Twinkie: Deconstructed (Steven Ettlinger)

Monday, July 09, 2007
or...My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods are Grown, Mined (yes, mined), and Manipulated into What America Eats.

"Where does Polysorbate 60 come from, Daddy?" His inability to answer this innocent and intriguing question from his 8-year old daughter is what inspired Steve Ettlinger to find out exactly what Polysorbate 60 is and where it comes from. Like most North Americans, Ettlinger eats processed foods. And, just like most of us, really doesn’t understand much of what’s on the labels.

Ettlinger’s book breaks down each ingredient on a Twinkie© package and traces each one back to its roots. And I do mean ALL the ingredients, from what you’d expect to find in a “cake” (flour, water, sugar, baking soda) to those items you wouldn’t find in a standard North American’s home pantry (cellulose gum, phosphates, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, FD&C Yellow No. 5). If you enjoy treating yourself to a nice, fluffy, cream filled cake product now and then, you might want to avoid this book; it’s doubtful you’ll ever want to eat another DingDong© or slice of Wonder Bread© ever again after reading it.

While Ettlinger states that there will be differences in the ingredient list for your "standard" Twinkie© depending on where you buy it (trans fats are allowed in some regions, not in others, for example), the list he chose basically covers the common ingredients you'd find regardless of location. The "Contents" page of his book reads exactly like the ingredient label on the packaging of this 70-something year old snack food (yep, it was invented during the Depression) and he delves deep into each one. After wheat, bleach (yes...you read that correctly), and a bunch of "nutritious" additives, the next few ingredients alone would scare anyone, not just dentists: sugar, corn sweetners, corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, and high fructose corn syrup. This is immediatley followed by a number of other corn-based ingredients (I suggest you visit the ever delightful Candy Minx for a discussion of corn).

Phosphates, an ingredient within baking powder, are, according to the definition Ettlinger found "'obtained from phosphate rock...Phosphorous was formerly used to treat rickets and degenerative disorders and is now used as a mineral supplement for foods; also in incendiary bombs and tracer bullets'". That's right folks. Ingredient 15 in the book, phosphates, are not only going to help ensure you get all those vitamins and minerals we all need, but in a pinch you can use it to blow up your nosey neighbour's car.

What's the book really about you ask? According to a review by Newsweek:
At the heart of the book is the fundamental question: why is it you can bake a cake at home with as few as six ingredients, but Twinkies require 39? And why do many of them seem to bear so little resemblance to actual food? The answer: To stay fresh on a grocery-store shelf, Twinkies can't contain anything that might spoil, like milk, cream or butter. Once you remove such real ingredients, something has to take their place—and cellulose gum, lecithin and sodium stearoyl lactylate are a good start. Add the fact that industrial quantities of batter have to pump easily through automated tubes into cake molds, and you begin to get the idea.

Processed foods vs. organic/whole/natural is huge these days and generating a lot of press. There's also a renewed interest in eating locally grown vs. imported foods. A strong indicator of this is the popularity of the 100 Mile Diet and local farmer's markets. If that old adage is correct, and we truly are what we eat, we should all be very VERY worried. I started reading this book today and haven't been able to put it down. I should wait until I've finished the book to do a review but I couldn't keep it to myself.

Oh yeah, and where exactly does Polysorbate 60 come from? Trust me, you don't really want to know...

5 comments:

mister anchovy said...

It must be the 39 ingredients that make them so special. I can recall doing a 36 hour straight roadtrip several years ago, from Toronto to Cody, Wyoming with my buddy East Texas Red, stopping only for gas station coffee and HoHos and chips. It's a wonder we made it alive.

Wandering Coyote said...

Oh, I dare you to read Fast Food Nation! Talk about scary! Do you like grapefruit cocktail? Do you know what some companies use to colour it?

Phosphates are also a main ingredient in pop, BTW. And they leach calcium out of your bones and teeth. That's why pop is so bad for you - it's not just surface sugars on the teeth that cause tooth decay, it's the phosphates sucking it right out of you!

Jocelyn said...

I like that your post highlights what scary sh!* there is going on with our food and, therefore, our values. Have you read Michael Pollen's THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA?

BeckEye said...

Words....words...words...

I'm sorry, I couldn't stop staring at the picture. I knew I liked your blog for a reason. Food porn.

Candy Minx said...

I think I would really enjoy this book and I'm going to pick it up next time I'm out and about. Like Wandering Coyote, I've read Fast Food Nation and although I rarely eat fast franchise foods it was depressing to find out some of the crap going on in food.

Yep...it takes a half gallon of oil to grow a bushel of corn...which refutes the value of ethanol, biodeisel or corn starch disposable take out containers.

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