Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Do you ever hear about MSG today?

Back in the early 90s, there was a “no MSG” movement that many will remember and college students will not since they were just beginning their journey in life. It was an interesting lesson about food trends, hype, food labeling, and a little hysteria all mixed together. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer in one form and a good preservative in other forms primarily for frozen prepared foods. It can be added as a seasoning or as a salt substitute as well.

So… In the early 90s there were reports of severe allergic reactions to MSG and the media picked it up and the FDA conducted placebo studies to see if the claims were true. While this was going on, restaurants rushed to get MSG out of their foods since customers were refusing to eat foods with MSG. There were even whole restaurant chains opened with the tag “no MSG.” I happened to be a manager at one of these restaurants at the time and I can tell you, the message was so pervasive in the media that I would be asked the question if we used MSG on a daily basis. So the story goes…

Do you ever hear about MSG today? Well, I did just the other day from a student and was taken back that they even knew the history of it. We do not use MSG here at Rice because we are a scratch made operation with very few frozen items with the exception of French fries and a few other things. By the way, I saw a student eating a plate of French fries for lunch and would kindly encourage you to try a little harder at a balanced diet. Usually this is where you find MSG, but I checked and they do not contain MSG. Hence the reason for writing this little tale… By the way, the FDA found no conclusive results about MSG causing allergic reactions or an increase in symptoms to asthmatics.

These types of food trends come and go all the time, but in the case of the MSG ordeal, I believe something good came of it. Food labeling became more prominent and consumers started to check labels for ingredients. For you youngsters, there was actually a period in my lifetime where food ingredients were not labeled. Although at the time food manufactures cited that an increase in prices will follow the new FDA requirements of food labeling, I don’t think one can put a price on having information available to make wise consumer choices. I have realized thanks in part to a class project here at Rice that we need to label our food in the serveries. Let me assure all of you that this will be coming along with updated nutritional and food-mile mapping information. Read what the FDA found recently>

As usual, I like to point out an irony and I have just the one to end this… We now have many students who are on a gluten free diet which by the way is difficult to accommodate, but we do our best. The irony you ask? MSG is suitable for those on this very specific diet. Things change all the time and I ask everyone not to get caught up in any hype about food related issues. If you have a question, just ask one of the chefs…


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