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Just a Drop of Gasoline

We're not talking much here. Just a drop; a drop of gasoline with every meal. Who hasn't gotten their hands dirty at the gas station and grabbed a potato chip before washing?

You know it's happened before.

I was asked by our political director Alexis to write an article covering the current media hooplah about a simple hydrocarbon called hexane. As a by-product of every petroleum refinery on earth, there is a lot of cheap hexane out there and when you consider how efficient this alkane can be, the idea of just dumping it off the shores of Somalia seems so wasteful. For a while we used hexane as a cleaning agent for removing grease in the printing industry as well as a solvent for rubber cement, but since print media is dead and I'm a little too old to still be sniffing glue, hexane needs another gig. Free showers for the homeless? Clean our bullets for a second go? Glue the streets of Detroit to prevent emigration?

Nope. The correct choice is simple and ingenious: excess hexane is now effectively being used to clean our food. At seven cents per pound, hexane is currently the dominant extraction solvent for soy products.

Tasked with getting to the bottom of this story, I walk to the corner market and purchase a Boca burger, firm tofu, buns, ketchup with partially hydrogenated soybean oil, granola crumbs for texture, an organic onion, Silk soy milk, and some freedom fries. I am going to grill myself a deluxe soy mountain, and by grill I mean microwave. Sitting down with my steaming plate of soy, I open up The Google to see what I can find.

Malinformed hippies in Chacos are apparently up in outrage. They contend that the FDA does not require testing for hexane residues, that for the last ten years the EPA has categorized hexane as a HAP (haxardous air pollutant), that hexane is a known neurotoxin, and that hexane is actually too efficient because it dissolves and separates from the soy normally unsaponifiable materials we commonly refer to as nutrients. Well my tie dye frenemies, let us dissolve these complaints in a bottle of hexane truth.

First, it's time for my second bite. Dizzy from all the stimulation, I crunch my way through the granola goodness and rip off a big combo portion of tofu and Boca. I pretend the lightly tinted red ketchup is the blood of a endangered rainforest cat and my imaginary taste buds yell great success.

Hexane being too efficient? Clearly hippies deride all lots of life for being too efficient and such an argument cannot be taken too seriously. As we overconsume in this country, eating more foods that are less nutritious actually makes sense. One does not want to overdose on vitamin K do they? Empty calories are a sure way of avoiding such a calamity.

Next, when the FDA chooses to regulate something, how much of a difference does it make anyways? When you consider that from 1998-2001, 92% of the FDA's advisory meetings included at least one attendee with a financial conflict of interest, any regulation would surely allow for the minimal 21ppm of hexane discovered in soy meal today. Replacing no regulation for ineffectual regulation is just downright un-American (well, then again so is eating soy burgers, but I digress). And what's the big deal with a little residue anyways? The FDA permits on average 20 maggots per 100 grams of canned mushrooms. Crunch.

Most processed soy is used for animal feed anyways, and when they found that trace toxins killed baby piglets, they stopped giving soy feed to them: problem solved. So yeah, hippies from the south score one. If you have a pet baby pig, do not feed it Silk soy milk (unless of course, you are desperately craving some quick extra-protein packed baby bacon. With that, another bite).

A decade after Congress directed the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the handling of hazardous wastes, the agency has imposed federal controls on less than 10 percent of the 5,000 types of wastes regarded as potentially dangerous. Given a staff of roughly 12,000, working 2,080 hours a year for ten years, that comes to about 500,000 man hours per waste chemical regulated. Given other federal governmental agencies, the EPA is just showing off. They'll have methane labeled as noxious soon if they aren't stopped. And again, this hexane is out there, it has to end up somewhere. I argue that the sky is pretty big, and can probably handle 6,000 pounds of hexane per day.

Speaking of pounds, I'm almost through with my two pound soy adventure, and am positively tingling with excitement over all the information I'm discovering. Got Silk?

Ok, finding an article about a man found dead in a rail car full of hexane. After falling in, it apparently took less than 10 seconds for him to die, and over 4 hours to extract his body. I don't know what you're thinking, but that's just cool, hip hop republican cool. I have to give it up to these brave warriors of industry who constantly hit the bulleyes that no one else dares to shoot. These titans, dubbed the 'hexane six', include Solae, Morningstar, ADM, Silk, Yves and Boca. Times are tough these days, and that they are regularly maintaining record profits is the true American test of excellence.

Whoa, two hours have slipped by. Apparently I passed out on my empty plate with my article in need of a conclusion. I cannot see too well out of my right eye and I feel somewhat dizzy. Damn that organic onion, I knew that was a poor decision. I apologize if there are any spelling mistakes, as the illiterate button is on the right side of the screen.

I re-examine the labels of my food products, and just like my rubber cement bottles of yesteryear, nowhere on any of these food labels do I find the word hexane. I could be my vision, but I turned every box 350 degrees Celsius. I feel safe, safe and light like a feather,


The Cornucopia Institute, Beyond the Bean: The Heroes and Charlatans of the Natural and Organic Soy Foods Industry
Nutiva, "Natural" Energy Bars, Soy Powders, & Cereals Hexed by Hexane--A Toxic Chemical
Natural News, Soy Protein Used in "Natural" Foods Bathed in Toxic Solvent Hexane
Victoria Advocate, Unidentified man found dead in rail tank car

Justin Trauben is an intern working out of the OCA's Washington D.C. office.