What’s a little Acrylamide between friends? By
Watched an interesting movie last night: Into the Wild. Sean Penn directed, some cool tunes by Eddie Vedder, and actually enjoyed Emile Hirsch in something. The movie tells the story of Christopher McCandless, a bright young man from Annandale, Virginia who decides to fall off of the grid and ends up in the wilds of Alaska near Denali National Park. He lived off the land for over 100 days, and died of starvation. There is some speculation that McCandless (who in a moment of brilliant re-branding took as his name Alexander Supertramp) died from eating poisonous seeds.
As McCandless made his home in the wilderness he began to forage for edible plants near his campsite. The area had a pretty suitable supply of berries and roots that could be eaten, but theory says that he ate the seeds of Hedysarum alpinum, a wild potato also known as Eskimo Potato. There is also the argument that his stash of savories had started to grow mold. Both of these scenarios would lead to a body that could consume food, but not process the nutrients. He had poisoned himself! Such a situation would lead to starvation, even while eating. To further confuse matters, a note found near McCandless said that he was injured, and near death…please help!
Any way that you look at it, it’s an interesting story, full of adventure and mystery. But is it possible that eating off of the land could kill you? Sure it could.
Acrylamide is a chemical compound used in wastewater treatment, making paper, and making permanent press fabrics. As it breaks down if forms ammonia. It is also naturally occurring in black olives and certain nuts, and may be formed when certain starchy foods (like french fries) are exposed to high heat (like french fries).
N2H4, or hydrazine, is a great chemical for making rocket fuel, and is used to make air bags go off. It’s another cousin to ammonia, and is notoriously unstable. It is also found in most mushrooms.
If you watch those old spy movies you’re probably familiar with cyanide. The intrepid spy keeps a cyanide tablet in his pocket just in case he falls into evil hands. It was also used in World War II, was the vehicle for a number of notable suicides, and was used in Jonestown, Guyana to tragic effects. It’s also found in many nuts and in apple seeds.
Allyl isothiocyanate is used in insecticides and as a bacteriocide. It is also used in teargas, can cause extreme pain and blindness, and is found in broccoli.
Astaxanthin is a nifty little compound found in crustaceans and some algae. It’s the phytochemical that makes bird feathers colorful, and makes salmon that wonderful pink color. In farm-raised salmon, the diet is sadly lacking in the pink-making stuff, so fish farmers pump in tons of the compound so that we can recognize our fish. The kind that they use, though, is not made from little shrimps. It’s made from coal tar.
Ultimately, too much of anything is not a good idea. Sugar, tannins, or even vitamins can be harmful if you eat them by the busload. The negative things that appear naturally in foods are not a cause for alarm. We strongly encourage you to enjoy a fresh, Virginia grown apple. Some fresh fish is good for you. Broccoli is good for your brain, even if you’re the president.
Eating well or eating right has nothing to do with being a vegan, or ruling out carbs. It is about finding the balance between flavor and nutrition. We find that we feel better by eating locally grown products. It gives us fresher food and peace of mind that we’re not ruining our environment. We encourage eating products that are produced with sustainability in mind. Like many, we had an interesting journey through the land of Twinkies and drive-throughs to get here. We hope that McCandless found what he was looking for up in Alaska. We just wish he hadn’t taken such an interesting route to get there.