Last week I opened a bag of potato crisps that read: “We know the origins of all our ingredients”. As some crisps had already disappeared down my throat, this made me suddenly aware of the situation. I realized that I was taking my daily building blocks, but knew nothing about them except for the price that I had paid in the store.
Why is it of my interest that “they” know what is currently sitting in my stomach? The short answer to this question: faith. The sentence “We know the origins of all our ingredients” implies that I should have greater trust in some distant company, than in my own tongue or brain.
This event reminded me of the kosher cola story: On its path to worldwide success in the 1930s, Coca-cola approached Rabbi Tobias Geffen to see about the soda becoming officially kosher. To do so, Geffen and rabbis needed to know every ingredient, including the famous secret one. No matter how proprietary the knowledge; they needed to know everything that goes into a product in order to certify it. The cola company agreed and the rabbis vowed to not tell anybody on what they learned.
And of course Rabbi Geffen found a flaw: The chemical glycerin is often derived from rendered animal fat, so its source could be nonkosher: a pig or even a cow that was not kosher-slaughtered. Geffen determined that the source does matter up to the level of molecules. No matter how small the amount of chemicals or substances extracted from possible unkosher source; it may not qualify as kosher alltogether.
To produce kosher soda, a glycerine substitute source needed to be found – which the cola company did find in cottonseed oil. Today – instead of corn-based syrup (corn is not allowed during Passover holiday), sucrose substitutes are used as sweetener in kosher cola, which is being sold and marked with yellow caps during Passover.
The main point of this story, however, is that products nowadays are always packaged and coded. The examples show smart marketing sentences, green colors, yellow caps and even words like “Kosher”, “Mecca” or “Natural”.
All this effort supplies us with choice. But do we have the ability to know whether it is truly us making the decision of what will become part of our bodies? The answer is no, because even if we would know the origins of the ingredients ourselves, we wouldn’t be able to sense down to the molecular level. And that’s where faith and trust in the corporations that provide for the foods prevail.