They were the best of foods, they were the least of foods, they were products of wisdom, they were products of foolishness, there were speakers that invoked belief, there were speakers that invoked incredulity.
—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (modified)

I had expected that attending the trade shows Natural Products Expo West (NPEW) and Nutracon, followed by a visit to the Research Chefs Association's (RCA) annual meeting, would provide me with two important, but very different approaches to food. I was not disappointed.

With a foundation in health, NPEW and Nutracon provided updates on what is good for you and what is not.

Nutracon speaker Thomas Aarts, executive editor of Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ), San Diego, noted changes in the beverages industry and quipped that one famous Coca-Cola jingle could become, “I'd like to buy the world a…shelf-stable, children's lactic drink.”

In 2001, the $10 billion U.S. sports nutrition/weight loss product category showed the greatest growth—at 15%—in the U.S. nutritional products market, according to NBJ. The natural/organic foods market is now at $12.9 billion and is expected to increase to $25 billion by 2010. “Everyone is moving toward functional foods; it's the hot trend, it's where the future is,” Aarts said, and added that 30% of sales in the $18.5 billion U.S. functional food market were from five companies: Pepsico, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft and Coca-Cola.

The sensory quality of products at NPEW has improved over the last half decade. Still, many need to be qualified with the word “considering.” For example, “battered and seasoned products from Quorn Foods are amazingly good, considering it's fungus.” Or, pies from Natural Feast Corp., Dover, Mass., were great, considering they didn't contain anything (at least no hydrogenated oils, cholesterol, refined sugar, corn, dairy products, wheat, animal fats, additives, preservatives, etc.).

Contrast that with, “My favorite sautéeing oil is pork fat,” offered by an unapologetic chef at the RCA meeting. Although healthful foods are crucial to a long, healthy life, a long life does not always equate with a “joy of life.” Those involved in the creative preparation of food express this spirit through cuisine that is a reminder that the culinary arts are, indeed, an art. They provide pleasure to the senses of taste and smell, just as music does to hearing, and a painting does to sight. Foods proffered at RCA booths and at conference events rarely required the “considering” qualifier.

Such contrasts serve as a reminder that the “good-for-you” hot fudge sundae in Woody Allen's 1973 movie “Sleeper” will always be the standard for which the food industry needs to strive.

Internet Information

For more information on subjects covered in this issue, see the following websites.

Making Change — Information Resources Inc. —Kraft Foods
— Post Cereals

The Kids Are Alright — Colleen Fahey — Devine Foods — Center for a New American Dream

A Focus on Hypertension — Home page for the National Health and Examination Survey — International Classification of Diseases

Full-Spectrum Foods
— Florida State University site on phytochemicals from ajoene to ellagic acid to zeaxanthin — Southern Illinois University ethnobotanical leaflet on algae

GRAS Ingredients in the 21st Century
— List of self-affirmed GRAS ingredients
— Inventory of GRAS Notifications — Federal Register Proposed GRAS Notification Procedures, 1997 — Food Additive and

Specifying Starches

— General discussion of starch terms and behavior — International Starch Institute; general information
— Oregon State University presentation of basics and

Vitamin E & Tocotrienols — FDA release on using tocopherol as a preservative in food — Details on tocotrienol
— FDA regulations on vitamin E in Nutrition Facts panel
Chill Factors — Government food safety information