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Archive for December, 2011

If They Have To Tell You It’s Food, It Probably Isn’t

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Pasteurized processed cheese food has always bothered me. It worries me when a food manufacturer is concerned that I won’t be able to recognize their food product as food. Like I might mistake their cheese slices for cheesy-smelling plastic coasters.

Another scary product is Libby’s Potted Meat Food Product. Such a snappy title for a food product. Libby’s obviously wasn’t worried about bowling over their target audience with tempting adjectives. The people who actually eat the stuff probably don’t pay attention to the title. Nor must they read the list of ingredients on the side of the can. I wish I hadn’t. And just what is “potted” meat, anyway? What kind of a process is “potting”? I looked through all my recipe books and couldn’t find any form of cooking called “potting”. Potting I’ve done to plants. Not to meat. Nor meat products. And what are meat products? Not meat. But a meat product. May or may not contain actual meat? Is it a product of the meat? What does meat produce? Troubling questions, all.

Another mystery no one should think about is polysorbate 60. I found it in both hydrocortisone cream and Ho-Ho’s snack cakes. And Twinkies. Which begs the question, how can a product that is supposed to be used topically be taken internally as well? Does some manufacturer make a generic “cream” that can be used in topical ointments as well as in filling for snack cakes? And exactly what the hell is polysorbate 60 anyway? And what does it do for the Ho-Ho’s? Or the hydrocortisone cream?

And while we’re on the subject, what happened to the other polysorbates? Were they all failures? After some investigating at my local supermarket, I managed to find only two other polysorbates being used: 20 and 80. Polysorbate 20 was in Murine Ear Drops. And I remember polysorbate 80 from several years back. I remember noticing it because they used it in Rely tampons. Remember the ones they recalled because they caused Toxic Shock Syndrome? The reason I remember the polysorbate 80 in there is because, at the time, I also found it in Twinkies, Ho-Ho’s, Suzie Q’s and Ding Dongs. But now they’re using polysorbate 60 instead of 80 in the snack cakes. So, did 80 leave some weird taste in your mouth? Did it contribute to the Rely tampon’s Toxic Shock Syndrome? Did it cause Toxic Shock Syndrome in people who ate Twinkies? Was it more costly? Why did they go back to the polysorbate 60? I looked around and could only currently find polysorbate 80 in Children’s Motrin Cold Medication and Afrin nasal decongestant. Maybe it did leave a horrible aftertaste and since medicines usually do, they decided to use it in those products and leave it out of Twinkies. I guess the polysorbate 60 tastes better. But I still want to know what happened to polysorbates 1 through 19, 21 through 59 and 61 through 79.

Another disturbing ingredient is propylene glycol. I found it in Oxy Acne Treatment and Zingers snack cakes. Another topical, yet internal ingredient. Sorbitan monostearate was another one I found in both the hydrocortisone cream and the Zingers. I just can’t figure out how the food manufacturers determine that they need to put those chemicals into their products. Did some product taster try some new Ho-Ho recipe and say “Hmmm, this is missing something. I think it needs more polysorbate 60. What do you think, Fred?” “Uh…no, Joe, I think it needs more sorbitan monostearate. A little more fumaric acid perhaps.” “I disagree, Fred. It’s either more polysorbate 60 or more propylene glycol.” “Well, Joe, we’re outta propylene glycol.” “Hey, Fred, look. There’s some in this St. Ives Wrinkle Corrector. Let’s just put some of this inside the Ho-Ho’s.” “Good plan, Joe.” These are the thoughts that keep me up at night.

Another thing I want to know is who makes up these recipes? Well, I suppose they aren’t recipes anymore, they’re formulas. So the food manufacturers probably hire scientists nowadays, not cooks. I can picture the food manufacturers giving orders to their newly hired scientists. “We want you guys to find a way to replicate food using chemicals. The people will never know they’re not getting real food if we dump enough sugar in the product. The sugar’s real. They’ll be happy with that.” And we are, aren’t we?

I suppose in the future grandparents will still be passing on their favorite recipes to their grandchildren. “Here’s my homemade truffle cake recipe, Leon. Remember, don’t scrimp on the propylene glycol. And always put in the polysorbate 60 to taste. Too much isn’t good. Could give the cake a hydrocortisone cream feel to it.” Okay, Grandpa.

©20??, Janet Periat

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I can’t remember when I wrote this column, but a recent post on the Weather Channel website  by Organic Authority about the ingredients in McDonald’s nuggets got me thinking about it. So here it is. You can find it in my book, Confessions of a Pink-Haired Lunatic.


A Christmas Carol

Monday, December 5th, 2011

At the end-of-year board meeting for ScrooMoCo, Chairman Scrooge delivered the yearly financial projections. “We’ve slashed our workforce and are earning record profits this year!”

A great cheer arose from the board.

Suddenly, the room fell into darkness and the ghostly apparition of an older man in a suit, covered in chains, appeared above the long conference table.

“My God, that’s our dead founding partner, Jacob Marley!” Scrooge cried.

“ScrooMoCo Board members,” the spirit moaned. “You’re all greedy bastards who’ve caused great economic imbalance in the world and caused terrible needless pain to the masses. When you die, you will suffer the same fate as me if you don’t repent and stop your heinous actions now. These are the chains I forged in life and believe me, they freakin’ clash with my Gucci and make getting spa treatments a bitch.”

Several board members gasped.

“You will be visited by three spirits tonight. Heed their warning or you will suffer fashion humiliation for all eternity!”

Marley vanished and the lights returned.

Chairman Scrooge snorted. “Cratchit, call maintenance and get the electrical fixed PRONTO.”

Bob Cratchit, his secretary, winced. “ But we fired the maintenance staff and outsourced the work to India.”

“Then you do it!”

The overhead lights flickered. A great crash of thunder made all the board members jump. Standing on the conference table before them was Bing Crosby.

“Hello Board Members, I’m the spirit of Christmas Past and this number goes out to all you greedy robber barons,” he announced and then broke out singing I’m Dreaming of a Rich, White and Male Christmas.

The board members clapped. “Do Swinging on a Star!”

“No, I’m here to show you how it used to be, before all you mega-corporations took over the Earth. Behold, the past!” Bing pointed to the wall behind the table.

A large movie screen appeared showing black and white footage of American factory workers on assembly lines. A happy family of six eating at a backyard barbecue. A doctor making a house call. Kids walking into shining new schools. A young couple buying their first house. A stay-at-home mother working in her kitchen of gleaming appliances.

“My doctor still makes house calls,” a board member huffed.

“Yes, and my children attend schools just like that one. Nothing has changed.”

Bing shook his head. “That used to be the life for 99% of our population. Not the 1% it is today.”

“It’s their fault for being poor,” sneered a board member.

“I give up. And now, I’d like to introduce that man-about-town, that haunting spirit you’ll all come to know and love, the Ghost of Christmas Present. Take it away, President Barack Obama.”

Bing disappeared and in his place stood Obama.

The board members screamed in fear. “A Democrat!”

“But he’s not dead,” one argued.

“Hey folks, easy does it. I’m just trying to get re-elected and this seemed like a great way to get my message across to you since none of you pay attention to what I say anymore.” He gestured to the back wall. “Behold, the present!”

A succession of film clips depicted gigantic crowds of protesters in Madrid, London, New York and Oakland. A close-up on the signs revealed the messages: We are the 99%. Corporations Must Atone. Tax the 1%. Make Jobs Not War on Middle Class and Working Poor. The images shifted to a school kid reading a torn book and sitting at a broken desk next to a bucket catching a leak in a dingy classroom. Hungry children and mothers standing in long lines at soup kitchens. Thousands of unemployed crowding job fairs. A row of boarded-up houses with brown lawns and foreclosure signs. A homeless encampment under a freeway.

“Glad I’m not poor,” commented a board member.

“Hear, hear.”

“Me, too,” said Obama. “But if we don’t change things and right now, there isn’t going to be any rich people because the poor will rise up and kill us all. Didn’t you guys study history? Remember Marie Antoinette? While you guys sip Cristal with me, people are starving out there. People can’t afford health care, homes or educations. Over the past fifteen years, you bastards have taken ALL the money. You weren’t satisfied with an extra 50% or even 75% more money than your workers, you had to give yourselves 298% raises while they only got 4%. You blew it. And your iPods and Prozac and beer and NFL championships aren’t distracting them anymore. They’re onto our game.”

A board member yawned. “I’m sorry, did you just say something? I wasn’t listening.”

“Forget it. Here’s your final spirit visitor for the day, the Ghost of Christmas Future.”

Obama vanished and a sweet little Mexican girl in pigtails and a pink dress stood on the table.

All the members shrieked in terror. “An illegal immigrant!”

The little girl nodded. “You should be afraid. Shortly, I’m going to be the majority. And you’re totally screwing me over right now. Behold, the future!”

A post-Apocalyptic landscape appeared onscreen. Mansions burned in the background. In the foreground, well-dressed people ran from pitchfork-wielding crowds. The camera panned over a burnt and cracked sign: Town of Atherton.

The board members gasped, horror-struck.

“Act now or soon it will be too late,” the little girl said and vanished.

The screen disappeared and the lights came on.

Scrooge frowned. “Wow. That was frightening.” He rubbed his chin. “So should we pay our fair share of taxes, hire more people, stop outsourcing, help rebuild America’s infrastructure, improve our education system, overhaul our healthcare system and hold big banks accountable for their crimes?”

Silence fell over the room.

One board member held up his hand. “How about we give ourselves big raises and take the rest of the money now while we still can?”

Scrooge’s eyes lit up. “All those in favor?”

“Aye!” the board members replied in unison.

Bob Cratchit muttered under his breath, “Goosed again.”

©2011, Janet Periat

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