The short answer is, “Sort of…but not the kind you’re thinking.”
Before I go into a food problem you need to be concerned about, let me tell you that trees (and all other plants) contain a substance called cellulose in their cellular composition.
A natural dietary fiber, cellulose isn’t absorbed by your body during the process of digestion. In other words, it goes in (making you feel fuller) and goes right back out again (yup, poop).
Regarding parmesan cheese and other foods (as pointed out by Huffington Post), trees are pulped to remove the cellulose which is then added to foods as fillers and to prevent clumping.
Then there was the Bloomberg article that proclaimed, “The Parmesan Cheese You Sprinkle on Your Penne Could Be Wood.” Giant letters, in bold.
Since I love parmesan cheese (I love all cheese), I was immediately hooked.
From their report: “Acting on a tip, agents of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) paid a surprise visit to a cheese factory in rural Pennsylvania in 2012. They found evidence that Castle Cheese Inc. was doctoring its 100 percent real parmesan with cut-rate substitutes and such fillers as wood pulp and distributing it to some of the country’s biggest grocery chains.”
Again, cellulose is extracted from trees but it isn’t actually “wood pulp.”
Currently, the FDA considers this compound safe and allows companies to use 2-4% cellulose in their products. Cellulose is found in many varieties of fast food, cheese, ice cream, snack foods, crackers, and condiments (to name a few).The FDA considers the filler cellulose safe and allows companies to use 2-4% in their products. Click To Tweet
The food additive goes by several names:
- Cellulose gum
- Powdered cellulose
- Microcrystalline cellulose
- Cellulose gel
- Carboxymethyl cellulose
To be clear, you aren’t eating chunks of wood ground up in your cheese. It’s a filler product that’s actually safer than a lot of the garbage added to our food (deliberately and accidentally).
I’m not saying I want cellulose filler in what I eat.
After all, it’s nothing more than a cheap way to get more profit by including less actual food. However, in the grand scheme of things, cellulose is basically harmless. It offers nothing of value to the human body nutritionally but doesn’t bio-accumulate in your cells like many added toxins and by-products do.
The Real Issue Hiding in Plain Sight
For a person who loves food, finding out products you enjoy are pushing the envelope of what constitutes as “food” is almost painful.
At this point, we should all be aware that the manufacturing practices involved in our food supply is often shadowy and sometimes downright criminal. I try to avoid falling prey to the rampant problems with food available at the local market but unless you grow all of your own food, there’s no way to be sure what’s in it with the way things currently stand.The manufacturing practices involved in our food supply is often shadowy and downright criminal.Click To Tweet
That’s exactly how commercial agriculture and the food industry want it.
What articles like the ones I listed above truly expose is a gross negligence that really concerns me – and it should concern you, too. The nasty little issue that’s becoming more and more of a problem with our food but is consistently silenced by lobbyists for the food industry.
Several of the brands analyzed through an independent lab hired by Bloomberg found the presence of cellulose at much higher levels than 2-4% allowed by the FDA.
Other brands didn’t list the content of cellulose at all.
The most egregious example of blatant falsification of food labeling is highlighted by the Pennsylvania cheese company mentioned in their report.
There was no parmesan in their cheese product marketed as 100% parmesan.
While cellulose is fairly harmless, over the last several years, we’ve seen this gross negligence in the case of foods that claimed to be free substances that are not harmless.
- Foods professing to be free of trans fats (that were not)
- The glorifying of “healthy whole grains” (a term coined by the cereal industry)
- Downplaying sugar content (while disguising actual sugar with multiple names to confuse consumers)
- The propaganda campaign to paint high-fructose corn syrup (HFSC) as “natural” because it’s “made from corn” (despite there being direct links between the explosive use of HFCS and the diabetes and obesity epidemics)
- Outright renaming synthetic or chemical ingredients (and using the really bad item you don’t want to consume)
- The sneaky inclusion of genetically-modified foods without telling consumers (and then lobbying – and winning – the fight not to have to list GMO foods on labels)
- And so much more…
This isn’t just slapping words like “natural” and “organic” on products to fool consumers into thinking an item is good for them. (If you’re buying a food in a box or bag, there’s likely nothing natural or organic about it – no matter how badly you want it to be.)
This is a focused act of deception in the creation of our food – a problem that affects all of us with every bite. From commercial farming to false labeling to safety violations to “acceptable” amounts of contaminants in manufactured foods.
We’ve grown restrained when it comes to thinking about where and how our food arrives at our store and the food industry has taken full advantage.
Our cows give more milk, our chickens give more meat, the local box store produce department always has what shouldn’t be in season, and we eat more sugar than any other population in history. Food is tainted with pesticide, genetically modified so that Roundup™ is the only thing that can be used to control weed growth, and “doctored” to look better, taste better, and be cheaper to buy.
But the cost is so high in the long term.
While we weren’t looking, industries sabotaged the very agencies put in place to protect us in the name of profit. We allow our government to make excuses about allowing toxic and addictive substances to be used in the making of what we eat.
The food problem isn’t cellulose in your cheese. The problem is when there is no cheese in your cheese…and you don’t even know it because it wasn’t on the label and it took an online magazine not connected to the health or food industry to figure it out.