Monday 24 June 2013

Bright yellow

I've become a bit of an aficionado in food engineering.  After my training in food structural engineering in graduate school, I'm developing a slightly aghast interest in food-products.  I have a much more smug interest in food, making a lot of what I eat from scratch myself, but food-products designed by food engineers have a frisson fascination for most of us.  I had a good friend in graduate school who claimed with a certain righteousness that she had never eaten in or out of McDonalds - making her a rarity in the USA, like people who don't own a television.  She mentioned this rather more often than you'd expect from someone for whom the place had no attractions.

Now, while I have eaten in McDonalds (when they cooked their fries in tallow they were just excellent) but I've never eaten a Twinkie the food-like product that foodies love to snicker at. Not so long ago, smoking was allowed, almost encouraged, in pubs.  My boss of the time would only let fall essential work-related information in the pub after work: "I'm going to Illinois on Monday for 3 weeks", he'd say after a couple of TGIF pints.  I'd more or less have to go boozing at the end of the working week.  I'm not saying it was a penance, the craic could be mighty, but I'd come home reeking (sweater, coat, hair) of smoke.  I became quite vehemently anti-smoking: at home for starters.  But when they drove smokers out of pubs and you'd see them flirting and chatting with each other in the drizzle outside the doors of pubs, my indignation sagged and then took up cudgels a bit for the other side.  Jakers, I thought, if you're an adult you should be able to make an informed choice about how and when you're likely to die.  We get told what to do by someone else far too often.
So what is this Twinkie thing?  As you see, it is very yellow.  It is also "Enriched wheat flour, sugar, corn syrup, niacin, water, high fructose corn syrup, vegetable shortening – containing one or more of partially hydrogenated soybean, cottonseed and canola oil, and beef fat, dextrose, whole eggs, modified corn starch, cellulose gum, whey, leavenings (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, monocalcium phosphate), salt, cornstarch, corn flour, corn syrup, solids, mono and diglycerides, soy lecithin, polysorbate 60, dextrin, calcium caseinate, sodium stearoyl lactylate, wheat gluten, calcium sulphate, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, yellow No. 5, red  No. 40".  More niacin than water - can't be all bad but 34 different ingredients is 30 more that will make a serviceable wheaty loaf or a pint of malty beer.  You could live for a long time on bread and beer, as William Cobbett stoutly maintained in his delightful Cottage Economy (1822).

His lawyer famously claimed that Dan White murdered Harvey Milk because he was out of his head on Twinkies.  Nevertheless, I never told anyone that they were foolish, let alone reprehensible, to eat Twinkies; perhaps because I didn't know (m)any such people?  Folks who hug trees and deliver their babies at home tend to eat lentils rather than Twinkies.  But I felt a twinge of indignation when I heard that something as popular as Twinkies had become unavailable since sometime last year because of the vagaries of global capitalism.  Something about Hostess going bankrupt because they had over-extended themselves in consuming rival companies.  But also something about eating preferences changing from bright yellow food-products to other equally engineered food-products with better marketing departments:
"Say, Chuck, let's put a star-burst on the packet saying <Healthy, tasty, fat free>"
"Gee whizz, Barf, that's a great idea for our new caramel popcorn".

Whatever the reason, Twinkies have gone from the shops.  Although, the assets having been stripped from Hostess, from July Twinkies will be back on an assembly line owned by Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co.  Adults can therefore again choose to eat them.  Me, I'll line up with foodie Michael Pollan "'Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants".  That's diversity and that's democracy!

Both, in my opinion, mostly good.

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