An old familiar brand tops our ‘bad food pyramid’

Posted by
October 29, 2013

Over the last two years I’ve acquired quite a pile of really bad food items — products, in my opinion, that aren’t fit for human consumption. Of all these brand name snacks, cans, drinks and frozen items that have taken over my kitchen and cupboards, we’ve selected one brand that has surfaced at the top of the heap of bad foods.

How, you might ask, with so many to choose from did this product line get selected? I’ll get to that in a minute. But first I need some help in figuring out what to do with this non-consumable collection of poor nutrition “foods” with some downright scary additives.

I certainly couldn’t donate the pile to the local food bank. Giving away food that we’ve been telling folks not to eat to those in need seems just plain wrong. So what to do with it? Toss it? Sent it back to the manufacturer? Reader suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Please send a note or post a suggestion at the Food Identity Theft Facebook page.

The ‘bad brand’ prize

There are a lot of bad ingredient-foods out there, but we thought a fair scoring system to pick one should be similar to that used in a beauty pageant, with our categories being;

  • the ‘beauty’ of its appeal to children;
  • a ‘talent’ for using bad ingredients across an entire product line, and
  • a product’s ‘personality’ — the various tricks and schticks it uses to appeal to consumers.

And the winner is…Chef Boyardee from ConAgra Foods

Chef Boyardee was in fact a real person and a very accomplished chef. At the age of 17 he landed a job at the plush Plaza Hotel in New York City and later went on to found one of the most popular Italian restaurants in Cleveland. Ettore “Hector” Boiardi has also been credited with the invention of “to go” restaurant foods. But this was back in the early 1920s, when high fructose corn syrup and the lineup of other synthetic ingredients that now comprise and compromise his namesake line were still many years away from being invented in laboratories somewhere.

ConAgra Foods, which purchased the brand in 2000, claims “his legacy of quality ingredients is in every bowl.” But seriously, ConAgra, are we to believe that Hector would have considered ingredients such as mechanically separated chicken, high fructose corn syrup, soy protein concentrate and yeast extract to be “quality” ones? I think not.

Some of the Chef Boyardee products that helped the brand win this dubious distinction are:

JUMBO Spaghetti & Meatballs:
Like all the rest of the Chef Boyardee lineup, the label says there is “good stuff inside.” In label-reading reality, however, you can find four sources of “hidden” MSG, as well as mechanically separated chicken and high fructose corn syrup. Another one of the selling points on the can is about the meatballs, which apparently are twice the size of the ones in the original product.

Of course, when you’re using mechanically separated chicken, which goes for approximately ten cents a pound, yeah, you can make those meatballs a lot bigger. If you missed the blog about this queasy ingredient that we dubbed “chicken ooze,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture describes mechanically separated poultry (MSP) as “a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible tissue, through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue.”

Whole Grain Lasagna:
Aimed directly at parents looking for a quick and easy kid meal, this product makes a big point of being “whole grain,” with the “taste kids love!” The can also promises “no preservatives or MSG,” but again you’ll find free glutamic acid in the form of “yeast extract” and “textured vegetable protein.” (For a comprehensive overview of ingredients that contain processed free glutamic acid, the chemical in monosodium glutamate that causes reactions, look here).

Then there’s the HFCS, which seems to be a favorite ingredient of ConAgra. Making a big marketing deal out of removing the laboratory sweetener/preservative from its Hunt’s Ketchup several years ago, it quietly slipped it back in last year. So is the HFCS used as a sweetener? A preservative? Only ConAgra or a food scientist would know for sure.

Mini dinosaurs with meatballs:
Obviously designed with kids in mind, this is another can containing chicken “ooze,” HFCS, and more hidden MSG.

While giant food processing company ConAgra makes numerous other products with questionable ingredients, many which have been called-out in previous Food Identity Theft blogs, it’s the Chef Boyardee line that takes the top prize in the bad food pyramid award.

Any ideas out there for what brand should be chosen runner-up?