It Looks Like People Are Eating a Lot of Wood Pulp These Days

Perhaps in part because we're usually too busy worrying about whether there's shit in our meat, most of us have never really paid attention to cellulose. But apparently, we should, because it's in a whole host of things we stuff down our gullets.

Cellulose, for the uninitiated or arborphobic, is minuscule pieces of wood pulp or plant fibers, and, as The Wall Street Journal reports, it's being used increasingly by the processed-food industry.

Why? Cellulose is used to thicken or stabilize foods, add fiber, and replace fat, and it can be substituted for flour and oil. The costs flour and oil are rising, consumers want to delude themselves with low- or nonfat foods that have a creamy texture, and people in China and India want to eat the same mass-produced crap that we do. The vice president of one company that manufactures hydrocolloids (the family of substances that includes cellulose) says that sales have increased 3 to 5 percent per year over the past decade.

And lest you think that organic-food manufacturers turn their genteel noses up at this sort of thing, think again: Organic Valley uses cellulose in its shredded cheese products, though the U.S. Department of Ag says that only powdered cellulose "in its least manipulated form" is allowed in foods displaying "organic" or "made with organic ingredients" labels.

Still, even the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has, well, issues with the processed-food industry, doesn't seem too bothered about the whole thing: According to Michael Jacobson, the group's executive director, "Cellulose is cellulose," whether it comes from celery or shrubbery. Also, at least it's not melamine.

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