J500 Media and the Environment

Twinkie transport: a gas-guzzling gaffe by justinlev7
January 30, 2009, 4:48 pm
Filed under: Food + Health, Science + Tech


While these articles succeeded in making me mistrust what goes into commonplace snacks, I couldn’t help but feel that they ignored something even more ominous—the sheer energy it must have taken to bring all 39 of those ingredients together! Indonesia, Peru, Chad, Switzerland, France and China are all sources for the raw materials contained in a Twinkie. First, consider the equipment used to harvest the ingredients at each location. Then, think about the trucks needed to transport them to the nearest airport. After a flight to America, more trucks transported these ingredients to manufacturers where they were ‘processed’ (resulting, of course, in ‘processed food.’) From there, even more trucks transported the finished snacks to retailers.

Count ‘em: one, two, three separate long-distance truck trips, not to mention the energy burned while harvesting, during the plane trip, and in production. According to MOVE.org, a research group under the not-for-profit Rocky Mountain Institute, 2,087,000 trucks were registered in 2005, each with an average fuel economy of 5.9 miles per gallon. Multiply 5.9 mpg, by a couple million trucks, by the distance the average trucker travels each day… It doesn’t take a math degree to see that this is a jaw-dropping level of energy consumption. And that’s just in the US.

Twinkie, Deconstructed shined a well-needed light on the suspicious contents of processed food products. But I am not too concerned by health problems that could stem from baking soda mined deep in the earth. Nor am I concerned about consuming thiamine mononitrate refined by Chinese petroleum factories. I’m more, shall I say, ‘concerned’, by feverish global temperature increases and melting polar icecaps that we cause by burning nonrenewable petroleum at ever increasing rates.

Why is processed food so important to the American consumer, when fresh, local alternatives can be found at the nearest farmer’s market? Why must a simple snack cake require a fleet of worldwide gas-guzzlers and a tangled network of wasted energy? It’s time we reconsider our values and demand reduction of wasteful transportation practices. Let’s begin by leaving the Twinkies on the shelf.

Justin Leverett … is counting trucks before falling asleep.

Mommy, where do Twinkies come from? by mstinawood
January 30, 2009, 4:10 pm
Filed under: Food + Health | Tags: , , , ,

road-of-twinkies1An unfortunate question for those who are faced with coming up with an honest answer. Fortunately for my mother I never asked that question, instead I wanted to know how they got the vanilla creme perfectly aligned inside the cake. My mother’s response,”Magic!” That’s the best explanation she could come up with and one I was eager to accept. From childhood on, the creation of the Twinkie, among other cookie cutter mass produced delights, remained a mystery to me and maybe to you too.. until now. The reality of the Twinkie is much more grim than I could have imagined as a child.

You know that glue on the back of stamps that coats your mouth with a weird film if you lick too many? Its the same kind of waxy coat your mouth wears after eating a Twinkie and thats not a coincidence. Many ingredients found on the labels of snack foods can also be found in disinfectants and weedkillers. Of course I must be fair and note that the quantity of ferrous sulfate is much smaller in snack products, so don’t go trying to kill weeds with Twinkies!

There are resources available for those who want to learn how to eat healthy. My advice, if you can’t pronounce a particular ingredient, it’s most likely living a double life as a component of not only your snack but also as an industrial strength chemical. Lastly, to dispell any misunderstandings, Twinkies do not have a shelf life of years. According to Anne Underwood’s article in Newsweek, it’s actually less than a month! I know for a fact that I’ve consumed a Twinkie found in the recesses of the pantry that had to have been approaching it’s first birthday and congratulated myself on an awesome find! I now wonder if some of that petroleum based residue still resides in the recesses of my ingredients.

Tina Wood

Thanks to New Jersy Jewish News for the photo

Just Call Me Superfood With A Side of Fiber by meganr21
January 30, 2009, 3:03 pm
Filed under: Food + Health | Tags: , , ,

If you are what you eat, then this morning I was a mixture of 38 different ingredients. Between a cup of Odwalla Original Superfood and a Fiber One brown sugar cinnamon toaster pastry  I can identify 32 ingredients – a pretty good number, but what are those other 6 mystery ingredients? Inspired by Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger, I decided find out about some of the ingredients I couldn’t identify.

So what is Nova Scotia Dulse? Dulse is a protein rich red alga that contains lots of vitamins and minerals. Ammonium bicarbonate? I’d seen it listed in lots of nutritional information, but until I actually looked it up I had no clue what it was used for (a raising agent in baking, similar to baking soda, in case you  were wondering).

The chemical structure of TBHQ.

The chemical structure of TBHQ.

How about TBHQ ‘added to preserve freshness’? TBHQ (tert-butylhydroquinone to be exact) is the type of thing my organic chemistry teacher would have put on a final to throw everyone off. This aromatic organic compound is used as a preservative because it stabilizes fats without causing discoloration or changing flavors. The verdict is still out on positive and negative effects of the compound, but at lest I understand why it’s in my toaster pastry.

Just because you can’t pronounce it or don’t quite know what it is, doesn’t make it bad for you. That complex chemical could be a great source of important vitamins and minerals. So next time you’re at the market, take note of some of those ‘mystery ingredients’ and look them up when you get home. You may be surprised with what you learn, especially if you are what you eat. 

Megan Richards


Image from http://pppea.s16.xrea.com


mm…the delicious taste of monosodium glutamate by Janie
January 30, 2009, 2:03 pm
Filed under: Food + Health

I couldn’t have felt any more a hypocrite.

I’m here at the library, having just read an enlightening article about the unknown and artificial origins of Twinkies, excited about writing a post about my frustration with processed foods…and I’m eating Hamburger Helper.

No joke.  Hamburger Helper.  Cheeseburger Macaroni to be exact.

I grew up in a household that prohibited Kool-Aid, Twinkies, and Bologna because of its obvious artificiality.  And yet Pop-Tarts, hot dogs, and frozen dinners received asylum in our kitchen.  Oblivious to the contents of the latter processed foods, we were victims of a society that popularized and even glorified its convenience as well as our own desires for a more efficient lifestyle.

Why bake pastries or make dinners when they came in prepared portions ready to microwave?  Why care about the fact that reading the ingredients in my lunch made me feel like I was reading a chemistry textbook?

I’ll admit, there are times where I don’t care.  Where the threat of eating mono-this and hydrogenated-that becomes overshadowed by the sweetness of a Twix.  And yet, there are more moments where simply knowing that my dinner was homemade with fresh, untainted ingredients trumps any thought of eating Easy Mac.  It all comes down to knowledge.

It is important that we think and learn about the artificial contents of what we eat, as well as the origins of those ingredients that seem so natural.  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (by Barbara Kingsolver) touches upon the unfortunate fact that most Americans have no idea where their food comes from.  Do peanuts grow in a tree?  What does an aspargus plant look like?

In order to combat smoking, ads are produced, PSAs are made, articles are written to reveal the harmful contents of cigarettes.  We say obseity is an epidemic, that the threat of toxic foods are on the rise, and yet most of the public remains ignorant of their food.

We couldn’t be more intimate with anything else.  We physically take our food into our body, absorbing it and allowing it to be part of who we are.  Isn’t it about time we give it our attention, for our own sakes?

Janie Chen

image from cartoonpress.com

what you want, baby, you got it by brennad87
January 30, 2009, 1:35 pm
Filed under: Food + Health, Society + Media | Tags: , ,


This book is really worth a read. It offers a pretty good explanation for how a lot of things work in our society.

This book is really worth a read. It offers a pretty good explanation for how a lot of things work in our society.

The problems with food content are a direct result of our system of supercapitalism, as defined by the book Supercapitalism by Robert Reich. Under that system, cutthroat competition makes corporations—bent on making profits—stoop to lower and lower standards. It is not just evil companies that are responsible, however. This system has multiple actors.  It is also the people that are responsible for these practices.  How so? People ask for low prices first and foremost. And the companies, to survive, deliver exactly what people ask for. In doing so, however, they eclipse what may ultimately better for people’s health.  They cut costs by exporting to China, by using preservatives, and by using products that work well at mass assembly plants among a plethora of other risks and inadequacies.

We can’t expect corporations to do the just thing or to act with our health in mind. They are made to make profits. However, what they can be expected to do is respond to public demand. They have to in order to succeed in a supercapitalist society. Public demand is key to instigate change.  A change in demand would force a corporation to change their practices.  And what would change people’s minds. The media, as illustrated by regulations enacted after Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (which provoked changes in the meat packing industry), have the power to shift awareness. Currently, the release of books like Twinkie, Deconstructed and Fast Food Nation; films like Supersize Me and Fast Food Nation; and newspaper articles have begun a shift in awareness. Ultimately, so do the scandals.

“Until now, companies just didn’t care about commodity additives,” said Laszlo Somogyi, a retired senior consultant at SRI International, a nonprofit research institute, said in a Times article.  “But that might be changing now. This was a warning.”

The scandals may ultimately be the most important part of this change. Because only the shocking will get consumers to move past their first and foremost desire of low cost.

As Ettlinger said in the same Times article:  “The more you know, the pickier you get and the more it costs.”

With the current economic situation, consumers are even more prone to shop cost-consciously and not content-consciously. It is an arduous task to change people’s prevailing beliefs and desires, but it is entirely possible. Can the journalists here strive for public awareness? Can we not all be contemporary Upton Sinclairs?

Why scanning food labels makes us helpless by bryand09

Halfway through reading the label on Aunt Jemima’s — so hungry for some big, fluffy Mickey Mouse pancakes — we come to sodium aluminum phosphate. What is sodium aluminum phosphate? What food group is it in? Is it meat? or vegetarian friendly?

from flickr.com, by my new clever name

from flickr.com, by my new clever name

Label scanning becomes a part of our everyday lives once we go vegetarian or vegan or make any sort of dietary commitment toward low sodium or vitamin rich foods or whatever dieting fad consumers are currently supporting.

We scan the label. Twice. And then pass it to our friend and ask if he knows what sodium aluminum phosphate is.

I would argue, though, by the time we start looking at the so called “nutritional facts and ingredients” that it is too late, that we are missing the point. Sure, we can be upset or slightly disgusted that some of the ingredients in Twinkies are also found in floor cleaners, oils, etc. That is sort of nasty.

  • But we should really be upset at ourselves for scrutinizing food labels on boxes and cans and packages instead of abandoning those pre-made foods and going for the basic ingredients in the produce isle and building our own meals from the base up with ingredients we cannot only conceptualize what they are — broccoli, green, round, cold, wet and rough to the fingers — but where they came from — the ground twenty miles from here.

    Knowing what goes into your body is important; we are what we eat. But at the point of making a last minute scan of the pancakes, we are — and look like — a bunch of confused consumers, fluffy and ready for the corporate feasting.

    Bryan Dykman

    Let Them Eat Cakes by Lauren Keith

    photo from cupcakestakethecake.blogspot.com

    I used to decorate cakes for a living. When I don the chef hat and apron, I always get one of two questions: Why aren’t you obese? or Will you make me a cake?

    The verb “make” is the problem. Bakeries today don’t make anything. They bake. It’s not a make-ery.

    My job became an assembly line to fill the shelf. The job of a commercial cake decorator is the same as the big question in “Twinkie Deconstructed”: Why can you bake a cake at home with six ingredients, but Twinkies require 39?

    Because they don’t keep well.

    A Newsweek piece about “Twinkie Deconstructed” starts out with an expected scare tactic. The author of the book, Steve Ettlinger, has apparently found himself entering the eighth gate of hell as he goes in the mine of a baking soda ingredient.

    The article wonders “how many other food writers had ever donned hard hats and emergency breathing equipment in pursuit of a story.” More than you think, like maybe those visiting salt mines?

    What’s more natural than a cave? We all eat our environment (although some of us to a greater extent than others.)

    The article then lists some unheard-of chemical ingredients in processed foods. But just because we don’t have “normal” names for these ingredients doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad. You have sucrose, sodium chloride and acetic acid at your house right now. You probably consumed some ascorbic acid for breakfast this morning.

    We only have a finite number of elements, so obviously some of those compounds are going to overlap. The article argues, “Corn dextrin, a common thickener, is also the glue on postage stamps and envelopes.”

    Does that mean that water is a main ingredient of a common paper-bleaching agent (H2O2)? Or that table salt and an herbicide that is used to control bamboo have a relationship in common that we should be afraid of (NaCl vs. NaClO3)

    “Twinkie Deconstructed” distracts from the conversation we should be having.

    Why are Americans so afraid of where their food comes from (overseas), but they aren’t concerned about where their clothing comes from (overseas) or where their electronics come from (overseas)?

    The subtitle to his book is: “My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated into What America Eats.” Believe me, I eat this stuff up (monthly), but Ettlinger should have focused more on his journey than on the ingredients.

    — Lauren Keith