Jeremy's Reviews > Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Int

Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger
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Aug 07, 2010

really liked it
Read in August, 2010

Now I know what's in a twinkie. And you know what? It made me really want a twinkie.

Now I know what FD&C Yellow No. 5 is and what it does, and what emulsifyers and shortening and leavening agents are and do. Basically what it comes down to: Twinkies don't have eggs or milk or cream in any of those conventional senses, so they need a bunch of stuff that does the things that those things do. These are the chemicals added in minute amounts that you see on the product label. Polysorbate 60? I know what that is now. And there is only one 'preservative', the highly innocuous Sorbic Acid.

Ettlinger's scope is not broad or deep, but he manages to do justice to the Twinkie instead of just vilifying it offhand as the symbol of all processed (=bad) food. Sure, he sounds a little naive when he talks about big industry and production processes and chemistry that he really doesn't understand (he doesn't claim to; nor is he ever shown the 'full' picture for proprietary reasons).

It is a nice counter-point to the highly charged debate of 'local agriculture' (=good) vs. agrobusiness (=bad) that is becoming more and more politicized (and shrill). He just says 'this is what's in a twinkie and this is how it's made (or distilled or mined)' and then he lets us make up our own dang minds about it. I respect that.

One thing I came away with was the shocking realization that petroleum is the starting point for many of the additives that go into processed foods. There is figuratively (not literally) oil in your twinkies. That should be a sobering thought, given that even our food manufacturing process is highly dependent upon oil (much of which is foreign).

So yeah, I think we should buy locally, eat less meat (and less in general), and watch our calories. The business of food processing companies from corn to chemicals is to get us to consume more. All you have to do is say 'not so much, please'. Look, it's not going to kill you to eat a Twinkie, just as it won't kill you to eat a slice of cake every once in awhile. But in each case you should know what it's made of and where it comes from and for that, I'm grateful for Ettlinger's game attempt at telling us where processed food comes from and where it goes.
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