Twinkie, Deconstructed

Twinkie Deconstructed CoverNot that I have thought much about it, but have you ever wondered what actually went into a Twinkie? Steve Ettinger did. Or rather, his kids did. When Steve began reading the label of ingredients, he was astonished to find that he could not answer any of his children’s questions about where the pieces and parts of a Twinkie came from. What was polysorbate-60 and how did it get into what someone might call “food.”

Steve went on a journey and at the end, he created “Twinkie, Deconstructed.” This frightening little book will tell you not only what is in the ubiquitous Twinkie but also its point of origin and processing journey to your mouth.

Frightening. Really.

As Ettinger points out, most of a Twinkie comes from corn. Really? Yes, Michael Pollan was right – corn IS our first food group. If you eat any processed food, you know it’s true. Ettinger takes on his trip of investigation of every ingredient in a Twinkie, including the “enrichments” given to flour to
make it “better,” and gives us a truer picture of where this “food” comes from.

This astonishing “did you knows” from this book are…

…Did you know that Twinkies have different ingredients depending on where you are in the country, based on the price of the specific ingredients?

…Did you know that your Twinkie could contain beet sugar if you’re in the North and cane sugar if you’re in the South? The West and East seem a toss up depending on food prices.

…Did you know the difference between “enrichment” and “fortification?” I didn’t. Enrichment is when a company puts back into a food stuff something that was taken out – like bran to processed flour. Fortification is when things are put into a food stuff that weren’t normally there – like Vitamin C into corn flakes.

…Did you know that most vitamins in enriched flour come from either petroleum, coal-tar, or corn and are manufactured in China?

This isn’t about Twinkies – it’s about processed food as a whole. If you shop in a supermarket, and buy anything even remotely processed, I would recommend you read this book. It’s not to put you off eating. But we should all be aware of where our food comes from, and what it means to us to eat something “fortified” or “enriched.”

And yes, Ho-Ho’s are included in the lineup.

–Kris

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Diet for a Dead Planet

daisys1Written five years ago, “Diet for a Dead Planet” seems as timely now as it was even then. I just picked it up at a used book store and finished it in about three weeks. It’s not an easy read and, honestly, in some places its tedious. However, the information presented is excellent and scary, at best.

Chris Cook is, like Michael Pollan, a journalist first. His interest in the meat packing plant’s employment practices lead him to actually expand the scope of his investigation and write this entire book. Here’s an interview with the author, in case you want to hear it from the author himself.  

My biggest “take away” from the book was the manipulation of the government, especially in the 70’s and 80’s, of wheat, corn, and soybean farming. As my husband is from a wheat farming family, hearing his take on the issues as well as reading them in this book really uncovered a lot of misconceptions I had about the life of a farmer. Companies like Cargill, ADM, Monsanto, ConAgra, Tyson’s Foods, McDonalds, Wal-Mart, and Safeway really drive what our food culture has become and, in many ways, what it will be if we don’t vote with our own dollars. Many of these companies control farmers in such a way as to create an open-market, slave-labor farming environment. If you don’t do it “their way,” your choice is to strike out on your own.

In the five years between 2002 and 2007 (when the last two Agriculture Census’ were taken), the total number of farms has slightly declined. However, concentration of farms continues at a fast pace. Only 144,000 farms produced 75% of the total food output in the US. Sixty percent of farms owned produced less than $10K income per year. Eighty-three percent, or so, made less than $100k. Where are the subsidies going? To the less-than-10% of farms that made over $1 million per year. These numbers are taken from the USDA’s census on agriculture, found here.  

I’m not for a lot of rants here – many more articulate people than I have produced plenty of reporting on the matter. My main goal is to make the public more aware of what is really happening in farming. I think the best way to do that is to not only read books like “Diet for a Dead Planet” but also look at what the USDA is saying about farming in general.

Find a local farmer and hug him. He keeps us humans alive. And chances are, he makes far less than you do. How “off” is that?

–Kris

A New View

comapssstar3In an attempt to figure out who owns whom, I’ve been looking at the big manufacturers and seeing where they have their fingers. Are they really, like the food pundits believe, have their fingers in everything? Here’s what I found out…

First of all, there really are the “biggies” and everyone else. Christopher Cook is right when he says “As money and holdings change hands, these firms expand and deepen their control over market sectors and distribution channels , making consolidation seamless.”

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