When I cook I use things like.....
eggs, milk, spices and herbs, along with other real food ingredients.
But when the factory cooks for me it is a different story.
If I was to create a recipe for the commercial market these are some of the changes it would go through in order to even think about putting it on the store shelves.
Whole food (fruit and vegetable) supplies are a big challenge first because of spoilage. Real food is quick to spoil. The second thing is that the food can change in price and quality throughout the year. For example, strawberries are available year round, during peak season they are reasonably priced they are really yummy, but winter strawberries are very expensive lack that "summer strawberry" experience which brings me to the next part...
Taste. Each batch of vegetables, fruits, and other whole foods tastes slightly different because of variations in the seeds and growing conditions. Often food companies do not want to use the real food which can be unpredictable in color and flavor. So what do they do, they substitute with colors and flavors that are very predictable in order to achieve the taste and color they desire. It is important that they create the same product each and every time with the exact same flavor profile. Spices and fresh herbs are often lost in the process because they also change throughout the season, therefore dried herbs may be used, but more often "natural flavors" is seen on the label instead so that you will get the same taste each and every time. Natural flavors is a very deceptive term and is widely used to cover up the unpleasant truth about what is really in your food. I will include some links at the bottom of the page for those of you who want more reading on that subject.
When I cook I often use milk and eggs. In the commercial food business these are foods that require refrigeration and have many rules and regulations for their use as they are considered "potentially hazardous" They are foods that are easily spoiled, plus there are allergy factors involved. Many large companies are shying away from the use of eggs and milk and are substituting chemicals that perform the same function in recipes. These chemicals are deemed "safe", but are they really? I would suggest that they may be more hazardous to your health than the milk and eggs themselves.
Cost is also a major factor in food production. The chemicals that imitate the flavors and colors of real food are a lot less expensive than the real thing. They are often used to keep the food cost low. Cutting the cost of food is quite a concern to the leaders of these companies (how else can they pay for the massive machines that are required for the processing of large quantities of food). Which brings me to the next point; the health cost associated with the machines and processing of foods.
As the food products are pumped through these massive machines, often times there are chemical additives that are used for the sole purpose of making the product run through the machine more smoothly. Not to mention the chemicals that end up in our food from the cleaning of the machines. I once had to throw out an entire gallon of milk, because it tasted so bad of cleaning chemicals (this at a time when money was so short that it really hurt to throw it out). There are a lot of health risks associated with these chemicals, not to mention the heat that is produced by these machines when they run at such high speeds. The heat and chemicals destroy any goodness that is left in the food and we haven't even got to the stabilizers and preservatives used to keep the product "fresh" and shelf stable so that it can travel to the store and then get to our home and be used, not to mention the chemicals and things added during the packaging process. I am amazed at the amount of chemicals that are used in the processing that do not even end up on the label they are just overlooked by the FDA as "part of processing".
What may start out as a "good recipe" turns into a chemical cocktail by the time it is done with the food manufacturing process, and yet people still wonder if it is really all that bad for them.
YES! processed foods are bad for your overall health. They are full of toxins that will not kill you right away, but repeated exposure to all of these things can kill.
I choose to cook from scratch and eat real foods. It helps to keep down the toxins so that I am not in a constant state of toxic overload. My body is thanking me, after years of overload it is finally finding some relief.
I find that the saying FOOD SHOULD COME FROM A PLANT AND NOT BE MADE IN A PLANT very helpful when I am making food choices.
Wikipedia on flavorings
Beaver butts as natural flavorings
Wikipedia on pink slime
Is processed food safe?