy Races.

    I feel better adhering to life without candy.  Self-discipline = self-love.

    I ate rice pudding last night.  I am not eating today or the rest of my Year Without Candy.

    If I slip again, I’ll tell you.  But believe me, pigs will fly before I consume rice pudding before Feb. 28, 2011.

    Pray for me,

  • Day 199: The Sweet Side of Appendicitis!

    Date: 2010.09.10 | Category: Uncategorized | Response: 5

    Possible #1 reason to move to France?  Their national health care system.

    Possible #1 reason to move to the south of France?  Well, if you get a killer stomachache that turns out to be appendicitis, you might land in a hospital room with a terrace and a view as good or better as any Four Seasons hotel in the world!

    Exhibit A above:  The view of Nice, Mont Boron and the Mediterranean from my recent nest of three days.

    After a tough night Monday in a full house (Lisa had just arrived from Maui via Cambridge where she dropped her daughter off for her freshman year at M.I.T.), that included dialing the SOS medecins (doctors who make house calls) at 2 a.m., we dialed the paramedics at 10 a.m.

    The SOS medecins thought it was only la colite, colitis.  Lisa, however, one among my army of girlfriends who is an expert on most everything with the conviction to match, was not convinced.  She was replete with tales of close friends snatched from the jaws of death because their appendicitises were not diagnosed correctly at first.

    Lisa (below) stopped marching around issuing dire warnings when we finally called the ambulance. I had to negotiate, though, while doubled-over in pain, not to be taken to the dreaded LA County-type hospital where ER patients are supposed to be taken.  I knew where I wanted to go.

    The top-rated Clinique St. George is high on the hill overlooking Nice, past the Chagall and Matisse museums and the ancient Roman ruins at Cimiez.  The doctor who came in to examine me was more Dr. McDreamy than any of the actors on Grey’s Anatomy – and funny to boot.

    They diagnosed appendicitis within 30 minutes and I was operated on that evening. The upside of bad stomach pain is that you don’t mind being wheeled into a Robin Cook Coma style bloc operatoire with a bunch of French-speaking strangers, at least one of which is going to cut open your abdomen while you are unconscious and helpless. You just want the pain to stop. Give me a bottle of Jim Beam, a bullet to bite and take a kitchen knife to it.

    I made a few lame witticisms about Grey’s Anatomy (obsessed much?) to the (also incredibly handsome) anesthesiologist who seemed practiced in the art of humoring prone, blue shower-cap wearing, possibly soon-to-be-gangrene-filled jokesters.  The next thing I knew I was waking up in the recovery room.

    The surgeon performed laparoscopic surgery, which involves going through your navel with a tiny video camera.  No scars, hardly any stitches. When he came to see me the next morning, Dr. Pascal Fabiani said my appendix, though it hadn’t yet ruptured, was particularly “sévère, brutale et aggressif.” And filled with gangrene.

    Since I’d never spent even one night in a hospital, the three I spent at St. George might spoil me forever.  Which is not to say that the food was good. Glorious French cuisine does not extend to hospitals.  I was fed a tasteless broth and sugar-free (!) applesauce and two cardboard biscottes for almost every meal. One dinner included a beige hockey puck labeled hilariously as veal.

    I was starving throughout and fantasized about food, especially all the food mentioned in the fantastic book, The Bookseller of Kabul, that I read during my hospital stay.

    One passage mentioned a feast of “pots with rice, large hunks of mutton, aubergine in yogurt sauce, noodles stuffed with spinach and garlic and potatoes with paprika sauce.”  I thought of the delicious Afghan restaurant on 9th Avenue in New York near my apartment and wished I could teleport there.

    I was only jonesing for candy a little when Andrew (left, bearing gift) showed up with, oh no, a bag from one of Nice’s best chocolatiers, Lac Chocolatier. Who remembers a silly vow of a year after you’ve just had major surgery? Well, me for one.

    And I could have easily gobbled those delicious chocolates, which remained just inches from my bed for all three days, if it weren’t for the fact that they might make me slip forever…

    The sweetest thing about having appendicitis in France?   The bill. (And yes we do pay into the system for it but still, compared to the U.S…)

    Total cost: $2060.18

    Amount I had to pay after insurance?  $160.33


    Feeling a little lighter if slightly sore…

    Gratefully yours,

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This American candy addict/journalist in France writes about quitting candy – and all desserts – for at least one year beginning Feb. 28, 2010. Follow my progress – or relapses – as I delete candy corn, moelleux au chocolat, peppermint patties, Carambars, tarte tatin, After Eights, crème brûlée, Nutella, tapioca pudding, mint chocolate chip ice cream, Haribo Polkas, M & Ms and more from my life. Learn about the evils of white sugar and its effects on mood and health from my interviews with experts and friends! Let the sugar fog lift!

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