J500 Media and the Environment

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


3 Comments so far
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All good points. I think what’s scarier about food coming from overseas is the fact that it’s something you’ll be putting in your body. I know I don’t care sometimes about what I eat, but if I can help it, overseas/confusing ingredients would be cut first.

Comment by jessicasb

It is scary, but the main difference must be where it goes on your body, as silly as it sounds.

INSIDE: scary!!!!
OUTSIDE: meh, whatever.

Comment by Lauren Keith

Pollan’s book will definitely have some valuable information for herbivore’s dilemmas as well! I do agree that people have a deeper concern for overseas products that go in their bodies rather than something they use externally.

Comment by amandat09

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