Grit Blogs > A Long Time Coming

Un-Gritty Book: Twinkie, Deconstructed

A photo of Shannon SaiaIf you liked Michael Pollan's investigation into processed foods in The Ominvore's Dilemma, then you might also be interested in a book I discovered recently, Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger, which is Mr. Ettlinger's "journey to discover how the ingredients found in processed foods are grown, mined (yes, mined) and manipulated into what America eats."

Using the list of ingredients on a package of Hostess Twinkies as a kind of road map, Mr. Ettlinger investigates just what goes into producing each of them, tracking down their sources, and in many cases (where he was allowed to) touring the facilities where the sometimes flammable and sometimes toxic substances are converted into (presumably) safe and (presumably) palatable food ingredients.

Most fascinating of all to me is the point of view, which is something like, "Hey, isn't this cool? Aren't we lucky to have it?" Definitely an eye-opener for anyone concerned about what they eat.

robyn dolan
10/21/2010 2:40:05 PM

It always helps me back to reality, when a friend with a different perspective reads something totally unintended into what I've written. The more I learn about those unpronounceable ingredients in processed foods, the more I wonder - "why?"!! And they don't even have to disclose all of them...


s.m.r. saia
10/17/2010 5:07:53 PM

Cindy and Dave, thanks so much for stopping by!


s.m.r. saia
10/17/2010 5:02:28 PM

Steve, "Gratefulness" is definitely not what I was trying to convey. It's hard to pull any one sentence out of context as an example of what left me with the impression that the book was slanted a little towards endorsement, but I will cite this one: "So eating a little enriched white flour isn't necessarily a bad idea, and in the United States it's your only option." This sentence just doesn't make sense to me, since in the context of the paragraph it suggests that you can't obtain a healthy level of vitamins in your diet without eating refined white flour. But maybe I'm misunderstanding something. I am certainly not a nutritionist, or a scientist, or a doctor, just a concerned eater. Be that as it may, I know for a fact that as a reader I brought my own prejuduces to the book, and that readers will insist on reading things that we writers do not think we are writing. :0) It may be your astonishment that I was picking up on, that coupled with the fact that usually when I read a book that talks about processed foods there is a great deal of food moralizing, so to speak, and this was definitely not that kind of book, though you do mention some of the largest health questions of the day that surround processed foods. It was well-researched and went into more detail than anything that I have ever read about the processed food industry. I am glad that I read it, I definitely recomend it, and will probably hang on to it for future reference. Thanks, Shannon


steve ettlinger
10/17/2010 2:08:20 PM

Glad to see you liked my book! I'm curious, though, as to where you picked up what you call my attitude of gratefulness. Because it is a popular science book and not a personal statement, I tried to present facts in a neutral fashion but never hid my astonishment. I did not try to express admiration of nor recommendation for this stuff, and in fact, the book has been embraced by a lot of whole food activists. I speak often to such groups in support of their attitude. I'm really wondering, as a writer, where your conclusion comes from--the balancing act is my professional challenge. Thanks! Steve Ettlinger


cindy murphy
10/16/2010 7:30:17 PM

"Hey, isn't this cool? Aren't we lucky to have it?" Oh-my-gosh, that's scary. And just in time for Halloween too. Thanks for mentioning this book, Shannon. Once again, my "to-be-read" book list continues to grow, courtesy of what I read in your blog.


nebraska dave
10/15/2010 6:31:14 PM

@Shannon, I love Twinkies. Their shelf life is like forever. It really makes for excellent long term disaster food storage. You know I’m just kidding. I’m reminded of the movie Wally when the cockroach comes out burrowing out of the Twinkie. The only thing that survived the planet’s destruction was cockroaches, Twinkies, and a trash robot. It is scary how the big companies walk the fine line of processed food products. I try my best to only eat what has ingredients I can easily pronounce. You know like potatoes, onions, roast beef, carrots, and the like. It seems that the fewer the ingredients the better it is. I do like a sausage or a brat on occasion, but I still like to keep most of the hydrogenated ingredients down to a minimum. Thanks for giving us the always pertinent information about good food. Oh yeah and by the way the article on sweet potatoes was awesome. I hope you will get a chance to write another food article. Have a great healthy food day.