Inside Processed Junk Food

Sure, you know that Twinkies are chock full of chemicals.

But did you know that one of—cellulose gum—is the same stuff that's used in rocket fuel.

That's one of the oddball facts in Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America Eats.

If you think that title is a mouthful, remember that it's not nearly as long or cryptic as the ingredients listed on your average Twinkie.

Using the ingredient list on a Twinkie as his starting point, author Steve Ettinger tracks each one back its origins. His quest gives him (and us) a peek into the world of industrial food processing. And it also takes the author on a surprising and somewhat bizarre journey.

Each chapter breaks down individual ingredients (just what is polysorbate 60, anyway?), so that the reader understands what it is and why it's used to produce the snack.

There are the obvious starting points (corn fields in Iowa, wheat fields in eastern Pennsylvania) and the exotic locales (vanilla beans in Madagascar). But there are also forays into the places that seem to have no relation to baked goods at all (phosphate mines in Idaho, gypsum mines in Oklahoma).

And of course, there are some ingredients that sound downright scary. Take the high-security plants where chlorine, a heavy duty toxin, is made. It turns out that trace amounts of chlorine are used to make some kinds of bleached flours, which are used in Twinkies, and most other sugary baked goods, such as birthday cakes.

My guess is that this book belongs on the same shelf as other popular food industry exposés, such as Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Surprisingly, the author never really knocks the venerable Twinkie. In fact, he still enjoys one every now and then. He also seems pretty glad that his kids don't like them much at all.


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