Processed v unprocessed food: The debate on Twitter rages on

13th Feb 18 | Lifestyle

What counts as processed food anyway?

Fast Food

When you consider what processed food is, you’re likely to think of anything that comes in a packet – biscuits, crisps, cake, chips, ready meals, white bread. While anything unprocessed must be homemade from scratch, or green and come in its own natural skin, free of chemicals, factory interference and plastic. Sound about right?

Well, it turns out it’s not actually that simple. A Guardian feature on Quorn, the meat substitute designed to provide protein and bulk without sacrificing animals, has dubbed the ingredient “ultra-processed fake meat” – and it’s triggered heated discussion on Twitter.

The questions being grappled with are: Is all processed food bad, even if it’s been designed with ethics and environmental issues in mind? What counts as processed food? And when are we going to stop associating food with guilt?

Former Great British Bake Off contestant and author of Eat Up! Ruby Tandoh argues that calling something “ultra-processed” is essentially meaningless, and that believing in the myth that you can only be a decent human being if you eat purely ‘natural’, untampered with ingredients, is both demoralising and unfair.

Botanist and science writer James Wong meanwhile points out that there’s just too much confusion around what ‘processed’ – let alone ‘ultra-processed’ – food really is anyway.

Arguably, any food item that’s been subjected to any kind of cooking or assembly has been processed in some way – so where do you draw the line? As Twitter user Dan Hett points out, it can get pretty silly pretty quickly…

You can end up getting rather philosophical about it all too, asking yourself questions like: Is a cake made in your own kitchen any less processed than a cake made with the same ingredients in a factory environment?

On a more insidious front though, judging people for eating so-called ‘processed’ or ‘ultra-processed’ foods – whether they are or not – engenders classicism and lays blame, points out Twitter user Hanna Gal.

For now there’s little consensus and much confusion, but what is clear is that, a little bit of cake every now and again won’t hurt you – and you can’t beat the homemade stuff when it comes to taste.

© Press Association 2018