Taking the Leap: Saying “No” to Hairy Bagels

I was buying a bag of freshly baked bagels from a store the other day when I decided to flip over the package and read the ingredients. I had recently read some of Michael Pollan’s books on “real food” verses “processed food” and was pretty confident that these freshly baked bagels were fine. That is until I noticed that the bagels in the bag in my hand seemed unusually soft and pliable today. Maybe I just happened to pick them up right after they were baked? Upon reading the ingredients, I found several I didn’t recognize. Ahh, it’s fine, I told myself. These are probably just fancy names for baking soda or something.

Well, the curiosity hung on and after I had made myself and my family a few delicious toasty bagels at home, I decided to play a form of Russian Roulette and randomly google one of the mysterious ingredients; L-Cysteine was the winner.

I figured it would be pretty boring since I assumed that it was some kind of amino acid (trying to remember biology from high school). Turned out I was right. Except I found out something highly disturbing that I wasn’t expecting: the source of this additive could be duck feathers or … human hair! Given that this amino acid is most abundant in human hair (which means it is also probably the cheapest way of manufacturing it) and that human hair is very inexpensive to procure in Asia, one can safely presume that I had been happily scarfing down hair clippings from the other side of the world for several weeks. BLAAAARRGH! Fast forward to me throwing out the rest of my bagel and feeling like I had just eaten a hairball – actually many hairballs; who knows, maybe I had done the equivalent of licking a salon floor post hair cut. I texted my sister, who is a medical school student, to inform her of my horrifying discovery, who reassured me it wasn’t human hair at that point and “That [it is] like saying eating veggies is the same as eating sh*t.” Thanks, Sis, for making me feel so much better.

To make matters worse, I am pregnant, so this whole I-think-I-am-eating-bagels-but-really-I-am-eating-Chinese-hair-clippings episode really threw me for a loop; what was I supposed to eat if freshly baked, FDA approved store bagels had completely bizarre, non-food ingredients in them? Did anyone know what effect (if any) these “approved” additives and preservatives had on unborn children?

I decided I wouldn’t wait for science to determine whether this was the new margarine or not (“Hey this is totally fine, just eat it. Oops, causes heart disease. My bad. Guess you should have just downed the butter. Oh well!”). I decided to quit processed food cold turkey.

And so I am. It just so happens that this coincides with New Years, which makes me hesitate to say “This year, I am opting out of all non-food ‘food'” mostly because I don’t like New Years Resolutions (so much pressure, so little follow through). But, this time I decided to interpret this as a nice coincidence that meant that I had a whole year of clean, non-hairy eating in front of me. That and learning how to cook and substitute out boxed goods.

So join me on my quest to nix the packaged and boxed items while attempting to juggle work, family, and home (possibly in that order).

PS – Don’t believe me on the human hair because it is just so disgusting? Check it out (along with other horrifying additive sources) here.



How To Throw Your Money Away – Almost Literally

Open your wallet and take out three dollars. Now, go to a public trashcan (where you won’t be tempted to dig it out). Look into the trashcan; inhale the sweet scent of rotting food, receipts, and stale beer. Stare at the trash – doesn’t it look so pretty? Now hold your fist with the three dollars in it over the trashcan, and let go. Can you do it? I bet you can’t (or if you can, you don’t want to).

When you purchase one-time use, disposable products, you are literally throwing your money into the trashcan (and generating a lot more waste in the process). In terms of energy and waste, it might even be better for the environment to just throw your money directly into the trashcan than to purchase plastic knives, which will remain a plastic fork albeit buried in dirt for hundreds or even thousands of years. To put this into perspective, it means that we could dig up plastic forks from the Civil War (if they had used them bask then) today. Is that the kind of legacy we want to leave?

To illustrate just how much money we are throwing into that dirty, smelly public trashcan, I went to Target to get some sample prices on disposable items. Here is what one dinner party for 8 would cost you:

  • $1.99 for a set of plastic forks and spoons for 8 people
  • $1.59 for “cute” paper plates for 8 people (16 total, 1 for the main meal and 1 for dessert)
  • $0.38 for 8 plastic cups
  • $1.79 for a disposable tablecloth

Total Amount of Money Thrown Away = $3.96

Now, if you happen to make a special trip to the store to purchase said disposable goods, you will need to add an additional $5.10 into your trashcan:

6.8 miles – Average distance from your home to the grocery store round-trip x $0.75 per mile (average cost to drive a car per mile)

Tack on another $1.79 for a disposable tablecloth and you’re looking at $10.85 you just threw into the trash. And we didn’t even include sales tax.

Now, if you decided to use real plates and utensils, you could load an entire dishwasher with them, use 4-6 gallons of water (on average) to wash them at $0.02 per gallon, 1.8 kw of electricity (average energy use for one load) at an US average of $0.13 an hour. You could even use a fancy dishwasher detergent pod ($0.19) and you end up spending 50 to 53 CENTS to provide utensils and plates for your dinner party. Of course you will need to factor in the cost of items like plates and a dishwasher (over time), but if you already own these (as most of us do), then why opt to waste money and resources and buy disposable when you can put that money to more enjoyable uses, like getting better food for the party or saving for a Hawaiian vacation (we can dream big here)?

So next time you reach for that disposable plate, ask your self, “Self, do we want to throw this money into the trash or do we want to sip Mai Tais by the beach?” I think you’ll know the answer.