7 Most Popular Food Items That Aren’t Actually Food

There are some real favorites on this list, and we are sorry.

There are some real favorites on this list, and we are sorry.

Quick! Define the word “food” without thinking about it.

Done? We can’t hear you, of course, but we’re guessing you blurted out something along the lines of, “It’s stuff that you eat.”

We’re comfortable with this guess, because it’s what we said when someone tried this experiment on us. It’s what everyone says. Unfortunately, this knee-jerk definition starts to break down under scrutiny.

Geophagia, or the practice of
“the food prepared by comminuting [pulverizing] and mixing, with the aid of heat, one or more of the optional cheese ingredients described in paragraph (c) of this section…”

Those ingredients? Types of cheese. Oh, you can also add “cream, milk, skim milk,” and emulsifying agents, water, salt, and flavorings. The point is that pasteurized processed cheese food product is made out of cheese—and also other stuff.

7. This Common Coffee Add-in

We’ve learned one thing about “cream” by now: It’s no good in processed foods. Even those jugs of flavored coffee “creamers” are mostly dairy-free.

Unless you’re buying straight-up cream for your coffee, you’re probably veering into territory that’s depressingly familiar by now.

Most top-brand coffee additives are made of trans fat–rich oils and corn syrup. Apparently everything that doesn’t grow on a tree is actually just hydrogenated oil and corn syrup. We could be hydrogenated oil and corn syrup for all you know.

The ever-useful health site Eat This, Not That! recommends using regular old milk in your coffee. You can also make your own creamer with condensed milk, regular milk, and honey.

Defining “Food” Once and for All

At the outset of this piece, we promised we’d get back to the question of what “food” really is. Is hydrogenated oil food? Is carrageenan?

We were raised to trust Webster’s dictionary, and that venerable source takes a broad view of the subject. According to that dictionary, food is “any substance taken into and assimilated by a plant or animal to keep it alive and enable it to grow and repair tissue; nourishment; nutriment.”

Well, we’re not sure hydrogenated oils and corn syrup keep us alive and enable us to grow and repair tissue. So the items on this list are not food?

Except that the dictionary’s second definition calls food “solid substance of this sort.” We guess edible science chunks are sort of like food.

So maybe they are food after all. We’re confused. Guess we’ll go eat dirt.

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