We began the work of shutting down the Tenneco project, putting the equipment in mothballs, turning our little research lab back into the storeroom it had once been. Although I was still disappointed about the outcome of my first employment, I was eager to carry on and continue my work with another company. After all, I knew that this was an exciting and important area of research in biochemistry, and that several corporations were working on similar projects. Moreover, I still believed in the value of what I was doing and had faith in the goal of finding a simple solution to world hunger. So, with the help of Dr. Hill, I began looking for another job.
We contacted several corporations, and I was given expense-paid trips to visit their facilities and talk to the people involved in the various projects. The first invitation I got was to tour the American Oil Company research facilities in Whiting, Indiana. The people involved in the company's attempts to produce yeast from paraffin seemed knowledgeable enough, and I noticed that they were using some very sophisticated instruments and equipment. But much of the inaction taking place led me to believe that I was looking at another example of corporate window-dressing for public-relations purposes. They were also highly secretive, and didn't want to let on too much about what they were doing — or not doing. I turned them down; I didn't want to get stuck in another situation where a lot of hard work would go to waste. Ironically, AMOCO eventually did build a commercial-scale plant to produce yeast. The product was sold as a flavoring for processed foods, rather than as a nutritional supplement.
I found a similarly disappointing situation when I visited the Gulf research laboratories in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Their process was similar to AMOCO's, but was on an even smaller scale. They had only two or three researchers actually working on the project, but it seemed that they were spending most of their time justifying their budget to stay in existence. I didn't observe any active research going on at all. The researchers had published reports on their findings in scientific journals, but these again seemed to be self-preservation techniques. The reports, like most coming out of industry pursuits, didn't contain much important information and dwelt on areas already well known by workers in the field. This kept the company's name before the public while not blowing the company's shroud of secrecy, and it gave the researchers something concrete to show their bosses. So I kept looking.
I was next in contact with General Electric, which also was involved in a similar protein project in Arizona. The basic raw materials they were working with were cow manure and offal waste, along with wastes from packing plants and other industries. But, once again, the project had its shortcomings; the real emphasis GE was giving to the project was not to find a cheap protein source, but to find good uses for electric motors in the process. They had found a lot of uses for electric motors, but that seemed to be all they had accomplished.
Finally I got in contact with Dr. Wayne Graham, head of exploratory research at , Quaker Oats Company, who impressed me as being a very sincere and devoted person who wanted to help bring better nutrition to the people of the Third World. He was behind Quaker's whole-grain cereal production in South America, and had done a tremendous amount of work in the area. Now he was about to retire, but he still wanted to see Quaker's protein research projects carried forward. He had hired a protégé, Dr. Walter Clark, to supervise the projects in this area. Quaker had the money and the facilities necessary for this work, and they had very capable people in their various departments to lend support. Since I had the background and specific information from the Tenneco project, they thought that I would fit in very well. I was hired, and went to work at the company's research facilities in Barrington, Illinois in March of 1970.
The Quaker Oats research laboratory is a large, awe-inspiring brick building, and I was immediately impressed by its elegance. It was built in stages during the 1950s and 1960s, and from the stylish landscaping on the outside, through the marble-lined foyer and hallways, to the shining ultramodern equipment in the laboratories themselves, the place breathed class. Quaker never spared any expense in getting the best people or the most up-to-date equipment, and the opulence of their facilities was impressive. An example of this is the separate facilities they had for testing pet foods in the 1970s. The building is a huge southern-style mansion, complete with columns. The air-conditioned kennels and laboratories cost millions, and I'm sure no ghetto child ever enjoyed accommodations as plush as the ones the dogs at Quaker have. I couldn't imagine spending that kind of money to test dog food, but of course a lot of it was for public relations effect, to show animal lovers that, far from abusing the test animals, the dogs and cats were being luxuriously pampered.
As impressive as Quaker's research laboratory is, it is hardly unusual in the food industry. General Foods spends more than $100 million on new-product research every year. According to Robert Carbonnell, vice-president of Standard Brands, "Research has become responsible for corporate growth." 1 I was soon to learn the questionable nature of all that research.
The first part of my job at Quaker was to draw up specifications for the equipment I would need to continue the work I had started at Tenneco. With the orders for the equipment placed, there would be a lapse of time before the materials arrived and could be set up, so the company put me to work at various odd jobs to fill the gap.
The first of these tasks was inspecting pizza. Quaker had just acquired the Celeste Rzza Company in Chicago, and they put me to work checking for salmonella in the pizzas. I began to find salmonella infestations in about one out of every two pizzas I checked. So I went with the inspection team into the shiny new plant where the pizzas were being made and gave the facilities a complete check. We tested the doorknobs, the sewer drains, the refrigeration units, the conveyors, the shredders, the meat grinders, and every other surface and piece of equipment. After going through everything, we could not find the source of the contaminant. To our surprise, the source of the salmonella was the pork — USDA inspected, Grade A pork.
We checked our supplier, and found that many samples of pork we checked had some degree of salmonella. We went to a supermarket, and discovered that about 30% of the samples there were infected. By this time I was beginning to have serious doubts about our salmonella detection program. If all of this pork had salmonella in it, why wasn't there an enormous epidemic of food poisoning? The USDA was claiming that this was the most serious health risk in the food industry, yet salmonella seemed to be ubiquitous and almost harmless. The fact is that salmonella is virtually inherent to meats like pork, lamb and chicken, and there's just no effective way to remove it.
Due to the ways we cook these meats, salmonella presents no real danger to a healthy person. But the USDA has decided that our food must be nearly sterile, so they put out a barrage of hype about the dangers of salmonella infection. In order to solve its problem, Quaker ended up having to buy whole fresh hams, wash them in a chemical preservative solution and then grind them up into sausage, adding substantially to both the cost of production and to the price of a Celeste Pizza. The USDA salmonella scare is basically a game; it keeps a lot of people employed running tests and publishing reports, but it doesn't make much difference.
But there are instances of gross contamination that do matter, and often they go completely unnoticed.
While I was at Quaker in the 1970s, they decided to come out with a new breakfast cereal they were going to call King Vitamin (despite the healthy-sounding name, the stuff was mostly sugar and fat.) They had encouraging results from their test marketing in the Midwest, so they tooled up three of their plants to begin production on a national scale. They produced King Vitamin at an incredible rate, and shipped the cereal by rail from the three factories to one major warehouse.
It happened that one of the railroads sent a freshly-painted boxcar to one of the cereal factories. When the workers at the plant opened the boxcar, the fumes were so strong that they brought in blower fans for ventilation and went right ahead and loaded the King Vitamin into the boxcar. The cereal went to the warehouse and was mixed with all the rest of the stockpiled cereal that had been produced over the last three months. When the time for the big roll-out came, and Quaker had spent two million dollars in advertising, promotions and shelf-space pay-off, a trickle of complaints came in from customers who wondered how Quaker could call this stinking, inedible stuff 'food'!
The company checked its supply and, sure enough, that wasn't the way it was supposed to taste at all! Quaker's analytical laboratory, perhaps the most sophisticated privately owned lab in the world, began the huge task of tracing every supplier of every ingredient and every process that went into making King Vitamin and shipping it to the warehouse. After a massive search, somebody found the shipping receipt that stated that one boxcar had been freshly painted. Because there was no way of telling which boxes of cereal were contaminated and which weren't, Quaker had to recall them all from the shelves and dispose of them. All in all, the company lost around $5 million on this one little mistake. But regardless of the magnitude of the problem, the news of the contamination never made the papers; if I didn't have a friend working in the analytical laboratory, I would never have found out about it myself, even though I worked just one floor below the analytical departmerit.
Quaker did take action to make sure this kind of food would not be made again; they added one line to their voluminous rule book for employees, admonishing them not to load cereal into freshly painted boxcars.
When I thought about this affair, a question began to bother me. How in the world could a company afford to lose $5 million in one year on one product without blinking an eye? It seemed to me that a company making that kind of mistake even sporadically would suffer a big crimp in its ability to stay in business. But later I found two reasons why a multimillion-dollar loss was no big problem to the Quaker people. First, the loss could be made up by raising the prices on the myriad other products they market, a few cents increase on every one; the cereals cost so little to make because the boxes contain so little grain; and their competition was making mistakes equal or worse in magnitude. It is a sad example of how entrenched the major Food Giants are in our economy that they can afford to make this kind of costly mistake and still rake in enormous profits. But the really sad thing is that if the contamination had been less noticeable than the smell of paint, nobody, from Quaker to the consumer to the mighty USDA itself, would ever have discovered it.
Even if Quaker had known about the contaminants beforehand, one would have good reason to question whether they would have done anything about it. Quaker has information that some of their breakfast cereals are harmful even without adulteration; their own studies prove it!
While I was doing research on my project in Quaker's library, I came across a little flyer that the company had published in 1942. It contained a report on a study in which four sets of rats were given special diets. One group received plain whole-wheat kernels, water, vitamins and minerals. Another group received Puffed Wheat, water, and the same nutrient solution. A third set was given water and white sugar, and a fourth given nothing but water and the chemical nutrients. The rats which received the whole wheat lived more than a year on the diet. The rats who got nothing but water and vitamins lived for about eight weeks, and the animals on a white sugar and water diet lived for a month. But Quaker's own laboratory study showed that rats given vitamins, water and all the Puffed Wheat they wanted died in two weeks. It wasn't a matter of the rats dying of malnutrition; results like these suggested that there was something actually toxic about the Puffed Wheat itself. Proteins are very similar to certain toxins in molecular structure, and the puffing process of putting the grain under 1500 pounds-per-square-inch of pressure, and then releasing it, may produce chemical changes which turn a nutritious grain into a poisonous substance. And Quaker has known about this toxicity since 1942.
I was shocked, so I showed the report to Dr. Clark, who shared my concern. His predecessor, Dr. Graham, had published the report, and begged the company not to continue producing Puffed Wheat because of its poisonous effect on animals.
Dr. Clark was so upset about finding a report like this in the company's own literature that he went right to the president of the company, Robert D. Stuart III. "I know people should throw it on brides and grooms at weddings," Stuart cracked, "but if they insist on sticking it in their mouth, can I help it? Besides, we made $9 million on the stuff last year." That's a direct quote! I could hardly believe my ears when Dr. Clark told me the president's word, but I was soon informed that the situation was not important, and that I had better keep my nose in my own business and not worry about what was going on in the rest of the company.
Since the publication of the first edition of this book, the Quaker Oats Company hotly denied that this study existed. I have little doubt that the study no longer exists, but I still maintain that I saw it then with my own eyes. Furthermore, published studies confirm that the process of puffing any grain gives the product a negative nutritional value. I have repeated similar tests with white rats, and have found that rats on a diet Puffed Wheat do worse that animals eating nothing at all. Yet despite the fact that Quaker has done its best to discredit me and intimidate members of the media interested in my message, it has yet to demonstrate that its puffed cereals can support life of any kind. To me, making food for another is a sacred duty. Whether you are helping to feed one person or a million, feeding another is a calling. It shouldn't be reduced to the normal parameters of running a business — how can I make an extra buck off this customer. Food companies should treat their customers as if they were their own children and as if they were their god— never offend or do them harm else they will destroy you.
Food companies should treat their customers as if they were their parents. You would never want to do anything that would ever harm your parents in any way— after all, they gave you life — the greatest gift of all.
Quaker doesn't do animal feeding studies on most of its human products anymore, because too often these tests show their "foods" are incapable of sustaining life. This is also why, despite Quaker's lavish facilities for testing pet food, not a single dollar is spent to find out if Quaker products are really good for human beings. Why, they figure, should they waste money on tests that are just going to tell them things they don't want to know? In reality, most of Quaker's research efforts are aimed not at finding new products or improving the old ones, but in cutting the cost of production. In corporate lingo, it's called "product differentiation" and in advertisements they call the product "new and improved." The result is a cheaper, less nutritious product that costs the consumer more.
Every employee in the building was expected to participate in this differentiation process by taking part in taste tests that would take place several times a day. Each employee would be called by name to the testing laboratory several times a week and asked to sample product "A" and compare it to product "B." The first product would be, for instance, a bowl of Cap'n Crunch cereal; the second would be Cap'n Crunch made by a new process that would cut the cost of production by a tenth of a cent per pound. The object was to tell if we could notice any difference between the old product and the cheaper version. If the researchers, executives, secretaries couldn't tell the difference, as was usually the case, the company assumed the public would be fooled as well, and Cap'n Crunch would henceforth be made the cheaper way. In several months, when the researchers had found an even cheaper way to make the cereal, another taste test would be performed, and if the results showed "no discernible difference," a few tenths of a cent more were cut from production costs. This went on and on, with almost every product being altered once or several times a year. Of course, even though the harried testers couldn't notice the difference between "A" and "B," there was always a slight difference; and after the end of several years and many changes, the taste and nutritional value of the new product bore little resemblance to the taste of the original stuff.
This taste-panel activity takes up a lot of the researcher's time and attention. Sometimes I would be called away from my work three or four times a day to taste new foods. But the company absolutely insisted that the employees participate, so one often felt the tests were the only constructive thing one could get accomplished all day! We would even test out the dog food to see if its color and texture were attractive to humans. Computers and analysts would endeavor to make sure that all the tests were objective and accurate, even going as far as making sure a test was not biased by which product was called "A" and which was labeled "B." Yet, for all this concern over taste, not a single study was done to determine how the foods affected the health of humans or even whether they were safe to eat.
An example of this product differentiation and cost cutting in action is the process used for making cereals which are shaped like little O's, crowns, moons and the like. The machine used for making shaped cereals, called an extruder, is huge pump with a die at one end. The ingredients are mixed together into a thikc soup called a slurry. The slurry goes into the extruder, is heated to a very high temperature and pushed through the die at high pressure. A spinning blade slice off each little crown or elephant, which carried on a stream of hot air past nozzle which spray a coating of oil and sugar on each piece, to seal off the cereal from the ravages of milk and give it crunch. This extrusion process, besides creating a sweet crunchy cereal, destroys much of the nutrient content of the ingredients. Even the chemical vitamins, added before the extrusion process, are damaged by it. The amino acid lysine, a crucial amino acid, is especially ravaged by extrusion. Yet the only changes made in the dozens of variables in the extrusion process are those which will cut costs or increase sale regardless of how these changes will alt the nutritive value of the product.
As James Hightower puts it in his book, "Eat Your Heart Out," "It is not that food firms are trying to produce bad food. Rather, they are not trying to produce good food."2 What they are trying to produce is profits, and they have learned that in order to expand their markets, in order to keep growing and commanding a bigger share of the market, they must process and sweeten, process and add salt, process and add color dyes and flavor chemicals. Processed foods are more profitable for a variety of reasons; with much of the food value removed and dozens of preservatives added, processed foods last practically forever. When flavors, colors, texture, indeed when the food itself is synthesized, the corporations are freed from dealing with the cost and bother of real foods like vegetables and fruit. Most importantly, the foods can be designed to hit "consumer hot buttons," industry lingo for the real or imagined needs of the public.
The priority of shelf-life is clearly one of the industry's most vital. It is not at all unusual for the freshness codes on food packages to brag that the product inside will still be in "best" condition almost a year after it arrives in the store. A recent Progressive article reported that food "engineers" at the Campbell Soup Company are working on a process to keep their foods "fresh" for two or three years!3 On the surface this may seem quite an achievement, but on reflection it is clear that these long-lived foods are not really fresh. They have merely been doctored in one or two ways: Either they have been loaded with preservatives, more accurately poisons that ward off the growth of microorganisms, or the nutritive content of the food has been depleted to the point where no microbes could live on it. This would be a shining scientific accomplishment, as the Food Giants insist it is, if it were not for the fact that the microbes are after the same things in the food that your body utilizes when you eat. In fact, many of these microbes resemble those in your digestive tract. If these "bugs" can't live on the stuff, it is a good indication that you will not be getting the proper nutrition from it either. This, of course, does not enter the minds of the executives who order such research and effect such changes in the production of our daily bread.
What matters to them is that they will be able to stockpile when commodity prices are cheap and have their stock last long enough to get them through times of higher prices; that the company can centralize its location and ship processed foods from one spot to all parts of the nation and every corner of the world; and that grocers love a product that lasts a year and turn down foods that have to be disposed of in a couple of days or weeks. It is particularly ironic that so many Food Giants love to brag about their "freshness" in advertisements. They have assumed that, if they can make a bread that stays soft and white for a week on the shelf, that entitles them to proclaim the bread's everlasting freshness. If the Food Giants can put out canned corn that is firm and brightly colored, they may name the brand "Freshlike." The FDA under David Kessler put a stop to many of the abuses of the word fresh and made spaghetti and orange juice companies take the word "fresh" off their products in 1992.
The truth is that 80% of the food in a supermarket is stale. Thank goodness for the fresh foods that they do contain. Sadly, food companies have duped the consumer into believing that if a food has the same color or texture it had when it came out of the oven or off the tree, then it is indeed fresh. But common sense tells us that a food's real freshness depends on how much of its original food value and quality have deteriorated since the time of harvest or baking. Of course, the Food Giants have sidestepped this issue entirely. They remove any food value present.
Naturally, the next logical step from such radical adulteration of the bounty of the earth is to fix things so that you can bypass Mother Nature (and the farmers trying to make a living tending her) entirely. According to the United States General Accounting Office, almost 80% of the additives in foods are cosmetic. 4 Instead of the bright yellow color and tangy-sour taste of lemonade, we get sugar and artificial flavoring; instead of the deep ebony color and rich dark flavor of real chocolate pudding, we get cotton-based synthetics; instead of creamy milk and smooth ice cream in our shakes, we get sodium caseinate and fat solids. An ever-increasing proportion of the food we eat is no longer even food but is now a conglomerate of high-priced chemistry experiments designed to simulate food. There are even chemicals like International Multifood's Merlinex, described by Hightower as "the silly putty of the food world," which takes the place of the real thing in everything from cheese to brownies.5 In the words of Albert Clausi, vice-president at General Foods, "In my business, commodity is sort of a bad word," — commodity meaning fresh, real food! 6
With the twin bugbears of raw materials and product longevity out of the way, the Food Giants are in the position to design their foods, to make exactly what the consumer wants, exactly the way she wants it. The food companies spend millions in surveys and laboratory research to divine the "consumer hot buttons" and millions more in development research to exploit what they perceive to be the needs of the people. Boil-in-bag glop, gravy that comes in a stick, cheese-flavored tort in a hermetically sealed plastic cup, vegetable oil in a spray can, and dozens of other such freakish fares are the end result of the company's concern for your eating habits. Margarine, the ultimate in created foods, is composed of diacetyl, isopropyl and stearyl citrates, sodium benzoate, benzoic or citric acid, diglycerides and monoglycerides, and loaded with trans fats. Trans fats are created during the hydrogenation process. Harvard School of Public Health recently published in a prestigious British medical journal that four servings of white bread, cake or cookies that contain "partially hydrogenated fats" can increase the chances of heart trouble by 67% or, 21/2 pats of margarine can increase the chance of heart trouble by 100%.7 Margarine has been on the market for 81 years. For the first time, it has finally been tested on human beings. People that have heart trouble should sue the margarine companies. The taste may say butter, but the ingredients say junk.
The ability to invent, mass produce and advertise these food monsters allows the Food Giants to obliterate their competition. As they become more able to preserve their products and ship them to every supermarket in the country, and as they continue to diversify their product lines, they are in a position to put smaller farmers and food producers out of business. What local potato chip concern could hope to match Procter and Gamble's huge advertising budget for Pringles? Very few, so the consumer may be more aware of a product shipped from across the country than he is of the same product that's been produced across town for decades. As if the disparity in resources were not enough of a blow to small producers, the Food Giants make it a standard procedure to underprice products they wish to bring into a new area in an attempt to drive the local boys out of business. Of course the price doesn't stay down very long after the competition is out of the way, but the ol' one-two punch of mass promotion and price fixing has won another round for the Food Giant involved. The result? Despite the plethora of brand names that are still on the grocer's shelves, a mere 50 companies control 64% of the nation's $800 billion-a-year food market. The executives of a Food Giant may brag to their stockholders that their ultimate sales goal is to be number one, but their real competition worries have been eliminated. Naturally they can blow $5 million on a lousy tainted cereal; when your sales are in the billions, who cares?
Of course, even a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign is insufficient to convince the consumer that some of the chemical-and sugar-filled glop the Food Giants produce actually tastes like real food! The Food Giants realize this, but they have found an interesting ploy to distract the consumer from the horrible taste and worse nutritional value of their products. When was the last time you saw a cake mix advertised on the basis of its natural taste or wholesome ingredients?
Instead, we are assured that the cake is "super-moist," as though water and fat content were the real hallmark of a good cake. Catsup producers have long given up the hope of convincing you that their brand tastes more like tomatoes than brand "X," but they go all out to sell you on the fact that their catsup takes more time to drip down an inclined plane than the competitor's. Fast-food chains have nearly abandoned using descriptions of their food in advertisements. Now chains like McDonald's and Burger King fill their ads with clowns, puppets, NinjaTurtles, jingles and magic. What they are trying to market is fun, not food.
All of the above are examples of how the Food Giants, having discovered that they can no longer sell the quality of their products, are trying to change the criteria upon which people base their food choices. One would hope that consumers could see right through such ploys. Unfortunately, the Food Giants have discovered to their glee that people can be made to care more about Ronald McDonald than about eating a good meal. Is it any wonder, then, that the consumers have been trained to happily stuff themselves with billions of dollars worth of poison each year?
If the food engineers were ignorant of what they were doing, uneducated in the effects of vitamin-destroying heat and pressure on food or the physical damage caused by megadoses of sugar and chemicals, they might be forgiven, if not excused. But the majority are like Dr. Nesheim, who was then director of new research and vice-president for scientific development at Quaker. He is a robust and healthy individual, and you can tell by looking at him that he puts the principles of good diet to practice in his own life. But I once asked Dr. Nesheim what he thought of the nutritional content of some of the foods Quaker produced. He laughed nervously and asked, "How do you define nutrition?" It is just as hard to make waves in the food industry as anywhere else, and the junk-food mongers are not the only people giving out good jobs and promotions to biochemists. So the people who should know better play along.
One of the more bizarre projects that went on during my term of employment at Quaker will illustrate what the corporation's true priorities are, as well as the great lengths to which the company will go to keep what it considers its really important work "top secret."
This project was going on in the packaging department, and the Pentagon would have been impressed by the security measures that veiled it. No outside employees were allowed in any of the rooms in which the project was taking place, and if you happen to bungle into one of the secret chambers, even by mistake, you could be fired on the spot. When the packaging people went on coffee breaks they were not allowed to fraternize with anyone else in the building. This went on for months, and it wasn't until almost a year after I left Quaker that I found out what the all-important, top secret project actually was. They were trying to put a flip top on cereal boxes! The researchers ran the box through a battery of tests: They jostled the boxes in mechanical jostlers to see how the box would survive shipping; they put the boxes in coolers and ovens to judge the effects of temperature variation; they opened, resealed, opened, resealed, opened and resealed them. It was quite obvious to me that they cared an awful lot more about how the box would perform than how the stuff inside was going to perform in people's bodies.
One of the projects I worked on at Quaker was the development of a soy protein snack bar. The idea was to design a product so that two of these bars would provide a person with all the protein he or she would need for breakfast. After very little work we found that it was easy to make a good tasting, nutritional breakfast bar. After I worked on the bars, they were so filling and satisfying, a person couldn't finish more than one at a meal. This meant that a box of breakfast bars might last a family a week. That would be bad for sales. The project was dropped immediately. It was determined that people would not buy enough of the product to generate the large profit margin Quaker wanted. They wanted a cheap product that would have phenomenal sales.
I call this attitude, which pervades the food industry, the Conspiracy of the Sales Curve: What sells the best determines what will be produced and how it will be marketed. That's true for all industries, of course, but making sales increases the top priority is especially dangerous in the food industry. If a product were to taste, smell or look bad, or if it were especially inconvenient to prepare, people would stop buying it and the company would eventually stop making it. Consequently, these products seldom reach the production stage, much less the grocer's shelves. But if any product were changed to provide a good source of nutrition and was satisfying enough to "stick to your ribs," the sales curve might also show decreased consumption of the product; people just wouldn't have to eat as much of the stuff to be full. This would be judged by the company to be a bad change, and if such a healthful change were to make it into production, it would not last long. An example of this is Kellogg's Concentrate (made in the 1970s), one of the best breakfast cereals Kellogg's or anyone else ever produced. It contained an unusually high proportion of protein and other nutrients and was very filling, which was one of the reasons it sold in such a small box. And precisely because people didn't have to buy as much as, say, Sugar Pops, the product was taken out of production.
Unfortunately, the consumer is playing right into this con game. He's like the guy at the carnival who gets pies thrown at him for a living: He just stands there and takes it. Let's assume a person is used to having one bowl of corn flakes for breakfast. One morning he tries a new cereal, perhaps corn flakes coated with sugar. Because this processed sweetener stimulates his appetite (I explain how this works in Chapter 4), he finds himself eating two or three bowls. "Wow," he tells himself, "this stuff is really good — I can't stop eating it!" While he's actually getting more empty calories and fewer healthful proteins and complex carbohydrates, he thinks that he's found a better breakfast cereal. 'You can't eat just one" is, unfortunately, more than just a sales pitch. It is the watchword for how the Conspiracy of the Sales Curve is starving the American people.
I don't mean to suggest that this is an overt conspiracy or that there are memos floating around the offices of food company executives that read, "Make the stuff less nutritional so it will sell more." In fact, there are probably not many people in the food industry who realize what is happening. The people in the industry think they have the best intentions in the world: to make what the people want to eat. And if the people buy more of a product they've tinkered with, they're gratified; they think, "We've done the American public a favor." Researchers are praised and promoted when they make changes that improve the sales of the product, and with alarming frequency those changes amount to adding sugar, fat and appetite stimulants and processing out fiber and nutrients. It is the most costly form of "planned obsolescence"— it's taking place in your own bloodstream. It's making your body fat and obsolescent.
I don't want you to get the idea that Quaker Oats is the only food manufacturer that is involved in pushing nutritionally worthless foods. As a matter of fact, despite all the shoddy practices I witnessed while at Quaker, I learned that the other breakfast food companies were even worse! At least Quaker was making some attempt, if only a half-hearted one, to produce some nutritional foods like Oat Bran. But the others—Kellogg's, General Mills and the rest — had long ago given up on making anything but fast-selling junk. Quaker's Oat Bran really does help people lower their serum cholesterol. It just isn't the miracle food their promotion department made it seem.
The Quaker Oats Company moved me to the small town of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where a local grain-malting research plant had the right kind of pilot-plant facilities for continuing my work of making a nutritional product from the waste materials resulting from making rolled oats. My distance from the rest of the company allowed me to work where I didn't have to waste my time taste-testing and where I could still nourish the naive hope that my work was leading to better nutrition for the consumer. I continually wrote reports on my work and its possible applications but the company didn't respond. Finally I made an appointment to meet with some of my overseers in Barrington with another one of my detailed reports on making protein concentrate. I walked into the meeting room and handed copies of the report around to the gentlemen gathered there. They didn't even look at my report this time.
"Paul," Dr. Bob Jones began, "we want to get down to brass tacks."
What was he talking about? I thought I always had been down to brass tacks. My research had been innovative and productive, and I had gone out of my way to make my reports informative and free from fluff and hyperbole. But I was refusing to play along, refusing to become another worshipper of the almighty Sales Curve, and as a result the devotees in their executive offices had little use for my research results. I didn't have all of this conceptualized at that point; I just sat there while another man in a pinstriped suit was telling me that my promising project was being cancelled, and that I was out of a job.
'With your attitudes," he said, "I'm sure you'll never work in the food industry again." They blackballed me and I couldn't even get a job interview in the food industry for the next three years.
Although my fellow employees at Quaker felt sorry for me that I had lost my job, they were generally of the opinion that my hopes of getting the industry to produce nutritious foods were "pie in the sky." I was beginning to have some apprehensions also. It was a rather depressing thought that the only way I could make a living in the food business was to develop worthless foods, foods that I couldn't let my children eat. My prospects were appearing gloomier all the time, and, as I drew my last pay in the early autumn of 1972,1 was seriously wondering whether I ought to abandon my dreams of saving the world and join the corporate fold. I had three children at home, and though our house was paid for I didn't have the slightest idea what I would do to earn money to feed and clothe my family.
Yet I still had two things going in my favor. Since both Tenneco and Quaker had abandoned the protein processes I had developed for them, I had the right under patent law to perfect the design and obtain the rights to it for my own use and profit. And I still had my do-good attitudes and a lot of brash confidence in myself and my dreams. So I decided I would give the thing one more try. If Tenneco and Quaker were too impatient and profit-hungry to market a cheap, nutritious foodstuff, I would do it myself, working alone in my basement, while looking for a job. If I couldn't get a job, then I would market the process on my own. Surely some corporation, somewhere, would believe in my work if I could convince them of its worth. So, with nothing but my personal savings accounts to work with, I set out to fine-tune my research into a patentable process.
This presented several problems. Because I wasn't associated with any research outfit or university, I was eligible for none of the usual grants. My wife had to be dismayed that our recent prosperity had been shot down the tubes while I pursued a seemingly impossible dream, but she knew she couldn't talk me out of it, so she understandingly didn't try. The situation was perhaps toughest on my three children, who were then ages 5,7 and 9. Other kids could brag about their daddies being policemen or machinists or store clerks; but it's pretty hard to explain to a 7-year-old that you're synthesizing single-celled protein from industrial waste, so what could my children say? The best they could come up with was, "My daddy works in the basement."
Luckily it didn't take me too long to put the finishing touches on another version of my protein fermentation process, this time based on whey, the cheese byproduct that is as hard on the lakes and streams it's dumped into as it is on the waste-disposal budgets of the dairy manufacturers . When I had the last bugs worked out and detailed plans for industrial use drawn up, I went to Washington, D.C. and hired a patent attorney to file claims in the United States and Canada patent offices. I knew nothing about the legalese or jargon required in a patent application, so I looked up another patent for a similar process and just made the changes necessary to adapt it to the details of my own work. It worked out well, but it turned out that my process was a little too similar to the other for the liking of the guy who held the patent on it, and my lawyer was drawn into an extended debate with the patent office to prove that my process was significantly different enough to allow a new patent to be issued on it. We won, but not before the legal fees had put a severe drain on my already dwindling resources. When the patent came through in the summer of 1973,1 had doubts as to whether my funds would last long enough to make it pay off.
I continued my laboratory work, though, and when I had produced a large enough sample of the whey protein I sent it to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin, for nutritional testing. The institute does testing for many of the major food corporations, but since I was an alumnus they offered to do the complicated task of nutritional analysis for me free of charge. As if this weren't enough luck, I met and got to know Dr. Elizabeth McCoy, an internationally acclaimed bacteriologist at the University of Wisconsin, who had been doing doctoral work in her laboratories. She was also a very wealthy person, due to fortuitous inheritances and wise investments, and she made a practice of helping independent researchers who were doing important work. Dr. McCoy graciously offered her assistance, and I eagerly accepted.
About this time I was anxious to see my newly patented process put to good use, so I travelled to New York to meet with Edward Juhls, then head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's protein division. He was also in charge of protein distribution for several other UN organizations, and I was told by the people I contacted at the UN that he was the man to see. I explained my process for making protein out of various waste products, showed him how fundamentally simple and inexpensive it was, and enthusiastically told him that my process would allow people in under-developed areas of the world to make all the protein they needed for themselves. But Juhls explained to me that, as good as my plan sounded, there was really nothing he could do about it; the United Nations has no resources for buying food or building plants, he said, but merely serves as a distribution center for food and tools donated by various nations and organizations. "Now then," he said, "if you could donate a supply of the product, we could surely find some use for it...." Of course, there was no way I could do that. I was unemployed, with a family to support and a dwindling bank account. For all my grand hopes and good intentions, I had accomplished nothing except to spend a few more of my disappearing dollars on train fare.
I had one last hope: to manufacture the stuff myself, on an actual industrial scale, and then either sell the protein or the process. Dr. McCoy agreed to put up the financial backing, and the White Clover Dairy in Hollandtown, Wisconsin agreed to furnish the whey and let me set up my equipment on their premises. In fact, the owners of White Clover Dairy were very enthusiastic, and hoped I could develop the process enough to build a plant; they would rather give the whey to me than pay to have it disposed of. I drew up specifications, ordered the necessary material, had the needed equipment built and in a few months I was in production.
I do not want to give the impression that this was a surething proposition. There is a great deal of difference between working with small amounts of relatively pure ingredients in a laboratory and dealing with huge quantities of whey in the less-controllable atmosphere of a cheese factory, especially when delicate microorganisms are involved. The whey had to be monitored constantly, because it varied greatly in both quality and in the pollutants it contained. One load might be contaminated with antibiotics, the next with pesticides, the next with fecal matter. But the strain of microbes I was working with proved to be hardier than I suspected, and withstood the fluctuating conditions of the real world as well as they had survived in the laboratory. The real problems were with the machinery; much of it was custom-designed, and several modifications had to be made before it would work evenly and properly. I spent many a long night baby-sitting my contraptions, but before long the equipment was turning out protein by the pound.
I had to come up with a snappy name for my product, one that would have some sales appeal to it — I couldn't call it "dead yeast." I christened the stuff Royal Protein Flour, and in the summer of 19741 began the arduous task of contacting food companies to find out if any of them could use the high-protein supplement in their products. The names of the corporations I got in touch with will be familiar to anyone who shops in supermarkets or watches TV commercials: Nabisco Food Company of New York, Procter and Gamble (I wondered if they could use it in Pringles), Pillsbury, Beechnut Baby Foods, Crescent Baking Company, Johnson Food Company in Milwaukee, Adams Snak Food Company in Beloit, Rippin' Good Cookie Company in Ripon, Geyser Potato Chip Company, and many others. I tried almost every major and minor food company I could find, and everywhere I got the same reply: "Well, we'll think about it and get back to you." Whether they ever thought about it or not, they never did get back to me.
By the spring of 1975, it had become obvious to me that there was no way I could continue my work. I had contacted hundreds of people and had gotten no positive responses anywhere. My money was gone, yet I couldn't bring myself to ask Dr. McCoy for financial support for my family. My hopes of doing anything with this protein miracle had been completely dashed. It looked like I wouldn't be able to feed myself, much less the starving millions of the world. By April, I was down to my last $10,000 treasury bond, and I didn't have the slightest idea what to do next.
Zwerdling, "The Food Monsters," Progressive. March, 1980, p. 22.
2. Jim Hightower, Eat Your Heart Out: Food Profiteering in America (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. 1975), p. 74.
3. Zwerdling, op. cit.
4. Zwerdling, op. cit.
5. Hightower, p. 106.
6. Zwerdling, op. cit.