The Western world isn't short of public enemies right now. There are, of course, the usual suspects: Putin, Assad, even Mark Zuckerberg seems to have joined the club. But there's another, more discreet nemesis that may loom closer than the rest: acrylamide, a natural chemical that's produced as part of the cooking process for certain foods.
You can find it in coffee (it's produced during the roasting process), French fries and bread. And though the science remains inconclusive, some researchers now consider as a potential carcinogen. Acrylamide is the reason why coffee in California will soon come with a consumer warning about cancer. It's also the reason why fries in Germany — or pommes frites, as they call them — won't be as crunchy anymore.
Yes, starting this week, new European Union legislation comes into force imposing benchmark levels in a bid to reduce the amount of acrylamide in various products, from muesli and biscuits to coffee. For fries, (French and otherwise) that means blanching them before frying, and frying them at lower temperatures.
Bad news for people who like their fries extra-crispy — or even brown, as the German newspaper Die Welt reports. But then again, how exactly do they plan to enforce it?
"They can come and control me," Raimund Ostendorp, a popular German chef who now owns a takeaway in Bochum, in the Ruhr district, told the newspaper. "I'll just keep on making delicious fries. Who are they going to send? The frying squad?"
There are obvious benefits to the fact that politicians are paying more attention to what lands in our plates. But there's always the risk of overdoing it: Too much control, and people may instead decide to rebel, and take things in the opposite direction.
A popular new Instagram account from Switzerland — the land of cheeses and chocolate — may be a case in point. As noted recently in the the Swiss daily Le Temps, the account celebrates an #unhealthylifestyle as a reaction to the "omnipresence of stereotypes online" and "overrepresentation of a lifestyle based on happiness and slenderness."
Sure, it's a bit tongue-in-cheek. But there's also a real message involved, according to Agathe Hauser, the 26-year-old comedian behind the @Swissfatgirls Instagram account. "Let's stop feeling guilty," she told the paper. "Let's enjoy life to the fullest and accept that nobody's perfect."