Dream On

One of the really fabulous things about summer is that it keeps me out of the supermarket. Buying all my fruit and veg, cheese, eggs, honey and the small amount of meat we cook at home from local farmers is time not spent trolling the aisles being tempted by junk food. In the winter though, when most of the markets close, my weekly excursion to the local grocery store is fraught with peril. I do my best to stick to the perimeter, although needing flour or dried beans or toilet paper always calls for a trip down the aisles, but sometimes those supermarket folks get sneaky and move the processed food over by the real stuff.

Which is how Greg and  I happened upon a giant display of boxes of Kraft Dream Whip. We approached the row of boxes with caution. Arranged behind a selection of wizened, tired-looking California strawberries, we understood that it was meant to be an impulse purchase – the temptation of berries and cream (an allusion to, if not an actual taste of, summer) in the midst of a barren winter’s deep freeze.

Greg tentatively plucked at a box, flipping it over to read the instructions. “How do you make real whipped cream?” he asked.

“You uh.. whip some cream. With a bit of sugar and maybe some vanilla.”

“Huh. To make this stuff you need to add milk and vanilla,” he replied.

“Then what’s the point? Why not just buy cream if you have to buy milk anyway?”

Greg read over the ingredients. “Mmmm… hydrogenated vegetable oil,” he said. “This is full of trans fat.”

He put the box back and we wandered through the store, griping about the crap that people will eat to save a few bucks. But if you’ve got to add milk and vanilla anyway, it can’t be that much of a savings over buying cream, so what is the allure of foods like Dream Whip? You still have to whip the stuff – it’s not a time saver in any way. It’s not a convenience food that can be made just by adding water. So what makes it so popular?

I came home and poked around on Google. First I looked for ingredients, which the Kraft website conveniently does not include, probably because it’s not information they want people to read – or understand.

This is what is in powdered whipped topping mix:

sugar, dextrose, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (coconut and palm kernel oils), modified cornstarch, propylene glycol monostearate (emulsifier), sodium caseinate (from milk), and less than 2% of cellulose gel, cellulose gum, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, natural and artificial flavor, acetylate mono- and diglycerides (emulsifiers), sodium silicoaluminate (anticaking agent), yellow 5, yellow 6.

Nice. Know what’s in real whipped cream? Cream. Plus sugar and maybe vanilla, to taste.

Then I did a search on nutritional info. And then I understood Dream Whip’s appeal, despite the crap it’s made from.

It’s the calories, stupid.

A 5.2 oz serving of Dream Whip (equal to 147 g, and incidentally, 10 tablespoons!!) has 10 calories and 0g of fat, even though it’s made from transfats. A roughly equivalent serving of whipped cream (equal to 150g) will run 520 calories and 55g of fat.

But does anyone need 10 tablespoons of any kind of whipped topping on their dessert?

Dream Whip lets people buy into our sense of greed while feeding us junk and chemicals. It lets people cut back without making real longterm changes in how they eat, while pretending they’re doing something positive like cutting calories.

If you don’t want the calories that come with real whipped cream, then eat less. Have 5 tablespoons instead of 10, or even just 2. Eat the real stuff less frequently and appreciate it more. Or don’t add whipped topping to your desserts at all. Eat it plain, or use a nice, naturally-made yogurt, which is just as good.

Is this really a route people are willing to take to cut calories? And even if you do eat the crap and lose weight, aren’t the health risks from eating so much fake food higher than the risk of being fat?