J500 Media and the Environment

Venturing into the Cullinary Unknown by amandajayne16
January 29, 2010, 3:49 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 2

As a self defined ‘environmental novice’, my knowledge of the subject is a steady learning process of reading suggested books and articles, or anything that happens to have the word ‘green’ of ‘Eco’ in its title. With just a handful of texts at reference point,however, I find my thoughts about my own food consumption are starting to change.

Consumers should be skeptical about the food they eat.

It was at a recent International dinner that I attended, when my new found inquisitiveness about food origins was first brought to light.

In an attempt to entice the guests, the hosts had changed the names of their food items to give them a more ‘International’ feel. The labeled items perched on the table were,however, nothing more than quirky gimmicks.

Names such as ‘New Orleans dressing’, appeared only to whet the appetites of the unsuspecting consumer rather than to promote  something of a Southern origin. There was no malice intended by the cooks, however, I realized that this type of practice is an everyday occurrence by food production companies across the globe.

In Steve Ettlinger’s article, ‘From a Chinese Oil refinery to your Twinkie’, the content mystery of the perceived ‘All-American’ Twinkie is explored.  He reveals that the comfort food is derived not from the humbling roots of a wooden farmhouse in Iowa, but from an unknown trail of chemical plants and suppliers ranging as far afield as China to Sweden. The chemical’s exact origins remain a mystery to even the American food manufactures that produce the snacks.

This is not a isolated affair. In truth, each day most of us are tucking in to a culinary enigma. In small print the chemicals may be listed but their origin as Etlinger explains is an “international nexus of suppliers”.

Anne Underwood reacts to the complex nature of our processed food publicized by Ettlinger. She refers to the, “incomprehensible and barely pronounceable ingredients” that take the place of ‘real food’ that will spoil more quickly or not quite stimulate a person’s palate at the speed that chemicals do.

The Pump Energy Food, is a New York based restaurant that has a mission “to make it easy for people to eat well”. They have produced a comical video that emphasizes the unknown nature of what is in our food.

I was particularly struck by one scene in which the viewer is prompted to ‘Hide your salad’ by pouring some kind of unrecognizable product over the leaves and tomatoes. Through some research, I discovered that my usual salad dressing of choice and most produced, contain a chemical named Xanthan gum. This is used to thicken the mixture whilst still retaining its ability to smoothly exit the bottle and cling to the food below. Worryingly, this same ingredient is used in the theater industry to make fake blood or even slime.

At least now, if I am ever accused of having a restrictive diet of just salad, I can add comment that it is not merely salad but salad with slime.

Amanda Jayne N


4 Comments so far
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That’s a funny commercial, but I’m wondering who it was trying to reach. I think the humor makes it more accessible for a general audience, but at some points it seems to fall in the trap that most other enviro ads do: preaching to the choir. Do you think it’s effective?

—Lauren Keith

Comment by Lauren Keith

I found the commercial first funny which caught my attention, however in other instances, quite shocking and disgusting. I do agree with your point about preaching to the choir. I think in order to reach the general public,it is first necessary to shock by revealing the harsh reality about the food industry. Before joining this class, I knew some foods were ‘bad’ because they had chemicals in them, however, I was ignorant to what this actually meant. People, I believe, are not going to debate over where their food has derived. Especially in economic times such as these when food prices are on the rise, many are eager to buy bargain items. It is necessary for graphic infomercials and visual images that people can understand and relate to in order to influence thought and eventual change.

Amanda Jayne N

Comment by amandajayne16


I like the phrase “salad with slime.” I also agree with Lauren that only people who know about the problems with our food industry would have understood the meaning behind the video. I am curious about two things. One, what way do you think is best to educate the uneducated. Two, did any of the people at your international dinner seem to have any different views about food than what most Americans have? -Kristina B.

Comment by kristinabev

I don’t want to be patronizing however I think the way to educate people who are unaware of the food industry is through pictures. I think shock treatment is the way to stimulate thought and provoke action. People know about healthy eating however they do not necessarily know that these the contents of ‘healthy eating’ processed food.

Amanda Jayne N

Comment by amandajayne16

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